Ban on plastic bags no sure bet for environment

Read the full commentary by Adam Minter.

When the city council in Austin, Texas, passed a single-use plastic shopping bag ban in 2013, it assumed environmental benefits would follow. The calculation was reasonable enough: Fewer single-use bags in circulation would mean less waste at city landfills.

Two years later, an assessment commissioned by the city finds that the ban is having an unintended effect — people are now throwing away heavy-duty reusable plastic bags at an unprecedented rate. The city’s good intentions have proven all too vulnerable to the laws of supply and demand.

EPA rule impact: More emissions

Read the full story in Agri-View.

A proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to change ethanol-blending rules would significantly increase carbon emissions to the equivalent of adding nearly 1 million more passenger vehicles on the road, according to an analysis conducted by the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

EPA Proposes New Measures to Cut Methane Emissions from the Oil and Gas Sector

Continuing the Obama Administration’s commitment to take action on climate change and protect public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing commonsense proposed standards today that would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) from the oil and natural gas industry. The proposal is a part of the Administration’s strategy under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.

Methane, the key constituent of natural gas, is a potent GHG with a global warming potential more than 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activities, and nearly 30 percent of those emissions come from oil production and the production, transmission and distribution of natural gas.

“Today, through our cost-effective proposed standards, we are underscoring our commitment to reducing the pollution fueling climate change and protecting public health while supporting responsible energy development, transparency and accountability,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Cleaner-burning energy sources like natural gas are key compliance options for our Clean Power Plan and we are committed to ensuring safe and responsible production that supports a robust clean energy economy.”

The proposed standards for new and modified sources are expected to reduce 340,000 to 400,000 short tons of methane in 2025, the equivalent of reducing 7.7 to 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. EPA estimates the rule will yield net climate benefits of $120 to $150 million in 2025. Those standards are also expected to reduce 170,000 to 180,000 tons of ozone-forming VOCs in 2025, along with 1,900 to 2,500 tons of air toxics, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Ozone is linked to a variety of serious public health effects, including reduced lung function, asthma attacks, asthma development, emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and early death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes. Air toxics include chemicals that are known or suspected to cause cancer and other serious health effects.

The proposed standards will complement voluntary efforts, including EPA’s Methane Challenge Program, and are based on practices and technology currently used by industry. To cut methane and VOC emissions, the proposal requires:

  • Finding and repairing leaks;
  • Capturing natural gas from the completion of hydraulically fractured oil wells;
  • Limiting emissions from new and modified pneumatic pumps; and
  • Limiting emissions from several types of equipment used at natural gas transmission compressor stations, including compressors and pneumatic controllers.

EPA’s Methane Challenge Program that was proposed earlier this year expands on the successful Natural Gas STAR program, which serves as a platform for companies who want to make an ambitious and transparent commitments to address methane emissions. This flexible program has the potential to foster significant cost-effective emission reductions across the oil and gas sector and to provide transparency on the progress partner companies are making to reduce emissions.

As part of the proposal announced today, the agency is updating the 2012 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) to address methane as well as VOC emissions for sources covered in that rule. EPA’s proposal would also require that industry reduce VOC and methane emissions from hydraulically fractured and refractured oil wells, which can contain significant amounts of natural gas along with oil. In addition, the proposal means methane and VOC reductions “downstream” from wells and production sites, covering equipment in the natural gas transmission segment of the industry that was not regulated in the agency’s 2012 oil and natural gas rules. Additionally, the agency proposes to clarify and streamline Clean Air Act permitting requirements in states and Indian country.

Today’s proposal includes proposed guidelines for states to reduce VOC emissions from existing oil and gas sources in certain ozone nonattainment areas as well as mid-Atlantic and Northeast states that are part of the Ozone Transport Region.

EPA will take comment on the proposals for 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register. The agency will hold public hearings and will announce details soon.

More information, including technical fact sheets, is available at http://www.epa.gov/airquality/oilandgas/actions.html

EPA Proposes to Cut Methane Emissions from Municipal Solid Waste Landfills

As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan – Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued two proposals to further reduce emissions of methane-rich gas from municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills. Under today’s proposals, new, modified and existing landfills would begin collecting and controlling landfill gas at emission levels nearly a third lower than current requirements.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential more than 25 times that of carbon dioxide. Climate change threatens the health and welfare of current and future generations. Children, older adults, people with heart or lung disease and people living in poverty may be most at risk from the health impacts of climate change. In addition to methane, landfills also emit other pollutants, including the air toxics benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and vinyl chloride.

Municipal solid waste landfills receive non-hazardous wastes from homes, businesses and institutions. As landfill waste decomposes, it produces a number of air toxics, carbon dioxide, and methane. MSW landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the U.S., accounting for 18 percent of methane emissions in 2013 – the equivalent of approximately 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution.

Combined, the proposed rules are expected to reduce methane emissions by an estimated 487,000 tons a year beginning in 2025 – equivalent to reducing 12.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the carbon pollution emissions from more than 1.1 million homes. EPA estimates the climate benefits of the combined proposals at nearly $750 million in 2025 or nearly $14 for every dollar spent to comply. Combined costs of the proposed rules are estimated at $55 million in 2025.

Today’s proposals would strengthen a previously proposed rule for new landfills that was issued in 2014, and would update the agency’s 1996 emission guidelines for existing landfills. The proposals are based on additional data and analysis, and public comments received on a proposal and Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking EPA issued in 2014.

EPA will take comment on the proposed rules for 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register. The agency will hold a public hearing if one is requested within five days of publication.

Energy Efficiency in the Clean Power Plan: Take One

Read the full post from ACEEE.

On August 3rd, EPA released the final Clean Power Plan (CPP), a rule that sets performance rates and individual state targets for carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. Now that the emissions targets are set, energy efficiency plays a prominent role as a proven strategy that states can use to reduce energy, cut emissions, and boost the economy. As we have said, it’s not important that energy efficiency is no longer a CPP building block. The fact is that it’s prominently featured as a key compliance option for states in EPA’s materials (see Energy Efficiency TSD and Key Topics and Issues Fact Sheet), as a component of the rule’s Regulatory Impact Analysis, and even in the president’s speech announcing the rule.

Now that we’ve had time for a first read-through of the final rule, we’ve found some significant changes from the proposed version.

Video: The Clean Power Plan Explained by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

On August 3, President Obama and EPA announced the Clean Power Plan – a historic and important step in reducing carbon pollution from power plants that takes real action on climate change. Shaped by years of unprecedented outreach and public engagement, the final Clean Power Plan is fair, flexible and designed to strengthen the fast-growing trend toward cleaner and lower-polluting American energy. With strong but achievable standards for power plants, and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, the Clean Power Plan provides national consistency, accountability and a level playing field while reflecting each state’s energy mix. It also shows the world that the United States is committed to leading global efforts to address climate change.

Minnesota enacts new agricultural buffer zone rules

Listen to the full story from Minnesota Public Radio.

Minnesota is rolling out new, stricter standards for buffer zones strips of vegetation that keep some pollutants from washing off farm fields into waterways.

Tom Weber checks in with John Jaschke on how these new standards will be implemented and enforced. They discuss how the DNR is creating resources for landowners such as a mapping project to determine what kinds of buffers are required.