“Obama Floats Offering First-Ever Drilling Lease in Atlantic” – AP, 27 January 2015

President Obama has introduced a plan that would allow drilling in parts of the Atlantic Coast, while simultaneously putting an end to any drilling in certain areas in Alaska.

The administration’s proposal concentrates on Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and will sell areas 50 miles off the states’ coasts to oil companies beginning in 2021. Oil companies have been denied access to these areas in the Atlantic Ocean for years, particularly since drilling in those areas was banned in 2008. Additionally, the proposal includes leases for regions in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Leases will be sold between 2017 and 2022.

Many politicians cited the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a reason not to move forward with the proposal, which remains the biggest oil spill of its kind in the US. Since then, regulations on offshore drilling have not improved; Congress has yet to adopt new laws that would make drilling safer. Many believe that drilling in these regions is a misguided way of developing energy — and acquiring energy independence — in the US.

However, politicians in the Southeastern states are backing Obama’s plan, asserting that the new venture will boost the economy by creating jobs and encouraging investments. Currently, the US is experiencing a flood in oil, which has caused oil and gas prices to significantly drop.

Areas chosen to be leased and sold are subject to change. Oil generation from offshore drilling supplies 16 percent of the US’s oil. In order to find oil and gas deposits under the ocean, firms will have to run seismic imaging surveys; a process that can take years, the firms attach seismic air guns to their boats that they will drag for miles on the ocean surface. The guns then radiate air and sound, which assists in mapping 2D and 3D images of the ocean floor.

(From Associated Press)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 28, 2015

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“Top Court to Weigh Pollution Standards” – Wall Street Journal, 26 November 2014

This past November, the US Supreme Court surveyed the case that presents the US’s first standards obligating power plants to curb mercury emissions and various air toxins, one of many major elements in President Obama’s newly introduced climate policy.

The case is being disputed by the utility industry and almost two dozen states, namely states where coal is a major player in their economies. The case will go to trial in the spring and the court will reach a decision in June 2015. Concurrently, Obama is is working on more regulations that will reduce existing power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions.

The EPA also introduced an amended national standard for ground-level ozone, or smog, in November; enforcement of renewed ozone standards rely on the mercury rule. The mercury rule was initially proposed in 2012 and will be enforced beginning in April 2015 for existing power plants, which obligates plants that are powered by coal and oil to eliminate most of their mercury emissions.

What falls on the Supreme Court is whether the EPA’s new regulations should acknowledge how much the regulations will cost utilities. This has been an ongoing complaint from utility and power companies, and many coal states, which assert that placing restrictions on power plants will drive up the cost of electricity. According to these companies and states, the EPA’s rules will increase utility industry costs by $9.6 billion per year.

The EPA argues that the public-health gains from reducing air pollutants surpass any additional costs to utilities: the public will benefit $37 billion to $90 billion per year, and avoid 11,000 deaths per year.

The result of this case can affect EPA regulations, such as the agency’s initiative to reduce carbon emissions from almost 600 fossil fuel-fired plants, which was supported by the Supreme Court in 2007. If the court doesn’t rule in favor of the EPA, the EPA might not have as much power — or be as ambitious — in the future.

This month, the EPA will distribute final emissions standards for new power plants; the agency will issue similar standards for existing power plants this summer. The mercury rule instructs coal utilities to use scrubbers, which will help lower emissions. Many facilities have been given an extra year to install scrubber technology.

(From Wall Street Journal)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 14, 2015

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“A Climate Accord Based on Global Peer Pressure” – New York Times, 14 December 2014

Last month, almost 200 nations gathered in Lima, Peru to agree on a global pact to reduce fossil fuel emissions, one of the primary causes of climate change. The deal — called the Lima Accord — shows huge progress in global effort to fight the effects of climate change: it’s the first time that these nations will make a unilateral effort to curb the use of oil, gas, and coal.

However, the Lima Accord is not lawfully mandatory. If it were legally binding, then the nearly 200 nations wouldn’t have agreed to the deal — not even the US. Instead, the hope is that global peer pressure will be the impetus to move the accord forward. At this point, every nation has agreed to place limits on its carbon emissions.

According to the accord, each nation will have to introduce carbon-cutting domestic legislation by either March or June. Laws will delineate how each country will curb emissions after 2020. These proposals are known to the UN as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” which will be included in an upcoming climate deal in Paris in 2015.

But because the Lima Accord has no requirements, countries could conceive of feeble plans that wouldn’t drastically combat the effects of climate change. Countries also have the choice of not even offering a plan — and if they don’t submit a plan, there are no fines or retribution.

Again, the accord relies on peer pressure and a method called “name-and-shame.” Each countries’ plan will be posted to the UN’s site as public information. If the countries’ plans are made public and some are found to be weak in comparison, then the shame of such a weakness will hopefully push that country to strengthen its plan.

The biggest worry comes with the top three polluters: the US, China, and India. While President Obama has tried to make climate change a vital element of his second term, his legacy really depends on what happens after his term is over. He has vowed to reduce emissions by at least 28 percent by 2025, which can be attained if tailpipe and power plant emissions regulations are passed. Unfortunately, most Republican White House contenders are staunch opponents of Obama’s climate change policies and likely don’t care about global urgencies.

China has been pushed to seek methods of reducing emissions due to discord among its citizens, as citizens disapproved of China’s worsening air quality. The country has now eclipsed the US as the number one polluter — President Xi Jinping has promised that China’s emissions will spike in 2030 and then fall. In order to ensure that target, the country is enacting a national cap-and-trade structure where polluters will have to purchase greenhouse gas emissions.

Because curbing emissions can be costly, it is a difficult burden for developing nations. India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cast aside any efforts towards reversing climate change, instead focusing on economic growth and poverty, which could mean building new coal power plants. However, India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has stated that the country will offer a plan in June.

Other countries that climate change policy observers are following are Russia and Australia. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin doesn’t believe that humans cause climate change, and Australia has phased out its Department of Climate Change, and also revoked a carbon tax.

While we have a majority of the countries on board with the deal, there are a few important strays that will determine whether or not the Lima Accord is indeed productive.

(From New York Times)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 15, 2014

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“Study: Keystone pollution higher” – Politico, 10 August 2014

According to a report from the Stockholm Environment Institute, the Keystone XL pipeline — the 1,700-mile pipeline that would send 800,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Canada sand formations to Texas refineries — could potentially emit four times as much pollution as initially determined by the State Department.

Estimates made by the US federal government didn’t consider that transporting extra oil through the new pipeline can potentially cause prices to fall by almost $3 per barrel. More oil means more consumption, and more consumption means more pollution. Yet, organizations like the American Petroleum Institute (API) view the study as trivial, as the oil will be produced and transported either way; if it wasn’t being shipped through the pipeline, then it would be shipped using the railroad, which could also increase emission levels.

The report projects that the pipeline can raise greenhouse gas emissions by about 121 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. The State Department noted that the pipeline would, at the most, only increase CO2 emissions by 30 million tons this year.

Earlier this year, President Obama was still undecided about approving the pipeline; and his administration’s approval has been extended until after the midterm US elections. Obama has been making an effort to reduce the US’s GHG emissions — the report indicates that the pipeline’s emissions could undercut the government’s new policies to curb pollution.

Many scientists from outside the study claim that the extra 121 million tons produced by the pipeline is insignificant compared to the 36 billion tons that we globally emitted in 2013. Still, approving the pipeline could weaken Obama’s new climate policy, which takes a firm stance on the effects of climate change.

See also:
Keystone pipeline: Obama’s unpleasant options
Pipeline Fight Lifts Environmental Movement

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

August 12, 2014

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