McCarthy touts flexibility for states in EPA carbon rules

(Photo by Even Regis via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Even Regis via Creative Commons)

© 2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jean Chemnick

As U.S. EPA crafted Monday’s proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, the agency was asked by environmentalists to use a model that would incorporate both “systemwide” reductions and those that can be achieved at individual plants, while industry advocates warned that such an approach would be challenged in court.

In the end, the proposal released this week incorporates both “inside the fence line” and “outside the fence line” options, designating both as best systems of emissions reduction (BSER) for today’s power fleet.

EPA wins big as Supreme Court upholds cross-state rule

This map via the EPA shows states covered under the cross-state pollution rule. (Click to enlarge)

This map via the EPA shows states covered under the cross-state pollution rule. (Click to enlarge)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeremy P. Jacobs

In a landmark win for the Obama administration and public health advocates, the Supreme Court on Tuesday resurrected U.S. EPA’s program for air pollution that drifts across state lines after a lower court had thrown it out.

The 6-2 decision upholds EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, or CSAPR, a regulatory regime for 28 Eastern states that requires upwind states to cut emissions that cause downwind states to exceed the agency’s air standards.

Federal judges uphold EPA mercury and toxics standards

(Photo by Michelle Carl via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Michelle Carl via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeremy P. Jacobs

Federal judges Tuesday upheld U.S. EPA’s air standards for mercury and other hazardous pollutants in a major win for the Obama administration.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the agency acted reasonably in promulgating its 2012 mercury and air toxics, or MATS, rule, which was the most significant EPA regulation of President Obama’s first term.

It requires coal- and oil-burning power plants to slash emissions over the next several years by installing control technologies. EPA estimated that the standards — the first of their kind — would cost the electric generating industry $9.6 billion annually, one of the most expensive regulations ever issued by the agency.

Ohio project takes biofuel production on the road

This mobile biofuel refinery solves supply chain problems by traveling directly to where feedstock can be obtained. (Photo courtesy Battelle)

This mobile biofuel refinery solves supply chain problems by traveling directly to where feedstock can be obtained. (Photo courtesy Battelle)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Amanda Peterka

Companies aspiring to produce next-generation biofuels struggle to get raw material to production plants.

Collecting biomass — crop residues, tree trimmings and grasses — requires a sprawling rural network of landowners, truckers and storage facilities, a complicated and expensive proposition.

So research-and-development nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute is trying to take the production plant to the biomass field on the back of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer.

Could rhubarb hold the key to low-cost energy storage?

Harvard researchers have developed a battery based on an organic molecule nearly identical to one found in rhubarb. (Photo by Alice Henneman via Creative Commons)

Harvard researchers have developed a battery based on an organic molecule nearly identical to one found in rhubarb. (Photo by Alice Henneman via Creative Commons)

©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Katherine Ling

Researchers at Harvard University have demonstrated a low-cost battery that can be scaled to provide backup power for anything from large wind farms to a home with solar panels.

The team discovered that quinone — a metal-free, abundant organic molecule — can provide low-cost material to hold the electric charge for a flow battery, which stores energy in a fluid rather than a solid state. Quinones are organic molecules that plants and animals use to store energy and are abundant in crude oil and green plants, according to the team.

Fledgling cellulosic biofuel industry puts down roots in Iowa

This bailer, on display at an event near Emmetsburg, Iowa in 2010, is designed to harvest corn stover for biofuel use. (Photo by Joanna Schroeder via Creative Commons)

This bailer, on display at an event near Emmetsburg, Iowa in 2010, is designed to harvest corn stover for biofuel use. (Photo by Joanna Schroeder via Creative Commons)

©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Amanda Peterka

EMMETSBURG, Iowa — The biofuels industry began building it, so Eric Woodford came.

Woodford sold his farm in Redwood Falls, Minnesota, and moved here with his wife, Mary, and their children almost four years ago to sell a contraption that chops and bales cornstalks — feedstock for the nascent cellulosic biofuels industry.

Emmetsburg — population 3,900 in northwestern Iowa — is ground zero for that industry as Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels puts the finishing touches on a commercial-scale plant that the company hopes can turn abundant residue from cornfields into liquid gold.

“I read all my farm magazines,” Woodford recalled of his 140-mile move. “I knew that this was the hot spot on the planet for balers.”

Supreme Court seems receptive to some EPA arguments in cross-state case

(Photo by Mark Fischer via Creative Commons)

(Photo by Mark Fischer via Creative Commons)

©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jeremy P. Jacobs

U.S. EPA pressed the Supreme Court Tuesday to uphold its effort to curb air pollution that drifts from one state to another.

At issue is the 2011 Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, or CSAPR, a regulatory regime for 28 Eastern and Midwest states tossed out last year by a federal appeals court after challenges from industry and some states.

EPA maintains it reasonably interpreted the phrase “contribute significantly” in the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” provision, which gives the federal government authority to regulate cross-state emissions. The term is vague, the agency says, and may take into account several factors — including cost and feasibility — in decisions on which states must stem emissions and by how much.

FERC tells Congress pollution rules will hit Midwest hardest

A coal plant near Springfield, Illinois. FERC says the Midwest's reliance on coal makes its electrical grid vulnerable to tougher pollution rules. (Photo by straightedge217 via Creative Commons)

A coal plant near Springfield, Illinois. FERC says the Midwest’s reliance on coal makes its electrical grid vulnerable to tougher pollution rules. (Photo by straightedge217 via Creative Commons)

©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Hannah Northey

Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission warned House members Thursday that energy reserves in the Midwest could be pinched the hardest when new U.S. EPA clean air rules take effect in 2016.

FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller (R) told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power that the Midwest’s grid operator anticipates a shortfall in its power reserves in 2016 when EPA’s landmark mercury and air toxics standards take effect.

“Think about rolling blackouts the summer before a presidential election, it kind of shifts the national discussion,” Moeller said.

He said issues could also crop up in other parts of the country, including areas in the mid-Atlantic and New England. But the Midwest — a smaller system that relies heavily on coal, has transmission constraints and is undergoing a large number of retrofits — could be hit harder.

Cheryl LaFleur, a Democrat who President Obama tapped last month to lead the agency, agreed the rule could affect the Midwest.

“Over most of the country, MATS compliance is well under way,” LaFleur said. “The most significant issue will be in the Midwest.”

Utilities say EPA carbon rules could impact rural ratepayers

Hoosier Energy is concerned it may have to shut down its Merom Generating Station after spending millions in recent years to meet pollution rules. (Photo © Brendan Kearns/Dreamstime.com)

The Merom Generating Station’s smokestack looms over a rural Indiana home. (Photo © Brendan Kearns/Dreamstime.com)

©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Jean Chemnick

Rural Americans could be big losers if U.S. EPA writes a rigid rule for curbing heat-trapping emissions of carbon dioxide from existing power plants, electric utilities warned the agency in listening sessions on the rule that ended last week.

At the session at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., representatives of Hoosier Energy Rural Electric Cooperative Inc. of Bloomington, Indiana, argued that CO2 rules would hit their rural ratepayers harder than city customers because rural cooperatives have been encouraged — even by federal policies — to invest in coal-fired power.

Michalene Reilly, Hoosier’s manager of environmental services, also said in the session Thursday that an overly stringent rule would strand her company’s investments in upgrading power plants to meet other Clean Air Act standards.

The cooperative has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past five years, she said, to bring the Merom Generating Station — its largest plant in southwest Indiana’s Sullivan County — into compliance with Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. If the new carbon standards force the early retirement of coal plants, she said, Hoosier and its ratepayers will be on the hook for still more mandated expenses.

“EPA needs to ensure that the existing facility rule does not take electricity away from rural America, undoing the accomplishments of the 1935 Rural Electrification Act,” Reilly said, referring to a law that provided loans to bring power to rural communities.

Even in recent years, Reilly said, Congress was still encouraging rural electrical cooperatives to invest in the lowest-cost options when building power plants. That, she said, almost always meant coal. Rather than penalizing cooperatives for those policies now, EPA should craft a rule that will not force coal-fired facilities to prematurely shut down, she said.

Reilly proposes that EPA provide exemptions that allow utilities to make energy efficiency upgrades without triggering New Source Review requirements and that it give them credit for other actions they take that reduce greenhouse gases. She pointed to Hoosier’s electricity-generation plant at its Clark-Floyd Landfill that produces 3.5 megawatts of renewable energy from methane.

“We would like EPA to consider that for some kind of credit in renewables,” she said.

EPA held 11 listening sessions to gather public input ahead of writing its guidance to states on curbing heat-trapping emissions from their utility sectors. The agency is due to propose the guidance next June.

Reilly’s colleague Robert Richhart said he hoped EPA would promulgate a rule that allows as much flexibility as its acid rain credit trading program.

“If they took an approach similar to what they’ve done in terms of other emissions — a cap-and-trade type of approach — that would certainly be an approach that we would see to be more workable,” he said.

But he said he wasn’t encouraged by the proposal released by EPA in September that would require all new coal-fired power plants to use carbon capture and storage (CSS) technology.

Hoosier is a member of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which has had private meetings with senior EPA staff to discuss the rules.

Ted Cromwell, the association’s senior principal for environmental policy, said not-for-profit rural electric utilities want EPA to write a rule that individual power plants can achieve regardless of the emissions technology they use.

“We support flexibility, but that flexibility has to be applied correctly through the individual state programs and based upon emission limits for each generating facility,” he said.

Allison Wood of Hunton & Williams LLP, who spoke on behalf of the Utility Air Regulatory Group, sounded a similar theme. She reminded EPA that Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act gives states, not EPA, the role of setting standards for emissions reduction. EPA is only authorized to provide guidance.

She said the law also confines EPA to considering what can be achieved at an individual plant, not to the kind of systemwide reduction opportunities some environmentalists have said they hope the agency will look at when writing a far-reaching rule.

“But the Clean Air Act does not allow EPA to prescribe a standard that applies to ‘systems’ — existing source performance standards apply to ‘sources’ and must be achievable by each source using technology that has been adequately demonstrated,” she said.

Toby Short, director of federal policy and government affairs for Duke Energy Corp., echoed many of Wood’s arguments. He added that his company, which serves six states in the Southeast and Midwest, had upgraded most of its coal-fired facilities in recent years to comply with other EPA air quality rules.

“Due in large part to this modernization program, Duke Energy’s CO2 emissions in 2012 were nearly 21 percent lower than they were in 2005,” Short said in prepared remarks. EPA’s rules must avoid stranding that investment or otherwise undermining the ability of companies like his own to provide U.S. manufacturers with power at prices that can keep them globally competitive, he said.

Other industries

While utilities would be most directly affected by the rule, manufacturers, petroleum producers, the chemicals industry and others also weighed in at the sessions because they are major energy consumers. Many officials warned against EPA defining its regulatory powers too broadly for fear that it might establish a precedent that will someday be used to regulate them.

Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, said refineries that sell power to the electric grid could be affected by the rule. EPA is also bound under the terms of a settlement agreement with environmentalists to promulgate rules for refineries eventually, although most observers predict that won’t be until after President Obama leaves the White House.

“The best time to deal with precedents is before they get set,” Feldman said in a brief interview Friday.

Feldman said EPA would be on firm legal ground if it required utilities to make efficiency improvements on site using adequately demonstrated technology. The agency should resist environmentalists’ call for a rule that forces an overhaul of the entire electric system, he said.

API would be concerned about how that precedent would transfer to refineries. “Would that mean we’d be required to affect the kind of vehicles people are purchasing?” he said.

And while petroleum producers might find themselves on the winning side of policies that advantage gas over coal for power generation, Feldman said, “we don’t think the agency should be picking winners and losers on fuel choice.”

In other words, he said, refineries might be required to use natural gas in their operations instead of refinery gas.

Bakken boom linked to haze at Theodore Roosevelt park

Emissions from gas flaring and truck traffic are partly to blame for an increase in haze-causing pollution in North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Photo by Geof Wilson via Creative Commons)

Emissions from gas flaring and truck traffic are partly to blame for an increase in haze-causing pollution in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Photo by Geof Wilson via Creative Commons)

©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Phil Taylor

As new oil wells crop up by the thousands in the mineral-rich Bakken play in northwest North Dakota, nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park has experienced spikes in haze-causing pollution, according to a new study.

While the boom has created wealth for the state of 700,000, which boasts the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, the study by Colorado State University and the National Park Service suggests the development may come at the cost of clear park skies.

The two-year study provides a much more detailed glimpse of air quality than was previously available in the 70,000-acre park, made famous for its badlands, petrified forests and bison herds.

Preliminary results shared with Greenwire show significant spikes in ammonium nitrate, a fine particle that causes haze, as well as fine particles ammonium sulfate and black carbon, also known as soot.

Black carbon, which is emitted from trucks and flares, can affect both health and visibility and also contributes to climate change, researchers said.