House budget bill would gut regulations on methane emissions

The House Appropriations Committee has recommended that action be taken on H.R. 5538, a bill that would prohibit federal agencies from regulating methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.

On June 21st, the House Appropriations Committee recommended that action be taken on H.R. 5538, also known as the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. If signed into law, the act would make funding appropriations for the EPA, Department of the Interior, and other agencies related to environmental regulation. While this is a budget bill, it includes a long list of anti-environmental riders that would drastically reduce the ability of the federal government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including prohibiting agencies from developing and implementing regulations on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Methane is a hydrocarbon,greenhouse gas, and the primary component in natural gas. It is often found alongside petroleum sources, which means it can make its way into the atmosphere during the production, processing, and transport of natural gas and petroleum. According to the EPA, natural gas and petroleum systems account for33 percent of U.S. methane emissions (other major sources include agricultural practices, landfills, and coal mining). While methane is shorter-lived in the atmosphere than CO2, its warming effects are 87 times more powerful over a 20-year period.  Additionally, climate models predict that methane emissions can result in increases in stratospheric water vapor, which contributes significantly to climate change.

According to the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, over a five-year period more than 375 billion cubic feet of natural gas was lost to flaring, venting, and leaks– enough to power 5.1 million U.S. homes for a year. Major players in the oil and gas industry report that only about 0.13 percent of natural gas produced in the U.S. is wasted, but a report by the Government Accountability Office shows that the amount of gas wasted could be up to 30 times higher. The EPA estimates that about 40 percent of lost natural gas could be captured economically and with existing technology. In terms of effects on climate, this is the equivalent of 16.5 million metric tons of CO2, or the annual emissions of more than three million cars.

USMethaneEmissionsTimeSeries_crop

Methane emissions have fallen by 6% since 1990, but remain high enough to contribute significantly to climate change. Current annual emissions are around around 730 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents. Source: EPA.gov

In addition to the climate change effects of methane emissions, these practices also lead to increased global and regional pollution. Venting, flaring, and leaking of natural gas give off a variety of dangerous pollutants, such as benzene, ethyl benzene, formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde, which have been linked to a variety of health effects including some cancers, respiratory diseases, birth defects, anemia, and neurological disorders. Gases such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are also released, contributing to the formation of acid rain. Acid rain can decrease soil health and acidify lakes and streams, damaging local ecosystems and croplands. It also accelerates the breakdown of building materials, increasing the costs of houses and infrastructure. Reduction of these pollutants has the potential to save lives and reduce healthcare costs in addition to cost-savings associated with ecosystem services preserved by mitigating climate change and reducing pollution.

Methane emissions from oil extraction present an additional problem: existing regulations allow companies operating on federal and tribal lands to waste a natural resource without paying royalties on the value of lost natural gas. This amounts to a loss of government revenue as well as an additional subsidy for oil companies that are not interested in investing in the infrastructure needed to capture natural gas at the extraction site.  Existing oil and gas subsidies already put an unnecessary burden on taxpayers and incentivize the extraction of oil and gas in lieu of more sustainable energy sources. A study by environmental group Friends of the Earth found that the Bureau of Land Management subsidized the flaring of $524 million worth of natural gas in the state of North Dakota alone, resulting in lost royalties of nearly $66 million. Regulation of methane emissions would generate revenue for the federal government and tribes, which could be used to fund government programs, lower the deficit, and reduce the tax burden on the general population.

Early this year, the EPA finalized new rules to regulate the amount of methane wasted for existing oil and gas systems, and the Bureau of Land Management proposed similar rules for regulating future oil and gas systems on federal and tribal lands. The proposed rules would prohibit venting of natural gas, limit flaring at oil wells, require companies to detect and repair leaks, and require operators to submit comprehensive gas capture plans when they apply for drilling permits. Evident in H.R. 5538, these proposals have come under attack by industry leaders and members of Congress who believe the additional regulations amount to federal overreach and would have a negative impact on the economy. The bill explicitly prohibits the EPA and Department of the Interior from developing and implementing regulations on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Many environmental organizations oppose the gutting of these regulations that will occur if H.R. 5538 is passed. Green America and 37 other environmental organizations have signed on to a letter to Congress explicitly stating our opposition. We believe that strong federal regulation of greenhouse gases is paramount to furthering the goals of climate change mitigation, a healthy population, and a sustainable energy future.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds Gaining Momentum

Building on growing bipartisan momentum, Green America, the nation’s leading green economy organization, will continue to promote Clean Energy Victory Bonds in Congress. An amendment to the Senate Energy Bill (S. 2012) proposed by Senator Udall (D-N.M.) that would advance Clean Energy Victory Bonds did not achieve 60 votes as needed, but did receive growing bipartisan support yesterday in a vote of 50-47.  A separate Clean Energy Victory Bonds bill was introduced in the House in 2015 by Representatives Matsui and Lofgren and is supported by a growing list of sponsors.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds would allow all Americans to invest as little as $25 in Treasury Bonds and raise $50 billion to advance the clean energy economy nationwide.  Tens of thousands of Americans and over one hundred businesses and organizations support the passage of the bonds.

“Clean Energy Victory Bonds will allow all Americans an opportunity to invest through Treasury Bonds in a clean energy economy powered by solar and wind,” said Green America’s Co-Executive Director for Consumer and Corporate Engagement Todd Larsen. “We get frequent calls from consumers asking us when they can invest in Clean Energy Victory Bonds, and as public interest continues to grow, we know that Congress will respond and authorize the bonds.”

“The U.S. needs to grow the clean energy economy in order to remain competitive,” says Green America’s Co-Executive Director for Business, Investing, and Policy Fran Teplitz. “The clean energy economy fueled by Clean Energy Victory Bonds will provide over one million well-paying jobs, and provide a significant boost for businesses nationwide, keeping the U.S. a leader in clean energy worldwide.”

US EPA to regulate methane from existing oil and gas sources

President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada made an historic announcement yesterday regarding methane regulation.  The two countries have agreed to reduce methane pollution from their oil and gas industry by 40-45 percent over the next 10 years.

For the United States, an important outcome is that the US EPA will begin developing regulations for methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources, with the EPA stating that it will begin the formal process for developing regulations regarding these emissions within the next month.  These sources are responsible for 90 percent of methane emissions from these industries.

This is great news for Americans and the environment. Methane waste is an enormous contributor  to climate change—it is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time  period. Reducing methane emissions will also reduce volatile organic compounds from oil and gas operations, including carcinogens such as benzene, toluene and formaldehyde.  Lower income communities nationwide often bear the brunt of these toxins.

Last year, Green America supported the EPA’s regulations to reduce methane emissions from new oil and gas sources, and with our allies, urged the EPA to also regulate existing sources of methane.  We are pleased that the EPA will be moving forward with the regulation of existing sources of methane emissions, as these sources represent the majority of such emissions in the US.

 

The Paris Accord: A Major Step Forward for International Cooperation on Climate. Not Enough, On Its Own, to Address Climate Crisis

The Paris Accord: A Major Step Forward for International Cooperation on Climate. Not Enough, On Its Own, to Address Climate Crisis. Yet, in many ways the deal does not go far enough. The key goals of limiting temperature change are aspirational and not legally binding.

The news from Paris this weekend was huge.  Nearly 200 countries agreed to take action on climate to keep temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius or an even more aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees.  The deal has many positive aspects. Nations will be transparent about their emissions reductions, and that transparency should help to shame laggards.  Rich countries are pledging $100 billion per year in assistance to poorer nations.

Yet, in many ways the deal does not go far enough.  The key goals of limiting temperature change are aspirational and not legally binding.  That is why climate scientist James Hansen has ridiculed the agreement for being insufficient to address the problem at the scale that’s needed. And, developing and poor nations are justifiably concerned that assistance from rich countries will not be enough and isn’t even guaranteed.

Of course, the flaws in the agreement reflect the political realities of the major polluter nations, particularly that of the United States.  The U.S. Congress is under the control of politicians who still question whether climate science is real, favor lavish subsidies for fossil fuels, and fail to adequately support renewable energy development.  As a result, the Obama Administration had to negotiate a deal that did not need Senate approval, and the Paris Accord, with all its strengths and weaknesses, fits the bill.

Since the goals of the Paris Accord are aspirational, it is up to citizens and progressive business leaders worldwide to push for strong measures in their countries to move to a clean energy economy.  This transition needs to protect human rights alongside environmental priorities. An important place to start the transition process is eliminating the vast subsidies for fossil fuels.  Worldwide subsidies for fossil fuels represent an astonishing $10 million per minute, or over $5 trillion per year.  These subsidies are distorting energy markets worldwide, making highly polluting fuels appear to be “cheap,” when they actually have huge environmental and health costs that will be borne by citizens for generations. And, compare subsidies for fossil fuels with those for clean energy – currently only $120 billion per year worldwide. Fossil fuel subsidies are an incredible 125 times greater than clean energy ones.  Despite these imbalances, clean energy is developing quickly around the world, but if there were a level playing field, it would increase even more rapidly, and at the rate we need to address climate emissions.

Here in the U.S., government incentives for clean energy are expiring and failing to be renewed, while fossil fuel subsidies that have been locked in for decades continue without any opportunity for public debate.  Green America is working to correct this issue by promoting Clean Energy Victory Bonds, legislation that would provide $50 billion in dedicated Treasury bonds that support only clean energy and energy efficiency programs in the U.S. This legislation would create over one million good paying jobs in the U.S., and help accelerate wind, solar, and energy efficiency installations across the country. As we work to pass Clean Energy Victory Bonds, Green Americans can take action with us to divest their money from climate polluters and invest in clean energy solutions instead.

It is also essential that the citizens of wealthy countries assist poor countries in adopting clean energy and addressing the impacts of climate change.  It is only fair that the countries that have benefited from over 100 years of unrestricted carbon emissions that helped generate tremendous wealth, agree to help developing countries build their economies with low-carbon technologies.  It is also in the interest of rich countries to do so for their own sake.  For example, if climate change continues on its current path, the United States could experience sea level rises of 10 feet on its East Coast, destroying the homes and businesses of millions of people.

Climate change demonstrates clearly that we are all in this together, and that there is no place for privileging one nation above others.  As the wealthiest country on earth, the U.S. has a special obligation to be a leader, creating a future for its own citizens and people worldwide.  We can all play a role, as consumers, investors, business owners, and voters to ensure that the U.S. is the leader we need it to be.

Solar Energy Is on the Rise – Join the Movement!

Join the solar revolution!

 

Solar Energy Is on the Rise!

The solar energy industry in the United States is exploding! According to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), the number of solar installations grew by 34% in 2014. Residential installations accounted for a large part of that growth, increasing by 51% from 2013 to 2014. 2015 is growing at even higher rates. SEIA’s research shows that in the first quarter of 2015, the amount of installed solar power in the U.S. grew by 76% as compared to the first quarter in 2014, and the second quarter of 2015 set a new record for residential rooftop solar installations in particular, a category that saw 70 percent year-over-year growth.

 

What Is Driving All the Demand for Solar?

Prices for solar energy systems have fallen over 80% in the last five years alone! When combined with attractive federal and local incentives, the financial benefits of going solar a quite staggering! In many parts of the country, homeowners are enjoying a five to seven year payback on a solar energy system investment – driven by the electricity cost savings and other incentives for solar energy production. To put that into finance terms, that represents a 14% to 20% annual return on your money! Hard to beat! (See how much solar can save you!)

For those who would rather not shell out the cash for a solar system, a bunch of attractive financing solutions have emerged that allow homeowners to go solar with no money down and still enjoy significant financial savings! These financing arrangements – ranging from zero down loans to leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs) – make solar much more affordable and have helped over 70% of the nearly 650,000 solar customers to go solar on a budget. (Learn more about solar financing options)

 

Solar Helps the Economy Too!

The increase in demand for solar has also had a very positive impact on our economy by creating jobs! In many cases, these are high paying jobs, including sales, marketing, engineering and management positions. In its most recent survey from 2014, The Solar Foundation (TSF) estimated that the US solar industry employed nearly 175,000 people, over double what it was in 2010! According to Fortune Magazine, the solar industry now employs more people than coal mining! You can help contribute to the solar wave and protect our planet by going solar today!

Environmental Costs Outweigh Corporate Profits

The 2015 State of Green Business report was just released, detailing the environmental performance of large companies around the world. The report, produced by GreenBiz and TruCost, illustrates the true costs of pollution, ecosystem depletion, and health impacts of unsustainable natural capital consumption by corporations and the alarming rate at which they are growing.

2010dirtyenergyAccording to the report, environmental costs, like greenhouse gas emissions and water abstraction (removing freshwater from the natural water cycle, and thus preventing its future use), would render most businesses unprofitable if they were responsible for paying for the impacts. The report found that environmental costs tallied up to $1 trillion (or 6.2% of GDP) for companies in the US, and $3 trillion worldwide.

The authors state, “Over the past five years, the proportion of company profit at risk consistently exceeds 100 percent of their profit… This means that, on average, companies would be unprofitable if they had to pay the actual costs associated with the commodities they consume and pollution they generate.”

It’s not all bad news, however. The report finds that the level of sustainable investment has been growing considerably in recent years. According the 2014 Trends Report published last November by US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, cited in GreenBiz’s report, sustainable assets totaling $6.57 trillion represented almost 18% of the $36.8 trillion in total assets under management, a 76% increase over 2012.

Social investors, joined by non-profits and growing consumer concern, are changing the ways that companies value natural resources. As a result, more companies are adopting the concept of ‘natural capital,’ which refers to “the stock of resources and ecosystem services on which all companies depend for their success.” Fresh water for industrial processes, and energy produced from fossil fuels (and its connected value to the clean air it pollutes) are the two largest forms of natural capital discussed in the report. Most companies are using these forms of capital at unsustainable levels. Due to rising shareholder and consumer concerns, companies are increasingly examining their businesses along their entire supply chain, where most natural capital expenditure occurs.

Additionally, science-based emissions reduction goals are becoming much more commonplace. Now, to really address the problems of overusing natural capital, corporations need to take a leadership role in reducing their imapcts. It is up to businesses to address their overall sustainability by assuming liability for their stranded assets (including certain fossil fuel reserves), adopting open and distributed sustainability systems, providing transparency along supply chains, and most importantly, supporting policies that advocate for sustainable business practices across the board.

Solar Industry Continues to Grow Faster than Anyone Imagined

Growth in the solar industry continues to surprise even the most optimistic supporters of the technology. In a world still dominated by fossil fuels, clean energy advocates have had a hard time describing the litany of benefits of a power source that doesn’t involve the combustion of hydrocarbons and the release of greenhouse gases. But now, according to a new report from Deutsche Bank, getting your electricity from the sun seems to be catching on across the world. The bank predicts that solar will reach grid parity with other sources of electricity in all 50 states by 2050.

What is grid parity, you might ask? It occurs when the price of an alternative source of power is equal to or less than the price of electricity from the traditional utility grid. In 10 states, the price of powering your home with rooftop solar panels is already lower than the price of grid electricity. With the 30% investment tax credit (see below) currently in place, it is estimated that 47 states will reach grid parity by 2016. Even if the tax credit were reduced to a level of 10%, Bloomberg predicts that by 2016, at least 36 states will have reached grid parity for solar.

(Credit: EIA, GWEC, Deutsche Bank Estimates)
(Credit: EIA, GWEC, Deutsche Bank Estimates) Click to Enlarge.

The investment tax credit for solar (ITC) plays a large roll in the plummeting costs of acquiring customers, financing and installing residential and commercial solar systems. The government offers a 30% credit for residential and commercial solar systems. Since the credit began in 2006, annual solar installation has grown by over 1,600%. The ITC is slated to drop to 10% in 2016, and is an important driver of the growth and cost reductions solar has enjoyed over the past decade. Though the clock is ticking for the ITC, Deutsche posits that the cost of financing will fall from 7-9% to 5.4% in 2015. It is unclear whether or not an expiration of the ITC will lead to a reversal of the recent growth observed. A ten-year extension of the credit at 30% would all but guarantee that the solar industry will continue its upward trend.

As fossil energy becomes more expensive relative to alternative sources and more people turn to the possibility of producing energy from the sun, new sources of mainstream funding should begin to find the solar industry. The fragmented, latticed network of installers, financiers and producers will begin to consolidate and drive growth even further. According to the International Energy Agency, more than half of the electricity generated in 2050 will likely come from solar. China represents the largest market for the growing solar industry, with the US coming in second. Other emerging markets such as India are stepping up with plans to invest heavily in solar energy in the coming years as well.

Falling oil prices are stirring concern that clean energy advancement is at risk, but oil is not a major generator of electricity and does not directly compete with solar power. Recent growth in the solar industry is unprecedented and does not appear to be at risk of slowing down in the near-term.

The transition to a solar-dominant electricity landscape is good news for the climate-minded. There are obvious emissions involved with the production, transport, and installation of panels, but the fact remains that solar represents a technology and not a fuel. Once in operation, a rooftop equipped with solar panels will produce emission-free electricity for its entire lifetime. The climate benefits of solar energy can only go as far as the industry can, and now is the right time to show your support. The Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act, sponsored in part by Green America, seeks to extend the ITC, along with several other key tax credits for renewable energy sources and energy efficiency updates for a ten-year period so that clean technologies can continue to compete and grow in the global energy marketplace. To learn more, please visit. www.cleanenergyvictorybonds.org.