Energy and climate news for March 11, 2011: EPAs Jackson lays out five ˜fictions about the agency’s agenda; Study says Navy must adapt to climate change

EPA’s Jackson lays out five ‘fictions’ about the agency’s agenda

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson sought Thursday to debunk a series of “fictions” about agency regulations that she said were pushed by “special interests with an investment in the outcome.”

“I would like to take a moment today to address some of the mischaracterizations that have been, at times, unaddressed, or that need to be addressed again,” Jackson said during a House Agriculture Committee hearing on EPA regulations.

Jackson has come under fire in recent months from lawmakers in farm states, who fear that upcoming EPA regulations will impose major costs on farmers’ operations.


But Jackson made a concerted effort Thursday to push back against criticism of the agency’s regulations.

“[F]acts matter and we all have a responsibility to ensure that the American people have facts and the truth in front of them, particularly when fictions are pushed by special interests with an investment in the outcome.”

Jackson laid out five myths about the agency:

Myth 1: EPA will impose a so-called “cow tax,” in which emissions from cows will be regulated.

“The truth is “” EPA is proposing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a responsible, careful manner and we have even exempted agricultural sources from regulation,” Jackson said.

Myth 2: The EPA will regulate spilled milk under regulations for oil containment facilities.

“This is simply incorrect,” Jackson said, noting that the agency has moved to specifically exempt milk containers from the law.

Myth 3: The agency will expand regulations on dust from farms.

“We have no plans to do so,” Jackson said. But she stressed that the Clean Air Act requires the agency to review the science upon which current regulations, including dealing with dust from farms, are based. EPA is currently reviewing that science, Jackson said.

Myth 4: The agency will impose regulations blocking pesticides from drifting away from farms.

“While no one supports pesticides wafting into our schools and communities, EPA does not support a ‘no-spray drift policy,’ “ Jackson said. “EPA has been on the record numerous times saying this, but the incorrect belief that EPA desires to regulate all spray drift persists.”

Myth 5: The EPA will impose limits on pollution from “nutrients” like fertilizer and animal manure.

“Again, let me be clear: EPA is not working on any federal numeric nutrient limits,” Jackson said. She added that the agency will release a memo stressing that these limits are best determined by the state.

There are federal nutrient limits in Florida, Jackson noted. “The case of Florida is unique — the last administration made a determination that federal numeric nutrient standards were necessary in Florida, requiring EPA to develop such standards,” she said.

Study Says Navy Must Adapt to Climate Change

A report commissioned by the United States Navy concludes that climate change will pose profound challenges for the sea service in coming decades, including a need to secure Arctic shipping lanes, prepare for more frequent humanitarian missions and protect coastal installations from rising seas.

The 15-month study, conducted by the National Research Council, accepts the scientific consensus that the climate is changing and that the effects are being felt now. Of particular consequence to American naval forces — the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard — are the melting polar ice cap, rising seas and increasingly frequent severe storms and droughts that could lead to famine, mass migration and political instability.

The report from research council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, builds on previous work by the Pentagon, State Department, the intelligence community and independent research groups that have concluded that climate change is a “threat multiplier” that adds new and unpredictable dangers to global physical and political stability.

The primary authors are Frank L. Bowman, a retired Navy admiral who led the service’s nuclear propulsion unit, and Antonio J. Busalacchi, Jr., a climatologist and director of the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland, College Park. They were assisted by a large number of climate and oceanography experts as well as corporate planners and active-duty military officers….

“Even the most moderate predicted trends in climate change will present new national security challenges for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard,” Mr. Bowman said. “Naval forces need to monitor more closely and start preparing now for projected challenges climate change will present in the future.”

Summer sea ice is retreating at an estimated rate of 10 percent a decade, and Arctic Ocean sea lanes could be open as early as the summer of 2030, the report found. Shipping, oil and gas operations and other activities in the region will require an increased naval presence in the region, new equipment such as icebreakers and increased cold-weather training, the authors write.

The report also concludes that the military should also be prepared for large-scale and frequent missions to help people displaced by major storms or drought. The Navy should consider beefing up its small complement of hospital ships, perhaps by contracting with private companies to provide extra capability in emergencies, it said.

What is more, major naval installations along the coasts are vulnerable to rising seas and storm surges, and plans should be made to relocate some critical facilities inland, the report contends, estimating that $100 billion of Navy installations would be at risk of sea level rise of one meter or more.

House Panel Votes to Strip E.P.A. of Power to Regulate Greenhouse Gases

A House subcommittee voted on Thursday to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate greenhouse gases, chipping away at a central pillar of the Obama administration’s evolving climate and energy strategy.

The sharply partisan vote was preordained by the Republican takeover of the House. Republicans and their industry allies accuse the administration of levying taxes on traditional energy sources through costly environmental regulations, threatening the economic recovery and driving jobs overseas.

Many Republicans also argue that global warming is an unproven theory and that no action is needed to combat it, and they are backed by lobbies representing manufacturers; small businesses; agriculture; and the chemical, coal and oil industries; all of which have a big financial stake in hamstringing the E.P.A.

A parallel bill has been introduced in the Senate, although passage remains uncertain. President Obama has vowed to veto such legislation, which would undercut his administration’s policy of encouraging clean energy innovation with billions of dollars in support and rules that make it more costly for industry to keep spewing carbon dioxide.

Some coal state and oilpatch Democrats in both chambers also support the legislation, so it is not certain that the president’s allies could prevent a veto override.

Yet the criticism from early allies who advocate aggressive action to address climate change is in some ways harsher. In their view, Mr. Obama failed to push hard enough for a strong climate change policy last year, when he enjoyed high public standing and large Democratic majorities in the Senate and House.

“We’ll never know what this president could have achieved,” said Joseph J. Romm, a former Department of Energy official who is one of the country’s most influential writers on climate change, “because he didn’t try.”

Dr. Romm, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, which has close ties to the White House, contends that the president’s approach has been too timid and has set back efforts to address climate change by at least a decade.

Gas prices change Senate energy politics

Democratic leaders insist that voters won’t punish their party for high gas prices “” but the pain at the pump could make it even harder for them to pass the president’s energy agenda.

Republicans have shown no fear in tying the oil price spikes to anything on the Democratic energy agenda, from President Barack Obama’s stance on offshore drilling permits to long dead cap-and-trade legislation and pending climate change rules for power plants.

The GOP attacks may have no basis in fact when it comes to changing short-term prices at the pump. But they certainly change the politics on a number of big energy votes looming on the horizon.

Floor debates are expected over halting EPA’s climate regulations, offshore drilling and maybe even opening up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. All are within a hair of going the Republicans’ way, and several rank-and-file Democrats up for reelection hold crucial votes that Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are counting on.

“If you’re counting votes, you have some work to do with that group,” said a longtime Senate Democratic campaign strategist.

These votes could be especially difficult for in-cycle Democrats including Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Signals from the Senate Democrats so far are mixed. They say they are not deterred by the Republican attacks and will keep making the pitch for petroleum alternatives, including electric vehicles and renewable fuels. If anything, they hope to pin the GOP with a familiar label as the party of Big Oil.

New report shows even clean energy projects are dying in regulatory nightmares

While the Obama administration has repeatedly pushed for the development of a renewable energy industry, its regulatory process is strangling clean energy projects before they even get off the ground, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Project No Project” initiative.

The study, which was meant to quantify the economic impact of stalled energy projects due to regulatory burdens, found that there are more renewable energy projects currently caught up in red tape than projects in the fossil fuel industry.

The report by TeleNomic Research, titled “Project Denied: The Potential Economic Impact of Permitting Challenges Facing Proposed Energy Projects,” was conducted by Steve Pociask, president of the American Consumer Institute, and Joseph Fuhr, economics professor at Widener University and senior fellow at the American Consumer Institute.

“The fact that we ended up having more renewable projects than coal was probably the biggest surprise in the entire study,” said Bill Kovacs, U.S. Chamber senior vice president of Environment, Technology and Regulatory Affairs.

“But it shouldn’t be,” Kovacs told The Daily Caller, adding that they decided to do the report during the height of the recession when the focus was on “shovel-ready projects.”

“We were starting to see more and more coal and gas, but we were also starting to see renewable projects too,” Kovacs said of projects caught up in red tape. “We sent a stinging letter to the Hill on the stimulus program, saying that unless Congress enacts legislation to address this problem, even green jobs will struggle.”

One specific project Kovacs mentioned is Sunrise Power, a renewable power plant in California that waited on a permit from 1980 to February 2011.

All together, the authors found 351 stalled energy projects around the country that they say, in the aggregate, are costing the U.S. economy $1.1 trillion in GDP and at least 1.9 million jobs in 49 states. The reasons for the delays, say the authors, are what they call “Not In My Back Yard” activism, a broken permitting process and a system that allows for never-ending lawsuits.

In Colorado, for example, the Colorado State University Green Power Project for wind power is currently “in progress, with opposition.” The $500 million project would power the school’s main campus, but opponents — mainly local property owners — are challenging the project on the grounds that it would not meet sufficient funding or wind velocity requirements.

Clean Energy Thwarted as Much as Coal by Rules, Group Says

Renewable-energy projects such as wind farms and solar fields are just as hard to build in the U.S. as coal-fired power plants because of regulatory obstacles and activists’ protests, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said.Energy projects valued at $576.6 billion were abandoned, delayed or challenged by the state governments or environmentalists, according to a Chamber report released today. Wind, solar, hydropower, ethanol, biomass and geothermal projects accounted for about 45 percent of the challenged investments, according to the Washington-based trade group.

“If our great nation is going to begin creating jobs at a faster rate, we must get back in the business of building things,” Bill Kovacs, senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, said in the report. “We also need to figure out how to do it without years and years of permit delays related to our complex regulatory process that allows almost anyone to impede or stop any energy project.”

The Chamber, the nation’s biggest business lobbying group, is urging lawmakers to rein in “excessive regulation” and President Thomas Donohue has led criticism of regulations enacted during the Obama administration.

The report listed 351 projects delayed by state and federal action or by local protests. Save Jones Beach, a Wantagh, New York-based citizens’ group, opposed a 940-megawatt wind farm off the coast of New York’s Long Island proposed in 2008. The state of New Mexico denied a permit for a 35-megawatt biomass project in Torrance County, because a local community complained about the expected emissions, the report said.

Interest in renewable energy may stick as oil prices surge

The latest surge in oil prices may help the renewable energy industry reach a turning point after years of boom-and-bust cycles long dictated by the rise and fall in gas prices.

Solar, wind and biofuel investors and analysts said the latest run-up in prices caused by unrest in Libya and other oil-producing nations could lead to lasting interest in alternate sources of energy.

They point to several factors converging at the same time that give the industry such hope. Public awareness and worries about climate change, pollution and dwindling resources are at an all-time high. Government funding for alternative energy projects is also on the rise.

“This is a crisis that’s creating a teachable moment, showing us that we’re going in the wrong direction,” said Denise Bode, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Assn. “People have been in this situation too many times, and once they see that the alternatives are the real deal, they’ll never go back.”

Concerns that the country’s addiction to foreign oil could pose national security risks and that the environment is fraying are stronger than ever, said Bode, who is also the former president of the Independent Petroleum Assn. of America.

In California, more than half of the 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline guzzled each month come from foreign sources, according to U.S. government figures. James DiGeorgia, editor of the Gold & Energy Advisor website, said he believes that if countries such as Algeria follow Libya’s political upheaval, oil prices could more than double to upward of $200 a barrel.

“We’ve gone from a relatively secure position to a very insecure one,” Jim Boyd, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission, said in a statement. “Our exposure to the vagaries and instability of the world oil market has increased by a factor of 10 since the early 1990s.”

Since then, the renewable energy industry has compiled a stable of high-profile supporters. President Obama said he wants 80% of the energy in the U.S. to come from “clean” sources by 2035. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger regularly visited wind and solar energy production sites cropping up throughout California.

“Why should a dried-up little country like Libya with a crazy dictator play havoc with America’s economy and security?” he asked at a recent summit for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, known as ARPA-E, the young Department of Energy program that helps fund early-stage energy research.

Various guidelines, mandates and subsidies exist to encourage green energy. California intends to have alternative energy make up 33% of the state’s portfolio by 2020. The U.S. Navy plans to run half of its fleet on renewable fuel by 2020.

Clean-Coal Debate Focuses on Gasification Plant

A bill now on Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk to build a plant on the far Southeast Side that would supply Chicago customers with substitute natural gas made from Illinois coal has turned up the heat on the “clean coal” debate.Proponents are billing the proposed plant, to be built by Chicago Clean Energy, as a key ingredient in the Midwest’s energy future. They say it would be a model for storing carbon emissions in the ground and provide hundreds of jobs.

Opponents “” dozens of whom protested in front of the State of Illinois Building this week “” say the plant is a bad idea environmentally and economically. They have packed two recent town-hall-style meetings to object.

The emotions and rhetoric prompted by the bill in Illinois, which has an abundant supply of coal, are emblematic of the debate about technological innovation, job creation and environmental benefits at a time when the economy is weak and the benefits of so-called clean-coal technology are unproven. The proposed Chicago gasification plant and others like it will not directly replace coal as an energy source, since the proposed plant would create gas for heating and cooking “” competing with natural gas “” rather than for electricity.

At issue is a bill passed by the state legislature in January that would require Peoples Gas and other utilities to buy gas for 30 years at a fixed rate from Chicago Clean Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the New York firm Leucadia National Corporation. Chicago Clean Energy would build the $3 billion plant, which would also use petroleum coke from oil refineries. A related bill would require utilities in Southern Illinois to buy gas from a coal-to-gas plant that would be built there.

An uncommon alliance of environmental groups, Peoples Gas and the consumer watchdog Citizens Utility Board is asking Mr. Quinn to veto the two energy bills. The environmental groups are focused on pollution issues, while the utilities and the citizens board are concerned chiefly about potential hidden costs and economic risks.

The bill intended to pave the way for the Chicago Clean Energy plant includes the company’s promise that the plant would save customers at least $100 million over 30 years compared with the price of conventional natural gas. The estimate is based on December price forecasts from the Department of Energy. But only a year ago, Leucadia had used department figures to estimate $1.2 billion in savings.

The Climate Post: While Congress debates climate science, China and Europe move ahead

Meanwhile, in the U.S. Congress, hearings continued about a bill to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the environment — specifically, “from promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change, and for other purposes.” As Science showed in its live blogging of the bill’s most recent hearing, it centered not on policies, but on the science of climate change.

In China, though, the leaders appear to be taking climate change increasingly seriously. “The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the worsening ecological environment have become bottlenecks and grave impediments to the nation’s economic and social development,” wrote China’s environment minister late last month. This week, China unveiled its latest five-year plan, with ambitious goals for boosting energy efficiency and the share of energy from sources other than fossil fuels — while also aiming for slower economic growth than in years past. But fossil fuels still loom large: “Oil security is the most important part of achieving energy security,” said China’s longtime former energy czar, Zhang Guobao.

Energy crunch seen on European highways: In a move reminiscent of the 1970s energy crises that limited drivers to speeds of 55 miles per hour to conserve energy, Spain has lowered its speed limit from 120 to 110-kilometers an hour. (That’s 75 to 68 mph for us Americans.) Environmental writer George Monbiot indicates the U.K. should follow suit, since “the era of cheap and easy oil is long gone.”

Science To Take Up Food Security Where Politics Disappoint

Scientists from across six continents hope to succeed where politicians have failed by creating an international consensus on how to feed the world in the face of climate change.

Launched Friday, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change will bring together experts in both natural and social sciences to develop a clear set of policy recommendations to adapt world agriculture to changing environmental pressures.

What sets the commission apart from other studies, according to plant genetics expert Molly Jahn of the University of Wisconsin, is the cross-disciplinary approach the group will

U.S. offshore drillers still reeling from spill

Oil drilling in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico is still stuck in neutral even after U.S. regulators last month issued the first new drilling permit since the deadly 2010 Macondo well blowout.

Nearly a year after BP Plc’s mile-deep Macondo well ruptured in April 2010, triggering an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 people, executives at the high-profile CERAWeek energy conference in Houston marked few reasons for optimism about a recovery of drilling in the Gulf.

“The deepwater drilling moratorium has been lifted in name only,” said John Hess, chief executive of Hess Corp, referring to U.S. regulators’ move on February 28 to approve a permit for Noble Energy Inc to drill about 70 miles off the Louisiana coast.

The Obama Administration imposed a temporary ban on drilling at depths greater than 500 feet shortly after the BP disaster. The moratorium was officially lifted last October, but Noble has received the only deepwater permit since then.

Noble Chief Executive Charles Davidson said at the conference that regulators need to approve permits for more wells, new ones as well as ongoing drilling projects like the Noble well that was interrupted by last year’s ban.

“One permit does not make a deepwater industry,” Davidson said. “We have to do more than just these few wells that were drilling before the moratorium.”

With Spending Bills Dead, Clean Energy Supporters Brace Against Deeper Cuts

Competing plans to fund the government through September both flopped yesterday, ensuring that deeper cuts to existing programs, including perhaps clean energy portfolios, will be proposed to avoid a federal shutdown.

The dueling Senate votes appear to show that lawmakers are unwilling to make large cuts totaling $61 billion as proposed by the House. It also reveals that the Democrats’ target of $10 billion in reductions is too low. The yardage between those numbers will decrease, but it’s unclear at what point agreement can be found.

The back-to-back votes were largely symbolic, a method agreed to by both parties at a White House meeting last week to purge existing spending plans seen as too extreme, or too weak, by their opponents. The result means that some programs will feel deeper reductions compared to last year’s funding, as Democrats and Republicans seek to overcome their budget impasse.

“The outcome of those votes will, we think, help guide us forward in terms of the search for common ground,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday, adding that President Obama is “willing to do more” to reduce spending.

Even as the administration was signaling concession, however, it stood firm on the president’s key priorities. Carney emphasized that funding for energy innovation, education and transportation infrastructure is vital to the nation’s economic health.

That sets the stage for a tricky task. The White House and Senate Democrats are now faced with defending heightened funding for energy programs and other priorities, even as conservative Republicans are calling for sweeping cuts aimed at that sector to diminish the $1.6 trillion deficit.