Carbon Emissions

Proposed Rule for Power Plant Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Much Ado About Nothing?

March 29, 2012 21:20
by J. Wylie Donald
Wow!  Whether one likes the president or not, one must concede he's not afraid of leading. Just a little over seven months from the election he has drawn a line in the sand and proposed a rule that may fundamentally alter America's energy mix and takes a big step toward addressing carbon dioxide emissions.  Or it does nothing at all.  We are talking of course of Tuesday's announcement of new source performance standards for electricity plants.   In EPA's words: The EPA is proposing standards of performance that require that all new fossil fuel-fired EGUs meet an electricity-output-based emission rate of 1,000 lbCO2/MWh of electricity generated on a gross basis. This proposed standard is based on the demonstrated performance of natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) units, which are currently in wide use throughout the country, and are likely to be the predominant fossil fuel-fired technology for new generation in the future.  EPA, Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions for New Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units (proposed rule) at 13 (Mar. 27, 2012) . So natural gas is in.  And what about the other fossil fuels?  New plants using coal or oil and even IGCC (integrated gas combined cycle) can be built but EPA expects that they will need to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) to meet the standards.  Id. What brought about this groundbreaking new rule?  We set forth the legal foundation in a companion post.  Suffice to say here that EPA has moved a long way from the days before Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), when greenhouse gases were not Clean Air Act "pollutants."  But the non-regulatory drivers were perhaps even more significant.  All are aware of "fracking".  The use of horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing in shales a mile beneath the surface has unleashed a torrent of natural gas.  As Forbes reports this month natural gas prices are half of what they were just a few years ago.  And the glut is not seen to be abating.  EPA has seized on this surfeit:  "technological developments and discoveries of abundant natural gas reserves have caused natural gas prices to decline precipitously in recent years and have secured those relatively low prices for the near-future."  Proposed Rule at 15.  As a result, "energy industry modeling forecasts uniformly predict that few, if any, new coal-fired power plants will be built in the foreseeable future."  Id.  In other words, the proposed regulation will have hardly any effect (even none) on coal-fired generation because no one was going to build those plants anyway.  "Our IPM modeling, using Energy Information Administration (EIA) reference case assumptions, projects that there will be no construction of new coal-fired generation without CCS by 2030. Under these assumptions, the proposed rule will not impose costs by 2030."  Id. at 17. We have read the commentary that this is the death of coal.  The cost of capturing and storing carbon dioxide, which will be the only way for a new coal plant to meet the new standard, is prohibitive. Accordingly, no coal plants will be built. According to EPA, however, coal-fired production was dead anyway because of the glut of natural gas.  Crystal balls are notoriously unreliable.  Some may remember that nuclear power was to make electricity too cheap to meter. But that didn't happen.  America built the largest man-made construction the world has ever seen (the interstate highway system) on the assumption that gasoline would always be abundant.  That was in error.  An oil embargo introduced Americans to long lines at the fuel pump and locking gas caps. Most forget that natural gas production peaked in the early 1970s, not to be exceeded again until over twenty years had passed.  The point is:  smart people took their best science and made plans.  But reality somehow did not get the message.  For what it is worth, here is our crystal ball on the demise of coal.  First, CCS technology is pertinent not only to coal. Combustion of natural gas emits carbon dioxide as well. The regulatory imperative will push natural gas plants to address their CO2, and coal will be able to take advantage of improvements in CCS technology. Second, the United States has been called the Saudi Arabia of coal. To expect that industry to dry up and blow away is naïve. Shale gas went from a vanishingly small fraction of the US energy mix to over 20% in five years or less. Innovation made this possible.  Just as ten years ago we could not imagine today's natural gas industry, we may not be able to recognize our coal resource in another ten years. Third, we thought it was fundamental that energy security depends on a mix of energy sources. It would be foolhardy to rely completely on natural gas.  It will only take one cold winter and a natural gas pipeline calamity to make coal seem like a sensible alternative.  Whether the proposed rule will actually have an impact depends on numerous factors.  All can agree, however, that climate change has been thrust back on the national agenda. 

Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Greenhouse Gases | Regulation

Soldiering On: The Western Climate Initiative and RGGI in 2012 and Beyond

January 8, 2012 20:47
by J. Wylie Donald
Last week a big step forward was taken by the Western Climate Initiative (WCI). Or what remains of it. On January 1, 2012 members were to establish binding caps on emissions of carbon dioxide from electricity generators and certain industrial sources, issue allowances for those emissions and then permit the trading of those allowances.  At least that was the plan back in September 2008 when  Design Recommendations for the WCI Regional Cap-and-Trade Program was released and when climate change response was popular and states had money in their budgets.  Since then Arizona, Montana New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Utah have withdrawn from the WCI leaving only California and four Canadian provinces.  As the WCI puts it:  "British Columbia, California, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba are continuing to work together through the Western Climate Initiative to develop and harmonize their emissions trading program policies."  And of those remaining only two (California and Quebec) are moving forward with a cap-and-trade program. So is this the end of regional greenhouse gas initiatives?  After all, on the East Coast New Jersey has bolted from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, while New Hampshire attempted to bolt and New York faces a lawsuit (attached) aimed at ejecting New York. We think not.  Our reasoning is three fold.  First, climate change is not going away.  We are going to have to do something.  The theory behind regional initiatives -- that they act as a laboratory for experimenting with greenhouse gas regulation -- remains valid.  And until federal legislation takes over (certainly not in 2012), regional initiatives are going to be the only game in town.  Second, organizations exist around the globe to develop manufacturing or construction or laboratory or telecommunications or you-name-it standards.   Companies ignore these organizations at their peril and often join so they can influence the result and at a minimum have inside knowledge of what the standard is and how it came to be.  Regional initiatives operate in a similar manner where the development of the rules and the issues behind them are  critical in effectively implementing the rules.  States and provinces that are out in front on climate change issues are going to have two advantages going forward.  They will have a program in place when federal rules ultimately come along; that primacy will undoubtedly influence the federal program.  And they will have experience implementing the program which likely will translate into a more effective program when compared with newly minted greenhouse gas regulators. And third they are reported to add economic benefit.  In November RGGI released a report by The Analysis Group that analyzed  the effect of RGGI:   "The Economic Impacts of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Ten Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States."    To quote the report's authors: Key findings include: ■The regional economy gains more than $1.6 billion in economic value added (reflecting the difference between total revenues in the overall economy, less the cost to produce goods and services)■Customers save nearly $1.1 billion on electricity bills, and an additional $174 million on natural gas and heating oil bills, for a total of $1.3 billion in savings over the next decade through installation of energy efficiency measures using funding from RGGI auction proceeds to date■16,000 jobs are created region wide■Reduced demand for fossil fuels keeps more than $765 million in the local economy■Power plant owners experience $1.6 billion in lower revenue over time, although they overall had higher revenues than costs as a result of RGGI during the 2009-2011 period This is not a surprise.  By limiting the emission of carbon dioxide, RGGI drove up, at least initially, the cost of electricity production.  This had the effect of promoting more efficient use of electricity.  So practitioners would do well to pay attention to California's efforts.  It is likely to be the source of what ultimately happens in Washington. Thrun v. Cuomo (RGGI Complaint).pdf (1.34 mb)

Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Greenhouse Gases | Regulation

2011: Notwithstanding Extreme Weather, US Climate Policy Does Not Move Forward

December 30, 2011 22:01
by J. Wylie Donald
NOAA reported that 2011 was one for the record books:  12 weather and climate-related disasters each causing over $1 billion in damage.  One might expect (or hope) that a national climate change policy would be coming into place to prevent repeating or setting a new record.  One would be disappointed.  U.S. climate policy is "uncertain," to quote Michael Morris, CEO of American Electric Power, "dysfunctional" is the word applied by Resources for the Future, "hamstrung" is how the chief UN climate change negotiator and Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, calls it.   We don't disagree with these viewpoints; they are accurate.  But if a response to climate change is the goal, it is worse than these commenters are acknowledging because not only has Congress shown that it is incapable of getting anything done, other avenues are not delivering either.  As the year expires we thought it might be helpful to sift through the year's detritus and assess  the status of attempts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, distinct from overt attempts like passing laws and adopting regulations. 1. Tax emissions - Some will remember our blog on the federal lawsuit brought by Mirant Corp. against Montgomery County challenging the County's tax on carbon emissions which fell only on Mirant. The County challenged the federal court's jurisdiction and won before the federal district court. In June, however, the Fourth Circuit reversed.  With that Montgomery County folded its tent and abandoned its carbon tax. 2. Favor renewable energy - The inexorable scrutiny of the markets has proved the undoing of several former high-flying renewable energy ventures. Most well-known is the debacle with Solyndra LLC, whose well-publicized collapse generated scrutiny by the FBI and Congress. Others that have failed with less limelight in 2011 include numerous solar companies (Solar Millennium, Stirling Energy Systems, Evergreen Solar, Spectrawatt), as well as ventures in wind (Skycon), energy storage (Beacon Power), and biofulels (Range Fuels). 3. Impose liability for emissions of carbon dioxide - The results here are mixed.  Everyone points to American Electric Power v Connecticut for the principle that for greenhouse gas liability claims the federal common law of nuisance has been displaced by federal regulation. They could equally point to Connecticut v AEP before the Second Circuit for the principle that the political question doctrine does not bar these types of claims or to the Fifth Circuit panel in Comer v Murphy Oil USA that held similarly.  However, even if the cases are permitted to move forward, they face daunting problems in proof of causation. 4. Force state action to regulate carbon dioxide - We blogged last May and just this month about the tidal wave of litigation unleashed by Our Children's Trust, an Oregon environmental group that had orchestrated a dozen suits asserting the defendant States had an obligation under the public trust doctrine to restrain carbon dioxide emissions, as well as regulatory petitions in about 40 jurisdictions.  Time has not been good to OCT. First, its petitions have been denied by at least 23 agencies (Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia. Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming).  Where OCT filed lawsuits, three states (Arkansas, Minnesota and New Mexico) responded with motions to dismiss.  The lawsuit against Montana was dismissed. In the federal lawsuit, the plaintiffs lost a motion to transfer. 5. Reach regional agreements - With great fanfare the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative was launched in 2005. Despite a recent study that claims significant economic benefit to the states in RGGI, its future success is unclear. New Jersey pulled out, New Hampshire tried to leave but the governor vetoed the bill. In New York, there is a court challenge.  6. Voluntarily trade carbon dioxide emissions credits - The only carbon exchange in North America came to an end in 2010 when the Chicago Climate Exchange closed its doors.  A shadow of its former self, the CCX now registers verified emission reductions based on a comprehensive set of established protocols. 7. Develop carbon capture and storage - The most prominent project in the US came to a halt in July when American Electric Power concluded not to build a full-scale CCS plant at its Mountaineer, West Virginia plant. As noted above, AEP explained its decision as based on the uncertainty of US climate policy.  The lack of direction in American climate change response hurts business. AEP walked away from a $300 million Department of Energy match.  It didn't help that the Virginia consumer advocate, in successfully arguing against including CCS costs in the rate base, asserted:  “Any potential benefit is speculative and outweighed by the enormous cost of the pilot project.” Some may think no policy is the best policy.  We think otherwise.  Climate change is happening.  There will be a response.  All will benefit if that response is choreographed over time, rather than rushed into when political consensus ultimately concludes that something must be done NOW.  Maybe in 2012?  Happy New Year. 

Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Climate Change Litigation | Legislation | Regulation | Renewable Energy | Weather | Year in Review

Good COP, Bad COP - Durban and the Future of a Climate Change Treaty

November 26, 2011 05:39
by J. Wylie Donald
Durban, South Africa.  Home to the Shark Tank (where Kwazulu-Natal's rugby team, the Sharks, plays), extensive beaches and South Africa's busiest port.  But not home to a new treaty to address climate change.  COP-17 gets underway on Monday and the delegates haven't even met yet; some might think we are being somewhat premature.  We think not.  There is an election here next year.  Europe is mired in a sovereign debt crisis.  China and India will not derail their economic growth just to appease the industrialized West.  Notwithstanding that there will not be any legally binding agreement, the discussions in Durban are of some moment.  Before we get to that, let's make sure we are all on the same page.  COP-17 is the annual "Conference of the Parties", the yearly meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In diplomat-ese, it is also 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of the Framework Convention is “to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system”.  Nearly all nations (including the United States) are members. There are three primary subjects that will be considered in Durban: 1.  Kyoto Protocol - This treaty entered into force in 2005 and established a regime to address greenhouse gas emissions around the world.  There were two tiers:  developed nations and developing nations.  The standards for the first group were stricter than those for the second.  While most nations signed on to the treaty, the United States (and Andorra, Afghanistan and South Sudan) did not.  The United States' primary criticism is that the Protocol did not appropriately take into account the massive greenhouse gas contributions that are now coming from developing nations like China and India.  Now Kyoto is set to expire.  COP-17 is to set up the next stage.  However, the United States, Russia and Japan have stated that they will not sign on for a second stage.  The consensus of observers is that Kyoto will not be extended. 2.  Green Climate Fund - At COP-15 (Copenhagen in 2009), developed nations promised to provide by 2020 $100 billion per year or more to help developing nations address climate change.  As noted by the Overseas Development Institute in the United Kingdom, how to do this is not simple, even apart from finding the funds.  The payors (wealthy nations) favor funds to reduce emissions and running funds through the World Bank (where large donors have more control). The payees (poorer nations) have a much more pragmatic approach.  They favor direct access to funds and more adaptation than mitigation.  To quote Greenpeace Africa:  “The argument is that the developed countries, especially the United States and Western Europe, built their economies on dirty energy – principally coal. So they’re chiefly responsible for the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that are causing climate change. Yet the worst of the climate change impacts are being felt in least developed countries. So there is definitely a strong argument for the developed countries to greatly help poorer countries to switch to renewable energies.”  In October the UN Transitional Committee submitted a draft instrument on the structure of the Fund.  News reports state that the United States does not support the draft. 3.  REDD+ - Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation is an additional path to addressing greenhouse gas emissions, separate and apart from combustion sources.  Forest degradation is responsible for up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  The UN organized a program in 2008 to address this problem.  "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.“REDD+” goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks."  Some have claimed that REDD is "the fastest-moving portion of the whole climate negotiations."   Some environmental groups want a portion of the Green Climate Fund earmarked for REDD. So why does this have any significance for businesspeople in the United States?  We start from the premise that climate change is occurring. No dispute about that. There will be significant changes as a result. No dispute about that either. And humans, as is their nature, will respond to the change in their habitat.  Likewise, no dispute.  In the jargon, there will be adaptation - armoring the shore against rising sea levels, further restrictions on water usage for drought areas, more hurricane-proof building codes, enhanced floodplain analysis - and there will be mitigation - efforts at reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases.  For better or worse, the COP meetings set the rules of the mitigation game, and influence responses to adaptation.  Although the Kyoto Protocol was not adopted in the United States, it led to the establishment of a billion dollar trading system in Europe on carbon credits.  It influenced RGGI and the Western Climate Initiative here.  We have written about how the European system is set to impact American air carriers at the first of the year.  Down the road, we believe the nations of the world, including the United States, will come together to address climate change.  The frameworks that are in place - built by the COP meetings - will inevitably be important in cementing and implementing the mutuality of purpose.

Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Regulation

Cap and Trade - California Leads the Way

November 1, 2011 20:39
by J. Wylie Donald
Subchapter 10 Climate Change, Article 5, Sections 95800 to 96023, Title 17, California Code of Regulations, to read as follows: Article 5: CALIFORNIA CAP ON GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS AND MARKET-BASED COMPLIANCE MECHANISMS Note: All text is new. "All text is new."  And so it is and so begins a new chapter in California's odyssey into the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, which began over 5 years ago with the passage of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.  Under that law, greenhouse gas rules - including market controls - adopted by the California Air Resources Board are required to take effect by January 1, 2012.  Thus, market control regulations - a cap and trade program - were adopted unanimously by the CARB on October 20 and submitted to the Office of Administrative Law by last Friday, October 28. Cap and trade has two parts.  What does the cap look like? The CARB's implementing resolution explains that the regulation "Establishes a declining aggregated emissions cap on included sectors. The cap starts at 162.8 million allowances in 2013, which is equal to the emissions forecast for that year. The cap declines approximately 2 percent per year in the initial period (2013–2014). In 2015, the cap increases to 394.5 million allowances to account for the expansion in program scope to include fuel suppliers. The cap declines at approximately 3 percent per year between 2015 and 2020. The 2020 cap is set at 334.2 million allowances[.]" An "allowance" is a "limited tradable authorization to emit up to one metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent."  Cal. Code Regs. tit. 17 § 95802(a)(8).  Initially large industrial facilities will receive a free allocation, with auctioned allowances to come.  Electric utilities will receive their allowances for free, with ratepayers to receive the benefit of the value of those allowances. Trade is what one does if one does not have the right number of allowances.  Allowances can be bought and sold in the present, or  banked for future needs (such as to guard against shortages and price swings), or even retired. Let there be no mistake.  This is not a small program.  The regulations run on for 260 pages with 43 pages of definitions.  They cover 350 businesses operating 600 facilities.  By 2013 electric utilities and certain large industrial facilities will be obligated to comply.  Distributors of transportation, natural gas and other fuels will see themselves subject to regulation in 2015.  California's goal is to return to 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.  The cap and trade program "sets a statewide limit on sources responsible for 85 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, and establishes a price signal needed to drive long-term investment in cleaner fuels and more efficient use of energy." The program is comprehensive.  Besides specifying the calculation of allowances and describing the operation of allocation and auction schemes, the program also sets forth in detail the use of offsets ("a GHG emission reduction or GHG removal enhancement that is real, additional, quantifiable, permanent, verifiable, and enforceable" Cal. Code Regs. tit. 17 § 95970).  Perhaps most interesting because it suggests a self-replicating paradigm in the minds of the California authorities, is the set of provisions recognizing "compliance instruments from external GHG emission trading systems."  Cal. Code Regs. tit. 17 §§ 95940-43.  In other words, if a cap and trade program is implemented elsewhere, California can take notice and give credit.  And since that will enhance business activity with California, other jurisdictions (such as those in the Western Climate Initiative and in Canada) have an incentive to replicate California's model. Will any of this work?  CARB will not learn by happenstance.  Its implementing resolution requires annual updates, which will measure, among other things the effectiveness of the cap-and-trade program, its stimulation of investment and innovation in clean technology, shifts in transportation fuel use and supply, the working of offset protocols, carbon capture and sequestration technology, and, last but not least "federal greenhouse gas activities, including federal equivalency for a State program."  Our last post concerned a House bill that forbade American air carriers from participating in the the EU Emissions Trading System (Europe's cap and trade program). We wonder what the response in Washington will be to these efforts by the world's eighth largest economy?  We suspect they will tread gingerly and note that California voters had a chance to rein in AB 32 last November but rejected a ballot initiative (Proposition 23) that would have done just that. 

Carbon Emissions | Regulation

House Passes Bill Challenging Application of EU ETS to American Carriers - Will It Fly?

October 25, 2011 20:58
by J. Wylie Donald
When people bring up new climate change legislation today they aren't seeking to reinvent the Clean Air Act or implement the Kyoto Protocol.  Rather, the goal is to block responses to climate change. A case in point is a bill that passed the House of Representatives on a voice vote yesterday, H.R. 2594, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011. As its name implies, H.R. 2594 is not about a climate change fix. Instead it is all about getting in the way of a fix. Its operative provision provides:  "The Secretary of Transportation shall prohibit an operator of a civil aircraft of the United States from participating in any emissions trading scheme unilaterally established by the European Union."  We understand about the need for the government to interfere with business activities in rogue states, but this seems somewhat far afield. Nevertheless, this did not come out of the blue. In 2008 the European Union announced in Directive 2008/101 that all airlines flying in, into or out of European airspace would have to participate in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. This meant that operators would have to surrender to regulators one "allowance" for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted on such journeys. Failure to obtain the requisite allowances would invoke fines, and the obligation to obtain the allowances would continue. Following a monitoring and verification period in 2010 and 2011, where baseline emissions were established, the ETS regime is scheduled to take off on January 1, 2012.  Based on their established baselines airlines will be allocated allowances, most of which will be distributed for free. However, to the extent an airline wishes to grow, or new entrants arrive, or efficiency requirements kick in, expenditures will be required. Standard & Poors estimates it could cost over one billion euros in the first year, and between 23 billion and 35 billion euros through 2020.   Numerous governments and domestic and international aviation officials are lined up attempting to block or divert the European program.  A resolution of the International Civil Aviation Organisation in October 2010, Resolution A37-19, set forth goals and advocated further study and cooperation, but imposed no obligations.  The ICAO asserts that airline carbon dioxide emissions should be left to its self-governance.  The Air Transport Association (and others) filed a lawsuit in 2009 which ultimately ended up at the European Court of Justice asserting that the EU was violating international law.  Specifically, the plaintiffs argued:  "As proposed, the EU ETS provisions would regulate an entire flight from across the United States to the EU, even though the flight would be in EU airspace for only a tiny fraction of the journey, ... If the EU ETS regime implemented an international agreement agreed by third countries, as well as by the EU, we would not be here today. ATA challenges EU ETS because it is a unilateral measure, which has not been agreed by countries outside the EU, yet nevertheless applies EU law to third country carriers in third country airspace."   In June 2011 the Obama administration demanded that U.S. airlines be exempted from the scheme.  And at the end of September 21 non-EU members of the ICAO issued a declaration at their New Delhi meeting rejecting the EU ETS program.  None of this has availed.  On October 6 an Advocate General of the European Court of Justice rendered her opinion and concluded, among other things: 145. As many of the governments and institutions involved in the proceedings have correctly concluded, Directive 2008/101 does not contain any extraterritorial provisions. The activities of airlines within the airspace of third countries or over the high seas are not made subject to any mandatory provisions of EU law by virtue of this directive. In particular, Directive 2008/101 does not give rise to any kind of obligation on airlines to fly their aircraft on certain routes, to observe specific speed limits or to comply with certain limits on fuel consumption and exhaust gases. 146. Directive 2008/101 is concerned solely with aircraft arrivals at and departures from aerodromes in the European Union, and it is only with regard to such arrivals and departures that any exercise of sovereignty over the airlines occurs: depending on the flight, these airlines have to surrender emission allowances in various amounts, (131) and if they fail to comply there is a threat of penalties, which might even extend to an operating ban. More succinctly, as set forth in the European Court of Justice's press release:  "EU legislation does not infringe the sovereignty of other States or the freedom of the high seas guaranteed under international law, and is compatible with the relevant international agreements."      Where is this all headed?  The ECJ itself should render its opinion by early 2012.  Unless it undoes Directive 2008/101, some are predicting a trade war.  Even if everyone grudgingly goes along with participation in the scheme, "carbon leakage" is likely to be a significant factor.  Long-haul flights that now stop in Europe may find it more cost-effective to stop over in the Middle East, which does not impose any charge for carbon dioxide emissions.  And of course, the traveler is likely to see higher fares. Will H.R. 2594 make any difference?  We think it unlikely.  In a time of budget cuts and market reliance, what is to be gained by establishing another bureaucracy when United Continental, Delta and American Airlines can find gates at Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai?

Carbon Emissions | Climate Change Litigation | Regulation

Damascus Citizens for Sustainability Attack Marcellus Shale Gas

August 28, 2011 21:10
by J. Wylie Donald
No, this is not jihad or the last gasp of a d esperate despot.  Instead, it is a citizens group taking on the government and seeking to compel the completion of environmental impact statements (EISs) prior to the promulgation of regulations for the development of shale oil wells in the Delaware River Basin.  If they are successful, they will certainly delay the drilling of hundreds if not thousands of wells.  And as part of that success, the role of natural gas as a "bridging" fuel to ease us into a carbon-free world may be substantially diminished. Taking a page from the playbook of past environmental challenges, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Inc. filed suit earlier this month against the Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, EPA and Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), as well as various officers in their official capacities to block hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") activities in the Delaware River Basin. The gravamen of the complaint (attached) is that the agencies have violated federal law by failing to require the completion of an environmental impact statement before promulgating regulations allowing natural gas development within the Basin.  Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.  DCS is a non-profit conservation group whose members "live, work and recreate" in the Basin. Complaint ¶ 11.  Members of DCS include organic farmers, bird watchers, hunters and fishermen. Id. ¶ 12.  Some will take offense at the disengagement of some of the plaintiff's members who "escape on weekends and vacations to their refuge in the Upper Delaware Basin where they can commune with nature in the bucolic setting of the Basin."  Id.  As summarized by the complaint, "For each member of DCS, the Basin's unspoiled resources are his or her own Walden Pond."  Id. Defendants are government agencies responsible in one way or another for the watershed.  As such, effects from fracking (which, according to the complaint, will result in between 15,000 and 18,000 natural gas wells in the Basin, id. ¶ 62) fall under their jurisdiction. A substantial hurdle in plaintiff's suit is whether the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (which requires EISs) even applies to an interstate commission such as the DRBC. As the complaint acknowledges, "DRBC has stated that it is not subject to NEPA, noting that four of the five commissioners are appointed by states.  DRBC thus refuses to comply with NEPA."  Id. ¶ 32.  There is support in the case law for this position:  "That DRBC is a federal agency for purposes of NEPA is very doubtful."  Delaware Water Emergency Group v. Hansler, 536 F. Supp. 26, 35 (E.D. Pa. 1981).  DCS argues that, among other things, the DRBC is a federal agency as it was established by federal legislation, publishes its regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations, publishes its activities in the Federal Register, is listed as a U.S. Government Agency by USA.gov and is viewed as a federal agency by the Council of Environmental Quality, which oversees the federal government's compliance with NEPA.  Complaint ¶¶ 26, 28, 29. If DCS gets past that hurdle then numerous aspects of fracking may come under the microscope.  Allegations include:  highly contaminated return flows of water, gas and other materials, confidential fracking fluid formulas containing "carcinogenic, acutely toxic, chronically toxic and bioaccumulative" materials, methane emissions as greenhouse gases, "systematic evidence of methane contamination of drinking water from gas extraction activities", "large-scale changes in land use and increased water withdrawals," "significant air pollution from truck exhaust emissions," "serious vehicular accidents,"  "significant public health problems" and  permanent change to the rural and scenic character of the area.  Id. ¶¶ 50, 51, 54, 59, 62, 63, 65 and 66.  It is obvious that full development of all these topics will substantially delay the development of the Marcellus shale. To focus on just one aspect of the allegations, it is worth looking at greenhouse gas emissions.  The conventional wisdom is that because natural gas is composed of lighter, less complex hydrocarbons, and therefore when combusted it emits less carbon dioxide per BTU than other fossil fuels, it is to be preferred over oil and coal.  NaturalGas.org reports on its webpage that "The combustion of natural gas emits almost 30 percent less carbon dioxide than oil, and just under 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal."  (Particulates, SOx and NOx and mercury are likewise much lower.)  Methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and a significant component of natural gas, likewise is reported to have better characteristics in natural gas. An EPA/Gas Resources Institute 1997 study concluded "that the reduction in emissions from increased natural gas use strongly outweighs the detrimental effects of increased methane emissions."  Id.  Accordingly, many believe that if one substitutes natural gas for coal and oil, one could continue to grow the economy while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This proposition is under attack.  Citing a 2010 EPA study, DCS pleads that EPA "revised its estimated potential emissions from gas well completions from 0.02 tons of methane per well to 177 tons of methane per well."  Complaint ¶ 63. We tracked down the EPA study and some additional scholarship.  In Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting from the Petroleum and Natural Gas Industry, Background Technical Support Document, the EPA walks away from its earlier study:  "new data and increased knowledge of industry operations and practices have highlighted the fact that emissions estimates from the EPA/GRI study are outdated and potentially understated for some emissions sources."  Background Technical Support Document at 8.  One of those sources is unconventional natural gas production, aka fracking.  Appendix B of the study lays out the sources of the new data and they are thin: four presentations at a 2007 EPA Natural Gas STAR Production Technology Transfer Workshop .  Nevertheless, they may be a game changer. Cornell researchers Howarth, Santoro and Ingraffea took the new numbers and applied them to the proposition that natural gas should be used "as a transitional fuel, allowing continued dependence on fossil fuels yet reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to oil or coal over coming decades."  Howarth at 2.  They concluded that shale gas has a greenhouse gas footprint substantially larger than previously thought and that, depending on circumstances, the footprint of coal can be superior to that of shale gas (i.e., smaller).  Id. ¶ 8.  Thus, "the large GHG footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming."  Id. One thing that was striking in the EPA study was the acknowledgment of "great variability in the natural gas sector and [that] the resulting emission rates have high uncertainty."   Background Technical Support Document at 86.  EPA also noted that its results do not include reductions due to control technologies.  Id. at 87.  Howarth et al. acknowledge the efficacy of technology and that "methane emissions during the flow-back period in theory can be reduced by up to 90%."  Howarth ¶ 7.  In practice, they assert it does not happen.  If Damascus Citizens for Sustainability has anything to say about it, we will know more. Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Inc. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers et al, 11-cv-03857 Complaint (Aug. 10, 2011).pdf (828.33 kb)

Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Climate Change Litigation | Greenhouse Gases | Sustainability

The Debt Ceiling Furor Will Change the Climate of Climate Change Responses

July 27, 2011 19:12
by J. Wylie Donald
We hope you don't come to this blog for stock tips but it doesn't take John Bogle to know that the debt ceiling impasse and the budget furor do not bode well for renewable energy stocks.  Citing the debt crises and oversupply, here is how one report put it:  "One of the biggest losers on the day was the PowerShares WilderHill Clean Energy Portfolio (PBW) which slumped by 1.4% to open up the week."  So where else is the national obsession on the nation's debt going to take a bite out of responses to climate change.  We tracked down a few subjects. Carbon Dioxide Regulation - Efforts by House Republicans to defund USEPA's steps to regulate carbon dioxide resulted most recently in H.R. 2584, the proposed Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012.  Section 453 provides, among other things, that "None of the funds made available under this Act shall be used--(1) to prepare, propose, promulgate, finalize, implement, or enforce any regulation pursuant to section 202 of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7521) regarding the regulation of any greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines that are maufactured after model year 2016 to address climate change; ..."   This is not a new tactic.  It is probably fair to say that what is in the works now at EPA is not what will be the final word. Tax Credits - Under § 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act renewable energy project developers may take cash payments in lieu of the investment tax credits.  The Treasury reports over 7000 projects funded to the tune of $6.4 billion, resulting in total investment of $21.6 billion.  Although the credits do not expire until October 2012, some think they are under the gun right now.  Ethanol - The most subsidized part of the renewable energy mix, ethanol producers and corn farmers received a stern message on June 16 when Senator Dianne Feinstein obtained a symbolic vote (73-27) in favor of ending ethanol subsidies on July 1.  The White House promised a veto and the proposal has not gone anywhere in the House. Energy Efficiency - Congress can't figure out the debt ceiling mess but remains expert at creative bill naming.  H.R. 2417, the Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act, passed overwhelmingly, but didn't take effect because of the procedural rule adopted to permit a vote, which required a supermajority.  The bill would have repealed certain provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that prescribed energy efficiency standards for incandescent lamps (among other things). We are sure there are others.  Notwithstanding that the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 passed both houses of Congress by wide margins, the winds of change are now blowing hard and furiously.  Where all these programs will be when the furor over the debt ceiling subsides is unknown, but no one can dispute that the climate has changed.

Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Legislation | Renewable Energy

Anticipated Cooling Tower Rulemaking: Preserving Aquatic Life at the Expense of Increased Carbon Emissions?

February 2, 2011 12:19
We’ve previously written in this blog concerning regulatory uncertainty and its impact on investment or growth of renewable energy.  One example of how this has recently played out is in the early retirement of Exelon’s Oyster Creek nuclear facility in New Jersey.  Setting aside any philosophical debate with regard to whether nuclear is a form of energy that should be lauded as a resource that generates no carbon dioxide emissions, we focus here on the issue of regulatory uncertainty, the dilemma that arises when an agency leans toward choosing one means of technology as a panacea to a potential harm to the environment, and the unintended impact of such regulation on another area of environmental concern.  Regulatory uncertainty and the potential increased environmental compliance costs of anticipated state and federal regulation forced the owners of Oyster Creek to agree to shut down the 645 MW nuclear facility in 2019, ten years before its renewed license to operate expires.  In April 2009, Exelon won a 20-year license extension for Oyster Creek.  Not all power plants are required to use cooling towers, let alone particular types of cooling towers.  Cooling tower regulations are currently being considered by the EPA and NJ DEP as a way to protect aquatic species in the rivers, oceans and lakes that provide cooling water to power plants.  A component cited by Exelon in its decision to close the plant early was the NJ DEP’s attempt to compel construction and operation of a cooling tower at Oyster Creek within seven years, which Exelon said would be cost prohibitive.  To what extent should a regulatory agency dictate the means or methods to be employed in achieving certain environmental results?  With regard to the federal scheme, rule 316(b) of the Clean Water Act has allowed power plant operators to use what is the “best technology available” to capture water for plant cooling purposes.  EPA’s rulemaking is expected to set significant new national technology-based performance standards to minimize adverse environmental impact.  Although the proposed rule has not yet been issued (it is expected in February 2011, to be followed by a final rule in July 2012), the EPA’s anticipated rule, coupled with the inability of plant operators to consider other factors (such as climate change, impact on water use, land use, and cost) may have unintended consequences.  After all, while requiring particular kinds of cooling towers on all existing power plants may benefit some aquatic life, the forced early retirement of multiple nuclear plants will also result in increased carbon emissions.  And, if predictions are true, rising sea levels associated with increased carbon dioxide levels will likely harm far more aquatic life as rivers become more saline, wetlands are drowned, and abandoned infrastructure falls into the sea.

Carbon Emissions | Regulation | Renewable Energy

Climate Change and the Supreme Court Part II: Certiorari Granted in Connecticut v. American Electric Power

December 6, 2010 07:35
by J. Wylie Donald
It doesn't take much insight to conclude that today's granting by the Supreme Court of the petition for certiorari in Connecticut v. American Electric Power could be the start of a whole new era in climate change liability lawsuits. If the Supreme Court comes down on the side of the plaintiff States, it may become open season on utilities, coal and petrochemical companies, automobile manufacturers, and anyone else a litigation-minded plaintiff wishes to mulct in damages for carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. Potential defendants need to take steps now to identify their insurance coverage and be prepared to give notice. The Supreme Court last looked at climate change in 2007 when it concluded in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), by a 5-4 decision, that the Clean Air Act required the USEPA to consider whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were air pollutants within the meaning of the Act. The issue this time is whether the courts should be imposing judicial remedies for injuries allegedly arising from the emission of carbon dioxide, an alleged nuisance. Few reading this blog will need an introduction to Connecticut v. American Electric Power. I won't go over it other than to remind readers that it was filed in New York federal court in 2004 by several states against a collection of carbon dioxide-emitting utilities and was then consolidated with similar cases filed by public interest groups. The basic allegation was that the utilities' carbon dioxide emissions constituted a public nuisance and the plaintiffs sought injunctive relief compelling the utilities to reduce their emissions. On motion, the trial court dismissed the case concluding that the political question doctrine applied because only the political branches (i.e., the legislative and executive arms of the government) could appropriately balance the array of environmental, economic and other issues presented. An appeal followed to the Second Circuit, which reversed and held that the political question doctrine does not preclude federal common law nuisance claims. Following denial of a petition for en banc review, the petition for certiorari was filed on August 2, followed shortly by an amicus curiae brief from the Obama administration. The federal government asserted that the Second Circuit's decision should be vacated because the government was developing regulations and that the courts should stay out. Of course Connecticut v. American Electric Power is not alone. Private and public plaintiffs have brought suit for alleged climate change losses arising in Mississippi, California and Alaska. Although all three cases have been dismissed, the appeal of one was withdrawn, the appellate panel in the second reversed the dismissal, but which was then vacated when the en banc court accepted review and then could not muster a quorum, and the third is pending before the Ninth Circuit. See Cal. v. Gen. Motors Corp., No. C06-05755, 2007 WL 2726871 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 17, 2007), appeal dismissed, No. 07-16908 (9th Cir. June 24, 2009); Comer v. Murphy Oil Co., 2007 WL 6942285 (S.D. Miss. Aug. 30, 2007), rev'd, 585 F.3d 855 (5th Cir. 2009), reh'g granted, 598 F.3d 208 (5th Cir.), appeal dismissed, 607 F.3d 1049 (5th Cir. 2010); Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., 663 F.Supp.2d 863 (N.D. Cal. 2009), appeal pending, No. 09-17490 (9th Cir. Nov. 5, 2009). Quite clearly, the last chapter on these types of lawsuits has not been written. Reading the tea leaves on Connecticut v. American Electric Power will be difficult. To grant a petition for certiorari, only four justices need to approve. With the retirement of Justices Stevens (author of Massachusetts v. EPA) and Souter (who joined in the opinion), and the recusal from Connecticut of Justice Sotomayor (who heard argument at the Second Circuit but did not sign the opinion), a 4-4 decision in Connecticut is certainly possible. That would leave the Second Circuit's decision intact without a Supreme Court decision (which might bode well for the appeal of Kivalina before the Ninth Circuit). IMPLICATIONS FOR A DECISION Emitters of carbon dioxide are hoping for a clean decision that puts the climate change liability genie back in the bottle and lays the theory of federal common law nuisance in its grave. But what if that does not occur? There is certainly a fair chance that the justices either affirm the theory, or, 4-4, do not reject it. In that case, plaintiffs' lawyers are very likely to be emboldened and bring other suits. Some target industries have already been identified. When the results of USEPA's greenhouse gas reporting rule are collated, other industries may find themselves in the crosshairs. The time to identify insurance coverage is not when half a dozen claims have been filed in jurisdictions across the nation demanding an answer within 30 days. Climate change defendants and potential defendants should take steps now to prepare for future claims, most notably because of the risk they may lose insurance coverage for these claims if they are not reported timely. Many will rely on notice to their current insurer and that is a good strategy, so far as it goes and only if that carrier agrees to coverage. But besides one's current policy, one should also be considering prior "occurrence-based" policies, which could be triggered based on allegations of injury-causing events occurring over time. It does not require much imagination to analogize the time periods over which, for example, glaciers have melted, snowpack has become depleted, erosion has increased, and water supplies have been drawn down to other drawn-out injuries that established the "continuous trigger" rule that attached multiple policies. Some states have a bright line rule for notice. If it is not given promptly, dismissal based on late notice is a likely result. Other states are more lenient and require prejudice to the insurer. New York until recently was a no-prejudice-to-the-insurer state. But the law changed in 2009 to require the insurer to show prejudice (or the insured to show no prejudice) - but it was not retroactive. Accordingly, insureds with policies subject to New York law (which is often the case due to a choice of law provision in the policy) prior to 2009 still need to give notice promptly. Even in those states that require prejudice to be shown, one cannot know how the case law on prejudice will evolve in the context of climate change; hence prompt notice is a good idea in other states as well. Notice here is not as easy as it may sound. Unlike Superfund cases where the (alleged) responsible entity is identified by the claimant and therefore can be identified to the insurance company, carbon dioxide emission liability can fall to any fossil-fuel fired plant owned by the corporate entity, including potentially those operated by subsidiaries. Accordingly, those subsidiaries' policies may need to be tracked down and placed on notice as well. Taking liberties with Ben Franklin's adage, an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure. Should climate change claims get the green light from the Supreme Court, policyholders would be wise to have located all of their protection ahead of time.

Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Climate Change Litigation | Insurance | Supreme Court | Utilities

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