The case for climate action is having a hard time in Washington these days. While public officials acknowledge the climate is changing, they’re not necessarily saying why or what should be done about it.
Let’s clear up a few points.
1.The Earth is heating up.
Scientists have measured global temperatures for over a hundred years and see that the Earth is getting hotter. The trend can be best visualized by comparing each year’s average temperature with the long-term average. This figure shows observations of the world’s annual average temperature made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It compares each year’s temperature to the average over the entire century. Blue bars are years that were cooler than average and red bars are years that were warmer than average. In recent decades, the years have always been hotter. If there were no long-term temperature trend, you would expect a mix of red and blue bars throughout the record. That’s not what we see.
Source: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
2. Human activity is largely responsible for this warming.
Over geologic time, the Earth’s average temperature has changed as a result of the sun’s output, the tilt and position of the Earth in its orbit, and the concentration of greenhouse gases. Scientists have developed a good understanding of the natural variations in these factors by examining different proxies for ancient temperatures. Observations tell us that these natural factors have not been changing over the last hundred years or so in a way that would explain the observed temperature increases.
In contrast, greenhouse gases have been changing in a way that can explain the observed temperature increases. The pre-eminent record of modern atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations is based at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Researchers there have been sampling pristine air from a mountaintop in Hawaii every month since 1958 and analyzing its composition. Their observations show that both the concentration and isotopic composition of CO2 is changing, and is consistent with manmade sources, including the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Moreover, physics tells us how different climate variables will change the temperature of the atmosphere at different heights. For example, changes in solar output will heat the atmosphere uniformly, while changes due to greenhouse gases will warm the surface but cool the higher part of the atmosphere (the stratosphere).
The National Centers for Environmental Information, run by NOAA, conduct monthly observations of atmospheric temperatures at different levels. Its 39-year record shows that the temperature change is not uniform. This is consistent with the effect of greenhouse gases, and inconsistent with other types of natural effects (e.g., changes in the sun’s output).
3. The impacts of climate change are growing, and we need to stop adding to the problem.
The result of this buildup of greenhouse gases is that we’re trapping heat within the climate system. The basic physics behind this has been establish for over 100 years. But climate change isn’t just a matter of the air temperature being a few degrees warmer.
- Higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere lead to increased acidity in the oceans, which is damaging to shellfish and other marine life.
- Warmer water temperatures and melting of glaciers (due to warmer air temperatures) increase average sea level across the globe.
- Climate change is affecting the frequency and intensity of heat waves, heavy rainfall events, and several other types of extreme weather and disasters.
Some observed climate changes are not bad. For example, growing seasons are lengthening in some parts of the country and costs for winter heating go down when temperatures are mild. But the overall impacts are estimated to be negative and costly.
The good news is that we’re making progress, and that we have many of the tools right now to make a difference, including expanding use of renewable power; zero-carbon nuclear power, carbon capture, use and storage; energy efficiency technologies, and electric vehicles. Many businesses, cities, and states are pursuing clean energy and clean transportation to improve public health, save money, and create jobs.
The question is not whether climate change is happening, but what we want to do about it.
How significant a source of emissions is air travel?
Aircraft are a rapidly growing emissions source within the transportation sector, which is second only to the power sector as a source of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. In 2013, aircraft were responsible for about 3 percent of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and nearly 9 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. transportation sector. Commercial air travel accounted for most of the aircraft carbon dioxide emissions, with military and general aviation making up the rest.
From 1990 to 2013, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from domestic commercial flights grew 4 percent. Recent studies estimate that U.S. aircraft emissions will increase substantially in the next 20 years. Moreover, airplanes remain the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions within the U.S. transportation sector that is not yet subject to greenhouse gas regulations.
U.S. aviation is part of the increasingly interconnected global aviation sector, which makes up about 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions but is one of the fastest growing sources. From 1990 to 2010, global aircraft carbon dioxide emissions grew about 40 percent. If global aviation were a country, it would rank as the seventh largest carbon dioxide emitter, and U.S. aircraft emissions are 29 percent of all global aircraft emissions. Absent new policies, global aircraft emissions are projected to triple by 2050.
Figure 1: 2013 U.S. carbon dioxide emission, by sector and transportation source
The transportation sector is responsible for more than one-third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Aircraft are responsible for nearly 9 percent of U.S. transportation sector carbon dioxide emissions.
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2013 (Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2015), http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/ghgemissions/US-GHG-Inventory-2015-Main-Text.pdf.
What is the status of regulation?
In 2012, the DC District Court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required under the Clean Air Act to determine whether greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft cause or contribute to air pollution, which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. An endangerment finding would trigger regulation under the Clean Air Act.
On July 25, 2016, EPA issued the final endangerment finding under section 231(a)(2)(A) of the Clean Air Act for aviation emissions. This finalizes the process following the proposed endangerment finding issued on June 10, 2015. The final finding builds on the previous 2009 endangerment finding for light-duty vehicles and found greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft engines used in certain types of aircraft are responsible for contributing to climate change, which threatens public health and welfare.
Covered aircraft are those subject to international carbon dioxide emission standards, subsonic jet aircraft — ranging from smaller jet aircraft such as the Cessna Citation II to larger jet aircraft such as the Boeing 747 — and subsonic turboprop aircraft — e.g., Bombardier Q400. The proposed endangerment finding will receive public comment before a final endangerment finding may be issued.
How does EPA action fit with global action?
Unlike stationary sources, such as power plants, and many mobile sources, such as cars, aircraft frequently travel between jurisdictions with different environmental laws and standards. As such, the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) serves as a global forum to develop policies and standards for the global industry, including a comprehensive set of measures to address greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2010, industry’s goal of carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards was formally adopted by ICAO. Within the sector, the key pathways to reduce emissions are improvements in aircraft technology, improvements in operations and infrastructure, and further use of aviation biofuels.
In addition, ICAO agreed at its 38th Assembly in 2013 to develop a Global Market-Based Mechanism (GMBM) that allows emission reductions occurring outside the aviation sector to be used to meet its goals. At the 39th ICAO Assembly in October 2016, ICAO formally adopted a resolution establishing the GMBM as an offsetting mechanism available to airlines to offset their growth in emissions from 2020 onwards. A Global Market Based Mechanism Task Force is currently working to establish the technical details of what types of offsets will be permittewd in the GMBM, and will conclude their work no later than 2018. ICAO adopted additional measures, including a CO2 standard that will be phased in for new aircraft design to continue improvements in energy efficiency.
Traditionally, both the EPA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have worked within the ICAO process to establish international emission standards and related requirements for other pollutants. Under this approach, international emission standards are first adopted by ICAO, and EPA subsequently initiates rulemaking under section 231 of the Clean Air Act to establish domestic standards equivalent to international standards where appropriate. Both EPA and FAA expect to take a similar approach in promulgating future domestic aircraft greenhouse gas standards for covered aircraft.
What are the next steps?
The endangerment finding does not create any regulation in of itself and does not prejudge what future EPA standards for aircraft engines will be. Nevertheless, the final endangerment finding triggers EPA’s duty under the CAA to enact emissions standards applicable to GHG emissions from the classes of aircraft engines included in the endangerment finding. EPA can then proceed with developing regulatory standards, including a CO2 standard based from the agreed standard adopted by ICAO in October 2016.
Q&A: EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Existing Power Plants
On August 3, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted Carbon Pollution Standards for Existing Power Plants, known as the Clean Power Plan.
Adopted pursuant to EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan establishes unique emission rate goals and mass equivalents for each state. It is projected to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Individual state targets are based on national uniform “emission performance rate” standards (pounds of CO2 per MWh) and each state’s unique generation mix.
On February 9, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan, freezing carbon pollution standards for existing power plants while the rule is under review at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
See more resources and maps at the C2ES Carbon Pollution Standards Resource Page.
Q: Why did EPA develop rules to regulate carbon dioxide?
Under the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, greenhouse gases meet the definition of air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, meaning they must be regulated if they could be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. EPA made this determination in 2009. In June 2013, President Obama directed EPA to work closely with states, power plant operators, and other stakeholders in developing carbon standards for existing power plants, and to finalize the standards by June 2015. EPA released its proposed rule in June 2014 and the final rule in August 2015.
Q: Why do we need to regulate power sector carbon emissions?
The power sector is one of the largest sources of U.S. carbon emissions, which are contributing to global climate change.
Many businesses, cities and states are cutting emissions, increasing renewable energy, and improving energy efficiency. In addition, cheap, abundant natural gas continues to displace coal (which emits twice as much carbon) in the U.S. electricity generation mix. But in the absence of the Clean Power Plan, U.S. emissions are projected to increase slightly as the economy grows, and as natural gas prices rise. Stronger policies are needed to increase energy efficiency, thereby reducing electricity consumption, and to expand the use of low- and no-carbon energy sources. In the absence of the Clean Power Plan, fossil fuels are projected to provide 62 percent of the U.S. fuel mix in 2030 compared with 58 percent under the Clean Power Plan, with most of the reduction coming from higher-emitting coal plants. Therefore, in the absence of the clean power plan, carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector are expected to increase around 2.7 percent (from 2015 levels) to 1,942 million metric tons in 2030, while under the Clean Power Plan carbon dioxide emissions would fall more than 17 percent (from 2015 levels) to 1,559 million metric tons in 2030.
Figure 1: US CO2 Emissions
Figure 2: Projected Electric Power Sector Carbon Dioxide Emissions under Business-as-Usual Scenario
Q: What is in EPA’s Clean Power Plan?
Typically, under the Clean Air Act, EPA sets standards and states implement them. The Clean Power Plan:
- Sets unique emission rates goals and mass equivalents for each state, reflecting the variation in their electricity generation mixes, to be met starting in 2022;
- Provides states significant flexibility in choosing how to meet their targets;
- Provides incentives for early deployment of renewables and efficiency measures benefiting low-income communities;
- Provides tools to assist states choosing to implement market-based approaches; and
- Contains a Federal Implementation Plan that EPA would use in states that do not accept adequate implementation plans.
EPA set interim and 2030 targets for each state based on uniform emission performance rates (application of BSER) and its unique generation mix.
Q: How was each state’s target calculated?
Uniform, national emission performance rates for affected power plants are based on the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER), using three “building blocks” or potential pathways applied regionally to reduce CO2 emissions:
- Make affected fossil fuel power plants more efficient;
- Increase generation from lower-emitting natural gas combined cycle plants; and
- Increase generation from new zero-emitting renewable power sources.
See a map of state targets for a more detailed explanation.
Q: What are the big differences between the proposed and final plans?
States will have more time to submit their implementation plans (they can get extensions to 2018) and two more years (until 2022) to begin phasing in pollution cuts. C2ES and others encouraged allowing states more time so they could take a longer view on planning and investment.
The final plan also proposes a voluntary Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) to encourage early installation of renewable energy projects and energy efficiency programs for low-income communities before the 2022 compliance start date. EPA has invited comments on the CEIP and will address design and implementation details in a future action.
Market-based mechanisms are more explicitly encouraged in the final rule. The proposed federal implementation plan includes an option for states to join an interstate cap-and-trade program. It also outlines how states could participate in emissions credit trading without the creation of interstate compacts.
In calculating individual state targets, EPA had proposed taking into account each states’ energy efficiency potential, but it chose not to do so in the final rules. However, like the proposal, the final plan allows states to use energy efficiency programs for compliance.
EPA also changed its methodology for determining incremental renewable energy to better reflect regional technical potential, rather than state-level renewables policies, as in the proposal.
Unlike in the proposed plan, states with nuclear power plants under construction – Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee – will be able to count this generation toward compliance instead of having it factored into their targets.
The final rule also takes the interstate nature of the electric system into greater consideration. The proposal calculated state targets by applying building blocks to each state. The final rule uses the characteristics and potential of electric grid interconnections (Eastern, Western and Texas) to determine emission performance rates for units, which are then applied to each state’s unique generation mix to calculate a target.
Q: How can states reduce power sector carbon emissions?
States have wide latitude in designing their strategies to reduce emissions. In most cases, they will rely on a variety of measures. Major options include substituting natural gas for coal; improving energy efficiency; and increasing reliance on renewable energy.
States can implement the Clean Power Plan individually or in cooperation with other states. They also can employ market-based mechanisms, such as averaging or trading, to help power companies identify least-cost emission reductions.
Examples of steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector are illustrated in Figure 3 and Table 1.
Figure 3: Opportunities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector
Table 1: Policy options to reduce power sector carbon dioxide emissions
|Power plant performance standard||Each power plant must achieve a set emissions intensity||California, New York, Washington|
|Renewable Portfolio Standard||Utilities must deliver a set percentage of renewable electricity||Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Rhode Island, and others|
|Energy Efficiency Resource Standard||Utilities must cut demand by a set amount by target years||Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Texas, and others|
|Decoupling||Reduce utility incentive to deliver more electricity by decoupling revenue and profit||California, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, and others|
|Net Metering||Encourage residential solar by paying homeowners to put excess electricity back on grid||Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, and others|
|Cap & Trade||Issue a declining number of carbon allowances, which must be surrendered in proportion to each plant’s emissions||California, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative|
|Carbon Tax||Charge a tax for emitting carbon||British Columbia|
|Grid Operator Carbon Fee||Add a carbon price to grid operator decision over which power plants to run||None currently|
|Appliance Efficiency Standards||Require new appliances sold to meet set electricity consumption standards||California, Florida, New Jersey, and others|
|Commercial & Residential Building Codes||Require new buildings to include electricity saving measures||California, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, and others|
Q: How could states use market-based approaches to implement the plan?
Economists consider market-based approaches to be the most efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Clean Power Plan encourages states to consider using market mechanisms, which could include a cap-and-trade program, a carbon tax, or tradable renewables or efficiency certificates.
EPA intends to set up and administer a program to track trading programs for states that choose to use them. In addition, the Federal Implementation Plan that EPA would employ in states without adequate plans includes market-based programs, which can be used by states as a model for their own plans.
Under EPA’s proposed new Clean Energy Incentive Program, states that act early to cut carbon pollution, either with renewables or energy efficiency, would be rewarded with emission reduction credits (ERCs), which they could use to meet their targets or sell to other emitters.
Q: How can states work together to implement the Clean Power Plan?
States have long collaborated to achieve energy and environmental goals. The successful trading program to reduce sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, is an example.
The plan is designed to facilitate interstate compliance strategies, including different forms of trading. The federal implementation plan outlines strategies to determine the equivalence of emission reduction credits in different states. It would also create a national platform that can be used to track the buying, selling, and trading of credits across state lines.
An example of states already working together is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast. A multi-state approach could also be accomplished through another existing authority such as a Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) or Independent System Operator (ISO).
Q: Will states be able to use Canadian hydropower to comply?
Renewable energy from outside of the United States, including Canadian hydropower, can be used for compliance purposes, provided it is incremental and installed after 2012 and meets some other conditions. More than a dozen U.S. states already import a significant amount of Canadian hydropower. According to a C2ES report, importing hydropower from even a modestly sized new Canadian project (250 MW) could help a state bridge the gap between its current carbon emissions rate and its 2030 target.
Q: Will the Clean Power Plan affect the reliability of the electric grid?
In response to concerns raised by EPA’s proposed rule, the final plan includes a “reliability safety valve” temporarily relaxing emission standards on individual electric generating units under extraordinary circumstances where electric system reliability is concerned.
To mitigate reliability issues, states are required to address reliability in their compliance plans. Importantly, the plan gives states up to seven years before interim targets must be met, providing time for state regulators and reliability entities to work with utilities and other key stakeholders.
The plan is also expected to encourage energy efficiency, which helps lower demand growth and improve reliability.
Q: How much will implementing the plan cost?
EPA calculates that savings from increased energy efficiency will outweigh the costs of implementing the plan, reducing household electric bills by about $7 per month by 2030. The agency estimates compliance costs of $5.1 billion to $8.4 billion and total benefits of $34 billion to $54 billion.
Q: How does the plan address nuclear power?
Nuclear provides nearly 20 percent of the nation’s power and is the largest source of carbon-free baseload electricity. Five reactors are now under construction in Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina and are expected to be online by 2030.
Unlike the proposal, the final rule does not consider existing or new nuclear power for the purposes of setting state targets. Therefore, the five reactors under construction and any new units or upgrades can count toward compliance.
Q: How is natural gas treated in the plan?
Both the proposal and the final plan envision about a third of U.S. electricity coming from natural gas in 2030. However, under the final plan, less new natural gas generation capacity is anticipated.
Natural gas demand was expected to grow more quickly under the earlier compliance date called for in the proposed rule. Proposed incentives for early deployment of renewables may encourage more investment in renewable energy in the short term.
Q: What does this plan mean for coal?
Demand for coal in the U.S. has been decreasing for many years because of the availability of relatively less expensive natural gas to meet baseload power demands and because of other environmental and safety regulations. Even before the Clean Power Plan, very few new coal plants were expected to be constructed. According to EPA’s IPM modeling of the final rule, coal is expected to make up 27 to 28 percent of the electric generation mix in 2030. In the absence of the Clean Power Plan, coal is expected to deliver a little more than 30 percent of U.S. electricity in 2030.
Figure 4: Distribution of Fossil Fuel Power Plants across the Contiguous United States
Q: What does the Supreme Court stay mean for the regulation?
The Supreme Court granted a stay in response to a legal challenge from some states, utilities and coal companies, who argued that EPA’s regulation was burdensome. Other states and utilities are participating in the legal challenge by supporting EPA. The court’s decision does not address the merits of the challenge but puts implementation of the rule on hold while a lower court decides the merits of the challenge. There’s no telling how it will play out, but the high court is likely to wind up deciding the case.
Whether or not the Court ultimately upholds this particular rule, the legal requirement to cut carbon emissions will remain, and states need to figure out the most cost-effective ways to do that. It’s important to note that a number of states challenging the rule in court are simultaneously working on their implementation plans. Some states may suspend their planning efforts but others will press on with preparations. If the plan is ultimately upheld, the implementation timeline may have to be extended.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases is settled. The issue is whether EPA’s particular approach is appropriate.
Regardless of the ultimate legal outcome, the broader trends at play favor continued momentum toward stronger climate action.
Q: What is the timetable for implementing the plan?
Before the stay was issued, states had until September 2016 to either submit a plan or request an extension. All final plans were due by September 2018. EPA would approve or disapprove a final plan within a year.
The Clean Energy Incentive Program was to begin on January 1, 2020. States that had expressed their interest in participating in this program in their final plans were eligible. This program was to run throughout 2020 and 2021.
On January 1, 2022, states were to begin complying by meeting their interim targets. On January 30, 2030, states must meet their final CO2 reduction goals.
During the period of the stay, no deadlines are binding, and they may be extended when the legal challenge is resolved.
Q: What happens to states that fail to comply?
States were given up to three years to write implementation plans, applying their knowledge of their utilities and the programs that have worked in the past.
Under the Clean Air Act, any state that would fail to submit a plan or get EPA approval for its plan would be subject to a federal implementation plan. The current proposals for the federal implementation plan would use flexible, market-based solutions for compliance.
Federal agencies are pursuing regulatory and voluntary steps to reduce methane emissions from the oil and natural gas production system, the largest manmade source of this potent greenhouse gas.
On January 14, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40–45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.
As part of achieving this goal, EPA adopted regulations on May 12, 2016, for new and modified sources of methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector. This builds on the agency’s 2012 rule for new source performance standards (NSPS) and hazardous air pollutant regulations for oil and gas production and gas processing, transmission and storage facilities.
Separately, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has proposed its own regulations to be finalized in 2016 to reduce methane emissions from certain wells.
EPA also plans to work collaboratively with industry and states, including expanding its voluntary Natural Gas Star program, to reduce methane from existing oil and gas operations.
Steps to reduce methane from other sources, such as landfills and coal mines, are also part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.
What is methane?
Methane, or CH4, is the main component of natural gas. When combusted as fuel, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide emissions as coal, and one-third less than oil (per unit of energy produced). However, natural gas that is released into the atmosphere without being combusted is a potent greenhouse gas.
Why is it important to reduce methane emissions?
Methane is the second biggest driver of climate change. It is much more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) at increasing the atmosphere’s heat-trapping ability, but it remains in the atmosphere a much shorter time (a little more than a decade compared with hundreds of years for CO2).
Averaged over a 100-year time frame, the warming potential of methane is about 21 times stronger than that of CO2. However, in a 20-year time frame, it is 72 times more potent. (The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change raises estimates of the global warming potential of methane to 34 times stronger than CO2 for the 100-year time frame, and 86 times stronger for the 20-year time frame. However, the earlier estimates are still used to maintain comparability among U.S. greenhouse gas inventory reports.)
Because methane is potent and short-lived, reducing methane emissions can have a more immediate benefit, and is especially important at a time of growing U.S. oil and natural gas production.
What are the primary sources of methane emissions in the United States?
Natural gas and petroleum systems are the largest emitters of methane in the U.S., according to EPA estimates. These emissions come from intentional and unintentional releases.
Agriculture, solid waste landfills, and coal mines are also major sources and are addressed by other EPA programs.
Figure 1: 2014 U.S. Methane Emissions, By Source
In 2014, U.S. methane emissions totaled 731 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2013” (Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2015), http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html.
How much methane is released in oil and natural gas production and how will EPA improve the accuracy of measurements?
Methane is released unintentionally and intentionally from oil and gas systems. According to EPA, natural gas and petroleum systems were responsible for nearly one-third of methane emissions in 2014. The rate of methane emissions from the sector has decreased in recent years, even as natural gas production has surged.
However, independent studies estimate a wide range of leak rates from natural gas production, from 0.71 to 7.9 percent. More comprehensive studies are needed for accurate results.
EPA has committed to examining options for applying remote sensing and other technologies to improve methane emissions data accuracy and transparency, and strengthening reporting requirements for methane in its Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.
Why is methane intentionally released?
In the production process, small amounts of methane can leak unintentionally. In addition, methane may be intentionally released or vented to the atmosphere for safety reasons at the wellhead or to reduce pressure from equipment or pipelines.
How does EPA address methane emissions from new oil and natural gas wells?
EPA adopted a rule in May 2016 under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act. It requires operators of new oil and gas wells to find and repair leaks, capture natural gas from the completion of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells, limit emissions from new and modified pneumatic pumps, and limit emissions from several types of equipment used at natural gas transmission compressor stations, including compressors and pneumatic controllers. EPA estimates that this rule could prevent the emission of 510,000 short tons of methane in 2025, which is the equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
EPA already regulates Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs, which are ozone-forming pollutants) from new oil and gas production sources, which has the side benefit of also reducing methane. The new rule is also expected to reduce other pollutants, including 210,000 tons of VOCs and 3,900 tons of air toxics in 2025.In addition, on January 22, 2016, the Department of the Interior proposed a Methane Waste and Reduction Rule to reduce methane emissions from all wells on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Indian lands.
The proposal from DOI will update rules and require oil and gas producers to reduce methane emissions from operations. It proposes the first-ever limits for flaring of natural gas as well as increased disclosure requirements. The DOI proposal would prohibit venting except in specified circumstances, require pre-drill planning for leak reduction, and increased use of leak-detection technology.
What entities will be covered by the regulations?
The EPA rule covers new and modified oil and gas production sources, and natural gas processing and transmission sources. EPA seeks to reduce emissions from five specific sources:
- natural gas well completion
- oil well completions
- gathering and boosting stations
- natural gas processing plants
- natural gas compressor stations
In developing new standards, EPA focused on in-use technologies, current industry practices, emerging innovations and streamlined and flexible regulatory approaches to ensure that emissions reductions can be achieved as oil and gas production and operations continue to grow.
The DOI proposal would affect all oil and gas wells on federally owned onshore lands, amounting to 100,000 wells responsible for 5 percent of US oil supply and 11 percent of gas supply.
How do EPA’s methane actions complement existing regulation?
The actions work with EPA’s new source performance standards (NSPS) and hazardous air pollutant regulations, finalized in 2012. They already apply to oil and gas production and gas processing, transmission, and storage facilities, and the 2016 rule applies them directly to methane as well.
While primarily aimed at reducing smog-forming and toxic air pollutants, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the NSPS rules also had the indirect effect of reducing methane emissions. They include the requirement to use "green completions" at natural gas wells to limit emissions from hydraulic fracturing, a rapidly growing means of drilling and production. In a “green completion,” special equipment separates hydrocarbons from the used hydraulic fracturing fluid, or flowback, that comes back up from the well as it is being prepared for production. This step allows for the collection (and sale or use) of methane that may be mixed with the flowback and would otherwise be released to the atmosphere. Because the same technologies in place to reduce VOC emissions would also be used to reduce methane, no additional steps would be necessary to reduce methane.
In its January 2015 announcement, EPA said it will develop new guidelines to assist states in reducing VOCs from existing oil and gas systems in areas that do not meet the ozone health standard and in states in the Ozone Transport Region. Like the earlier NSPS, these guidelines will also reduce methane emissions.
The final regulation issued in May 2016 will extend emission reductions further downstream from the 2012 rules and cover certain equipment used in the natural gas transmission sector in addition to equipment covered by regulation in 2012.
How does EPA propose to address methane emissions from existing oil and gas wells?
On March 10, 2016, President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a joint statement including several actions to reduce methane emissions from existing oil and gas wells. EPA announced it would immediately begin developing regulations for existing oil and gas wells and would, in April 2016, begin the formal process to require companies operating methane emissions sources to provide information to assist in development of standards to decrease those emissions.
On May 12, 2016, EPA issued a draft information collection request (ICR) that would require oil and gas companies to provide extensive information needed to reduce methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources. This will help EPA identify the most significant sources of emissions, the kinds of technologies that work best to reduce them, and how those technologies can be applied effectively. In addition, EPA plans to issue a voluntary request for information on innovative strategies to accurately and cost-effectively locate, measure and reduce methane emissions.
Canada intends to publish an initial phase of proposed regulations of methane from new and existing oil and gas wells by early 2017.
The countries committed to work collaboratively to improve methane data collection and emissions quantification, and transparency of emissions reporting in North America, and share knowledge of cost-effective methane reduction technologies and practices. They also agreed to jointly endorse the World Bank’s Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 Initiative, and report annually on progress.
What other non-regulatory steps has the administration announced it will take?
The president requested in his fiscal year 2017 budget proposal $15 million for the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop and demonstrate more cost-effective technologies to detect and reduce losses from natural gas transmission and distribution systems, including leak repairs, and developing next-generation compressors. The president’s budget also proposes $10 million to launch a program at DOE to enhance the quantification of emissions from natural gas infrastructure for inclusion in the national Greenhouse Gas Inventory in coordination with EPA. Congress must appropriate funding for these programs for them to be implemented. DOE will also be responsible for other recommendations to reduce emissions from the natural gas system.
|Image courtesy International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)|
The new Paris Agreement provides a broad global framework to strengthen efforts to address climate change. Now, governments are working toward another agreement on a critical issue Paris doesn’t directly address – reducing greenhouse gas emissions from aviation.
The Paris Agreement, negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ties together national efforts pledged by more than 180 countries to limit or reduce their own emissions. However, international aviation is inherently a cross-border activity, and a global approach to reducing emissions from aviation is being negotiated separately under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). A new sector-wide agreement is expected this October.
Emissions from the aviation sector comprised 2 percent of global emissions in 2013, but that share is set to expand rapidly by 2050 without policy interventions. In 2010, the aviation industry carried 2.4 billion passengers and 40 million metric tons of goods. By 2050, that could grow to 16 billion passengers and 400 million metric tons of goods.
With negotiators about to start international climate talks, you might have missed a notable climate effort at the state level: A new report from Maryland’s Department of the Environment shows the state is on track to beat its goal of reducing its emissions 25 percent below 2006 levels by the year 2020.
Since that goal was set in 2009, Maryland has implemented a range of programs to reduce emissions from the energy sector, transportation, agriculture and buildings. The state also benefitted from changes in energy markets as power generators moved from coal to natural gas, and changes in driving behavior, with Marylanders driving fewer miles than forecast.
Additionally, Maryland participates in the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program that has generated revenues the state has used to help thousands of low- and moderate-income families and hundreds of farms improve efficiency and save money on their energy bills.
Maryland isn’t the only state that has set ambitious targets to curb greenhouse gases. According to our research, 18 other states have set targets over the past 15 years. Eight states, Maryland among them, stand out as leaders for setting targets by legislative action or executive order, requiring progress reports and updates of original climate plans, and aggressively pursuing initiatives to achieve the targets.
Why are states acting?
Already, Maryland and other states are experiencing the types of impacts -- excessive heat, droughts, heavy downpours -- expected to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change. No one individual weather event can be attributed directly to climate change; climate is a pattern of events over time. However, it is clear that the costs to property, crops, and public health from impacts consistent with climate change are already significant.
A series of C2ES briefs explores key climate impacts and estimates how they might affect Maryland’s heat-related mortality, coastal property, labor productivity, energy expenditures, and agricultural output as well as its infrastructure, tourism, ecosystems, water resources and human health beyond heat-related mortality.
Climate scientists tell us that even deeper emissions reductions are necessary in the coming decades to avoid more serious and costly impacts. Recently, the Maryland Climate Change Commission, a government advisory board, unanimously recommended that the state set a new goal to cut its emissions 40 percent by 2030. The recommendation, supported by additional C2ES analysis, is likely to be taken up in the General Assembly next year.
Maryland cannot tackle climate change alone. But by working to reduce emissions today, setting strong reduction targets for the future, and growing a clean energy economy, Maryland is creating a powerful example other states will want to follow.
The latest working group meeting of the Montreal Protocol in Paris produced much useful discussion, but few concrete results due to limited but vocal opposition to an amendment to phase down hydrofluorcarbons (HFCs), a fast-growing, extremely potent family of global warming gases.
Efforts to achieve an amendment at the upcoming Meeting of the Parties in November had gained considerable momentum over the past year. Four proposals for an amendment had been submitted by India, the European Union, the Island States, and North America (Mexico, Canada and the U.S.). Beyond those proposals, the African States also have voiced their clear support for an amendment and recent meetings between President Obama and his counterparts from Brazil, India, and China had produced joint statements in support of action on HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.
Despite support for these proposals from nearly 100 countries, the week-long meeting in Paris this month failed to reach agreement on even starting the negotiating process through the creation of a contact group. After opposing these efforts over several meetings, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries) voiced their willingness to allow a two-stage process to move forward, but Pakistan stood firm in opposition, blocking any agreement.
In the absence of a mandate to begin negotiations, a number of sessions in Paris focused on a very useful exchange of views on issues raised by the four amendment proposals. India, China and others identified concerns about the costs and availability of alternatives to HFCs (including concerns about obstacles created by patents), the performance of these alternatives in high ambient temperatures, the time required to address flammability concerns of some key alternatives, the importance of energy efficiency, and the need for financing through the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund.
All agreed to hold another working group session prior to the November Meeting of the Parties. But time is fast running out on this year’s efforts to reach agreement on an HFC phasedown amendment.
What can be done to break this stalemate?
In the past, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has sometimes played an active role convening senior representatives from key countries and driving needed compromise. During the early years of the Protocol, UNEP’s Mostafa Tolba was masterful in bringing key countries together to find a workable solution. Through informal, senior-level consultations, Tolba either forged a compromise text acceptable to all, or developed his own proposals that he would offer as a way forward.
While times have certainly changed, it may be that the moment has now arrived for Achim Steiner, UNEP’s current executive director, to actively engage with senior officials from key countries with the goal of advancing efforts at bringing HFCs into the Montreal Protocol.
A new C2ES report highlights lessons useful for companies and policymakers as more states and countries consider carbon pricing to spur innovative technologies and cut emissions at the lowest possible cost.
The report, written for the World Bank’s Partnership for Market Readiness (PMR), examines how three companies — Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Rio Tinto, and Royal Dutch Shell -- prepared for carbon pricing programs.
The PMR shares this type of information with developing countries to help them create their own market-based policies. We were pleased to partner with the PMR to explore how a few of the companies in our Business Environmental Leadership Council prepared for carbon pricing and we thank the companies for sharing their expertise.
The lessons they shared fall into two categories – what business can learn from other companies operating in carbon markets and what governments considering market-based climate policy can learn from business.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) oversees federal efforts to advance the deployment carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. In addition to working on the research and development of CCS component technologies, DOE has provided financial support to multiple commercial-scale CCS projects in the power and industrial sectors. This brief examines DOE’s support for CCS through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and through its annual budget.
International Emissions Targets
Pledged targets under the UNFCCC 
8% above 1990 levels
5% below 2000 levels by 2020
15%-25% below 2000 levels by 2020 under different conditions of a global agreement that stabilizes GHG levels
6% below 1990 levels
17% below 2005 levels by 2020
EU-15: 8% below 1990 levels
EU-27: 20% below 1990 levels by 2020
30% below 1990 levels by 2020 if comparable and adequate actions by other countries
8% below 1988 levels
Part of EU
8% below 1990 levels
Part of EU
8% below 1990 levels
Part of EU
6% below average1985-1987 levels
Part of EU
8% below 1990 levels
Part of EU
8% below 1990 levels
Part of EU
6% below 1988 levels
Part of EU
8% below 1989 levels
Part of EU
8% below 1990 levels
Part of EU
8% below 1986 levels
Part of EU
6% below 1990 levels
25% below 1990 levels by 2020 on condition of fair, effective international framework with ambitious targets by all major economies
Remain at 1990 levels
10-20% below 1990 levels by 2020 if comprehensive global agreement
Remain at 1990 levels
15-25% below 1990 levels by 2020; range depends on accounting of forestry sector and actions by all major emitters
In the range of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, in conformity with anticipated legislation
5% below 1990 levels
5% below 1990 levels by 2020, to be replaced upon EU accession (1 July 2013)
10% above 1990 levels
Same as EU target
8% below 1990 levels
Same as EU target
8% below 1990 levels
Same as EU target
1% above 1990 levels
30% below 1990 levels by 2020
40% below 1990 levels by 2020 as part of a global and comprehensive international agreement
8% below 1990 levels
Same as EU target
Remain at 1990 levels
20% below 1990 levels by 2020 under certain conditions
12.5% below 1990 levels
Same as EU target
5-10% below 1990 levels by 2020, conditional on access to carbon markets, technology and capacity assistance, as well as clarity on accounting rules for forestry and land-use
15% below 1992 levels by 2020
36.1-38.9% below business-as-usual projected emissions level in 2020
20% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020, projected from 2007 levels, requiring international support
40-45% reduction in CO2emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) from 2005 level by 2020
Carbon neutral by 2021
20-25% reduction in emissions per unit of GDP (excluding agriculture sector) from 2005 level by 2020
26% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020
20% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020
41% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020 with international support
30% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020, subject to provision of adequate support
Korea (Republic of)
30% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020 (4% below 2005 level)
7-11% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020
16% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020, contingent on legally binding global agreement
34% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2020
42% below business-as-usual projected emissions in 2025, extent of implementation dependent on level of support
40% below 2009 levels by 2020 (CO2 only)
Carbon neutrality by 2020
Antigua and Barbuda
25% below 1990 levels by 2020
Kyoto Target  2008-2012
EU Climate and Energy Package Effort Sharing targets for 2013-2020 
13% below 1990
16% below 2005 level
7.5% below 1990
15% below 2005 level
20% above 2005 level
9% above 2005 level
5% below 2005 level
21% below 1990
20% below 2005 level
11% above 2005 level
16% below 2005 level
14% below 2005 level
21% below 1990
14% below 2005 level
25% above 1990
4% below 2005 level
10% above 2005 level
13% above 1990
20% below 2005 level
6.5% below 1990
13% below 2005 level
17% above 2005 level
15% above 2005 level
28% below 1990
20% below 2005 level
5% above 2005 level
6% below 1990
16% below 2005 level
14% above 2005 level
27% above 1990
1% above 2005 level
19% above 2005 level
4% above 2005 level
13% above 2005 level
15% above 1990
10% below 2005 level
4% above 1990
17% below 2005 level
12.5% below 1990
16% below 2005 level
2. The EU-15 nations have joined a "bubble" which allows the joint fulfillment of emissions commitments and preserves the collective emissions reduction goal of 8% below 1990 levels by 2008/2012. http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/pri/en/oj/dat/2002/l_130/l_13020020515en00010020.pdf
3. http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/effort/index_en.htm. The EU’s collective 20% reduction target from 1990 levels translates to a 14% reduction from 2005 levels, split into sectors covered by the ETS (21% reduction) and those not covered by it (10% reduction). These targets apply to sectors not covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), such as buildings, transport, and other commercial activities. The EU ETS applies a sectoral cap and reduction target across the EU countries for emissions from power and heavy industry, and aviation from 2012. The ETS reduction target is 21% below 2005 levels by 2020.