Trump’s pullback of pollution controls is even more hazardous than you think

“The Permian Basin is one of the most prolific oil and gas plays in the world, responsible for more than a third of the United States’ oil and one-sixth of gas production last year.

The formation in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico that has minted fortunes and transformed the country into a global petroleum supplier is also ground zero for the worst oil and gas air pollution in the country.

“You don’t know what you’re breathing,” said Gene Collins, a minister and community activist in Odessa, Texas.

It could get worse.

The US Environmental Protection Agency in August rescinded controls installed by the Obama administration to curb releases of methane, a potent, planet-warming gas leaked during oil and gas production, processing, and transportation.”

“Experts say it could lead to higher emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and hazardous air pollutants — chemicals that cause smog and are linked to cancer, respiratory illnesses, and a growing list of other ailments.”

“The change will likely worsen air pollution and harm people’s health. But the EPA didn’t bother to estimate the potential extent of the damage, despite what’s at stake for people living in communities like Odessa.”

SOURCES: Nuclear Power. Good idea or bad idea?

Nuclear Powerin Competitive Electricity Markets Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2000. Economics of Nuclear Power World Nuclear Association. 3 2020. Economics of Nuclear Power Plant InvestmentMonte Carlo Simulations of Generation III/III+ Investment Projects Ben Wealer, Simon Bauer, Leonard Goke,

The US just left the Paris climate agreement

“It took the world decades of stops and false starts to come up with the Paris climate agreement, and it remains the most potent international framework to get countries to reduce their contributions to global warming. However, it has critical weaknesses that have threatened to collapse it completely.

In 2015, just about every country in the world convened in Paris and agreed to a few simple but hard-fought principles: The climate is changing due to human activity, the world should aim to limit warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius this century compared to preindustrial levels, every country has an obligation to act, but every country gets to set their own goals.

The terms of the climate agreement are voluntary and don’t carry the force of law (hence “Paris agreement” or “Paris accord,” and not “Paris treaty,” which would be legally binding). But the terms are structured in a way that creates a lot of incentives to encourage countries to do more to limit their emissions of heat-trapping gases, and it contains some prods for countries that are slower to act.

It was clear from the outset that what countries initially planned to do to cut greenhouse gases wouldn’t be enough to stay below 2°C, let alone hit an even more aggressive target under the agreement of limiting warming to less than 1.5°C.”

“the idea of the Paris agreement was to get everyone to agree to a common set of goals and strengthen their commitments over time, with periodic international meetings to see where everyone stands and to hammer out the tedious rules of how to gauge progress. So far, this hasn’t been enough to keep the world on track to meet the goals of the accord.”

“In September, China made a surprise announcement at the United Nations General Assembly that it’s striving to be carbon-neutral by 2060. While China hasn’t laid out exactly how it plans to meet its goal, researchers have begun chalking out a road map to get China to its targets.

The European Union, meanwhile, has adopted a program called the European Green Deal, which aims to make its 28 member countries carbon-neutral by 2050. Its core elements, such as ensuring a just economic transition for workers in industries likely to be left behind in the shift to clean energy, are actually modeled on the Green New Deal proposal in the US. Crucially, Europe’s program calls for a border adjustment carbon tax that could go into effect as soon as 2021. For countries that aren’t doing enough to fight climate change, their goods could face additional tariffs in the EU.

If the United States decided to stay out of the Paris agreement and not step up its commitments, the EU’s new policies could take a big bite out of the US’s roughly $320 billion worth of exports to the bloc.

The EU, China, Japan, and South Korea are also working on their own trade agreements with climate change as a key element.”

Amy Coney Barrett describes climate change as a “very contentious matter of public debate”

“Barrett’s refusal to express her stance on climate change comes in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence on the subject.

“I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge, nor do I think I have views that are informed enough,” Barrett has also said.

As the New York Times’s John Schwartz wrote, however, her approach to the subject could be important in future cases: “In past decisions, the justices have accepted that human-caused climate change is occurring and determined that the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse gases in the case Massachusetts v. E.P.A., but a more conservative Supreme Court might revisit the issue.”

What Barrett did say ended up echoing the way many Republicans have approached the subject of climate change in the past: She declined to comment on whether humans contributed to global warming, an evasion that still seemed to signal quite a lot about where she stands.”

The best case for and against a fracking ban

“Though hydraulic fracturing as a technique has been around since the 19th century and the first commercial fracking for gas took place in the 1940s, the most recent fracking boom started in earnest around 2005. That’s when the rising prices of oil and gas forced energy companies to look for other sources, when related techniques like horizontal drilling and low-cost slickwater fracking matured, and new estimates revealed the gargantuan amounts of gas stored in formations like Marcellus Shale.

Fracking has now become the dominant technique for extracting oil and gas in the US.”

“During much of the fracking boom, the US economy grew and emissions declined. One study found that between 2005 and 2012, fracking created 725,000 jobs in the industry, not counting related supporting jobs. “This has been one of the most dynamic parts of the U.S. economy — you’re talking about millions of jobs,” Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit and founder of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, told CNBC.

That’s largely due to natural gas from fracking displacing coal in electricity production. Natural gas emits about half of the greenhouse gas emissions of coal per unit of energy. It doesn’t have the massive land footprint that open pit mines or mountaintop removal coal mines do. While it has its own pollution problems, burning natural gas doesn’t produce pollutants like ash and mercury, which can pose health and environmental hazards for years.”

“Natural gas’s flexibility has also eased the integration of variable renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. When the breezes slow down and clouds form above, natural gas steps in. This has reduced the need for other ways to compensate for intermittency, like energy storage.”

“fracking has helped insulate the US from global economic shocks, particularly in oil markets. US shale oil has provided more than half the growth in global oil supplies, so rising tensions and disruptions in countries like Iran, Libya, and Venezuela have barely moved the needle at the gas pump.”

“natural gas obtained by fracking has reduced emissions, aided the economy, and helped clean energy rise, while costing less than dirtier fuels.”

“while low natural gas prices have helped knock dirty coal off the market, low oil prices driven in part by fracking have encouraged more travel. In fact, transportation is now the largest source of greenhouse gases in the US. And after years of decline, US emissions in 2018 rose by 3.4 percent.

Low oil prices have undermined the business case for cleaner transportation alternatives, like electric cars and fuel cell-powered buses. Instead, the United States has experienced a growing appetite for larger, thirstier cars and more air travel.

Meanwhile, low natural gas prices have had some collateral damage for nuclear power, the largest source of clean electricity in the US. Some of the nuclear power plants that have announced early retirements are likely to see their capacity replaced by natural gas. So while replacing coal with natural gas often leads to a reduction in emissions, replacing nuclear energy leads to an increase.

Natural gas itself can also become a climate problem. Methane, the dominant component of natural gas, produces less carbon dioxide than coal when burned. But if methane leaks, which it often does in some quantity during normal gas extraction operations, it becomes a potent greenhouse gas. Over 100 years, a quantity of methane traps more than 25 times the amount of heat compared to a similar amount of carbon dioxide.”

“then there’s the technique of fracking itself. It requires a massive volume of water. Wells can release toxic chemicals like benzene into the air. Fracking sites can experience explosions and fires. They can contaminate drinking water. More than 17 million people in the US live within a mile of an active fracking well, and research shows that fracking can lead to low birth weight in infants born in that radius.

Many of these environmental risks, on balance, are less than those associated with mining and burning coal. However, the sudden surge in fracking means many people are being confronted with its impacts for the first time, making it a more vivid political concern. That’s in contrast to coal hazards, which are mostly familiar to the public consciousness.”

“when it comes to limiting climate change, a key factor is time. Methane leaked from gas wells can stay in the atmosphere for a decade. Carbon dioxide from burning it can linger for a century. So it is imperative to ramp down greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. Yet every new natural gas power plant represents a decades-long commitment to continue using the fuel. That means gas plants will have to install carbon capture systems, which would add to their operating costs and worsen the business case further, or some poor investor is going to be left holding the bag.”

China’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2060, explained

“Imagine China — the world’s top emitter of carbon, which in 2019 released nearly double the emissions of the US — with almost zero coal power plants.

Imagine it with zero gasoline-powered cars, and with more than four times the 1,200 gigawatts of solar and wind power capacity installed across the world today.

This could become reality by mid-century if China follows through on President Xi Jinping’s latest commitment to addressing the climate emergency.”

“the target puts China more closely in alignment with the European Union, the UK, and other countries that have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said is required to prevent over 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. In the US, some states and cities have moved in this direction, too. For instance, former governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order in 2018 for California to be carbon neutral by 2045. And Michigan’s governor made the same commitment Wednesday.

Along with the pledge to be carbon neutral by 2060, Xi Jinping also announced that China would submit a stronger set of goals under the Paris agreement and that China would aim to peak carbon emissions before 2030, upping the commitment from “around” 2030.

Meanwhile, in his UNGA remarks, President Trump defended his decision to withdraw the US from the “one-sided” Paris agreement while criticizing China for “rampant pollution.”

Increasingly, China is demonstrating it will use climate as a way to upstage the US, with Xi repeatedly committing to incremental climate action on the international stage in recent years.”

“Besides the geopolitical motivations, China also has a lot to lose from unmitigated climate change, from catastrophic floods like those this summer in the central Yangtze River Basin to worsening heat waves and sea-level rise, which will have a huge impact on coastal cities like Shanghai by 2050.”

“China has yet to publish an official plan for how it would achieve carbon neutrality, but climate researchers have mapped out pathways. The good news: Researchers say it is possible. Some of the key shifts are already underway — toward electric vehicles and renewable energy, for example. But China will be entering uncharted territory when it comes to cleaning up its behemoth steel and cement industries.”

“The next few months will reveal how serious China is about accelerating its decarbonization.”

“China’s announcement may also have ripple effects on other countries as they choose whether to more aggressively tackle climate change, in the absence of US leadership, approaching the next major UN negotiations on climate change (COP 26), which will be held in November 2021.

“For China, who is experiencing economic ramifications of Covid like every other country, to come out and make this kind of bold statement on carbon neutrality could potentially sway the balance of countries who have been taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to their enhanced ambition climate pledges ahead of COP-26,” Hsu said. Here’s hoping it does.”

“Unprecedented”: What’s behind the California, Oregon, and Washington wildfires

“With so many fires burning across a wide region, it’s important to remember that there is a lot of variability in the specific factors at play for a given fire, from the ignition source to what kind of landscape is burning to the local conditions spreading the flames. However, there are some common factors that tie many of these blazes together and make them exceptional.”

“Record heat this summer baked much of the western United States, with states like California experiencing their hottest August on record. Many cities and counties across the West experienced record or near-record heat throughout the summer and into September. The summer was capped with a punishing heat wave that settled across the region in August and September and drove temperatures well into triple digits.

It has also been extremely dry in California, Oregon, and Washington this summer, with large sections of each state under “severe drought” conditions and some areas reaching “extreme drought.”

That heat and dryness turned grasses, shrubs, and trees into easy tinder, ready to ignite at the slightest spark.”

“The vast majority of wildfires in the United States are ignited by human sources — power lines, cigarette butts, machinery, or, in the case of one infamous recent fire, a gender reveal stunt. But a strange dry lightning storm near the San Francisco Bay Area in August led to more than 11,000 lightning strikes and triggered more than 300 fires in its wake. The causes of many other fires across the region are still being investigated.

The record-breaking weather comports with what scientists expect as the climate changes, and in many of the burning areas, the climate has already shifted in ways to worsen fire risk.”

A simpler, more useful way to tax carbon

“Kaufman and his co-authors propose an alternative design framework for a carbon tax: a near-term to net zero (NT2NZ) approach.

In a nutshell, rather than asking what the optimal carbon price is in some econo-metaphysical sense, the approach begins by asking: Given other policies in place and a reasonable set of assumptions, what price on carbon is required to drive emissions to net zero on schedule?”