Fight or adapt to climate change? It’s ‘a false trade-off’ for cities, climate experts say

Read the full story at Smart Cities Dive.

Despite finite resources, cities must adapt to climate change impacts and also continue working to reduce their carbon footprint, city officials and climate adaptation experts said at a Cities Climate Action Summit panel last week. 

“It’s a false trade-off,” said Kit England, senior climate adaptation specialist at consulting firm Paul Watkiss Associates. While it’s likely global warming will exceed1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, he said, every ton of greenhouse gas emissions avoided still lessens future climate change-related costs and impacts.

Soil erosion: A threat to crop yields and carbon sequestration

Read the full story at Successful Farming.

The images are familiar: gray clouds of soil billowing from crop fields in a dry, windy spring and road ditches filled with snowbanks crowned with brown. 

All tell the story of soil erosion. The images, which have prevailed across decades and generations, seem an inevitable outcome of farming. 

The true story behind these familiar sightings and the volume of erosion they represent is breathtaking. The historic loss of soil, when tallied across the most vulnerable topographical areas of the Midwest, may amount to 57 billion metric tons of topsoil and its carbon lost over the past 150 years of farming.

Stocking rangeland for carbon considerations

Read the full story from Texas A&M.

Prolonged high stocking rates and overgrazing by livestock can result in significantly less soil organic carbon and soil fertility on rangeland, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife-led study, which assessed key soil health indicators to determine the ecological effects of different grazing management.

In a study funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences recently published “Evaluating the impacts of alternative grazing management practices on soil carbon sequestration and soil health indicators” in the Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment journal.

Increased droughts are disrupting carbon-capturing soil microbes, concerning ecologists

Read the full story from Cell Press.

Soil stores more carbon than plants and the atmosphere combined, and soil microbes are largely responsible for putting it there. However, the increasing frequency and severity of drought, such as those that have been impacting California, could disrupt this delicate ecosystem. Microbial ecologists warn that soil health and future greenhouse gas levels could be impacted if soil microbes adapt to drought faster than plants do.

Lego lays first bricks for $1B ‘carbon neutral’ toy factory in US

Read the full story from GreenBiz.

Lego Group has begun laying the first building blocks for its planned $1 billion “carbon-neutral” factory in the U.S., as the toy manufacturer steps up efforts towards meeting its global climate goals.

The Danish firm announced at construction work has officially started at the new facility in Chesterfield County near Richmond, Virginia, with work expected to be completed by 2025.

The 340-acre site is set to include on-site solar power generation comprising 35,000-40,000 ground-mount photovoltaic (PV) panels and 15,000-20,000 roof PV panels, altogether delivering a total electricity generation capacity of 30-35MW, it said.

Overall, Lego said the solar panels would be able to meet all of the factory’s power needs, generating enough electricity to power the equivalent of 10,000 average U.S. homes.

In addition, Lego said it planned to use energy-efficient production equipment throughout the construction process, and also during operation of the facility, set to be the firm’s second in the U.S. once manufacturing begins.

Data deficiencies can impede America’s plans for ‘climate-smart’ agriculture

Read the full story at The Hill.

Climate change is both a scourge and an opportunity for the agricultural sector. Shifting growing seasons, prolonged heat waves, and long-term droughts punctuated by extreme flooding events are bedeviling many farmers and ranchers. On the opportunity side, however, many farmers, ranchers and their suppliers and customers are excited about the prospect that deploying “climate-smart” farming and ranching practices can generate production and climate-related benefits — while potentially scoring financial rewards, including premium prices at the supermarket.

EPA releases Framework for the Implementation of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released new details about the design of the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), a first-of-its-kind, national-scale competitive grant program created by the President’s Inflation Reduction Act. This program, part of the Investing in America agenda, will leverage public investment with private capital and finance clean energy projects that reduce pollution and energy costs, increase energy security, and create good-paying jobs, especially in low-income and disadvantaged communities and places that have historically shouldered the burden of harmful pollution. The GGRF will catalyze investment in thousands of clean energy projects, build the capacity of community lenders to drive local economic growth, and deploy cost-saving solar energy on rooftops and in communities across the country.

The release of the GGRF implementation framework comes as the EPA marks Earth Week and the unprecedented investments in protecting the planet and American families and communities as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.

“Thanks to President Biden’s historic investments in America, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund will strengthen the ability of communities across the country to finance projects that reduce air pollution, lower energy costs for families, bolster America’s energy security, and create good-paying jobs. This innovative program will become part of the backbone of the American clean energy finance ecosystem – and with more than half of the investment going to low-income and disadvantaged communities, it will ensure that all communities can participate in America’s growing clean energy economy.”

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan

This implementation framework follows the initial guidance EPA released earlier this year and outlines a clear vision for the three grant competitions EPA will administer under the GGRF program, including preliminary descriptions of key parameters, application requirements, and reporting obligations. 

The release of this framework builds on months of robust stakeholder engagement efforts with input collected from state, local, and Tribal governments; community lenders; environmental justice organizations; industry groups; labor; and environmental finance experts across the country.

The implementation framework is intended to provide continued transparency and respond to stakeholder requests for additional information on EPA’s anticipated program design and application requirements in advance of the Notices of Funding Opportunity that will formally kick off the application process as early as June 2023 and reflect EPA’s final determinations on program priorities and requirements.

EPA will require rigorous transparency, risk management, and accountability measures of  grantees under this program to ensure this historic investment is invested efficiently in accordance with the law and for the maximum benefit of American families.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund Grant Competitions

EPA will hold three complementary competitions to strategically distribute grant funding under the $27 billion GGRF program. While each competition will be administered separately, EPA expects that these competitions will work in tandem to deliver tangible benefits including lower energy costs, good-paying jobs and improved public health outcomes to households, businesses, and communities. The three competitions will be:

  • The $14 billion National Clean Investment Fund competition will fund two to three national nonprofits that will partner with private capital providers to deliver financing at scale to businesses, communities, community lenders, and others, catalyzing tens of thousands of clean technology projects to accelerate our progress towards energy independence and a net-zero economic future.
  • The $6 billion Clean Communities Investment Accelerator competition will fund two to seven hub nonprofits with the plans and capabilities to rapidly build the clean financing capacity of specific networks of public, quasi-public and non-profit community lenders—including community development financial institutions (including Native CDFIs), credit unions, green banks, housing finance agencies, and minority depository institutions—to ensure that households, small businesses, schools, and community institutions in low-income and disadvantaged communities have access to financing for cost-saving and pollution-reducing clean technology projects.   
  • The $7 billion Solar for All competition will provide up to 60 grants to States, Tribal governments, municipalities, and nonprofits to expand the number of low-income and disadvantaged communities that are primed for residential and community solar investment—enabling millions of families to access affordable, resilient, and clean solar energy.

EPA will implement these programs in alignment with President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which aims to ensure that 40% of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution. EPA expects to open competitions for funding under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund by summer 2023.

Biden’s strategy for cutting carbon emissions from electricity generation could extend the lives of fossil fuel power plants

The James H. Miller coal power plant in Alabama emitted as much carbon dioxide in 2021 as 4.6 million cars. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

by Jennifer K. Rushlow, Vermont Law & Graduate School

On May 11, 2023, the Biden administration proposed new regulations to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants. The new rules replace the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which was proposed in 2015 but ran into multiple legal challenges and never took effect. Nonetheless, in a high-profile 2022 ruling, West Virginia v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Obama administration’s approach exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate power plant carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.

Jennifer K. Rushlow, dean of the Vermont School for the Environment and a law professor at Vermont Law & Graduate School, explains how the new regulations are designed and the delicate balance they attempt to strike between slowing climate change and avoiding further legal setbacks.

1. How has the Biden administration tailored these regulations in response to the West Virginia v. EPA ruling?

The scent of West Virginia v. EPA is all over the new proposed rules. How could it not be? The Supreme Court accused the Environmental Protection Agency of attempting a “wholesale restructure” of the nation’s energy mix because the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan essentially required existing fossil fuel power plants to either use cleaner fuels or close.

The new proposed regulations attempt to thread the needle between meeting the Biden administration’s climate commitments and avoiding another gutting in court. To do that, they focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from individual power plants with on-site technologies, instead of requiring a large-scale shift from fossil fuels to renewables.

The rules rely on ambitious and relatively new emissions reduction technologies, like carbon capture and storage, or CCS, and low-carbon hydrogen fuel. The EPA proposes to use CCS to reduce emissions from large coal plants with long life expectancies. For large natural-gas-fueled power plants that provide baseload power – meaning that they run continuously – the agency proposes at least partial replacement of natural gas with hydrogen fuel.

2. Do the draft rules indicate that EPA is responding to energy industry critiques of the Clean Power Plan?

There are a variety of strategies built into EPA’s approach in the new rules that I believe aim to secure buy-in from fossil fuel interests and mitigate against conservative backlash. The proposal takes a tiered and staggered approach to which power plants will be regulated, how stringently, and by when.

First, the EPA goes out of its way to accommodate coal plants that are already scheduled to close or anticipate shutting down in the next couple of decades. It proposes much less stringent standards for these plants, since they will not be able to spread the cost of adopting new controls over many years of operation. Since the regulations are so light for those facilities and the plants are already closing due to other economic factors, it will be hard to blame these rules for the loss of coal plants.

Along the same rationale, the EPA is only regulating baseload natural gas plants right now and leaving regulations for smaller plants and peaker plants – those that run only during peak demand periods – for another day.

Second, the rule’s reliance on carbon capture and storage, in my view, ought to be music to fossil fuel companies’ ears. CCS has long been their preferred climate mitigation tool because it is one of the only means of reducing carbon emissions that does not hamper the continued extraction and combustion of fossil fuels.

Even better from their perspective, the captured carbon effluent can be injected into geological formations for underground storage and actually flush out buried crude oil that would otherwise be unreachable – meaning even more oil production.

The EPA solicits very specific comments in these regulations from interested parties, like the energy industry, on questions such as the time frame required to implement a particular technology and what size facilities should be subject to which standards. In addition to genuinely wanting to get the rules right, this deferential approach may be designed to build an administrative record that can withstand judicial scrutiny when the agency is inevitably sued. If the regulated community provides feedback on those items, and the final rule shows that the agency was responsive to that feedback, it will be harder for a court to find that compliance with the rule is not feasible.

3. Do you see legal vulnerabilities in the proposed new rules?

The EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants is derived from the Clean Air Act, which requires the agency to set emissions limits using a standard that reflects the “best system of emission reduction” that has been “adequately demonstrated,” taking into account cost and other factors.

For coal plants, the agency identifies carbon capture and storage as the “best system of emission reduction.” The draft rule states that CCS has been “adequately demonstrated” – meaning that some plants are using it – and that the cost is manageable, thanks to tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act.

This reasoning is a little thin. CCS is an emerging technology that’s not yet widely used, in part because it is so expensive. In fact, the EPA could point to only a handful of existing projects to show that the technology has been “adequately demonstrated.”

However, regulated coal plants won’t necessarily be required to use CCS itself. Rather, they will be required to reduce their emissions to a level that could be achieved using CCS. If they can find other means, they are welcome to use them. But since CCS is expensive and not yet widely used, some observers speculate that the new rules will cause coal plants to shut down or switch to cleaner fuels, as the Clean Power Plan required.

This is not a topic that the EPA wants to revisit with the Supreme Court. However, if the court’s conservative majority sticks to its avowed preference for “textualist” interpretations of the law, the proposed regulations provide plenty of room for the court to find in the administration’s favor, on the basis that the new rules stick to much more familiar territory within the Clean Air Act than the Clean Power Plan did.

This video, which aired several months before the West Virginia v. EPA ruling, examines West Virginia’s opposition to broad curbs on power plant carbon emissions.

4. How do these regulations conform with Biden’s focus on environmental justice?

In addition to greenhouse gases, fossil fuel power plants emit deadly air pollutants that contribute to thousands of deaths every year. And they disproportionately harm the health of nearby low-income communities and communities of color.

Carbon capture and storage doesn’t reduce these pollutants at any significant scale, nor does it prevent public health, environmental and cultural damage caused by fossil fuel extraction projects. As a result, some communities view CCS as incompatible with environmental justice principles.

Some of these criticisms surfaced last year, when the White House developed guidance on CCS. For example, the Indigenous Environmental Network – a grassroots coalition of Indigenous peoples and tribal governments – delivered scathing comments that CCS perpetuates fossil fuel extraction and combustion that harm Indigenous communities.

These draft rules may widen the rift between traditional environmentalists, some of whom prioritize curbing climate change at all costs, and environmental justice community advocates who face immediate harm from fossil fuel power plants, as well as mounting and disproportionate impacts from climate change.

Jennifer K. Rushlow, Dean, Vermont School for the Environment, and Professor of Law, Vermont Law & Graduate School

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

U.S. power plants may start to cap emissions. Here’s why (and how)

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released a new proposal to cut emissions from existing power plants, aptly titled the Greenhouse Gas Standards and Guidelines for Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants. The EPA’s third attempt to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will affect a select set of new and existing fossil fuel-fired turbines, including natural gas-powered plants, with its new standards and emissions guidelines. To successfully fall within these new parameters, the proposal recommends the use of “proven, cost-effective control technologies” to utilities, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.  

In its current state, the proposal marks the most aggressive carbon standards suggested by the EPA for the power sector. 

Wrangler parent takes steps to cut emissions from supply chain

Read the full story at Supply Chain Dive.

Kontoor Brands Inc., parent company of Wrangler and Lee, launched a system intended to lower its climate impact during its operations and manufacturing. The Global Design Standards system has three pillars. Together, they are meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease water and chemical usage, and assess worker health. Brands including Levi Strauss & Co. and Guess have been focusing on launching more eco-friendly denim, a fabric which has historically been one of the most environmentally taxing to make.