Climate Change: State Policy Update 2011

Read the full update from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In January 2011, a rule giving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act took effect. As this federal initiative emerged, many states responded by considering or adopting resolutions and legislation that reflect their concerns with EPA’s efforts. Most often, states have introduced and passed resolutions requesting EPA to delay or postpone rule implementation or for Congress to impose a moratorium on EPA’s regulatory actions related to greenhouse gas emissions. Some states have also considered bills and resolutions urging Congress to support the new rules.

Although EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions has been the focus of state climate change resolutions, many states are taking the initiative to create their own greenhouse gas limitations and reduction programs. State action was stronger in 2010 than in 2011, however at least ten states still considered creating programs to reduce emissions in 2011. A few states considered bills to repeal existing greenhouse gas emissions reduction programs. Policymakers in some states continue to introduce resolutions opposing cap-and-trade legislation, however there was less attention in 2011 than in 2010, while consideration of carbon capture and storage legislation remained about the same in 2010 and 2011.

Report outlines global biodiesel production

Read the full story in Biodiesel Magazine.

A new report has found that global biofuel production reached an all time high in 2010. The research report, titled “Biofuels Regain Momentum,” was conducted by the Worldwatch Institute’s Climate and Energy Program for the website Vital Signs Online. The report attributes the 2010 surge in biofuel production to high oil prices, a global economic rebound and new laws and mandates that were put in place in Argentina, Brazil, China, the U.S., and other nations.

Environmental Litigation: Cases against EPA and Associated Costs over Time

Environmental Litigation:  Cases against EPA and Associated Costs over Time, GAO-11-650, August 1.
Highlights –

Summary: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faces numerous legal challenges as it implements the nation’s environmental laws. Several statutes, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, allow citizens to file suit against EPA to challenge certain agency actions. Where EPA is named as a defendant, the Department of Justice provides EPA’s legal defense. If successful, plaintiffs may be paid for certain attorney fees and costs. Payments are made from the Department of the Treasury’s Judgment Fund–a permanent fund available to pay judgments against the government, as well as settlements resulting from lawsuits–or EPA’s appropriations. For this review, GAO was asked to examine (1) the trends in and factors affecting environmental litigation for fiscal years 1995 through 2010 and (2) Justice’s recent costs and recent plaintiff payments from the Judgment Fund and EPA. To conduct this review, GAO obtained and analyzed data from two Justice databases on cases filed under 10 key environmental statutes. To gain stakeholder views on any trends and factors that might affect them, GAO interviewed representatives of environmental and industry groups, state attorneys general, and other experts. GAO estimated the costs of litigation handled by Justice attorneys and payments made for attorney fees and court costs from the Judgment Fund and EPA funds.

No trend was discernible in the number of environmental cases brought against EPA from fiscal year 1995 through fiscal year 2010, as the number of cases filed in federal court varied over time. Justice staff defended EPA on an average of about 155 such cases each year, or a total of about 2,500 cases between fiscal years 1995 and 2010. Most cases were filed under the Clean Air Act (59 percent of cases) and the Clean Water Act (20 percent of cases). According to stakeholders GAO interviewed, a number of factors–particularly a change in presidential administration, new regulations or amendments to laws, or EPA’s not meeting statutorily required deadlines–affect environmental litigation. The costs borne by Justice, EPA, and Treasury also varied without a discernible trend from fiscal year 1998 through fiscal year 2010. Justice spent at least $43 million, or $3.3 million annually, to defend EPA in court during this time. In addition, owing to statutory requirements to pay certain successful plaintiffs for attorney fees and costs, Treasury paid about $14.2 million from fiscal year 2003 through fiscal year 2010–about $1.8 million per fiscal year–to plaintiffs in environmental cases. EPA paid approximately $1.4 million from fiscal year 2006 through fiscal year 2010–about $280,000 per fiscal year–to plaintiffs for environmental litigation claims under relevant statutes. (All amounts are given in constant 2010 dollars.) Justice officials said that they negotiate payments with the successful plaintiffs, who generally receive less than originally requested. Complicating efforts to analyze trends in cases and costs is that Justice maintains data on environmental cases in two separate data systems and does not have a standard approach for maintaining the data. As a result, it is difficult to identify and summarize the full set of cases and costs managed by Justice. Nonetheless, using an iterative electronic and manual process, GAO was able to merge the two sets of data for its purposes. Justice officials said that they do not need to change their approach to managing the data, however, because they do not use it to summarize case data agencywide. Moreover, the officials said they lack resources to adapt their aging systems to accept additional data. GAO is making no recommendations in this report. GAO provided a draft of this report to the agencies for comment. Justice and Treasury had technical comments, which were incorporated, while EPA had no comments.

Department of Energy Announces up to $12 Million in Investments to Support Development and Production of Drop-In Biofuels

In support of the Obama Administration’s comprehensive efforts to strengthen U.S. energy security, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced up to $12 million to fund three small-scale projects in Illinois, Wisconsin, and North Carolina that aim to commercialize novel conversion technologies to accelerate the development of advanced, drop-in biofuels and other valuable bio-based chemicals. Drop-in biofuels are fuels that can serve as direct replacements or supplements to existing gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels, without any changes to existing fuel distribution networks or engines—and have the potential to significantly reduce U.S. reliance on oil imports. The projects, funded through DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, seek to accelerate research and development that will lead the way toward affordable, clean alternatives to fossil fuels and diversify our nation’s energy portfolio.

“Producing advanced, drop-in biofuels in the U.S. will reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and support development of a new industry that will create jobs in rural communities across the country,” said Secretary Chu. “These investments aim to accelerate the discovery of innovative solutions that could drive down the cost of biofuels production and boost their availability in the marketplace.”

Using innovative thermochemical processes, the projects will help to improve the economics and efficiency of turning biomass into replacements for petroleum-based gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other products. Thermochemical processes use heat and catalysts to convert biomass, in a controlled industrial environment, into liquid and gaseous intermediates—or substances formed as a necessary stage in manufacturing an end product—which can then be chemically converted into fuels and other products. The funding announced today will further diversify DOE’s research and development portfolio in a breadth of fuels and chemicals derived from domestic cellulosic biomass, such as grasses, wood, and agricultural residue.

The following projects were selected:

LanzaTech of Roselle, Illinois will receive up to $4 million to develop a cost-effective technology that converts biomass-derived ethanol into jet fuel using catalysts. It will also produce a valuable bio-product called butadiene that could be used to improve the overall economics of the fuel production process. The objective of the project is to integrate and optimize process steps to drive down the price of biomass-derived jet fuel.

Research Triangle Institute of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina will receive up to $4 million to integrate two processes: a thermochemical process that produces a bio-crude intermediate from biomass, and a hydroprocessing technology that effectively and efficiently upgrades the bio-crude into gasoline and diesel. The project will demonstrate the long-term operation and performance of this integrated process with the goals of lowering costs and maximizing yields.

Virent Energy Systems, Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin will receive up to $4 million to convert biomass into oxygenated chemical intermediates using an innovative thermochemical technology and upgrade the intermediates to a hydrocarbon, which can then be refined and blended into gasoline and jet fuel, as well as high value chemicals. Project objectives include demonstrating high yields of drop-in fuels and chemicals, confirming that this new process is viable and ready for scale-up, and gaining sufficient knowledge to design a larger-scale facility.

How Marcellus Shale can clean up acid mine drainage

Read the full opinion piece in the Patriot-News.

Pennsylvania’s 200-year history of coal mining has left a legacy of polluted waterways that remains one of the state’s greatest environmental challenges. More than 250,000 abandoned surface mines, many containing acidic water-filled pits, scar Pennsylvania’s landscape.

Acidic drainage from these abandoned mines — called acid mine drainage or AMD — often has a pH below 5.0, which leaches heavy metals from surrounding rocks and kills fish and other aquatic species in its path.

AMD from historic coal mining has rendered more than 2,400 miles of Pennsylvania’s streams and waterways unusable and contaminated untold numbers of household drinking water wells. While the state spends about $19 million annually on abandoned mine reclamation, this modest effort is dwarfed by the magnitude of the environmental problem, which some estimate will cost $50 billion to fix.

To date, relatively few AMD areas have been remediated, because of cost, potential liability and a lack of meaningful economic incentives. But Marcellus Shale brings an exciting opportunity to finally tackle the state’s most intractable environmental problem.

Webinar: How to Create a Water Efficiency Outreach Campaign

The Environmental Sustainability Resource Center will conduct a free webinar titled How To Create A Water Efficiency Outreach Campaign.  This webinar will present information for local governments and public water supply systems on how to plan and launch a water efficiency outreach campaign to their customers, including a guide, free downloadable posters and brochures, and a water efficiency outreach campaign case study.

  • Julie Woosley of the N.C. Division of Environmental Assistance and Outreach will be presenting the Water Efficiency Education and Outreach Program Toolkit with additional resources.
  • Cinnamon Black of the City of Raleigh will be presenting on Raleigh’s water efficiency campaign, including outreach materials and a Customer Assistance Program proposal.

Webinar date: September 19, 2011 – 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Register at

National Recycling Competition Kicks Off

Read the full post at Earth911.

The first-ever nationwide recycling competition for elementary, middle school and high school students launches this month. Keep America Beautiful’s Recycle-Bowl competition starts Oct. 17, but schools can start registering now.

The idea is simple. Register as a school or a classroom, recycle as much as you can for a month and then report your results to KAB.

There are more details, like if you want to compete in the Competition or Open Division, or if you want to be on the Flexible Game Plan instead, but KAB does a good job of explaining it all here.

Your Room-By-Room Guide to Batteries

Read the full post at Earth911.

To help you maximize your rechargeable battery recycling opportunities, we put together this room-by-room guide and highlighted some unexpected items.

Making back-to-school greener

Earth911 has several articles with good suggestions for making back-to-school a little more environmentally friendly. They are:

Novel Alloy Could Produce Hydrogen Fuel from Sunlight

Read the news release.

Scientists from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have determined that an inexpensive semiconductor material can be “tweaked” to generate hydrogen from water using sunlight.

The research, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, was led by Professors Madhu Menon and R. Michael Sheetz at the UK Center for Computational Sciences, and Professor Mahendra Sunkara and graduate student Chandrashekhar Pendyala at the UofL Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research. Their findings were published Aug. 1 in the Physical Review Journal (Phys Rev B 84, 075304).