On the Environment
Energy & Climate
Tuesday, September 03, 2013
By Guest Author, Halley Epstein, Yale Law School '14
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change draft report—leaked late last month—warns that sea levels could conceivably rise by more than three feet by the end of the century. As analysts, including climate deniers, pore over various aspects of the report, island nations continue to wonder: is it too late to avoid catastrophic damage caused by climate change?
For people in low-lying nations, a sea level rise of three feet would wreak havoc on their ecosystems, territories, and ways of life. The New York Times notes that rising sea levels could affect “the world’s great cities,” including New York, New Orleans, Shanghai, Venice, and London. But the Times does not mention how rising seas are already affecting low-lying cities and nations not on their list – including the Republic of Palau.
Palau, and many others, are frustrated by the lack of binding international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This ongoing political impasse inspired Palau, along with a multistate coalition, to draw attention to climate change on a different international stage. The coalition initiated an international campaign to secure an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on assigning responsibility for causing climate change. At the ICJ, all interested nations, regardless of political influence in international climate negotiations, would have the opportunity to voice their opinions on the matter.
Last fall, a group of Yale graduate and professional students worked directly on this campaign with some of the coalition’s organizers, including Palau’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Stuart Beck, YLS ’71. “At its core the Palau campaign simply seeks to bring the rule of law to the problem of global climate change,” said Professor Douglas Kysar, the Joseph M. Field ’55 Professor of Law at Yale Law School and one of the course instructors. “So for us, it offers an ideal pedagogical opportunity to study the power of law in an age of despairing politics.”
Our goal was to assemble the legal, political, and scientific justifications for the coalition’s request and detail why the ICJ should issue an opinion on state responsibility for transboundary harm caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Together with Ambassador Beck, Aaron Korman -- Palau’s legal adviser -- and Professor Kysar, we compiled our findings in a new report, Climate Change & the International Court of Justice.
Drawing on climate science, international and domestic legal authorities, and the international legal principles of transboundary harm, the rule of law, and human rights, we conclude that supporting an ICJ opinion on climate change responsibility is in all states’ interest.
As the campaign progresses, Korman said, "we hope others will find this report useful for its overview of the international legal principles and arguments that support the ICJ campaign and that it will serve to build broad support for the advisory opinion request, as well as for decisive action on climate change."
While an ICJ advisory opinion remains just that—advisory—a ruling on states’ rights and obligations under international law could shape international norms and influence future UNFCCC negotiations. Some industrialized nations oppose the campaign because of potential impacts on international negotiations. For island nations, though, the ability to obtain a ruling on international legal responsibility outside of the UNFCCC process is the most realistic way to fight for their right to exist.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
By Guest Author, Nora Hawkins, F&ES '14
If you say coal in my home state of Washington, more likely than not, people will assume you are talking about coal exports. The terminals currently proposed in Washington and Oregon would enable coal mined in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming to be shipped to China. This new export avenue would provide a market for American coal, which is becoming less and less economically competitive in the US given the expansion of hydraulic fracturing and decreasing natural gas prices.
In a region proud of its efforts to be more sustainable, coal exports are a galvanizing issue. Participation in public meetings has been staggering with thousands showing up to comment on the proposed environmental impact statement for the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point in northern Washington. (To learn more about this complex issue, check out PBS’s recent documentary.)
Coal Free PSE
This summer I returned to the Pacific Northwest to work on coal and climate change, but I had the interesting challenge of not focusing my efforts on the export issues that have taken center stage. Instead, I worked on the Sierra Club’s Coal Free PSE campaign, which aims to encourage, and ultimately convince, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to transition entirely off coal.
For decades Washington’s abundant hydropower has made the state a national leader in using less greenhouse-gas-intensive electricity, and just a few years ago, an environmental campaign succeeded in securing a retirement date for the last coal-fired power plant in the state. PSE is the main investor-owned utility for residents on the east side of the Puget Sound in western Washington, providing electricity for over one million Washingtonians. While PSE is respected for its effective customer service and is widely regarded as a green utility – it is the second largest wind developer in the country and has made notable efforts on energy conservation– it still relies on coal for approximately 30 percent of its electricity generation.
Of particular concern to the Sierra Club and the members of the coalition is the Colstrip Generating Plant in Eastern Montana. PSE is the single largest owner of this large, aging coal-fired power plant. The EPA consistently ranks Colstrip as one of the top two sources of greenhouse gas emissions west of the Mississippi, and the plant faces numerous other environmental and public health liabilities.
Many advocacy groups feel compelled to choose between persuading decisionmakers to select a particular course of action and demanding public accountability, especially since holding decisionmakers responsible for their choices could jeopardize the relationships through which these advocacy groups exercise influence. As I witnessed firsthand this summer, there is a way to do both: the Sierra Club relies on an extremely effective blend of the politics of persuasion and the politics of pressure.
Assessing PSE’s Resource Mix
My initial project was to translate and streamline the Sierra Club’s robust, technical analysis of Puget Sound Energy’s 1,000-page Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) in a way that would be accessible and palatable to a broader audience. In an electric IRP, a utility analyzes the various resources it could rely on to provide power to its ratepayers and determines what resource mix is most economically feasible going forward. New IRPs are issued every two years, and the planning process is a critical time for a utility to make sure its resource investments are not leading it down a slippery slope of ever increasing costs.
As an investor-owned utility, PSE is regulated by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC). The UTC regularly reviews utilities’ proposed rate increases and issues an order allowing for recovery of costs and setting a rate of return. The UTC does not approve the IRPs, but the commissioners can note areas of risk in their comments on the IRP. If that happens, the subject utility likely will reevaluate its plan since it creates uncertainty about whether the UTC will approve proposed rate increases in the coming year.
Starting with the analysis summary, my work with the Sierra Club focused on finding ways to succinctly describe the fundamental flaws we found in PSE’s IRP, specifically in its evaluation of the economics of the Colstrip plant. Throughout the plan, PSE either ignored or vastly underestimated the significant public and environmental health costs that the vintage coal plant faces. PSE’s IRP ultimately dismissed the fact that, while the aging Colstrip plant may be able to be maintained somewhat cheaply in the short term, the plant will likely require increasingly costly investments in coming years to comply with new regulations. Much of my internship centered on communicating these oversights to “grasstops” – elected officials, academic experts, and community leaders – and encouraging them to submit comments to the UTC, expressing their concerns about the IRP.
Lake Washington Rally
In contrast to our efforts to engage influential individuals, my second week on the job I assisted with a rally during which we barged a large inflatable coal plant around one of the bridges of a main interstate highway at rush hour, with a sign urging PSE to move beyond coal. Several subject matter experts spoke at the event, and a group of citizen activists demonstrated their support.
While I wondered if our rally might be conflated with coal exports by the casual observer, I learned that earned media is often the true testament to a successful public event. (Check out the news stories on our event here and here and here.) This type of coverage reaches people in their homes and empowers them as ratepayers to call on their utility to provide them with electricity that won’t result in ever-increasing costs or cause environmental harm. The impact of Colstrip’s pollution on local ranchers in Montana is a particularly compelling rallying point in the Coal Free PSE campaign, the emotionality of which is captured in this documentary.
The official public comment period on PSE’s IRP ended August 16. When I return to FES this fall, I look forward to staying engaged with the campaign. Sooner rather than later, I believe Washington State will finally be able to say that it is 100 percent coal free. This victory will be won both through technical arguments and appeals to emotion, and it will give Washingtonians even more justification for opposing the transport of coal across our state.
Nora Hawkins is a Master of Environmental Management candidate. She graduated from Whitman College in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in chemistry. Prior to commencing her studies at Yale, Nora worked as a paralegal in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC. At F&ES she is focused on environmental policy and is committed to building a richer, more genuine dialogue between scientists and policymakers.
Friday, August 09, 2013
By Guest Author, Kevin Sherrill, Yale F&ES '14
Five years ago – the last time I walked through the Giacomini Wetlands -- I was working to rescue 12 leopard sharks that had stranded themselves in a pasture after a levee broke, just six months shy of its scheduled removal. This is just one of the many interesting land-sea conflicts that arise in a state that has seen 91 percent wetland loss, well above the estimated 53 percent national average for the lower 48.
The 560-acre area at the southern end of Tomales Bay was leveed and drained in the 1940s to make room for expanding dairy farms and roads in west Marin County, California, cutting off the Lagunitas Creek watershed’s connection with its flood plain and increasing pollutant loading to the bay. Thankfully, a lot has changed since the 2008 restoration project effectively doubled the size of tidal marshes.
Following the restoration Tomales Bay has seen improvements in water quality, native plant recolonization, along with a rise in wildlife abundance and diversity. Aside from the more obvious improvements to the Bay’s health, tidal marsh restoration or conservation projects also have a huge potential to store carbon, an appealing prospect for those seeking to mitigate climate change.
Intact marshes that can keep pace with relative sea-level rise are usually sinks for the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and sources of methane and nitrous oxide. Emission rates of the latter are much smaller in magnitude; however, they have 25- and 298-times, respectively, the global warming potential of carbon dioxide on a 100-year time horizon. While marshes play a vital role in carbon sequestration rates, it is essential to quantify how greenhouse gas emission rates vary across marsh complexes – especially with more large-scale restoration projects for the San Francisco Bay area on the horizon.
I’ve spent the summer back in Giacomini Wetlands – much less wary of submerged drainage ditches and stray leopard sharks than I was in 2008. Instead, I’m using static soil chamber and gas chromatography techniques to see how greenhouse gas emissions rates vary across a number of variables including salinity gradients, vegetation communities, and restoration histories. My research should offer a more accurate portrayal of restored marshes’ net carbon-storage capacity, potentially elucidating the restoration strategies – for example, the re-vegetation palettes – that minimize greenhouse gas emissions.
Kevin Sherrill is a MESc candidate at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, YCELP Research Fellow, Carpenter-Sperry awardee, and Jubitz Family Endowment awardee. This summer he is working on quantifying carbon storage rates for restored and intact wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Monday, August 05, 2013
By Guest Author, Amy Mount, Yale F&ES '14
“This is good: now that we’ve got an adult with us, we can walk along the beach!” said the 9-year-old Inuit girl.
“Erm, why do you need an adult to walk along the beach?” I asked tentatively, wondering what I’d committed myself to when agreeing to hang out with the bunch of kids who’d been watching Nickelodeon in the cafe where I was eating lunch.
“In case there are polar bears,” she replied nonchalantly, slurping her garish blue Slush Puppie and flicking her hair behind her head.
We were in the tiny village of Wainwright, Alaska, roughly 70 miles from the northernmost city in the United States, perched on the coast where the great expanse of tundra that covers Alaska’s North Slope meets the chilly Arctic Ocean. The sea ice had begun its springtime melt and three or four whaling crews had towed their boats using snow-machines across the land-fast ice to the patch of dark blue water that had opened up a mile or so from the shore. The rest of the village’s inhabitants had tuned into channel 12 on the CB radio to listen for updates from the whalers, pausing in their work or play occasionally to scan the sea through their binoculars, looking for tell-tale spouts of water.
I couldn’t help gazing out to sea. I’d never seen an ice-covered ocean before and something about it fascinated me: the way it had grown a temporary topography during the dark winter, the frozen layer exhibiting a kind of plate-tectonic behaviour, pushed and pulled by currents and tides, leaving not a smooth landscape but one of ridges and fissures.
In the 19th century, whales were hunted in large numbers by non-indigenous commercial whaling boats, in what one Alaska Native described to me as the North Slope’s first “offshore oil rush.” The blubber was boiled to extract oil that, in turn, was burned in lamps. Commercial whaling (as distinguished from indigenous people’s subsistence whaling) has been illegal for some time now, but these days there is talk of a new offshore oil rush on the horizon. Decreasing Arctic sea-ice coverage and relatively high global energy prices have been drawing drillships northward in search of the fossilized hydrocarbons thought to lie beneath the sea bed.
I had been drawn north too, intrigued by the media narratives of an inevitable “opening up” of the Arctic. I was travelling around Alaska to research the decisionmaking process that determines whether or not drilling will happen in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas; to learn about who makes those decisions, whose views are considered, and which factors are seen to be important. I have so far interviewed more than 40 people from a variety of backgrounds: oil companies, the Alaska legislature, federal and state agencies, environmental organisations, and Alaska Native institutions.
Hours of analysis and writing await me in the coming academic year, so it would be rash of me to announce any conclusions just yet. I do, however, want to share one thought. The urban Alaskans from Anchorage and Juneau often alluded to the “bind” or difficult situation in which people up on the North Slope find themselves. Since oil began to flow from the onshore area around Prudhoe Bay in the 1970s, the villages dotting the Arctic coastline have become accustomed to a parallel flow of benefits in the form of greatly improved public services, infrastructure, and cash. Now that the onshore fields are producing less, some hope that offshore drilling could fill the gap and ensure the continued flow of cash to the local economy.
At the same time, there is great concern for the wellbeing of the bowhead whales that are seen as essential to those communities’ food security, social practices and cultural heritage. Whales might be harmed or pushed away by the noise of drilling, seismic testing, or perhaps the mess of an oil spill – not to mention the impacts of fossil-fuelled climate change on the region as a whole, which indeed were not often mentioned by many of my interviewees but which are increasingly documented in scientific literature.
No one seems to know a satisfactory way out of this apparent tension between the need for ecological integrity and the need for cash. People in the south sigh and shake their heads in pity at the situation of those in the north. Yet it seems to me that the tension on the North Slope is but an early indication of a condition that exists globally, in a world whose leaders declare their countries to be “addicted” to fossil fuels but whose security is undermined by the extraction and combustion of those very materials – due principally to global warming but also to more locally felt environmental impacts. Understanding the politics, policies and decisions that surround fossil fuel extraction is important not just for Arctic inhabitants but for us all.
Amy Mount, a joint-degree master’s of environmental management and international relations student, is studying the politics of offshore drilling in Alaska.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
By Guest Author, Josh Galperin, YCELP Associate Director
The problem with making predictions is that sometimes predictions are wrong. Over the past several months I made two predictions on this blog about two important environmental law cases. I ended up one-for-two.
That isn’t such a bad performance, but the consequences of being wrong are significant -- not just for my ego, but for the on-the-ground reality of environmental planning. Of course the consequences of being right are also important. This post addresses the good news. Stay tuned next week for the bad news.
In December I wrote about climate adaptation efforts in New Jersey. The town of Harvey Cedars, the State of New Jersey, and the federal government were cooperatively working to strengthen a dune system in order to protect against devastating storm surges like those associated with Hurricane Sandy. But bigger and better dunes can mean diminished views for some homeowners. Harvey and Phyllis Karan lost some of their view and a court initially awarded them $375,000 for the loss. Shortly afterward, Sandy came along and, because of the new dunes, didn’t destroy their home. So Mr. and Mrs. Karan had hundreds of thousands of dollars and an intact home thanks to the dune project.
I argued that this was an unreasonable result and if the law continues to require this sort of double-benefit whenever private property is hampered by climate adaptation projects, climate adaptation would become financially infeasible.
Luckily for the future of New Jersey’s beaches, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on Monday, July 8, that the lower court was wrong when it awarded $375,000 to the Karans. The lower court did not allow the jury to consider the fact that the dune project would give the Karans a significant benefit (saving their home!), and it should have. According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, the jury should consider the fair market value of the property before the governmental interference and compare that to the fair market value after the interference, including any potential increases resulting from the project.
This case now returns to the lower court where a new jury will consider how the home-saving benefits of dune replenishment will affect the value of the Karans’ home. Hurricane Sandy likely had some impact on the court’s decision in this case, even if only subconsciously. It is also likely that the memory of Sandy will influence the next jury to determine how much money the Karans should receive.
Sandy may or may not have a connection to climate change, but the storm is at least a demonstration of what climate change looks like. In my earlier post I suggested that the reality of climate change may drive changes to the strictures of property law, and this week’s decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court suggests this could be exactly what is happening.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
I want to make a few points about the climate plan President Obama spoke about yesterday. It’s the kitchen sink of climate policy, so there is a lot to say – but I’ll keep it brief.
Overall, this is a step in the right direction simply because the President stood up and gave a speech completely dedicated to addressing climate change. Climate was absent from the campaign trail and has only received piecemeal attention from the White House otherwise. While I have some concerns about the details of the plan, its mere existence is a starting point for a dialouge. Unfortunately, it is a dialouge that should be much further along.
The President’s plan presents what he himself calls an “all of the above energy policy.” That’s a reassuring phrase. My concern is that one of the above—namely coal—is one of the top drivers of climate pollution. I am not suggesting that a better climate policy would require the immediate retirement of all the country’s coal plants; that is patently irresponsible. But a better climate policy would at least recognize that coal is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Specifically, the White House plan proposes to support “clean coal” through loan guarantees for technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and “advanced fossil energy projects,” which presumably includes technologies like coal gasification. The words “clean coal” peppered through this plan is worrisome. There is “cleaner” coal, which emits less carbon, less sulfur, or has other pollutant reductions, but no coal is clean in the sense that wind, solar, or energy efficiency is clean. Coal gasification can reduce pollutants and CCS can reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere, but only if utilities can bring the technology to scale. But new technologies do not address the upstream impacts of coal, from mining to transportation, or the downstream waste storage problems.
Moreover, CCS may not ever be the technology that this plan envisions. When attached to a coal plant, CCS technology requires electricity to operate. That electricity comes directly from the coal plant to which it is attached, which means that CCS will reduce the amount of electricity that leaves the coal plant and goes to homes and businesses. Some estimate that CCS technology could require 40 percent of a coal plant’s electrical output. This means that a coal plant would need to increase its output by 40 percent to make up for the electricity that goes to the CCS process, thereby burning over 40 percent more coal.
The loan guarantee plan is a sort of fossil fuel subsidy, albeit a subsidy that will help reduce the cost of private borrowing for “advanced fossil energy projects” rather than offer direct payments to the industry. In fact, elsewhere in his plan the President promises to reduce direct subsidies. Coal is king because it is cheap, and it is cheap, in part, because it has had help from the government. Reducing subsidies will help alternative energy sources compete.
One of the most valuable subsidies that coal power receives is permission to emit greenhouse gases, creating a significant social cost but bearing almost none of that cost internally. The new climate plan promises to remove this subsidy as well and that is an important highlight: President Obama promises to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt carbon standards for new and existing power plants. The process is underway (albeit delayed) for new-plant standards but previous EPA statements indicated that the Agency would not address existing plants. Perhaps yesterday’s announcement will change that.
Everything I’ve so far discussed is aimed at reducing climate change. These issues, and many others, have been at the center of the climate change debate, in one form or another, since the beginning. Adaptation, however, has been mostly absent. Yet adaptation is critical. The climate ball is rolling and mitigation seeks to slow it. Adaptation helps us avoid getting flattened by it. Adaptation helps sure-up infrastructure and make society more resilient to change. Local governments have been working tirelessly to adapt and organizations such as Mayor Bloomberg’s C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group have been supporting urban resilience efforts. But adaptation has not been a major part of the national dialouge.
With respect to mitigation, the President’s plan largely works at the margin. But with respect to adaptation, whether it is strengthening coastlines or protecting hospitals from floods, the President has finally raised its policy profile and that will likely be the biggest achievement of this plan.
Tuesday, June 04, 2013
By Guest Author, Kathryn Wright, MEM '13 and Lauren Sanchez, MEM '14 and 2013 YCELP Moran Environmental Fellow
In mid-March, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) in Ahmedabad, Gujarat launched the first comprehensive heat action plan in South Asia in collaboration with the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and its partners. Now that the heat season is just around the corner for Gujarat,
the AMC will have the opportunity to put the heat action plan in motion. The heat action plan is composed of an early warning system and public awareness campaign about staying healthy during extreme temperatures and may be accessed online on the AMC’s website.
Climate scientists predict that extreme heat waves will increase in frequency due to climate change. A key component of NRDC's example materials and advertisements is to try and establish the link between extreme temperatures, health and climate change. NRDC, in partnership with the Indian Institute of Public Health
(IIPH), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, and Georgia Institute of Technology, was able to develop public service announcements, recommendations and protocols for heat waves and extreme heat events.
Advertisements and print-distribution are already picking up around the city. Billboards, as pictured below, are being put up around the city providing heat prevention tips. In the coming months, key stakeholders will continue to meet, discuss and revise the early warning system.
(Photo courtesy of Anjali Jaiswal, Director of the NRDC India Initiative)
This billboard and other heat action plan advertisements are directed at several unique groups, vulnerable to the effect of increased heat:
Young and elderly populations – development stages contribute to increased vulnerability due to challenges maintaining homeostasis. These populations are at-risk because of lack of control of their surrounding environments
Slum communities - typically lack access to cooling facilities, healthcare and other amenities to help combat the heat
Outdoor workers - physical exertion under the hot sun contributes to dehydration and susceptibility to other extreme heat illnesses
The heat action plan will be primarily disseminated throughout the city of Ahmedabad through public ads in a variety of media. The advertisements and publications were further tailored to address these unique groups. A separate easy-read version of the heat action plan was developed to reach a broader audience. There are also plans to place public service announcements on ambulances. Another exciting development is that the AMC printed health tip sheets for 6,000 school children to take home to their families!
In addition to the advertisements around the city, NRDC and its partners are also providing health fact sheets for medical workers and community outreach groups around the city. Through these dissemination strategies, Ahmedabad residents will be able to properly prepare for heat season, and will begin to think about the impacts associated with climate change.
(Diagram courtesy of NRDC and its project partners)
The heat action plan also involves coordination and cooperation between multiple different government responses to create an integrated emergency response system. The flowchart on the left details the coordinated action between government departments and other stakeholders. These agencies will work together to reach as many residents as possible. There are even plans to coordinate with key electric and water providers during the most extreme temperatures.
In the coming months, key stakeholders will continue to meet, discuss and revise the early warning system and the heat action plan. Keep an eye on the India Initiative website
Monday, May 20, 2013
By Guest Author, Eric Biber, Professor of Law, University of California Berkeley
I (Josh Galperin, Associate Director, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy) have two forthcoming publications that argue against the growing "eat the invaders" or "invasivore" movement. Invasive species are a serious ecological and economic problem. The invasivore movement supposes that we can control biological invasions with a fork and knife. My collaborators and I see several problems with this argument. One of the leading problems is that generating enough culinary interest in an invasive species to actually impact its population will lead to cultural endearment. There are examples of invasive species, despite manifest ecological and economic damage, becoming important cultural icons. Even though it has nothing to do with food, the eucalyptus tree in California is one such example.
How Eucalyptus Trees Are Connected to Denying Climate Change
Here on Legal Planet, we talk a lot about climate skeptics/deniers, and we’re highly critical of them (for good reason!). A lot of those climate skeptics/deniers are conservatives.
But there’s no monopoly on scientific ignorance on one end of the political spectrum. An example of that is close to home here at UC Berkeley.
Let me be clear here. Cutting down eucalyptus trees to reduce fire risk and restore native plants and ecosystems is generally an environmentally sensible thing to do. It will help native plants and animals do better. And it will keep people safer. Those who argue otherwise are ignoring a lot of fairly clear ecological evidence, primarily because of other prior commitments they have (such as, logging is bad, or chemicals are bad). Sounds a little like climate skeptics/deniers to me.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
By Bruce Ho
In the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy’s second annual Policy Workshop Webinar Series, we looked at “Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development” with the help of a distinguished group of experts from multiple sectors and fields. In case you missed any of our events this year, or would like to review a presentation, I have catalogued our shale gas webinars and interviews below, including links to summary blog posts and video recordings as well as additional readings, videos, and audio clips so that you can learn more about the issues that each of our speakers discussed.
The Policy Workshop Webinar Series will continue next academic year, 2013-2014, with an examination of environmental law and policy issues in the area of food and agriculture.
Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development
September 18, 2012: Economics and Risk Assessment (Interview): As a prelude to the webinar series, Sheila Olmstead, a Fellow at Resources for the Future, discussed some of the implications of the shale gas boom. Read more and watch this interview here.
October 10, 2012: Overview of Environmental Impacts: Dr. Jim Saiers, Professor and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, presented an overview of shale gas development and its implications for the environment. Read more and watch this webinar here.
November 8, 2012: Climate Impacts: Dr. Ramón Alvarez, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) presented research from a paper he recently co-authored on natural gas use and its implications for climate change. Read more and watch this webinar here.
December 5, 2012: Overview of the Current U.S. Regulatory Framework: Florida State Law Professor Hannah Wiseman provided a comprehensive overview of the current legal regimes governing shale gas development, including state and federal statutes, local zoning, agency directives, and the common law. Read more and watch this webinar here.
January 23, 2013: An Industry Perspective: Mark Boling, President of V+ Development Solutions, a division of Southwestern Energy Company, presented on “Balancing Environmental, Social and Economic Impacts of Shale Gas Development Activities.” Read more and watch this webinar here.
Additional viewing: Mr. Boling’s presentation at the MIT Enterprise Forum of Texas.
February 12, 2013: Electricity Markets and Clean Energy: Jeffrey Logan from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) presented on “Natural Gas and U.S. Electric Power Futures.” Read more and watch this webinar here.
March 5, 2013: Measuring Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Interview): Dr. Garvin Heath, a senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), discussed research that he recently completed on the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas produced from Texas’ Barnett Shale. Read more and watch this interview here.
March 7, 2013: A State Perspective: Tom Hunt from the Colorado Energy Office presented on “The Future of Oil and Gas Production in Colorado.” Read more and watch this webinar here.
March 29, 2013: Community Impacts: Susan Phillips from public radio station WHYY in Philadelphia discussed Marcellus Shale gas development in Pennsylvania. The stories that she presented were originally reported by Ms. Phillips and her colleagues as part of StateImpact Pennsylvania, an award-winning collaboration between WHYY, National Public Radio (NPR), and WITF in Harrisburg. Read more and watch this webinar here.
April 12, 2013: An Environmental Perspective: Kate Sinding, Senior Attorney and Deputy Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s New York Program, discussed fracking from the perspective of an environmental organization. Read more and watch this webinar here.
By Bruce Ho
On Friday, April 12, Kate Sinding, Senior Attorney and Deputy Director of the New York Program at the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), discussed fracking from the perspective of an environmental organization as part the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy’s Policy Workshop Webinar Series on “Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development.” Ms. Sinding’s webinar, which was the final event in this year’s webinar series, can be viewed below. Her slides are also available for download here.
State and Local Regulatory Issues for Fracking from YCELP on Vimeo.
In her webinar, Ms. Sinding discussed the many concerns that NRDC and others in the environmental community have about fracking and oil and gas development more broadly, including pollution of aquifers and surface water, air pollution, contributions to climate change from both use of fossil fuels and their production, public health impacts, and impacts on communities where oil and gas drilling occurs. She noted that there are many holes in our current understanding of these impacts – particularly in the area of public health – as well as in the the regulatory regimes needed to adequately protect communities from these impacts in both the short- and long-term. While some states are doing a better job of addressing fracking impacts than others, Ms. Sinding said that NRDC does not believe that any state currently provides an effective model for regulating in this area.
Due to the uncertainty surrounding fracking and other oil and gas impacts, Ms. Sinding noted that NRDC’s national position on fracking is that “NRDC opposes expanded fracking until effective safeguards are in place.” She described this position as:
Pragmatic – working to achieve the necessary transition to a clean energy economy while simultaneously recognizing that fossil fuels are likely to continue to play a role in our energy portfolio for the foreseeable future and working to address the adverse environmental impacts from this oil and gas development.
Flexible – designed to operate across the various political realities in the U.S. and abroad, including states where fracking is not yet occurring (e.g., New York) and states where oil and gas production is occurring and needs more effective environmental safeguards (e.g., Pennsylvania).
Protective – emphasizing that the current regulation of fracking and oil and gas production as a whole is inadequate – due to both numerous exemptions under federal law and a patchwork of state responses – and that more effective regulations and scientific research are needed to protect communities.
In response to these needs, NRDC recently launched a Community Fracking Defense Project, which Ms. Sinding discussed both in her presentation and during the subsequent audience Q&A. More details on this initiative and other NRDC efforts in this area are available on the organization’s Natural Gas Drilling webpage.
Series Recap: Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development
Ms. Sinding’s webinar concludes the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy’s 2012-2013 Policy Workshop Webinar Series on “Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development.” For a recap of the series, including links to summary blog posts and video recordings from each of our speakers, please click here.
The Policy Workshop Webinar Series will continue next academic year, 2013-2014, with an examination of environmental law and policy issues in the area of food and agriculture.
Monday, April 08, 2013
By Bruce Ho
On Friday, March 29, as part of our Policy Workshop Webinar Series on Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development, the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy invited Susan Phillips from public radio station WHYY in Philadelphia to discuss Marcellus Shale gas development in Pennsylvania. The stories that she presented were originally reported by Ms. Phillips and her colleagues as part of StateImpact Pennsylvania, an award-winning collaboration between WHYY, National Public Radio (NPR), and WITF in Harrisburg.
You can watch Ms. Phillips’s full presentation below, in which she tells the story of Pennsylvania shale gas through interviews with local community members who are experiencing the effects, both good and bad, of shale gas development firsthand.
Community Impacts of Marcellus Shale Gas from YCELP on Vimeo.
In addition to watching her presentation, I highly recommend that you visit the StateImpact Pennsylvania website to learn more about the issues and individuals whom Ms. Phillips introduced. You might also be interested in watching “The Frontlines of Fracking: Community Voices from Southwest Pennsylvania,” a video produced by graduating Masters student and Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy research assistant Omar Malik last summer.
Next Time in Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development
On Friday, April 12, from 1-2pm EDT, the Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development webinar series will host Kate Sinding from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to discuss “Fracking: State and Local Regulatory Issues.”
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.
Monday, March 18, 2013
By Susanne Stahl
The Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy is a joint initiative between Yale Law School and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and we see a lot of interesting and inspiring people come through the doors of both schools throughout the course of a year.
These visionaries will stay a few days, give a lecture or two, and then be on their way again—sometimes with very little record of their visit, the insights they’ve shared, or the passion they’ve breathed into the community inspiring action, change, and possibility.
We launched On the Environment, a podcast series hosted by Center staff and students, to better document these visits and, most importantly, to invite the larger community into the conversation we’re having here about key issues in environmental science, law and policymaking.
The first six podcasts are linked below, but please keep your eye on the On The Environment iTunes or SoundCloud sites, because we will update frequently.
We hope you enjoy the podcasts and the speakers as much as we’ve enjoyed producing the series.
Episode 1: Marissa Knodel, a research assistant at the Center, visits with Andrew Guzman about his new book Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change, which explores the real-world consequences of climate change.
Episode 2: (part 1 and part 2): Marissa Knodel talks with Julian Aguon, a writer, activist and attorney, about his work on human and indigenous rights under international law.
Episode 3: (part 1, part 2, and part 3): Aaron Reuben, a Center research assistant, talks with Rolling Stone Contributing Editor Jeff Goodell about his work, the future of environmental journalism, and geoengineering.
If you have comments or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at email@example.com.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
By Guest Author, Bessie Schwarz, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies '14
On Thursday, March 7, the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy invited Tom Hunt from the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) to present a webinar on “The Future of Oil and Gas Production in Colorado” as part of the Center’s ongoing Policy Workshop Webinar Series on Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development. CEO, a department within the Governor’s office, oversees energy investments and facilitates the growth of the state’s energy market and industry.
In his presentation, Mr. Hunt discussed the history of oil and gas production in Colorado and the unique political and environmental considerations required for regulating recent growth in the state’s natural gas production, driven primarily by shale gas. Natural gas is a fast moving issue for Colorado, as the state looks to balance the large shale gas reserves now accessible through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing with conventional fossil fuel sources and renewable energy, such as wind. As this energy landscape shifts, CEO faces difficult challenges from private citizens, advocates, local governments, and energy companies. Mr. Hunt touched on these many complexities in his presentation.
You can watch Mr. Hunt’s full presentation below, in which he discusses the role of shale gas in Colorado’s energy portfolio and how the state has approached regulation of the natural gas industry. You can also download his presentation slides separately here.
The Future of Oil and Gas Production in Colorado 3-7-13 1.00 PM from YCELP on Vimeo.
Colorado’s Changing Oil and Gas Landscape
Oil and natural gas exploration is relatively “ancient history” in Colorado. First discovered and tapped in the late 19th century, oil and gas production has followed a boom-bust cycle, but the economies of several of the state’s counties, as well as the broader state economy to a certain degree, depend on these energy resources. Traditionally, oil and gas production and drilling has been concentrated in only a few counties. Mr. Hunt highlighted two of these, Weld and Garfield counties, during his presentation.
But while Colorado has been an oil and gas producing state for many decades, the dynamics of natural gas production in the state are rapidly changing. Since 1999, production of both fuels in Colorado has been on the rise with oil growing 125% and gas 83%. In 2009, a hydraulic fracturing operation also first unlocked a large previously inaccessible reserve of natural gas. In the subsequent years, a hydraulic fracturing boom has increased both the intensity of gas production in Colorado and expanded this industry into new areas of the state. These new areas include some of Colorado’s most populated towns, including parts of the Denver metropolitan area. As oil and gas production has entered new communities, it has sparked debates and spurred staunch opposition from some citizens and towns dotting the state’s new gas regions.
Regulating Natural Gas Development
The changing field of oil and gas in Colorado has forced new considerations of benefits and concerns, regulatory options, and legal issues. Mr. Hunt explained that in its energy-planning role, his office must weigh the interests of all of the state’s 5 million residents and the long-term protection of the state’s economy and environment. A major factor in this debate is the fact that the oil and gas industry currently employs 40,000 workers in Colorado and is a major economic driver. For example, the state exports (sells) three quarters of the gas that it produces.
Responding to concerns about air quality, health, noise, water scarcity, threats to the state’s world-renowned open spaces, and other issues, Colorado has striven to become a national leader in the regulation of natural gas. For example, Mr. Hunt noted that almost half of the policy recommendations contained in the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s 2012 report “Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas” are taken from Colorado state rules. You can find the details of the IEA’s report here. Among the policies that Mr. Hunt highlighted are new rules for impact mitigation, safety buffers around residential areas, and transparent communication for operations. These rules require drilling buffers of 500 feet around residential areas and disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids, although with exemptions for companies wishing to protect fluid components as “trade secrets.” Future steps will include a new interstate partnership coordinating natural gas vehicle programs and investments as well as several air emissions studies.
Colorado’s current hydraulic fracturing regulations are largely the result of two hotly debated rulemakings in 2011 and 2012, which involved companies, stakeholder groups, and legislators.
Ongoing Questions for Natural Gas in Colorado
In the complicated future of natural gas production in Colorado, renewable energy and questions about local versus state jurisdiction over gas regulation are likely to take center stage.
Wind and solar energy are among Colorado’s rich natural resources, and while these clean energies have traditionally represented a small fraction of the state’s energy portfolio, wind in particular is a promising source of current and future revenue and energy. Colorado is ranked 10th in the country for wind production and is home to the North American offices of Vestas Wind Systems, the world’s largest wind company. To encourage growth in this industry, Colorado has some of the country’s strongest renewable energy policies including a Renewable Energy Portfolio, which diversifies the state’s energy and helps build toward a clean energy future. CEO is responsible for balancing renewable energy with natural gas, coal, and other energy resources.
As new communities in Colorado react to new gas production within their boundaries, local legal fights have begun to dominate the debate in Colorado as they have in many other states that are looking to regulate and develop their shale gas resources. Some of Colorado’s most politically conservative towns have enacted moratoriums to gas, including two bans in the last few months, but it remains unclear if towns and cities have the legal authority to adopt such protections under Colorado law. In recent years, some states including Pennsylvania have explicitly prohibited such actions by local authorities. In Colorado, the City of Longmont and more recently the City of Fort Collins have adopted hydraulic fracturing bans, and these measures are now battlegrounds in the state debate. Longmont is currently being sued by the Governor to overturn its moratorium.
Next Time in Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development
The Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development webinar series will pick up next with a presentation by reporters Scott Detrow and Susan Phillips on “The Community Impacts of Marcellus Shale Gas Development,” which will draw on their award-winning coverage of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania as part of National Public Radio (NPR)’s StateImpact Pennsylvania series. Mr. Detrow and Ms. Phillips’s webinar will take place on Friday, March 29, from 12-1:30pm EDT.
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.
Monday, March 11, 2013
By Bruce Ho
On Tuesday, March 5, I caught up with Dr. Garvin Heath, a senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), to discuss research that he recently completed on the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas produced from Texas’ Barnett Shale.
Dr. Heath’s research is part of the same Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA) report on “Natural Gas and the Transformation of the U.S. Energy Sector: Electricity” that his NREL colleague Jeffrey Logan discussed as part of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy’s Policy Workshop Webinar Series on Emerging Issues in Shale Gas Development last month. Dr. Heath’s work also provides additional perspective and data on the shale gas-climate change links that Environmental Defense Fund scientist Dr. Ramon Alvarez discussed with our Center in his webinar last fall.
You can listen to my interview with Dr. Heath and view some slides that he prepared on his research below. You can also download his slides separately from the interview here.
Garvin Heath Interview from YCELP on Vimeo.
As Dr. Heath notes in the interview, some key findings from his research include:
Lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generated using gas produced from Texas’ Barnett Shale in 2009 were comparable to the lifecycle emissions estimated for electricity generated using conventionally produced natural gas (i.e., shale gas from the Barnett appeared to be no worse for the climate than conventionally produced gas).
10-20 percent of shale gas’ lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions occurred prior to gas combustion at power plants, and these pre-power plant, upstream emissions were evenly split (in global warming-normalized “carbon-dioxide equivalent” terms) between methane leakage and upstream carbon dioxide emissions from gas “beneficially used” in the supply chain to run compressors and other equipment.
Many of these upstream emissions could potentially be eliminated, such as by reducing or preventing methane leakage or improving equipment efficiencies to reduce the amount of gas that must be combusted to run upstream equipment.
There are still significant uncertainties in shale gas’ lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions due to data gaps and uncertainties in areas such as the actual gas-use efficiencies of upstream equipment, which are based on relatively limited data sets.
Additionally, there remain problems in matching the results from “bottom-up” lifecycle analyses, such as the one performed by Dr. Heath for the JISEA report, with those from “top-down” atmospheric measurements, which find methane concentrations that are significantly higher than the bottom-up analyses would suggest. These atmospheric measurements, which tell us the true levels of methane present, suggest that methane leakage from shale gas (and conventional gas) may be higher than we know, though researchers have not yet been able attribute this atmospheric methane to specific, on-the-ground sources (i.e., individual gas wells or other sources).
To learn more about this research and that of Dr. Heath's colleagues, you can download the full JISEA report here. In addition to Dr. Heath’s lifecycle emissions assessment (Chapter 1 of the report), the JISEA report also includes information on shale gas development’s legal and regulatory frameworks (Chapter 2; see also Professor Hannah Wiseman’s webinar from last December), water-related practices (Chapter 3), and electric power futures (Chapter 4; see also Jeffrey Logan’s webinar on this chapter from last month).
Friday, March 01, 2013
By Guest Author, Angel Hsu, Project Director, Environmental Performance Index & William Miao, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies '14
The official Chinese media reported this week, China’s National Committee for Terms in Sciences and Technology has been meeting to standardize a Chinese name for “PM2.5,” a harmful air pollutant that has negative human health effects. While PM2.5 is the scientific nomenclature for fine particulate matter that has a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, there was no consistency with which it was referred to in the Chinese media and academic reports. Instead, mixed references to PM2.5 as “particulate matter in the lungs” (keru feikeliwu), “fine particulate matter” (xi keliwu), “fine particles” (xi lizi), and “ultrafine particles” (chaoxi keliwu) have created enough confusion for the government to look into the (fine) matter.
Chinese netizens have chimed in as well, with suggestions on what the Chinese term for PM2.5 might be, ranging from the scientific to the sarcastic to the downright skeptical. On Sina Weibo and pointed out by a blogger on China Offbeat, netizens have sarcastically suggested “China good particles” (zhongguo hao keli), “Breathing Pain,” “Life 25% Shorter Index,” “Standing Right in Front of You But You Cannot See Me Index.” Some of the more creative names with political undertones include “harmony particle” (a pointed jab at China’s censorship of sensitive issues), “pimin 2.5” (PiMin, the same initials as ‘PM’ refers to citizens who have been treated poorly by their government), and “peiming 2.5” (payment of life 2.5).
As PM2.5 has already become a household name in China (see this advertisement for a PM2.5-themed rock concert in Beijingand this argument by a Chinese newspaper that PM2.5 is actually better known), it may not be necessary for the government to come up with its own moniker to fit Chinese-specific conditions. We’ve seen how politically-controversial naming can be. Until the term ‘PM2.5’broke into mainstream Chinese media and consciousness, poor air quality days and haze were often referred to as “fog” (wu) or “haze” (wumai) in Chinese, which had the effect of downplaying the role of anthropogenic contribution and instead connotes weather and climactic-related factors instead. Though the latter do undoubtedly play a part in Beijing’s poor air quality, calling pollution “fog” has underplayed the reality of air pollution’s role in causing the “haze” shrouding the city.
For now, at least, it seems that the government has decided on “fine particles” (xi keliwu) for the Chinese name of PM2.5.
Angel Hsu is a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and project manager of the 2012 Environmental Performance Index.
William Miao is a first-year Master of Environmental Management (MEM' 14) candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. His research focus is on the application of integrated environmental tools and frameworks at corporate, industrial, and national levels. Originally a chemical engineer from Auckland, New Zealand, his previous work involved risk management for oil and gas production, waste to energy research, and life-cycle assessment for the steel industry.