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.

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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.

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.

Obama: Taking on Fracking?

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The Obama Administration has taken its first federal action to regulate fracking.  Unfortunately, the new rule won’t do much to address the growing problems that fracking causes.

The Bureau of Land Management issued the rules on Friday, March 20th.  The new rules only apply to fracking on federal lands, and would institute the following:

  • New well-construction requirements to ensure the protection of groundwater supplies;
  • Increased transparency by requiring companies to promptly and publicly disclose chemicals used fracking operations to the BLM through the website FracFocus;
  • Higher standards for wastewater storage.

While each of the above provisions represents an improvement over the current status of little of no regulation at all, the reality is that fracking should not be taking place on public lands period.

The growing evidence demonstrates that fracking harms air and water quality, damages local infrastructure, and is even causing an increase in earthquakes.

In addition, fracked gas is increasingly sent overseas, so the American public is not even using the resources taken from public and private lands in the U.S.  Corporations are profiting, but the American people bear the environmental and social costs of these exports without getting much benefit in return.

The Obama Administration’s embrace of fracking (with some regulation), alongside its support for increased oil drilling off the East Coast is all part of a failed “all of the above” energy strategy that is designed to appeal to conservatives, but in reality, just opens the door to increased pollution and climate emissions, while impeding the progress of clean energy in the U.S.

As a country, we can’t seriously embrace ambitious goals to address climate change (which the President says he supports), while also supporting increased fossil fuel production.  The problem with the new rules on fracking are that they try to put a band aid on the harms of fossil fuel production, when it is increasingly clear that the only sustainable course of action is to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

Make sure to let the Administration know that you want a true clean energy future. Please join Green America in calling on the President to take real action on climate change by creating a real plan to address carbon emissions, the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking, and clean energy initiatives!

EPA Speaks Out on Keystone Pipeline  

The Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry roughly 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast in the US, has been one of the most polarizing issues in American politics over the past few years. Environmentalists recognize that the pipeline will do little more than encourage continued tar sands extraction, one of the most carbon-intensive oil production methods on the planet. Supporters of heavy industry see the pipeline as a crucial piece of infrastructure that will create a more robust economy including jobs and increased energy security (although the Keystone would produce very few permanent jobs). President Obama has stated that the future of the pipeline project depends on whether or not it will contribute further to climate change.

Protestors oppose the Keystone Pipeline at a Rally
Protestors oppose the Keystone Pipeline at a Rally in Washington, DC

This week, the EPA weighed in on the State Department’s environmental impact statement, using authority granted by the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The letter sent to the State Department from the EPA outlines their findings that the pipeline would indeed contribute to climate change. The production, transport, and refining processes, and the burning of the final product would result in an additional 1.3 -27.4 million metric tons of CO2 each year. On the high end, that’s equivalent to the GHG emissions from 5.7 million passenger vehicles or 7.8 coal-fired power plants. With oil prices currently lower than most economists expected, construction of the pipeline would make it cheaper to transport tar sands oil than the current method of shipping it by rail, and would most likely result in increased tar sands production.

Although Congress has voted many times in attempt to pass the pipeline without presidential authority, the project remains to be approved. The President has vowed to veto any attempt to force the pipeline into construction before environmental assessments were turned in and considered. The EPA’s comments all but confirm that the pipeline will contribute to climate change, in the face of massive skepticism and denial from supporters of the project. The letter may give the president the confidence he needs to stand up to fossil fuel interests and knock down further attempts at its passage. To learn more about the effort to block the construction of the pipeline, click here, here, and here. You can also take action with Green America, urging President Obama to veto the pipeline