Hours after Senate Republicans’ failed attempt to overturn an Obama-era rule regulating methane emissions, the Trump administration announced it will take matters into its own hands. Kate MacGregor, the acting assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior, said shortly after Wednesday’s vote that as part of President Donald Trump’s America-first energy plan, the agency has flagged the methane rule as one it will “suspend, revise or rescind given its significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation.” The rule is one of several the Interior Department is reviewing as part of an executive order signed by Trump in March.In other words, the agency intends to do what Senate Republicans could not. It’s a move that would be seen by environmentalists as yet another attack on the climate and public health.
Environmentalists notched a rare win in the Republican-led Senate on Wednesday as a GOP effort to reverse an Obama-era rule restricting harmful methane emissions unexpectedly failed. The 51-49 vote against the repeal measure was a blow to the fossil- fuel industry and groups linked to the conservative Koch Brothers, which had waged a public campaign to overturn the Interior Department rule.The rule, finalized in November, would force energy companies to capture methane that’s burned off or “flared” at drilling sites because it earns less money than oil. An estimated $330 million per year in methane — the component of natural gas — is wasted through leaks or intentional releases, enough to power about 5 million homes per year. The Interior Department said in a statement Wednesday that the rule imposes significant burdens on energy production and they would review it.
What is different about a Low Carbon Fuel Standard — as compared to a Renewable Fuel Standard?There are 4 primary differences.1. An RFS creates a standard, and any fuel that meets that standard can compete in that market. Once a fuel has met the low-carbon standard, it becomes entirely about fuel price. In an LCFS, all fuels get credited according to the carbon reductions of their pathway. So, there are no “motivational dead zones” when it comes to pushing harder on reducing carbon.2. An LCFS sets carbon volumes, not fuel volumes. 3. All fuels and energy systems compete against each other. Nat Gas? Electrics? Biofuels? Just register a pathway, prove the carbon intensity, and you can compete as a carbon-lowering fuel. 4. So far, the California LCFS only covers road transportation. So, jet fuel qualifies under the US RFS, but not under the California LCFS. This creates problems for airlines, because jet producers can generally also produce diesel fuel, and diesel qualifies under both the RFS and the LCFS — so, there’s far less value in jet fuel and, consequently, no one wants to make it despite airlines clamoring for a low—carbon solution and everyone agreeing that there’s no low-carbon solution on the horizon for aviation except low carbon liquid fuels.
Members of the U.S. Senate are questioning whether Carl Icahn’s lobbying to change the Renewable Fuel Standard creates an ethics conflict with his role as advisor in the Trump administration. In addition to the ethics question, Members of Congress and some in the biofuels industry should examine whether Icahn could even deliver on the purported quid-pro-quo even if he wanted to. In late February 2017, Icahn and a biofuel trade association reportedly discussed a presidential executive order to make Icahn’s desired change to the RFS Point of Obligation (the so-called POO) in exchange for modifications to unconnected policy priorities for biofuel producers. The proposed “deal” essentially was a non-starter, since altering federal policies is a far more challenging task than Icahn or his partners care to admit publicly. In short, the reported “deal” cannot be accomplished simply by waving a magic wand or through a presidential executive order.Icahn claims the RFS exacts a disproportionate toll on his business interests, and he therefore wants to move the POO as far from CVR as possible. Icahn Enterprises owns 82 percent of CVR Energy, which includes two oil refineries – one in Kansas and a small one in Oklahoma – and a rack marketing terminal for selling finished fuel. Despite owning the rack terminal, CVR protests it cannot blend enough biofuel to meet the obligation and must therefore buy Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) on the market. However, Reuters has reported that CVR sold RINs on several occasions in the past year, creating a short position in the market and apparently gambling that it can escape the obligation or buy the RINs back at a deflated price.
Our understanding of renewable energy impacts remains woefully deficient, but a new study, published last month in The Journal of Wildlife Management, suggests that windfarms affect the hunting and scavenging behaviors of the desert’s foxes, coyotes, and bobcats. Scientists visited a wind farm near Palm Springs, California, home to 460 lofty wind turbines, and set up motion-activated cameras in front of 46 desert tortoise burrows. They found that mesocarnivores (animals that mostly munch meat, but also occasionally eat some fungi and plant material), like foxes and bobcats, more often visited tortoise burrows that were farther away from the noisy, spinning machines. Lovich, a co-author of the study, explains that this sort of research aims to improve our understanding of how wind turbines affect wildlife, so future farms can be designed in less impactful ways. “My research is all about trying to find ways to minimize the negative effects of renewable energy, while maximizing the positive effects for society,” he says.
Iowa farmers got their chance to hear firsthand from USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue about his intent to preserve the U.S. ethanol industry and promote trade. Secretary Perdue told a crowd of farmers, lawmakers, and members of the agricultural industry that the Trump administration will not mess with the Renewable Fuels Standard. Perdue added, “As farmers, we need to be better communicators, but farmers are definitely part of our national security.”The new USDA leader stressed that no longer can farmers just be good producers; they have to tell the nation that the food is safe and their animals are treated well.“We’re going to make sound science, fact-based, data-driven decisions. Because that is what works in agriculture,” says Perdue. “At the same time, we should be unapologetic in agriculture.”
Eight Democratic Senators on Tuesday asked U.S. regulators to launch an investigation into billionaire Carl Icahn's activities in the U.S. biofuels blending credit market, saying the activist investor may have violated securities trading laws. "We are writing to request that your agencies investigate whether Carl Icahn violated insider trading laws, anti-market manipulation laws, or any other relevant laws based on his recent actions in the market for renewable fuel credits," the senators said in a letter to the heads of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
In a report issued by the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis, 46 coal-burning units at 25 power plants across 16 states will close or greatly reduce production by 2018, resulting in a 30 million-ton decrease in demand for coal.
Environmental and climate regulations that cut pollution from coal-fired power plants have played only a minor role in the decline of the coal industry, which has been hurt mainly by expanding use of natural gas and less demand for electricity, according to a Columbia University report published this week. U.S. coal use fell by about 30 percent between 2011 and 2016. The paper attributes about half of that decline to low natural gas prices, 26 percent to falling demand for electricity and 18 percent to growth in renewable energy such as wind and solar. Only 3.5 percent of the coal industry’s decline is due to environmental and climate regulations that took effect prior to 2016.
We've entered a topsy-turvy moment in energy where coal supporters want solar power and oil execs have endorsed cutting fossil fuel use.The latter appeared in a new decarbonization roadmap from the Energy Transitions Commission, an all-star working group charting the energy future that includes the chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, the head of sustainability at massive mining company BHP Billiton, the CEO of General Electric Oil and Gas, as well as leaders from prominent global banks, development organizations and climate-oriented NGOs.The terminology in "Better Energy, Greater Prosperity" will be familiar to anyone following the Paris climate agreement and subsequent mobilization, but the cast of characters here differs in a crucial way. Each commission member might not agree with every detail, the report notes, but they collectively "endorse the general thrust of the arguments." That means some of the world's most powerful fossil fuel providers and financial lenders have publicly affirmed the need to sharply cut oil, gas and coal usage and switch to clean sources. And they believe this can be done without macroeconomic disruption, but rather with a net welfare gain for society.