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.

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!

Amazon Campaign Download (V 2.0): AWS Announces Wind Farm in North Carolina

By Kegan Gerard

Windenergy by Wagner Christian
Windenergy by Wagner Christian

In the few short weeks following the launch of our Amazon: Build a Cleaner Cloud campaign, two huge renewable energy investments have been announced from the company.

In June, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced that it planned to the development of an 80 megawatt (MW) solar facility in Virginia, calling it Amazon Solar Farm US East.

Then in July AWS revealed plans for a 208 MW wind farm in North Carolina, called the Amazon Wind Farm US East. Current roadmaps show that the Amazon Wind Farm US East — the first utility-scale wind installation in NC — aims to be operational by December 2016.

Amazon Web Services’ US East division has historically been one of its most polluting operations, with only 6 percent of its operations being fueled by clean energy according the Clicking Clean report, released by Greenpeace earlier this year.

The flood of support from Green America members has shown Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, that the company must commit to renewable energy and be transparent in its transition to a clean energy future, if it wants to keep the support of their customers — companies like Netflix, Change.org, Tumblr, and hundreds more.

So far, over 26,000 of you have signed on to tell Amazon to take action, and to stop keeping its customers in the dark — but there is still more work to be done.

There is a global spotlight on renewable energy right now as the world ramps up to the December climate talks in Paris. Any success we hope to achieve there must begin at home. We have the power to help shape businesses here at home, and those businesses have the power to shape the future or energy consumption.
Help us make this happen. Sign on to our Build a Cleaner Cloud campaign, share it with your friends, and together we’ll see the largest cloud computing provider commit to a healthy, renewable future for all of us.

For People, Power, and the Environment — the Clean Power Plan Has Arrived

How Obama’s new plan to cut carbon emissions represents an important step in cutting energy costs and pollution while saving lives

https://flic.kr/p/6Ff1zJ
Image by Wayne National Forest

While groups on both sides of the aisle criticize the plan — some saying it does too little and others opposing the principle entirely — it’s going to boost the green economy, save lives, and cut costs. If the plan that President Obama calls the “single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change” sounds almost too good to be true, hear us out. While more is needed to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, the plan represents the first US limits on carbon pollution from power plants — the largest source of climate-changing pollution in the United States.

The main goal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) is to reduce the amount of carbon pollution emitted by power plants. According to the EPA, power plants account for nearly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

As we know by now, this excess carbon dioxide pollution contributes to climate change and a whole host of public health issues, so the CPP set out to tackle emissions at their source.

It accomplishes this by setting goals for CO2 emissions reduction in 47 states, totaling a collective 32 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels.

Why only 47 states? Each of the reduction goals is tailored to the unique situation in each individual state.

Two out of the missing three, Alaska and Hawaii, were left out of the plan because the EPA doesn’t yet have enough data to set appropriate goals for them, though this is reportedly being addressed. Vermont (and D.C. for that matter) don’t have significant enough CO2 contributions from power plants and were consequently left out of the ruling.

In structuring it so that each state is responsible for establishing a unique plan, the EPA created a flexible CPP that is responsive to the needs of the state’s businesses and communities. Additionally, states have the option to work with other states, developing multi-state plans to help one another through the transition to a greener economy.

Most of this transition is going to entail a move away from coal, and towards renewables, nuclear, and natural gas. While this means that the CPP won’t lead to the ideal, fossil-free future we need, it is a significant step in the right direction.

This ruling isn’t just significant for its symbolic nature, rather there are very real economic implications.

The EPA estimates that the reductions associated with the Clean Power Plan will lead to $20 billion in climate benefits, $14-$34 billion in health benefits, and $26-$45 in net benefits.

Additionally, nearly 300,000 missed school and work days are expected to be avoided because of the plan. By cutting down on polluting coal plants, you decrease the amount of toxins in the air, while also reducing climate-change related health problems.

The 3,600 premature deaths expected to be saved as a result of the plan should not and can not be put second to politics and short-term economic growth.

Fortunately, decreasing days of productivity isn’t the only long-term economic benefit of a greener energy future. A recent report by energy research firm Synapse energy Economics found that a clean energy future scenario would lead to energy bills $35 lower per month in 2030, compared to a business-as-usual scenario.

Lowering energy bills, reducing healthcare burdens, and boosting productivity. Three things that anyone in their right mind would champion in a heartbeat. Why then do people shudder when this is attached to environmental policy?

Raising controversy over the issue could inevitably come back to bite those opposing the bill. The Clean Power Plan is here, whether they like it or not.

Talking about the plan is only going to ramp up interest in climate talks, and a major development like this is likely to propel greater progress in Paris later this year.

5 Surprising Ways Your Internet Habits Are Impacting the Environment

By Kegan Gerard

  1. Emails: Tiny Climate Bombs

laptop grassEmail may have done a great job improving productivity and reducing the amount of paper we waste, but those little messages can pack a carbon punch. An average email accounts for 4 grams CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent)—the result of the many servers, computers, and routers that enable you to hit send. For comparison’s sake, a plastic shopping bag is responsible for about 10 gCO2e. Considering an average worker sends between 121 and 140 emails per day, your daily footprint from these emails can quickly add up to over 484 g CO2e—the equivalent of nearly five and a half hours of TV watching.

Next time you want to send your coworker that “thanks!” email, consider walking there and saying it in person. Unsubscribing from all of those listservs you never read anyway is another great way to declutter your inbox and cut the carbon.

  1. Netflix Streaming: Equal to Powering Your Fridge

movie laptopEveryone loves watching movies online. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and you don’t have to put on real clothes to leave the house. Even though you may not put much energy into your movie selections, there’s a great deal of it required to power that 13-hour Orange Is The New Black binge. Streaming just one hour of video per week for a year requires more energy than two new refrigerators, according to a 2013 report by the Digital Power Group. Considering that Netflix at times accounts for nearly half of Internet traffic in North America, all that streaming can equate to the energy usage—and resulting climate emissions—of hundreds of thousands of “extra refrigerators” worldwide. Oddly enough, the 2013 report was funded by members of the coal industry and argued for the need for more dirty coal to power the cloud.

Because Netflix is hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), much of the energy used to power the site comes from dirty sources of power like coal. Until AWS starts obtaining more of its energy from renewables, streaming from Netflix has the potential to impact more than just your social life. Even for those who like their movies a tad on the dirty side, the power that goes into streaming those films should come from clean sources. Visit buildacleanercloud.com to find out how to make this happen.

  1. Turn Off the Lights

lights on NYCWhile we’re on the topic of Netflix, your viewing habits may lead to other energy usage that you’ve never thought of. Leaving the lights on while you watch movies at night may be leading to higher energy bills for you, and more CO2 for our atmosphere. Nielsen reported that the average American watches television (on a TV) for 34 hours a week. For those who prefer to watch online, Business Wire estimates that the average Netflix user alone spends about 8 hours per week watching that service alone. Either way, that’s a lot of time for the lights to be left on.

Flicking that light switch not only helps you to reduce your energy usage, it’s also a better viewing experience—images appear brighter and sharper when viewed in a darker room. Next time you’re watching House Hunters to see if they go with house number one, two, or three, try turning out the lights in yours.

  1. Online Shopping: What’s in Your Cart?

Tlaptop outsidehose four hours you spent online shopping at work, while not so great for your productivity, may have been pretty good for the environment. Scientists from MIT looked at a number of shopping scenarios—whether you bought online or in store, how many visits to the store you made, whether or not you returned the product, etc.—and found that online shopping is often a more environmentally friendly way to buy. For those who completed every step of buying an item online, their carbon footprint was almost two times smaller than traditional shoppers, who often make several trips to a store before buying.

Green America has also compiled a list of some environmentally and socially responsible alternatives to purchasing from Internet shopping giants like Amazon, so you can feel even better about that pair of shoes you need to order online.

  1. Let the Music Play

musicJust as those Netflix movies have to be streamed from somewhere, so too does your music. Spotify, one of the most widely used streaming services, is hosted by AWS, which uses non-renewable sources like coal to power a majority of its operations.

Streaming the music online does cut down on the physical waste associated with CD production, but it’s often hard to conceptualize the energy mix behind your playlists. Streaming music is also much easier than obtaining physical copies of music, leading to increased consumption levels.

Fortunately for music lovers out there, there are some great services that give you all the freedom of streaming and less of the ecological footprint. Apple’s new streaming service, Apple Music, is run out of the company’s own data centers, which are entirely powered by renewable energy sources. Subscribers to the service have the ability to save songs for offline listening (a function also offered by Spotify), which further reduces the amount of streaming data required.

Bonus: Tweet Flatulation Tweetfarts.com claims that each tweet produces the same amount of CO2 as a human wind. Click through to their website to have them explain that one…

Renewable Energy Certificates: What They Are and What They Can and Can’t Do

When it comes to clean, renewable energy, the language can get confusing. In the tradition of Salt-N-Pepa, here I will attempt to break things down. Without further ado, let’s talk about RECs, baby!

By Kegan Gerard

solar and windInvesting in renewables makes sense. From an economic standpoint, Bloomberg is now forecasting that wind energy will become the cheapest new energy globally by 2026, before passing that title to solar production in 2030. This is great news, considering that poor air quality associated with traditional energy sources like coal will lead to an estimated increase of 57,000 premature deaths annually by 2100, according to a new report from the Obama administration. Not to mention all the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels.

Businesses, then, have any number of incentives to fuel their operations with renewable energy, with companies like Tesla leading the way to net-zero energy consumption.

Not everyone, however, has the resources to complete a solar installation comparable to Tesla’s “Gigafactory.” Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) can offer these organizations a way to commit to a renewable energy future.

Whats a REC and what can it do?

A Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) is a tradable tool used by organizations to represent the environmental, non-power qualities of a unit of energy. Think of it as a permit to claim the “green-ness” of a given energy source, with each REC certifying the generation of one megawatt-hour (MWh) of renewable energy.

This “greenness” claim can then be useful for a company, either to meet its own sustainability goals, or to meet the terms of federal Renewable Electricity Standards (RES).

Not All RECs are Created Equal

With a REC essentially representing the green aspect of renewable power, it can either be sold in a “bundle” with the power itself, or “unbundled” and sold independently. This, for many, is a hard distinction to understand, so I’ll break it down.

When 1 MWh of energy is created from a renewable source, like a solar array or wind turbine, there are two components to this: the actual electricity itself, and the claim of being produced in a “green” way. As the electricity generated from renewable sources is physically indistinguishable to electricity generated from dirtier coal and natural gas, the electrons themselves aren’t inherently green.

With “bundled” electricity, energy is sold to the customer along with the claim, the REC, that the energy was produced in a renewable fashion. In this setup, the power provider and buyer are located in the same power grid, so that produced green electricity can be delivered to the REC buyer.

Conversely, the REC and electricity generated can be sold separate from one another, with one business buying the use of that electricity and another buying the REC. To avoid “double-counting,” only the owner of the REC can claim the greenness of their energy.

Why does this matter?

Outside of reducing carbon emissions to curb climate change, one of the biggest advantages of renewable energy is its potential to grow local industries and improve regional air quality. This is key, because new investment in solar, wind, and other clean-energy technologies can both stimulate new jobs as well as decrease a region’s healthcare costs. Unbundled RECs, however, take away much of this opportunity. Here’s how:

As bundled green energy requires the power to be sourced within the same power grid, demand for the green alternatives increases. More businesses buying bundled green energy sends a message to local power providers that the community is invested in renewable energy. To meet this demand, local utilities increase the share of their energy sourced from renewables in order to supply more bundled RECs.

Conversely, unbundled RECs can often be purchased from states on the other side of the country. While this may still sound okay—”A REC is better than no REC, right?”—it fails to incentivize local power providers to provide green energy at a level comparable to bundled RECs. Think of it this way: if power providers can continue to generate high profits from coal or natural-gas sources, they may believe they have little economic incentive to spend additional funds to incorporate renewable technologies in their regions. High local demand for green, bundled RECs shifts this slope in favor of renewables.

Understanding Renewable Energy Claims

Many companies may claim to be “carbon-neutral,” or committed to investing in renewables. However, this may mean that they are simply buying unbundled RECs to meet arbitrary standards.

As consumers, it’s important that we stay informed and know how to read a company’s marketing claims about its renewable-energy commitments. Take Amazon for instance. It claims that its GovCloud web hosting service is carbon neutral, all the while sourcing much of the power for its data centers from dirtier coal-based utilities and buying unbundled RECs to make up its green “cred.” In doing so, it deprives the region’s communities many of the jobs and environmental benefits that new renewable investments have the potential to bring.

It’s important for consumers to continue to call for renewable-energy creation to replace dirty energies like coal, natural gas, and nuclear. At the same time, we need companies to demand renewable energy as well so that utilities will transition to cleaner sources of power like wind and solar. Bundled RECs, in the short term, can help quantify demand for renewable energy. In the long term, as more and more companies shift to sourcing 100% renewable energy directly, the RECs will no longer be needed.

Amazon Campaign Download (Version 1.0): AWS Announces Solar Farm in Virginia

By Kegan Gerard

Green Data centerSince we launched our Amazon: Build A Cleaner Cloud campaign on June 9th, the company has made some progress on the renewable energy front—announcing plans for an 80 MW solar farm in Virginia. This development proves that consumer pressure on Amazon works! And while Amazon’s cloud-computing arm, Amazon Web Services (AWS), still has a long way to go to become a truly green hosting option, Green America welcomes this step in the right direction.

Over 23,000 Green Americans have joined us in calling on AWS to keep pace with other industry leaders and power its operations with the renewable energy sources of the future, but, together, we still have a ways to go.

As it stands, AWS is one of the few Fortune 500 companies that has failed to publish a sustainability report, which would allow customers to track the company’s progress on climate change and other key metrics, as well as hold the company accountable to meeting its announced goal of using 100% renewable power. (The company has not yet set a date by which it intends to reach that goal.)

With clients ranging from Netflix to the CIA hosting their information on its servers, AWS’s reach extends deep into each of our lives. As the single largest provider of cloud-computing services, AWS is in a position to drive renewable development forward and reduce many of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with data center operation.

AWS’ east coast operation, US East, only acquires six percent of its energy from renewable sources—even accounting for its new Virginia solar plant—according to recent Greenpeace estimates. The rapid growth of cloud computing is only expected to continue, and companies like Amazon must switch to renewable energy sources to curb rising temperatures that threaten communities and ecosystems worldwide.

On June 25th, Green America teamed up with representatives from Greenpeace to speak directly with AWS customers at the company’s GovCloud conference in Washington, DC. GovCloud customers, including government agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofits, are in a perfect position to use their buying power to pressure on Amazon to make changes that influence us all. Green America will continue our work to educate and mobilize communities about AWS until it accomplishes these three, crucial steps:

  • Commit to increasing the share of renewable energy powering data centers to 100% by 2020, and cease the construction of new data centers that rely on coal-fired power.
  • Submit complete and accurate data to the Carbon Disclosure Project.
  • Issue an annual sustainability report following Global Reporting Initiative Guidelines.

Consumer pressure on Amazon works. In the last year, the company has committed to clean energy sources, including wind and now solar. To continue pushing Amazon to achieve the three recommended steps, Green America needs your support. If you haven’t yet, join us in calling on Amazon to build a cleaner cloud—one that is powered by renewable energy. We’ll keep you updated on our progress, so stay tuned for any new developments!