October 27, 2019                            

Trump appears to have changed his mind about bringing all the troops home from Syria. It’s now anticipated that a contingent of US forces and heavy armor will be tasked with protecting Syrian oil fields. An aide close to Trump told reporters Trump’s a businessman and is even suggesting he like to make Syria’s oil a business opportunity, proposing for a U.S. oil company to partner with America’s Syrian Kurdish allies to develop the oil for export.

Trump has been quoted saying in a recent cabinet meeting that if you’re going in, keep the oil, Trump said at a cabinet meeting. We’ll work something out with the Kurds so that they have some money so that they have some cash flow. Maybe we’ll get one of our big oil companies to go in and do it properly.

The statements highlight just how little “the leader of the free world” understands the world. If nations around the world were using available supplies of clean energy technologies, including solar, wind, and efficiency, foreign oil fields would need far less protection.

Climate policy is another thing Trump seems not to understand. Addressing an energy industry audience focused on fracking, Trump miscast the Paris climate agreement and the timing of the US’s pulling out of it. The US cannot officially withdraw from the accord until November 4, 2020—a day after the election.

Trump also ran through his usual series of lies about Obama’s Clean Power Plan—calling it a disaster having a price tag of $40 billion per year. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in 2018 calculated that repeated analyses by the EPA showed that the benefits of the clean power plan usually outweighed the costs, at times by a lot. For instance, fewer illnesses and deaths turned into dollar amounts based on a formula on the value of each life.

The administration consistently fails to account for the benefits, e.g., health, when establishing net cost estimates.


A No Wheeler. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said she’s ready to call for the resignation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s chief if the agency does not uphold an agreement restoring demand for ethanol under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“If we get to a point where the EPA is not following through on what the president has directed them to do, then we will have to hold them accountable,” Ernst, a Republican, said on a call with Iowa reporters. “And I, at that point if we don’t see that result, that 15 billion gallons, then I’m ready to call for the resignation of Andrew Wheeler. Let’s make sure that this gets done. And if not, we’re going back to the president and saying, ‘Andrew Wheeler is the one that is not following through with your commitment to America’s farmers. You need to get rid of him.'”

Under the Renewable Fuel Standard — a federal law — 15 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel are supposed to be annually blended into the nation’s fuel supply. The Trump administration issued several waivers to oil refineries, letting them off the hook for part of that total. Industry officials say the exemptions have killed demand for more than a billion bushels of corn used for ethanol. (Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Ethanol problems continue to dog the Trump administration—as it finds itself between oil and gas interests and midwestern farmers.

The problem has been EPA’s approval of 31 waivers to small refiners in 2018 that made a sizeable cut in the actual gallon production and, in turn, on the amount of corn sold.

Farmers are feeling the pinch of Trump’s trade war with China and are lining up against the White House as are their Congressional delegations.

Keep on rollin’. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected a request from states and environmentalists to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s determination to reconsider fuel economy standards. The court said the EPA’s decision did not constitute a “final agency action” that could undergo a court challenge since the move itself does not alter federal fuel economy regulations. (Bloomberg Environment)

The decision here is not on the merits of the case. It is based on a procedure.  The court is saying that the challenge was legally premature because the proposed rule is still in draft form, i.e., it could yet be changed before becoming final.

The plaintiffs in the case will refile once the regulation is made final.

What’s it good for? The founding members of a new bipartisan Senate climate caucus say they are aiming to avoid focusing just on a carbon price to maintain equal support in both parties. (Washington Examiner)

Although a fine gesture, the newly formed climate caucus seems intent on focusing only on issues of no controversy, which in these days of hyper-partisanship are hard to find. In general, carbon pricing enjoys bi-partisan support—although not unanimous support from either party and, therefore, has been declared off limits.

I believe the Caucus will face accusations of “greenwashing” by the environmental community.

The truth is, as long as the Republicans maintain control of the Senate, climate change will be talked about but never acted on—at least not as it needs to be given the rate at which Earth is warming.

On its way. Amazon has entered the U.K.’s largest corporate wind power purchase agreement as part of its backing for the 50-megawatt Amazon Wind Farm on the Kintyre Peninsula of Scotland, it said in a statement. Amazon also announced solar projects in North Carolina and Virginia with a combined generating capacity of 215 megawatts.

The company is on its way to 100 percent clean power. (Morning Consult)

Be prepared to be sued. On October 22 the California Air Resources Board (CSRB) released the nation’s first regulation mandating electric trucks, and a comment period on the proposal opens October 25. The first board hearing on the proposed rule will be held in December, with a final vote expected in mid-2020, CARB spokesman Dave Clegern said. (Morning Consult Bloom-berg Env.)

Given Trump’s antipathy towards the State, he’ll challenge the mandate in court.

The basis of the federal challenge will involve interference with interstate commerce and the usurpation of federal authority.

Notwithstanding California’s climate-related problems and their need for standards more strident than the Trump administration is willing to write or allow, Trump’s hatred of the State is matched by the state’s enmity towards him.

The administration is already challenging California’s engaging Canada in a cap-and-trade deal, as well as for medical debris in the waterways, and more.

The administration has a long way to go to match the more than 60 lawsuits California’s Attorney General Becerra has filed against it.

Speaking of suits. Trump is suing California over cap-and-trade program that includes the Canadian province of Quebec. From the early days of this nation forward, the Supreme Court has held that only the federal government can set foreign policy. The Constitution isn’t exactly vague on that point; Article I declares that “No state shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance or Confederation.” (LA Times)

Some Republicans think the latest lawsuit sends the wrong message: Indiana Senator Mike Braun didn’t oppose the lawsuit — suggesting Canada’s participation “did push a point of legality” — but he said combat with the states over climate change action may send “mixed signals.”

“I’m going to be for any state that wants to go above and beyond, including California,” Braun told reporters on a press call Wednesday. He said he believes states are a laboratory for policy approaches on climate change and would support any state that wants to “go above and beyond the call of duty.”

It should be a fascinating lawsuit—one that could create a new paradigm should California’s right to enter into an agreement with a foreign government.

Treed. The Select Committee on the Climate Crisis has found something to agree on—cheap natural climate solutions, such as improving soil and wetland health and reforestation.

Ranking member Garret Graves (R-La.) said one pathway to sequestering more carbon in the natural environment and rebuilding coastal buffer zones could be a tweak to the much-lauded 45Q provision in the tax code, which benefits carbon capture and sequestration.

He noted his state has effectively lost its wetland buffer, leaving it more vulnerable to hurricanes.

“I think it’s often an overlooked part of the solution that we need to be maximizing,” Graves said.

Witnesses sold natural solutions, generally, as win-win policies, because they can both help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and restore ecosystems destroyed by climate change and human activity.

Joe Fargione, the lead scientist for the Nature Conservancy’s North America region, told law-makers his organization has identified 156 million acres in the United States that could be reforested. On average, that land would sequester 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Big bang for the buck. $300 billion is what’s needed to stop the rise in greenhouse gases and buy time to fix global warming, UN climate scientists say. While 2 billion hectares (almost 5 billion acres) of land globally has been degraded, 900 million of that could be restored. Returning that to pasture, food crops or trees would convert enough carbon into biomass to stabilize C02 emissions for up to 20 years. (MSN/Bloomberg)

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Leaving it to the customer. The American Gas Association looks to enlist customers in fighting pipeline bans, according to Richard Meyer, the American Gas Association’s managing director of energy analysis, Meyer and other American Gas Association representatives acknowledged there is some hostility to new natural gas infrastructure, particularly in New York and New England.

The gas group said it’s been working with its customers, including restaurant associations, builders, and others, to make sure they understand how natural gas infrastructure bans could affect them.

“We’re not suggesting that the environment isn’t critical. We care as much as anyone” about the environment, said Lori Traweek, chief operating officer of the American Gas Association.

The Trump administration is also frustrated with stalled infrastructure: President Trump wants federal agencies — and in particular the Environmental Protection Agency — to fix the situation. The EPA has already proposed to rein in states’ authority to block pipeline construction due to water quality concerns. (Washington Examiner)

Getting it where it’s needed. Representative Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s climate change subcommittee, said his panel wouldn’t be able to reach its decarbonization goals unless Congress provides better direction on national transmission policy.

“We cannot decarbonize 80 percent of our electricity mix in ten years when it takes ten years to build transmission,” Tonko said at the International Summit on the Electric Transmission Grid, an event at the Canadian Embassy hosted by WIRES, a nonprofit trade group. “We need to be working to advance some necessary policies even when they may be difficult or unpopular.”

We agreeSenators of both parties introduced legislation to encourage renewable energy development on public lands.

The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act would streamline the permitting process for the development of wind, solar, and geothermal on public lands and establish a revenue-sharing mechanism to ensure local communities receive a percentage of revenue created by the projects.

“Energy independence is critical to our nation’s economic security, and renewable energy plays an important role in achieving that goal,” said Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who sponsored the bill with Democrats Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall of New Mexico, Republicans Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, and others.

Revenue for renewables development would be split like this: 25% to the state where development takes place; 25% to the producing counties; 15% to help reduce the backlog of renewable energy permits by beefing up staff; 35% to fund conservation of fish and wildlife habitat and increase access for hunting and fishing. (Washington Examiner)

In hot water. Energy and Natural Resource Committee leaders Lisa Murkowski, (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) teamed up Thursday to introduce a “hot” new bill to accelerate the development of geothermal energy, an overlooked zero-emission resource.

The Advanced Geothermal Innovation Leadership Act focuses on funding R&D for existing and enhanced geothermal systems, along with regulatory reform to address “technical barriers.” (Washington Examiner)

Really? A detailed study of the world’s coastlines has found that offshore wind farms alone could provide more electricity than the world needs – even if they are only built in windy regions in shallow waters near the shore.

Analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) revealed that if wind farms were built across all useable sites which are no further than 60km (37 miles) off the coast, and where coastal waters are no deeper than 60 metres, they could generate 36,000 terawatt-hours of renewable electricity a year. It would easily meet the current global demand for electricity of 23,000 tera-watt hours. (The Guardian)

Come drive with us. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) proposed a $450 billion effort to replace about 20 percent of U.S. internal combustion engine vehicles on the road with electric, hybrid or hydrogen fuel-cell automobiles in a decade – a proposal he said would be included in any climate bill that Democrats bring forward if they regain the Senate majority in the 2020 election. Under a trade-in initiative, the proposed program would provide consumers with $392 billion in vouchers to exchange their cars for zero-emission, U.S.-made vehicles. (New York Times)

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Muddy waters. Opponents to the administration’s take on which water bodies are considered “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act already launched at least two challenges this week, kicking off the next round of courtroom action. The cases add a new dimension to what could soon be a complicated legal quagmire over the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule WOTUS rule and the Trump administration’s efforts to both erase and replace the regulation. (E&E News)

Tee time. The Trump administration’s rollback of the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule is bringing new attention to President Trump’s golf resorts and how they could benefit from looser federal water rules.

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers made their joint action final week with its publication in the Federal Register, ending the 2015 regulation — also dubbed Waters of the United States (WOTUS) — that had expanded federal jurisdiction over water bodies like headwaters and wetlands. The agencies are also working on a new water jurisdiction rule that they proposed last year.

Golf courses, which frequently feature ponds or other small water bodies, or are located near them, are expected to be a key beneficiary of the rollback. (E&E News)

Shortchanged. Revenues from energy sources, such as drilling of oil and gas on and offshore, rose to nearly $12 billion, an increase of 31 percent over the previous year. Disbursements rose to $11.69 billion compared to the previous year’s $8.93 billion, with 35 states receiving more than $2.44 billion, according to the data.

A separate report from the government watchdog in July found that the federal government for nearly a decade has not been adequately collecting owed royalty revenues from oil and gas companies who drill on public lands. (The Hill)

As if they needed it.  The government gave oil companies an $18 billion windfall because of a loophole in a decades-old law, a federal watchdog agency said Thursday, offering the first detailed accounting of the consequences of a misstep by lawmakers that is expected to continue costing taxpayers for decades to come. (New York Times)

A quest. Senate legislators, energy investors, and utilities are looking to the next generation of energy storage to achieve “deep decarbonization,” but few researchers are confident that today’s experimental technologies will ensure wind and solar become the dominant sources of power.

Some believe that with sufficient resources, scientists and entrepreneurs could pioneer a kind of storage that multiplies the current four-to-eight-hour period of power delivery several times over. States, cities, and companies have put out a flood of 100% renewable or zero-emission plans, which count on development of technology that can store electricity for days or weeks. (E&E News)

With some encouragement. Dozens of companies, associations, and organizations said they are lobbying for energy storage technology incentives, including increased research funding and tax credits.

The broad lobbying on the issue — including from renewable energy companies, utilities, and public health groups — is a sign of the growing coalition that is forming in support of the nascent technology and seeking government help for it. The legislative proposals are not all new, but momentum for them both on and off Capitol Hill is picking up. (E&E News)

Build it, and they will come. Electric-plane startup Eviation Aircraft Ltd. says it has signed up two more customers for its pioneering commuter aircraft, taking the order backlog to more than 150 planes.

Eviation’s plane, the Alice, is in the vanguard of a push into all-electric models, with the company betting its nine-passenger capacity and 650-mile range will attract environmentally conscious buyers in a commuter market served by a variety of light aircraft. Running costs will be about $200 per flight hour versus $1,000 for a turboprop, though the model will be slower than some conventional craft. (Bloomberg)

Nelloptodes gretae. London’s Natural History Museum said today that a minute species of beetle is being named Nelloptodes gretae in honor of the 16-year-old Swede.

Michael Darby, a scientific associate at the museum who found the insect in its collection of millions of animal specimens, chose the name to acknowledge her “outstanding contribution” to raising awareness of environmental issues.

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Over and over. BP it will construct a $25 million recycling plant in Illinois to test a new technology it says could extend plastic’s economic life span.

Despite being one of the most ubiquitous plastics — thanks to its use in trays, food packaging, water bottles and more — the polyester resin known as polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, has limited applications once recycled. Its broken-down fibers are frequently used for things like carpets, clothing, and upholstery, but reclamation from these forms becomes trickier.

Ultimately, most recycled PET, including most recycled plastic bottles, ends up “downcycled,” meaning it is recycled once or twice in weaker forms, then trashed completely.

Now BP says its “Infinia” technology will be able to use PET bottles to create the material for entirely new bottles, allowing the plastic to be recycled circularly into the same product over and over. (E&E News)

Lies, and more lies. As Exxon Mobil Corp. faced a New York City court, two of the company’s former scientists told a House panel yesterday Exxon has known for decades about the impacts its products have on the climate.

“The advertisements that Exxon ran in major newspapers, raising doubts about climate change were contradicted by the scientific work we had done and continued to do. Exxon was publicly promoting views that its own scientists knew were wrong,” said one scientist.

“This was immoral and has greatly set back efforts to address climate change,” the scientist continued.

The testimony laid bare allegations that have been public knowledge for years — that Exxon and oil and gas industry groups ran public relations campaigns to cast doubt on climate science, even after their own scientists had warned about climate change for years. (E&E News)

Do bills. Senators introduced a quartet of proposals to encourage the development of renewable energy sources.

The measures to boost wind, solar, and geothermal technologies are part of a focus on enacting policies to help carbon-free power sources better compete at lower costs on the electric grid.

Leading the measures is a bipartisan bill, S. 2666, led by Senate Energy and Natural Resources members Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), that would help streamline the permitting process for renewable energy sources on public lands.

In addition to permitting actions, the legislation would direct revenue sharing with local communities hosting production facilities.

“This bill cuts through the bureaucratic red tape to deliver additional affordable and reliable energy for Arizonans while allowing rural Arizona communities to share in the economic benefits that come from multiple use of public lands,” McSally said in a statement.

The bill would direct more upfront planning to ensure impacts on wildlife, habitats, and cultural resources are avoided and minimized, according to a release. That would increase permitting staff.

The proposal would establish the following revenue-sharing formula: 25% to the state, 25% to counties, 15% for permit processing and 35% for fish and wildlife habitat conservation, and for increasing access for outdoor recreation.

“By streamlining renewable energy development, especially in a state with abundant wind and solar, like New Mexico, we can create quality jobs and help make America more energy independent,” Heinrich said.

The other three proposals introduced would revamp the federal research and development activities for wind, solar, and geothermal generation.

The trio of research bills includes a revamped geothermal research program proposal, S. 2657, from ENR Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

S. 2668, backed by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), would direct the development of an updated crosscutting solar energy technology program within DOE with an emphasis on delivering grants for all things solar research and demonstration.

S. 2660, from Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), looks to achieve a similar research and development overhaul for wind energy.

Smith’s bill would set authorization levels for wind research and grants at $104 million in fiscal 2020, rising to $126 million by fiscal 2024. (E&E News)

Is it possible? Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee pledge to release comprehensive climate legislation by the end of the year that would transition the United States to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Since announcing the pledge in July, Democrats have held a series of hearings on decarbonizing the economy, sector by sector. The latest hearing focused on transportation, which recently surpassed the power sector as the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

In particular, the hearing focused on “solutions for planes, trains, and everything beyond automobiles,” according to a committee news release.

“Our target of net-zero climate pollution by 2050 is founded on science, which tells us we must act with urgency if we’re to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis,” E&C Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said in his opening statement.

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, stressed the importance of tackling medium and heavy-duty transportation.

“Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in America,” he said. “While debate is often focused on light-duty automobiles, more than 40% of the sector’s emissions come from other sources: buses, trucks, ships, planes, and trains.”

There was a broad consensus among Democrats that new federal policies would be needed to curb transportation emissions, including carbon pricing and tax incentives for electrification.

“Any suggestion that policy plays no role in spurring American industry to innovate new technologies willfully ignores the last half-century of American progress,” Pallone said. (E&E News)