California’s clean-energy leadership continues

By Lauren Navarro

California is a leader, and has earned that title – it is the largest state economy in the U.S. and the sixth-largest economy in the world.  Forward-thinking clean energy policies are the backbone of California’s prosperity, creating jobs and businesses for the state while cutting emissions. While the presidential administration assaults critical environmental protections nationwide, clean energy momentum is California’s leadership is committed and poised to move forward.

Energy policy drives economic growth

Most energy policy is done at the state level, reflecting that energy management is a fundamental concern for local residents and their livelihoods. How we make, move, and use power can create jobs and protect citizens’ rights to clean air and energy choice. The following bills currently in front of the California State Legislature illuminate the state’s path forward:

  • SB 584 (De Leon) – This bill proposes increasing our current Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) – a requirement that utilities meet half of sales with clean, renewable energy sources – to 100 percent. While the means are still being determined, the ambitious spirit of 100 percent is clear. As California’s leaders consider how best to reach a 100 percent renewable energy goal, they should consider investing in and developing a variety of clean energy options that can ensure the grid stays clean, balanced, and reliable.
  • SB 356 (Skinner) – This bill increase access to data about the whole energy system. Information makes it easier for businesses to develop and deploy new clean energy technologies and help bring clean-tech jobs to the forefront of our economy. It also ensures the state will have important information about the energy use of its buildings and properties.
  • AB 726 (Holden) – This bill takes advantage of smart meter technologies by requiring utilities to notify customers before their bills get too high, thereby avoiding “unpleasant surprises.” Through this increase in information, customers can become more active participants in their energy usage and reduce their costs.
  • SB 366 (Leyva) – SB 366 helps ensure all our communities are able to take part in the clean energy revolution and reap the benefits of lower electricity costs and cleaner air. Specifically, it clears the way for community solar projects in disadvantaged communities and supports well-paying green-collar jobs through local training programs. Unlocking community solar is a key to helping communities overcome physical and economic barriers (like not owning your home or not being able to afford the upfront costs of solar) to accessing clean energy.
  • AB 1431 (Arambula) – AB 1431 will increase access and participation in energy efficiency, weatherization, and renewable energy programs for low-income, disadvantaged communities. It creates a comprehensive database to track program participation and a working group in which state agencies and stakeholders can exchange views on how to make these programs better and increase participation. This combination of data and dialogue will allow for a comprehensive analysis of all related state clean energy efforts.

In some ways, how we bring these resources onto the grid is as important as the resources themselves.

Big, bold benefits of renewable integration

Not only do renewables create clean-economy benefits, so does renewable integration. In some ways, how we bring these resources onto the grid is as important as the resources themselves. A thoughtful approach to incorporating increasing levels of renewables includes establishing a strong, diverse portfolio of clean energy resources.


California’s clean-energy leadership continues
Click To Tweet


Each solution has environmental and economic benefits, and each works hand in hand with the RPS to create a totally clean energy system – functioning like two sides of the same coin. In California, we can and should develop clean technologies that will “back up” renewable generation, like automated demand response, time-of-use rates, and electricity storage, including the use of electric vehicle as batteries.  It also means looking beyond California’s borders and considering how the state can best sell our excess clean energy when we don’t need it, like our abundant midday solar, and buy cheap, clean energy from other states when the sun isn’t shining.

California clean-energy leadership continues

California is working hard to create an economy that runs fully on clean, renewable resources. That’s why our legislators should pursue these innovative policies. We know this action is more important now than ever. And no one is more ready to demonstrate how clean energy policy can be an economic boon than California.

Photo source: iStock/halbergman

Read more

Scott Pruitt wants to end his own Clean Power Plan lawsuit—but can’t set aside EPA’s duty to protect the public from climate pollution

By Martha Roberts

(This post was co-authored by Tomas Carbonell)

Before he became Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt was relentless in suing to oppose the Clean Power Plan, America’s first-ever nationwide limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

So relentless, in fact, that as Attorney General of Oklahoma he brought suit four times to block these common sense, cost-effective protections—including litigating to block the proposal, before the Clean Power Plan was even finalized.

Given that history, you’d think that Pruitt would be eager to for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court to continue the current litigation over the Clean Power Plan, which Pruitt helped initiate when he was Attorney General.

Instead, the Trump Administration launched a full-court press to stop the court’s deliberations in their tracks.

The administration filed a motion on March 28 asking the court to suspend the litigation indefinitely – almost a year after the last briefs were filed in the case, and more than six months after oral argument took place before the full en banc court.

Why the sudden aversion to the court considering the case, after such a long history of litigating?

Perhaps Pruitt was afraid that the court would see the Clean Power Plan for what it is – a common sense and achievable plan, firmly grounded in the law and in science, which responds to the most urgent environmental challenge of our time.

Pruitt repeatedly argues that the reason to repeal the Clean Power Plan is because it is “illegal.” Without a D.C. Circuit opinion, all we have are his own claims on that point – and maybe Pruitt prefers it that way, given his poor record in past legal challenges to common sense EPA safeguards.

Whatever the reason, Pruitt pressed ahead to stop the very same case he was instrumental in creating. Last week, the D.C. Circuit partially granted his request. The court put the Clean Power Plan litigation on hold for 60 days, and asked for more information so it can decide how to handle the case going forward.

EPA has a duty to protect Americans from dangerous climate pollution

While last week’s order is disappointing, it has not changed the fact that EPA has a clear duty to act under our nation’s clean air laws to protect the public from harmful climate pollution. That duty is enshrined in three separate Supreme Court opinions that confirm EPA has the authority and responsibility to address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act.

EPA’s obligation to address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act is a settled question in American law. And EPA’s history of successfully addressing climate pollution from cars and other sources speaks for itself.

The Clean Power Plan itself has a rock solid legal and technical foundation – as recognized by a huge and varied coalition of supporters including former Republican EPA Administrators, the attorneys general of eighteen states, legal experts who helped draft the Clean Air Act, and the nation’s leading experts on the power grid.

As these experts recognize, the Clean Power Plan relies on strategies that are already being deployed successfully across the power sector—continuing and amplifying a transition to low- and zero-carbon energy that is reducing climate-destabilizing pollution while bringing jobs and economic opportunities to communities across the country. America’s clean energy sector is a rapidly growing $200-billion industry that employs 3.3 million Americans.

Regardless of any legal maneuvers, the fundamental truth remains – EPA has a duty to act to protect the public from dangerous climate pollution. Given the clear and present threat that climate change poses to the well-being of communities across America, this duty is urgent.

Read more

There’s nothing modern about overfishing

By Monica Goldberg

A recently-filed bill with the upbeat title “The Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act,” H.R. 2023, would unfortunately do just the opposite.  By gutting one of the most important improvements of modern fisheries law, we believe that this bill would move us backwards to a time of widespread overfishing.

Congress first banned overfishing in 1976, but a provision permitting “optimum” yield above sustainable levels led to widespread declines in fisheries.  Lawmakers eliminated that loophole in 1996 with the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA).[1]

A decade later, the Senate Commerce Committee described the results:

“The SFA attempted to address overfishing by capping fish harvests at maximum sustainable yield (MSY) …. However, recent evaluations of stock status have shown that ten years after enactment of the SFA, overfishing is still occurring in a number of fisheries, even those fisheries under a rebuilding plan established early in the SFA implementation process.

“Establishing a scientifically-based total allowable catch (TAC) for each managed fishery was a unanimous recommendation from all of the Council chairs, a recommendation of the Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries Conference II final report, and a recommendation of the U.S. Ocean Commission. Requiring routine adherence to an annual catch limit or TAC is a well-known management approach that has been utilized effectively by several Councils, but failure to adopt this technique more broadly has contributed to continued overfishing.”[2]

Following this advice, the 2007 Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act established three innovations that greatly strengthened the longstanding ban on overfishing:

  1. Putting scientists in the driver’s seat by requiring regulators to respect the overall biological limits established by each regional council’s science and statistical committee;
  2. Requiring TACs or quotas, known as annual catch limits (ACLs), on virtually all managed species; and
  3. Ensuring catch stays below the ACLs.[3]

The results have been striking. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) most recently reported that 91% of species are fished at sustainable levels41 have recovered to a healthy population size after having been driven below the overfished level. Ten years after the 2007 reauthorization, we have achieved significant progress.

Despite the demonstrated value of ACL management, some recreational fishermen have contested its use in their portion of the fishery.  H.R. 2023 would amend the MSA to make clear that:

“Recreational fishing and commercial fishing are fundamentally different activities, therefore requiring management approaches adapted to the characteristics of each sector”[4]

and specify that regulators:

“have the authority to use alternative fishery management measures in a recreational fishery (or the recreational component of a mixed-use fishery) in developing a fishery management plan, plan amendment, or proposed regulations, which may include extraction rates, fishing mortality targets, harvest control rules, or traditional or cultural practices of native communities.”[5]

It is abundantly clear that (1) recreational and commercial fishing are different undertakings and (2) managers can and do use different methods to regulate them.  But under current law those different approaches play out under the auspices of sustainable quotas that form a backstop against overfishing.  H.R. 2023 would remove those safeguards, exempting every fishery which the Secretary determines is not subject to overfishing.[6]  And since ending overfishing has been the goal of fisheries management for the last 40 years, that category includes 286 stocks –the vast majority.

The bill also would exempt stocks where fishing takes place below the target threshold (i.e., overfishing is not occurring) and there has been no peer-reviewed stock assessment and stock survey in the last five years.  This provision appears redundant, but in any event would be nearly as problematic; for example 30 of the 199 high priority stocks tracked by NOAA were last assessed in 2010 or earlier.  While frequent stock assessments and surveys are valuable, lack of them should not waive fundamental safeguards against overfishing.

Similar to previous bills, H.R. 2023 also includes an exception for so-called “ecosystem component” species, a category defined broadly as to include every “non-target, incidentally harvested stock of fish in a fishery.”[7]  This provision would remove protections for key species like sharks that are caught while fishermen target other species.  Nor does the bill clarify whether the exception covers a species like yellowtail flounder that is bycatch for scallopers but targeted by other fishermen.

The bill contains other problematic provisions,[8] but H.R. 2023’s most striking feature is its wholesale rejection of quota management without any indication of what we would use in its place to prevent overfishing.  This approach, which risks a return to considerable overfishing and accompanying harm to fisheries and the Americans who depend on them, is not one we should take in the name of “modernizing” a very functional fishery management law.

Citations:

[1] Pub. L. No. 104-297, 110 Stat. 3559 (1996).

[2] S. Rep. No. 109-229 at 6 (2006).

[3] 16 U.S.C. §§ 1852(h)(6) (ACLs may not exceed recommendations of SSCs), 1852(a)(15) (fishery management plans must include ACLS and measures to ensure accountability with them).

[4] Sec. 3(a)

[5] Sec. 102(b)

[6] Sec. 105 (establishing new section 302(m)(2)(D))

[7] Secs. 105 (establishing exception and defining “ecosystem component species”).

[8] Precluding fishery management councils from adopting specific management measures, as section 103 would, runs counter to the regionally-based logic of the MSA as a whole.  And putting up roadblocks in front of exempted fishing permits (section 106) would stymie fishermen-driven innovation.

Read more

New report offers long-awaited answers about reusing oil and gas industry’s wastewater

By Holly Pearen

A new report from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s (OWRB) Produced Water Working Group indicates that oil and gas companies looking for ways to dispose of large volumes of wastewater should focus on recycling those liquids within the oil and gas fields, and not – as some suggest – use it for irrigation or other surface applications where human and environmental exposure is a risk.

The Produced Water Working Group, a panel of 17 state experts convened by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin in December, 2015, to study various options for wastewater reuse, determined that treating wastewater for use outside of the oil field is not economical, nor are the environmental and health risks well understood.

In fact, the Working Group didn’t evaluate health and environmental risks for any of the 10 alternative uses evaluated. While research into reducing the cost of desalination, by powering treatment facilities with solar or excess lease gas, for example, may be promising, it won’t be sufficient to green light uses that introduce oil and gas wastewater into contact with communities and ecosystems.

To that end, the OWRB recommends that scientific efforts should be devoted to “identifying toxicological risks and protective water quality targets to ensure that the environment and public health are adequately protected under various reuse scenarios.” This is exactly right.

Evaluating the real health and safety impacts of using produced water outside the oilfield will take time and accurate information.

Oklahoma has the time. Governor Fallin wisely convened the Produced Water Working Group to begin identifying and developing potential alternative water sources needed to supply the state with “Water for 2060.” For oil and gas wastewater, it may take a decade to identify and answer the fundamental questions needed to assure the public that new uses don’t cause more problems than they solve.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s long-term state-wide energy and water planning gives operators, regulators, researchers and the public enough lead time to meaningfully evaluate wastewater reuse options, and implement policies that protect the public and the environment. The state should take advantage of this lead time to fully address environmental and health risks prior to permitting alternative uses outside the oilfield.

But the report suggests that Oklahomans don’t yet have the necessary data. If the state is serious about considering produced water as a potential new water resource, basic data regarding what is in the water, how much is produced, where it’s produced, and where it goes, should be collected, reported and analyzed. The OWRB report is a good first step. The next step is getting serious about meaningful public health and environmental impacts analysis by collecting basic, readily available, detailed information about this potential resource.

Until then, the Working Group report makes it clear that the most promising near term options for oil and gas wastewater management involve more efficient use of existing infield recycling and disposal techniques.

Read more

New studies: Methane emissions from Canadian oil & gas industry are worse than reported

By Drew Nelson

Two studies released this week make it clear that Canada’s push toward methane regulations for the oil and gas industry is a smart move. And, while data of Canada’s oil and gas methane problem is still limited, these studies reinforce what research of the U.S. oil and gas industry found: oil and gas facilities are leaking far more than the industry reports — and more than it would like us to believe.

The first study, focused on Alberta and released by the Canadian environmental action organization Environmental Defence, concluded that industry is underreporting the amount of equipment located at their facilities, which means they emit more than official emission inventories report. Additionally, the study found that Alberta’s oil and gas facilities average about one large emission source per well.

The second, conducted by the David Suzuki Foundation and focused in British Columbia, measured methane emissions at existing oil and gas facilities and found that emissions are large and widespread. In fact, in just one development area of British Columbia, facilities could leak 111,800 tons of methane each year – the climate pollution equivalent of burning more than 4.5 million tons of coal or more than two million cars over the next two decades. Further, methane emissions from this area were shown to be at least 2.5 times higher than reported by the B.C. government but may be much higher.

This new research is troubling for several reasons.

First, methane’s not a usual pollutant. Because methane is the primary ingredient of natural gas, every ton of avoided emissions is a ton of natural gas that can be sold. In 2015, more than $320 million USD of methane (95 billion cubic feet) escaped from oil and gas operations in Canada. That amount of wasted fuel was enough to serve all the households in Edmonton and Calgary combined for the entire year.

In addition to being wasteful, these emissions are also exacerbating global warming. Methane is over 80 times more potent a heat trapper than carbon dioxide over the first 20 years in the atmosphere.

Finally, the oil and gas industry is the largest source of man-made methane emissions in Canada. If its methane emissions are dangerously under-reported, the country’s other attempts to reduce its climate emissions are severely undercut.

Together, these two studies underscore the importance of Canada’s effort and Alberta’s action to stem methane emissions from its oil and gas industry. They also expose the folly of industry’s seemingly contradictory claims that (1) there’s no problem, and (2) regulations aren’t necessary because they’ll fix the problem voluntarily. But if industry can’t even report accurate emission figures, how are we to believe it will reduce them?

Economic analyses have shown that methane reduction is extremely cost effective and one of the most powerful short-term climate strategies at our disposal. In the last few years, leaders in Canada and Alberta have demonstrated they agree by committing significant reductions of oil and gas methane emissions by 2025. For context, a 45% reduction worldwide would have the same 20-year climate impact as closing one-third of the world’s coal plants.

These new studies — and the research that must follow — show that policy makers in Ottawa and Edmonton must reduce these emissions, even in the face of growing pressure from industry to walk back their commitments. Methane emissions are a problem around the world, specifically in the oil and gas industry. These new Canadian studies add to the growing body of research that show the problem is worse than we once thought. Fortunately, there are many simple and affordable solutions available to reduce these emissions and, in turn, cut needless energy waste and climate pollution. The need for strong methane rules in Canada and Alberta has never been clearer, and neither has the opportunity for Canada and Alberta to make their oil and gas industry cleaner, more efficient and more responsible.

Read more