“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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“Coal Growing Its Share Of Global Energy Mix Despite World’s Greening Efforts” – IBTimes, 20 June 2014

Although natural gas has become the US’s go-to energy source, and both Europe and the US are bringing the proverbial hammer down on greenhouse gas emissions, coal is still in wide-use worldwide. China and India are the main culprits; since both countries are continuing to grow, they continue to use coal, since it’s one of the cheapest and most plentiful sources of energy. Together, the two countries are the reason coal consumption saw a three percent increase in 2013. Use of natural gas only rose in North America, while it fell everywhere else.

via IBTimes

via IBTimes

Though developed nations will continue to replace coal with renewable and cleaner energy sources, developing countries will continue to rely on coal, as coal will likely remain inexpensive and abundant.

While coal fulfilled 30.1 percent of the world’s energy needs in 2013, oil met 32.9 percent. The US invested a lot of time and money in fracking shale formations, which led to one of the biggest bouts of oil generation that we’ve seen.

But coal could still win the energy battle. In 2012, the International Energy Agency predicted that yearly worldwide consumption of coal would increase by 1.2 billion tons, making it the number one energy source in the world.

New climate policies by the US and Europe are bound to take a toll on the future of coal. Coal will become reliant on China, and even China is making an effort to decrease pollution and smog and use natural gas instead of coal.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

June 30, 2014

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Copyright 2013. All rights Reserved by Phinix, LLC.

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“Imagining Coal Without Air Pollution” – Wall Street Journal, 8 January 2014

While many countries have been working together to reach global environmental goals—such as reducing emissions and increasing use of renewable energies—it often seems like China hasn’t gotten the memo. Due to a growing population, and thus a growing demand for energy, China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions. Over the last few months, many of China’s major cities have had issues with smog—a product of coal-burning power plants—and citizens have been forced to wear face masks.

The US faced similar problems with smog in the late 1960′s and 1970′s, which inspired the formation of the EPA and passed the Clean Air Act. Since then, US electricity utilities reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by over 80% and nitrogen oxides by over 75%, using lower-sulfur coal found in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Now that the government and utilities have successfully kept those emission levels down, they are tackling mercury and greenhouse gas emissions, which means new environmental regulations. As a result, many of the US’s coal-burning power plants will close, since upgrading the plants’ equipment isn’t profitable. Moreover, natural gas releases half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, and natural gas costs have plunged since 2009.

New regulations on mercury has the potential to reduce emissions by almost 90% and cause more power plants to shut their doors. The EPA is handling greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, by introducing regulations that will more or less disallow utilities to build new coal-burning power plants. The EPA is set to propose new standards for existing power plants and guidelines on greenhouse gas emission levels.

Scientists are trying to find a way to prevent carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, as well as studying the method of cleaning coal prior to combustion. Both have proved costly, though countries with more access to coal and less to natural gas—like China, Pakistan, Indonesia and Australia—have expressed interest in these technologies.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 21, 2014

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“Utah Cracks Down on Smog” – Wall Street Journal, 12 March 2013

Due to high levels of smog, Utah is enacting new regulations to decrease smog-creating airborne particulates by 40%, similar to California’s cap and trade program. Though some companies think the new regulations go too far, new rules will help the state abide by federal clean-air standards set by the EPA. Utah is hoping the legislation will be put into place by 2014.

The smog gathers on Utah’s Wasatch Front, the pollution sitting over a city of 2.1 million people. So far this winter, state officials have announced 35 “red alert” days in Salt Lake City, the highest level of unhealthy air quality. In response to the smog, groups like the Utah Clean Air Alliance have formed, aimed at urging the state to reduce emissions allowances. However, Utah is widely known as a business-friendly, regulation-averse state, and, in the past, has allowed many companies to expand without lowering their emissions caps.

Metal smelters, steelmakers, wood manufacturers, specific restaurants, auto body shops and hair salons will be most drastically hit by the Utah Division of Air Quality’s new regulations, which will prove costly.

By August 1, for example, restaurants that use chain-driven flame broilers to cook their meat will have to install catalytic converters to catch any particulates. The new rules will also limit the amount of volatile organic compounds found in industrial coatings and consumer products,  like wood stains, paint primers and hair spray. Additionally, auto body shops will have to switch to water-based primers.

Many residents and small businesses don’t believe Utah’s new regulations go far enough, and that big businesses won’t be monitored by the state. Industry representatives maintain that auto pollution is the real culprit, citing a report from the Division of Air Quality shows that 52% of particulates come from vehicle exhaust, and the rest from small businesses.

In light of the “gridlocked political environment” currently in Washington, it seems unlikely that any climate legislation will pass at the national level until 2014 mid-term national elections, as Republicans and red state Democrats in both the House and Senate run for “conservative political covers”.

Until then (and maybe even beyond 2014, if democrats don’t take control of the House and achieve a filibuster-proof majority in Senate), the only two viable options are:

1. Let states, such as California and now Utah, regulate emission at the state level. Which states are likely to follow? Perhaps Oregon, Washington, New York and other Northeastern  states.

2. Let President Obama and the EPA initiate and enforce emission standards as articulated by the President in his second inaugural address. The US Supreme court has already upheld EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases under existing Clean Air Act.

We are betting that the best solution will be the first option, as it has been for so many recent social changes, such as “gun violence  and “marriage equality”, that have occurred at the state level.

See also:
On Climate Change, Some Arguments Shift
Europe’s Emissions Plan Hits Turbulence
Your Biggest Carbon Sin May Be Air Travel
A Grand Experiment to Rein In Climate Change

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 26, 2013

Phinix LLC

Copyright 2013. All rights Reserved by Phinix, LLC.

www.phinix.net    skdas@phinix.net

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