Friday, February 22, 2013
By Guest Author, Michael Northrop, Program Director, Rockefeller Brothers Fund
This post originally appeared February 20, 2013, on the Huffington Post and is reposted with the author's permission.
Forty thousand people marched around the White House Sunday. They want the president to reject the permit application for the Keystone pipeline.
They came from all 50 states. Some even drove from California.
I talked to many of them. Their passion and seriousness took my breath away.
Everyone said they had been deeply encouraged by the president's innaugural and State of the Union addresses. Thank god, most said, he has come around to taking action.
When the president asked Americans to be active on climate and other issues, these activists were energized and they gave up their long weekend to show their commitment.
It looks to me like people are fired up and prepared to go to bat for the president on climate.
It's his turn now to return the favor. I hate to think what would happen if the permit is now approved. I don't think the 40,000 people ringing the White House Sunday or the millions of others they represent will understand it if the president and the State Department don't support them.
If the president really wants support for his climate agenda, this political reality has to be front and center in the deliberation process. To take the air out of the balloon on this exciting, vibrant, growing climate movement would be supremely counter productive.
These folks are going to be essential to coming battles on standards for existing power plants and other necessary initiatives the president has signaled he wants to take using his executive authority.
There is an enormous opportunity to build cars that don't require gasoline, to expand clean energy generation and markets, and to bend the dangerous curve of both U.S. and global emissions downward these next four years. A no to Keystone would be a fantastic spark to national level public engagement and support for climate action.
Thank you, Mr. President, for lighting the fire with your words. It is very exciting to think you will be doing the same with your actions.
Michael Northrop directs the Sustainable Development grantmaking program at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in New York City, where he focuses on climate change. He is also a lecturer at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily his employers.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
By Bruce Ho
On Tuesday, February 12, the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy invited Jeffrey Logan from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to present a webinar on “Natural Gas and U.S. Electric Power Futures” as part of our ongoing Policy Workshop Webinar Series on Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development.
In his presentation, Mr. Logan discussed research that he recently completed through the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA), a partnership between NREL and five universities, on “Natural Gas and the Transformation of the U.S. Energy Sector: Electricity.” The JISEA report helps answer some key policy questions about shale gas, including: (1) the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shale gas as compared to conventional natural gas and other fossil fuels; (2) the need for new regulations and best management practices; and (3) the role that shale gas could play in the U.S. power sector – including a transition to a clean energy future – over the next several decades.
You can watch Mr. Logan’s full presentation below, in which he discusses the potential role of shale gas in a variety of U.S. power futures (i.e., Chapter 4 of the JISEA report). You can also download his presentation slides here and the full JISEA report here.
The Role of Natural Gas in U.S. Electric Power Futures from YCELP on Vimeo.
While Mr. Logan covered a variety of potential shale gas futures, I will focus the rest of this post on the potential role of shale gas in meeting a clean energy future, which is a topic that I also addressed in a previous entry.
The Role of Shale Gas in a Clean Energy Future
If we look at clean energy within the context of climate pollution, the question of whether shale gas can play a role in a clean energy future has two parts: (1) What are the lifecycle GHG emissions associated with shale gas? (2) What effect will shale gas have on adoption of even cleaner, renewable energy, such as wind and solar? EDF’s Dr. Ramon Alvarez discussed the first issue, which is largely a question of methane leakage, with our webinar participants last fall. Because you can review his webinar and a summary of it here, I won’t re-hash methane leakage issues again in this post, but I will note that Chapter 1 of the JISEA report includes interesting new research on methane leakage, and is well worth the read.
In his presentation last Tuesday, Mr. Logan looked at the second question and presented some fascinating model results that can help answer whether shale gas is likely to coexist with, complement, or crowd out the development of renewable energy. To address this issue, JISEA modeled a power sector future subject to a Clean Energy Standard (CES), which is a policy that reduces power sector GHG emissions by requiring that a certain percentage of total power production comes from clean energy and then ratcheting up this percentage over time. A CES is similar to a renewable portfolio standard (RPS), but unlike an RPS, a CES also counts nuclear energy and natural gas toward its clean energy target.
The CES modeled by JISEA would require that 80% of all energy come from clean sources by 2035 and 95% from clean sources by 2050. Because natural gas is not carbon-free, a natural gas power plant would receive less credit toward meeting the CES targets than a wind or solar farm. The crediting system that JISEA modeled would work as follows:
Renewable energy and nuclear energy would receive full credit (i.e., 100%) toward meeting the CES targets.
Natural gas combined-cycle plants would receive 50% credit.
In the future, if carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology is developed, then natural gas with CCS installed would receive 95% credit while coal with CCS would receive 90% credit.
All other power plants (e.g., coal without CCS) would receive no credit (i.e., 0%).
Here’s an example: in a hypothetical year, if total power output is 100,000 MWh, of which 40,000 MWh is from renewable energy, 10,000 MWh is from nuclear, 30,000 MWh is from natural gas combined cycle, and 20,000 MWh is from coal, then the percentage of clean energy would be 65%: (40,000 * 1 + 10,000 * 1 + 30,000 * 0.5 + 20,000 * 0) / 100,000 * 100% = 65%. On the other hand, eliminating all of the coal and replacing half of it with renewable energy and half with natural gas combined cycle would raise the percentage of clean energy to 80% – i.e., the goal for 2035. The numbers here are examples only, but show that natural gas could play a role in a CES future.
In fact, JISEA’s model, which is more sophisticated than my hypothetical and, among other things, includes modeling and optimization of energy system costs, suggests that natural gas could play a key role in meeting the CES through about the year 2030. At that point, generation from natural gas would start to decline, though not disappear. As the CES targets rise, gas’ 50% credit would be too low to contribute meaningfully to the targets, and it would be necessary to replace some gas plants with even cleaner renewable or nuclear energy. (JISEA’s model suggests that renewable energy would fill in most of the gap here because it would be more economical than more expensive nuclear energy.) However, the model also suggests that CCS could become a technologically and economically viable option in later years, out past 2040, which would allow natural gas to make a resurgence later in combination with CCS, which would be credited at 95%.
Two additional modeling results are worth noting here. First, JISEA’s results suggest that meeting the hypothetical CES, including the highest clean energy targets in the later years, would increase electricity prices by only about 8-10% (to say nothing of the benefits that society would gain from cleaner energy, most notably the chance to avoid the worst potential impacts of climate change). Thus, a clean energy transition is not only environmentally necessary but also economically achievable. Second, in a separate model, JISEA looked at the potential impact of additional environmental and social protections (modeled as an increase in the price of natural gas) to reduce or eliminate many of shale gas production’s negative impacts, and found that these protections would not appreciably reduce future shale gas use. In other words, more environmentally and socially responsible shale gas production would not require an end to the shale gas boom. These results support efforts to develop shale gas in a more responsible manner, such as those discussed by Southwestern Energy’s Mark Boling in our webinar last month.
The Role of Shale Gas Today
JISEA’s modeling provides support for the idea that shale gas, if developed responsibly, could be a “bridge” to a clean energy future, but does so within the context of a yet-to-be-adopted CES. What about in the context of today’s power sector in which carbon remains a largely unregulated pollutant?
On this point, Mr. Logan provided both a pessimistic and an optimistic vision. The pessimistic vision is that without carbon policies, if natural gas prices remain low and renewable energy does not become cheaper, cheap natural gas could well stall the future development of renewable energy. Mr. Logan noted, for example, that high oil prices in the 1970s and early 1980s led to significant renewable energy growth, but when oil prices later crashed, renewable energy slowed substantially. The optimistic vision is that while natural gas prices have been low for the past few years, renewable energy – particularly wind, but also solar – continues to grow rapidly, suggesting that advancements in renewable energy technologies are simultaneously reducing the costs of renewables and allowing these clean energy sources to compete in the marketplace.
Whether current trends will continue, however, is hard to know, and while JISEA’s models suggest that shale gas could possibly play a role in a clean energy future, getting there efficiently and in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change will almost certainly require policies that account for the full climate impacts of our energy choices.
Next Time in Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development
The Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development webinar series will next consider shale gas issues from a state perspective with a presentation by Tom Hunt from the State of Colorado’s Energy Office on “The Future of Oil and Gas Production in Colorado.” Mr. Hunt’s webinar, which will take place on Thursday, March 7, from 1-2pm EST, will examine the history, economic impacts, policy responses, and future of oil and natural gas production in Colorado, and will focus on how Colorado is seeking to access the economic and energy security benefits of oil and gas production while honoring the environmental protection and diverse property uses that the state’s citizens value.
To register for this webinar, please click here. As always, the webinar will be free and open to the public, but registration is required to participate.
Friday, February 15, 2013
By Guest Author, Ainsley Lloyd, Research Associate, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy
The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) featured prominently in the recent debate between Peter Foster and David Boyd in Financial Post (The nature debate part 1 and The nature debate part 2, January 25, 2013).
Over the past ten years the EPI has used measureable environmental information to rank countries based on their environmental performance. The EPI team from Yale and Columbia universities pores over data on the environment, comparing it with wealth, governance, and trade, among many other aspects of well being. First and foremost, we have learned that these relationships are complex, and that a few lines of text often lose the larger message in the data. The debate between Messrs. Foster and Boyd is no exception, and in this case, losing the message of the EPI means losing perspective on the nature of Canada’s environment and economy.
Wealth and the environment
Both Foster and Boyd reference theories on the relationship between wealth and the environment, with Foster arguing the two variables are correlated and Boyd questioning the strength of that relationship. The EPI provides some real-world insight.
EPI data show that although there is a relationship, a nation’s wealth only marginally explains its final EPI ranking. This means that there are other important factors influencing environmental performance. Put differently, economic development matters, but other factors are more important. Although we have not identified every variable, we are confident that environmental performance is not an accident of history and factors such as pragmatic and enforceable environmental safeguards are key.
Foster notes that Canada scores poorly in the overall EPI and blames our devotion “to official climate alarmism,” arguing that we weigh the Climate Change and Energy category of the EPI too heavily. While Canada does rank 102 out of 132 countries in the Climate Change and Energy analysis, Brunei Darussalam, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, and Taiwan all manage a better overall EPI rank with a lower Climate score. Furthermore, the Climate Change and Energy category actually receives less weight in the 2012 EPI than it did in 2010—a decrease from 25 percent of the overall EPI score to just 17.5 percent.
In addition, we have anticipated much of Foster’s climate-related concern by choosing CO2 emissions measures that account for his critiques— specifically, differences in wealth and in country size. The EPI indicators that address these concerns are CO2 per GDP (to account for differences in wealth between nations) and CO2 per capita (to account for differences in population size between nations). In the future, perhaps we can cut countries like Canada slack on account of higher latitudes and greater needs for heating—though energy needs for cooling in lower latitudes might balance the equation.
Foster is also concerned that our Environmental Health objective is not weighted as heavily in the final EPI score as its counterpart objective of Ecosystem Vitality. His concern is valid. Throughout the development of each edition of the EPI we consult with science and policy experts to fine-tune our methodology, and a departure from equal weights within the EPI framework is a signal that we have picked up on something important. It turns out that equal weights do not necessarily mean equal influence (something we discuss briefly in the blog post “the Science and Art of Quantification” and in our upcoming manual “How to Build Green Indices: Learning from the Experience of the Environmental Performance Index”).
For the 2012 EPI, a 50-50 weighting for Environmental Health and Ecosystem Vitality meant that the overall EPI scores were too heavily influenced by performance in the Environmental Health objective alone because of its wider distribution. Countries that perform high in the Environmental Health objective were likely to perform better in the overall EPI, regardless of their scores in Ecosystem Vitality. Both Health and Ecosystems are important and we adjusted the EPI weightings to correct for this imbalance.
Finally, Mr. Foster brushes off the significance of the Environmental Performance Index because of its “murky metrics.” The response here does not require any complicated analysis. Our entire process, from data to methods to the final ranking, is entirely available online and is free and open to the public. Nothing could be less murky. Any journalist, researcher, or policymaker who wishes to dive in is more than welcome, and we are here to help.
On that note, to Messrs. Foster and Boyd: we would like to invite you both to serve on our expert panel for the 2014 EPI. You’ll find that it’s a dynamic group of scientists and practitioners, ready for debate, eager to prepare the best set of tools possible for policymakers.
Monday, February 11, 2013
By Guest Author, Omar Malik, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies '13, Research Assistant, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy
An article in a recent issue of The Economist suggests that putting effort into domestic climate change legislation is more important than pushing international climate agreements right now. The piece describes the results of a new study that assesses whether the climate change policies of 33 countries have improved, gotten worse, or remained the same as of the end of 2012. The encouraging results indicate that domestic policy action is happening even in the absence of a mandated treaty structure.
This ought to bring hope to environmentalists who advocate for a more decentralized approach to climate change policies. It should also appeal to those who bemoan the apparent political impasses of the international U.N. climate negotiations.
The new study—the third in a series by GLOBE international—was extolled by Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, the U.N. body that coordinates global climate change agreements. She attended the release party for the report in London this January and issued an official statement, in which she said, “[D]omestic legislation on climate is the absolutely critical, essential linchpin between action at the national level and international agreements.” At the same time, she remarked that the ultimate goal of the study should be that it paves the way for the next U.N. climate treaty that’s supposed to be agreed upon by 2015, to take effect by 2020.
The U.S. National Climate Assessment report came out just as recently from the U.S. government. Also in its third iteration, the Assessment is open for public review until April 2013. Perhaps in a complementary way to the GLOBE study, the US Assessment focuses more on the science and evidence of climate change for one particular country and broadly touches upon the policy situation as well. Similarly, the conclusion of the report states that more U.S. policy action is necessary, but that concerted global actions would be the best way to go forward.
Both reports seem to suggest, then, that domestic policies are necessary, but not sufficient, to achieving the ultimate goals of climate action.
This is a familiar problem in the global climate policy debate: should governance move from the top down or the bottom up to reach desired outcomes? And, should success rely on individualistic actions or, rather, support from movements in concert? These tensions are the fuel for geopolitics and have led to both progress and paradox.
The need for harmonized policies in the face of trying times reminds me of a passage in The Federalist. John Jay, writing to newspapers in 1787 to argue for the adoption of the new Constitution, argued that it’s beneficial for a central government, when concerned about national defense, to “move on uniform principles of policy.” The case certainly has been made for treating climate change as an issue of national security; many politicians have already argued that climate change poses that kind of threat to the United States (both John Kerry and the US Navy have issued public statements). In this case, perhaps its management should be approached in terms of coordinated policies with the kind of logic articulated in The Federalist:
Who shall settle the terms of peace, and in case of disputes what umpire shall decide between them and compel acquiescence? Various difficulties and inconveniences would be inseparable from such a situation; whereas one government, watching over the general and common interests, and combining and directing the powers and resources of the whole, would be free from all these embarrassments, and conduce far more to the safety of the people.
--John Jay (Federalist No. 4, available online http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed04.asp)
As John Jay tells us, these debates are not new. The new climate reports show that the world’s countries do behave in the manner similar to Voltaire’s Candide, tending their own gardens; but, at the same, the reports remind countries to keep in mind that the end goal is to use those piecemeal gardens to make the wider world greener.
The Economist. “Climate-change laws: Beginning at home.” 19 January 2013.
BBC News. “Climate change measures: Report praises politicians.” 13 January 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20983931
The 3rd Climate Legislation Study from the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International).
Available here: http://www.globeinternational.org/images/climate-study/3rd_GLOBE_Report.pdf
Homepage of GLOBE International: http://www.globeinternational.org/index.php/legislation-policy/studies/climate
UNFCCC statement from Christiana Figueres. 13 January 2013. http://unfccc.int/files/press/statements/application/pdf/201314011_globe_international.pdf
The U.S. National Climate Assessment, draft for public review. 2012.
Friday, February 01, 2013
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement that prevents most development on a parcel of land. For instance, a landowner might place a conservation easement on their undeveloped waterfront property, requiring that the property is never developed for commercial purposes. The easement is a tool that has long been an important part of environmental protection, but it does have its downside: typically a property is taxed based on its highest possible use, not on its actual use. A swath of land on the outskirts of a city center, for example, has enormous value as a commercial development. The land may be undeveloped and producing no income, but the owner must still pay taxes for the high commercial value. This tax liability incentivizes development because landowners need to pay taxes one way or another.
In 2008 the Santa Fe Conservation Trust in New Mexico was faced with this very problem. The Trust became the new owners of a pristine parcel of land in the Pecos River Canyon in San Miguel County and their ownership included a conservation easement requiring them to hold and maintain the property for conservation purposes. The tax department wanted to assess taxes on the land, but the Trust pointed out that New Mexico’s constitution has a unique provision which states that “all property used for… charitable purposes… shall be exempt from taxation.”
On January 11, 2013 a court in New Mexico agreed with the Santa Fe Conservation Trust that environmental conservation is a charitable use, which provides a substantial benefit to the public. As such, the Trust is not required to pay any property taxes on this property.
This particular rule—that land held for conservation purposes may be exempt from all property tax—is unique to New Mexico, but the way in which it incentivizes conservation should still be good news to environmentalists. The way in which it further reduces taxation should be good news to tax-averse conservatives.