June 10 news: Coal-to-Gas Shift Could Be Quick and Effective, MIT Study Says; Canada Will Not Renew Kyoto Protocol

A round-up of the top climate and energy news from around the web. Please post other interesting stories in the comments below.Coal-to-gas shift could be quick and effective, MIT study says

If natural gas is the “bridge” fuel to the low-carbon future, new research says, the United States already has the power plants to start walking that bridge today.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that many states have high-efficiency natural-gas plants that run at a small fraction of their total capacity.

If the states switched from their older coal plants to these newer gas plants, that would cut carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by a fifth, MIT said. The country’s overall CO2 emissions would fall by 8 percent.


This coal-to-gas switch would have the same impact as a $16-per-ton price on CO2. That would also give the United States a “bridge” to a future carbon policy, one of the researchers said in a speech last month.

Melanie Kenderdine, executive director of the MIT Energy Initiative and a co-author of the report, said this path “should be pursued as the only practical option for near-term, large-scale CO2 emissions reductions.”

Joe Romm: I don’t know if this is the only practical option, but it it does show that the nation can make deep emissions reductions at low-cost. That said, you must make this transition quickly and replace existing coal plants with (mostly) existing natural gas plants. If you don’t shut down the existing coal plants, then much if not most natural gas growth comes at the expense of lower-carbon forms of power, and thus doesn’t act as a bridge fuel (see IEA’s “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change).]

Saudi offers Asian refiners more oil

Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia has offered more crude to Asian refiners in July, evidence that it is taking steps to unilaterally increase supplies after OPEC talks collapsed earlier this week.

India’s Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. has bought about 600,000 barrels of extra oil for July from the kingdom, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Two or three Asian buyers are keen on more oil, and will finalise any additional volumes in coming days, a separate refiner source said.

Adding to indications that the Saudis are prepared to go it alone in meeting rising demand for oil, a Saudi newspaper on Friday said the world’s top exporter would lift output in July to 10 million bpd, from 8.8 million bpd in May.

The additional offers to refiners come after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries failed to take a decision on raising output on Wednesday, resulting in the talks breaking down in acrimony.

Canadian government confirms it will reject new Kyoto Protocol

Canada confirmed on Wednesday that it would not support an extended Kyoto Protocol after 2012, joining Japan and Russia in rejecting a new round of the climate emissions pact.

The current Kyoto Protocol binds only the emissions of industrialized countries from 2008–2012. Poor and emerging economies want to extend the pact, creating a deadlock at U.N. climate talks running from June 6 to 17 in Bonn, Germany.

The confirmation makes it clear Canada is following the line its ruling party pursued ahead of last month’s election.

“Now that we’ve finished our election we can say now that Canada will not be taking a target under a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol,” Judith Gelbman, a member of Canada’s delegation, told a negotiating session of the talks.

Canada has also previously said it could not achieve the binding emissions cuts it has committed to under the first round of Kyoto up to 2012, infuriating environmentalists and developing countries.

The U.N.’s top climate official, Christiana Figueres, said on Monday that the talks would now miss a deadline to launch a binding successor to Kyoto at the end of next year, because even if countries agreed a deal, they subsequently would have to be approve it in national parliaments in a lengthy ratification process.

The talks in Bonn were all but deadlocked on Wednesday on what items to include in the agenda of the meeting, and also over the long-running spat over whether or not to extend Kyoto.

Global carbon emissions last year rose at their fastest rate in more than four decades, up nearly 6 percent at about double the annual rate of increase over the past decade, data released by oil company BP showed.

NAACP to focus on environment in wake of Republican attacks on EPA

Environmental issues will be more relevant in the 2012 presidential election than they have been in decades, thanks to Republican efforts to curb U.S. EPA’s regulatory powers, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said today.

In a conversation with reporters, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous laid out his organization’s health and environmental goals, from addressing the spread of HIV in African-American populations to ensuring minority communities have access to emergency services after disasters.

But in recent months, the organization has focused more and more on threats to the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, moving into a “defensive” mode as the newly Republican House targets EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Such rules disproportionally affect minority communities, Jealous said.

“Our folks vote based on kitchen issues and the right has made clean air and clean water kitchen issues for the first time since the ‘70s,” he said. “It’s very pressing, urgent because they’re talking about rolling back protections in ways” that threaten the health of disenfranchised communities.

Tom Coburn forces Tuesday ethanol vote

Sen. Tom Coburn has pulled the trigger and is forcing a long-sought vote on an amendment repealing billions in annual tax incentives for ethanol.

The Senate will vote Tuesday afternoon on Coburn’s motion limiting debate on his amendment that would do away with the 45 cent blender tax credit for ethanol — worth about $6 billion this year — and the 54 cent tariff on imported ethanol.

Coburn didn’t inform either Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or Minority Leader Mitch McConnell before he made his move, appearing to catch both completely off guard.

“He was not able to give a heads up to either Reid or McConnell,” Coburn spokesman John Hart said. “There was no agreement. Coburn just did this.”

It is the prerogative of any senator to file a cloture motion to file a vote on an amendment as long as there are 16 signatures. But it is more customary for senators to force a vote by filing a motion to suspend the rules — which requires a higher 67-vote threshold than the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

Environmental groups challenge Shell drilling plan

Environmental groups asked a federal appeals court Thursday to throw out a U.S. government decision to approve a Shell oil exploration plan that involves five proposed wells under more than 7,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement approved the plan in May. The plan also includes three previously approved wells 72 miles off Louisiana.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council claim in a petition filed in the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta that the decision violates the law and that the environment would be harmed if it stands.

New regulations for deepwater drilling were imposed following last year’s deadly rig explosion and Gulf oil spill.

The conservation groups argue that there is no basis to conclude that drilling in waters substantially deeper than the BP well that blew out would have no significant impact on the environment. BP’s well that blew out was in 5,000 feet of water. Engineering experts and some industry observers have argued that more than a year after the disaster oil companies are still not adequately prepared to prevent a deepwater blowout or be able to efficiently deal with one if it were to occur again. The industry says it is prepared and it is eager to get back to business in the Gulf.