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TRUMP-FUNDED STUDY FINDS BETTER CARBON CAPTURE NEEDED TO PREVENT CLIMATE DISASTER: A new climate study partly funded by the Trump administration calls for a major federal initiative to speed the development of carbon capture technologies needed to meet the goals of the Paris climate accord.
The National Academies of Sciences released the study on Wednesday calling for the rapid development of “negative emissions technologies” that can remove carbon dioxide, a key contributor to climate change, directly from the air.
The study says that the current versions of the technologies won't be enough to meet the current goals spelled out under the 2015 Paris climate accord, which Trump withdrew the U.S. from in June 2017.
“Therefore, a concerted research effort is needed to address the constraints that currently limit deployment of NETs, such as high costs, land and environmental constraints, and energy requirements,” the report concludes.
The technologies are essential to offsetting carbon emissions and “should be viewed as a component of the climate change mitigation portfolio,” said Stephen Pacala, the Princeton University professor who chaired the study.
The study follows a report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this month that concluded that similar technologies that remove carbon from the air would be required to keep the climate from warming 1.5 degrees by the middle of the century.
Currently, the Paris climate accord agrees to prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising 2 degrees. The U.N. may consider changing that goal based on the new U.N. study.
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KIDS FACE ‘LONG SHOT’ IN CLIMATE LAWSUIT AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT: By pausing a landmark lawsuit filed by children who want to force the federal government to take action against climate change this past weekend, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts signaled that it's a long shot to succeed.
Roberts' decision is a sign that the high court doesn't want the judiciary used for "show trials," said Jeff Holmstead, a former deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the George W. Bush administration who is now an energy industry attorney at Bracewell.
“Climate change is a serious issue, but this case has no legal merit,” Holmstead told Josh.
The kids want the government to fight climate change: The suit, Juliana v. United States, involves 21 children who allege that inaction from government policymakers has worsened climate change, robbing future generations of their constitutional right to a healthy environment.
The case was scheduled to be heard beginning on Oct. 29 in a U.S. District Court in Oregon, but the administration filed an emergency petition asking the Supreme Court to intervene.
A creative legal argument: The plaintiffs, represented by Our Children’s Trust, are using two main theories in their legal case.
They argue that the warming atmosphere should get special treatment under the public trust doctrine, which says the government holds essential natural resources in trust for its citizens and it must protect them.
They also claim the federal government has violated a constitutional right to a livable climate by not taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a safe level.
Nathan Richardson, an environmental law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, says that claims are not “crazy” or “frivolous.” He credits the challengers for making creative legal arguments under the public trust doctrine.
The bottom-line: But he said the action sought by the plaintiffs — some major action to curb climate change — would be hard to define and enforce, and thus is a "long shot."
“They want the courts to force an equal branch of government to do something to limit U.S. emissions, to take some action," Richardson told Josh. "That's really not how the U.S. political system works.”
TRUMP WARNS CALIFORNIA HE COULD CUT WILDFIRE AID: President Trump warned California on Tuesday that Washington will be forced to cut it off from federal wildfire funds if it doesn't manage its forests in line with his administration's suggestions.
"California, get on the ball because we aren't going to hand you any more money," Trump said in addressing local leaders from California, Alaska, and Hawaii as part of the White House's State Leadership Day.
“We're tired of giving California hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars all the time for their forest fires when you wouldn’t have them if they manage their forests properly,” Trump said.
...AND SIGNS BILL BOOSTING RENEWABLE ENERGY: Trump signed a $6.1 billion spending bill Tuesday that gives hydropower a big, long-awaited victory by establishing two government task forces that speed up the construction of electricity-producing dams.
New energy task forces: The bipartisan water infrastructure bill, which funds the maintenance of waterways, harbors, and canals, also creates two task forces meant to expedite licensing procedures to turn normal dams into renewable energy power plants, while also boosting the number of hydropower pump storage plants that could help move more solar and wind onto the grid.
Hydropower is one the nation's leading sources of clean, renewable energy generation that states and utilities have been looking to develop as a cheaper alternative to other large power plants. It is also one form of renewable energy that Trump supports. But adding new hydroelectric dams to the grid can take years to get through the licensing process, which is what the task forces seek to speed up.
Trump has also ordered agencies to expedite timelines for licensing and permit approvals for all manner of projects that the task forces also address.
FERC leads: The first task force would promote hydropower development by helping to convert conventional dams into hydroelectric power plants. The bill directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to get the ball rolling in the first 180 days after passage.
The second task force, also created by FERC, will expedite the creation of closed-loop pumped storage energy projects, which would be used to add electricity to the grid when wind or solar plants are reducing their output. The facilities are meant to balance the flow of electricity to allow more renewables to be added to the grid.
DOMINION BEGINS MAJOR BID TO EXPAND RENEWABLES OUTSIDE WASHINGTON: Dominion Energy announced a request for proposals Wednesday that seeks bids for up to 500 megawatts of solar and onshore wind power as part of new renewable energy and grid security law’s plan to develop 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy -- enough to power 750,000 homes -- in the state.
The renewable energy mandate, enacted on July 1, “paves the way for the largest increase of renewable energy resources in the state's history,” said Dominion, Virginia’s largest utility firm. The company has pledged to have 3,000 megawatts of solar and wind either in operation or in development by early 2022.
The company will issue a new call for proposals each year until the total amount is met. The proposal requests, or RFPs, allow outside companies to bid on contracts to sell solar and wind energy to the utility.
Companies must tell the company they intend to bid by Nov. 2.
TRUMP SIGNALS WHEELER COULD BECOME EPA’S PERMANENT LEADER: Trump gave some love to EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Tuesday, signaling he wants to install him at the agency permanently.
“He’s acting, but he’s doing well, right? So maybe he won’t be so acting so long,” Trump said at the White House as he called Wheeler to the stage during the State Leadership Day Conference.
Wheeler would have be confirmed by the Senate again, as he was for his original deputy administrator role, if he were to be nominated for the permanent job. He replaced former administrator Scott Pruitt in July, in an acting capacity. Wheeler, a former EPA career staffer, Senate aide, and energy lobbyist, has largely carried on Trump’s deregulatory agenda, but with a more transparent, media-friendly approach (and without the excessive spending drama).
WHEELER TOUTS ‘CLEAN AIR PROGRESS’ IN TRUMP COUNTRY: Wheeler on Wednesday morning touted falling U.S. carbon emissions from the power sector during a keynote speech at the oil and gas industry's Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.
“We are [a] global leader in clean air progress,” Wheeler said, according quotes posted to the Twitter account of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which sponsored the event. The event was not broadcast online.
Wheeler also highlighted increased U.S. natural gas production, and decreasing emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide.
“We’re producing more energy than ever before thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of the people here in this room today,” he said.
The context of Wheeler’s comments: His speech came after the EPA last week unveiled data showing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell 2.7 percent across the power sector and large manufacturing facilities in 2017, the first year of the Trump administration.
Despite falling emissions, mostly the result of natural gas replacing coal, the EPA has proposed weakening Obama administration rules meant to further combat carbon emissions from coal, the largest emitting energy source.
The EPA has also proposed rolling back Obama-era regulations targeting methane leaks from oil and gas drillers and fracking operations.
A U.N. report released this month said the U.S., and the world, must cut emissions much more, and faster, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
REPORT: THE ‘HAVES’ AND ‘HAVE NOTS’ OF OIL: Global oil and gas development spending needs to rise by around 20 percent to meet future demand growth and ensure companies sustain production into the next decade, according to a new report Wednesday from global consultants WoodMackenzie.
“Companies will need to start investing again to sustain their business,” said Malcolm Dickson, the firm’s director of upstream oil and gas.
The investment cycle has been sluggish in the last few years since the oil glut forced companies to reduce spending. Wood Mackenzie’s analysis shows a much “slower and shallower” recovery in spending from previous cycles.
Spending will surge to 5 percent in 2018 after only a 2 percent bump in 2017. Investment will rise from a low of $460 billion in 2016 to just around $500 billion by the early 2020s, which the the analysis says is far below the $750 billion spending peak 2014. That peak occurred just prior to oil glut that saw the price of oil fall over a two year period, cutting revenues in half for many companies and forcing many U.S. firms to lay off thousands of workers.
“[N]ot enough new high-quality projects are entering the funnel to replace those that have left,” said Tom Ellacott, senior vice president of corporate research.
In addition, the amount of oil and natural gas in storage to meet a supply cut is lower than its been in years, which could become problematic given that demand for oil is expected to remain high.
The only bright spot is the massive U.S. shale oil boom taking place in the Texas Permian Basin, which is set for “consistent investment growth” over the next few years, says Wood MacKenzie.
The analysis says the development has divided the corporate sector into two: the oil “haves” in Texas and the energy “have nots,” which face a looming production challenge next decade.
IRAN HAS PRODUCED AND EXPORTED LESS OIL SINCE TRUMP SANCTIONS ANNOUNCED, EIA SAYS: Iran’s export and production of oil have declined since Trump’s announcement in May that he would withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Tehran, and impose sanctions on the country, the Energy Information Administration said Tuesday.
Iran's exports of crude oil and condensate peaked in June at about 2.7 million barrels per day. Last month, Iran’s crude oil and condensate exports fell to 1.9 million barrels per day. Although some countries, such as France and South Korea, stopped importing oil from Iran in July, other countries, like China and India, continue to import from Iran.
Iran’s top two buyers keep at it: China and India collectively received nearly half of Iran's oil and condensate exports in the first half of 2018.
In September, China's imports from Iran dropped to 441,000 barrels per day, the second lowest level since December 2015, from 644,000 barrels per day on average in the first half of 2018.
India's imports from Iran were 576,000 barrels per day last month, up slightly from 554,000 barrels per day during the first half of the year.
Impact on global oil supply remains uncertain: The U.S. has not imported oil from Iran in several decades. But beginning on Nov. 4, it will impose sanctions on countries that buy oil from Iran, blocking violators from using the U.S. financial system.
EIA said it’s unclear if promised increase production from Saudi Arabia and its OPEC allies will be enough to offset lost output from Iran, which could lead to price increases.
“After full sanctions are implemented in November, the total volumes of crude oil and condensate coming off the market will become more apparent in the following months,” EIA said.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU UNVEILS CARBON TAX AND DIVIDEND PLAN, GIVING HOPE TO US ADVOCATES: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that his Liberal government will impose a federal carbon tax on provinces and territories that have chosen not to implement their own, and return the proceeds of the fee to households, providing hope to free-market groups that hope to see a similar program established in the U.S.
Providing an answer to the revenue question: Trudeau’s plan aims to defuse the backlash from pro-fossil fuel provinces by using the revenue to provide their residents annual rebates.
It would be the first major test of a carbon tax and dividend approach favored by free market groups, and many economists.
A lesson for the U.S.?: Trudeau’s carbon tax plan works similarly to an approach being promoted by multiple free-market groups in Washington D.C. which is supported by some major oil and gas companies.
Mark Reynolds, executive director of Citizens Climate Lobby, said he hoped Trudeau’s action resonates with its southern neighbor.
“Hopefully, it gives additional ammunition for people making the case to our Congress,” Reynolds told Josh.
FORMER COAL EXECUTIVE GETS JAIL TIME FOR BRIBERY: A federal judge sentenced former Drummond coal executive David Robertson with two-and-a-half years in federal prison for trying to bribe state lawmakers in Alabama in an effort to evade the Environmental Protection Agency.
U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon also sentenced Joel Gilbert in the bribery scheme with five years in jail. Gilbert had been a partner at the law firm Balch & Bingham.
Both Robertson and Gilbert were convicted on a conspiracy charge for bribing former state legislator Oliver Robinson, who was sentenced earlier to three years in jail.
Gilbert and Robertson bribed Robinson with a $375,000 contract over two years that was paid to a foundation established in Robinson’s name.
In return, Robinson used his influence as a member of the state House to oppose EPA efforts to prioritize a federal Superfund site in Birmingham. The EPA’s actions would have put Drummond on the hook for millions of dollars in clean-up costs.
Wall Street Journal The future of Arctic oil and gas shipping
Bloomberg Saudi Aramco signals petrochemical ambitions
Huffington Post With key Senate races mired in pollution issues, Republican strategists shrug
Reuters Tesla may post profit with Model 3 surge, but is it repeatable?
TUESDAY | October 23
2 p.m., 2500 Calvert Street NW. The Environmental Law Institute holds its 2018 Corporate Forum on "Corporate Governance in an Age of Increased Environmental Accountability, Liability and Risk."
3 p.m., 562 Dirksen. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute holds a briefing on "Wood: The Building Material of the Future?" focusing on mass timber.
3 p.m., President Trump signs “America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018” into law.
WEDNESDAY | October 24
1 p.m., Webinar. The American Council on Energy Renewables holds a webinar on "State of the Industry Webinar: How U.S. Cities are Driving Demand for Renewables."