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Why I was wrong about methane

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

I didn’t think cutting methane was a high priority. Now I do. Here’s why.

I didn’t use to think that eliminating methane emissions should be a priority. True, methane is a potent greenhouse gas. But it’s also a short-lived one, which only stays in the atmosphere for twenty years or so. In contrast, CO2 emissions cause warming for 2-3 centuries or more. So methane emissions seemed to be something that could be addressed at any point we got around to them. I’ve rethought that conclusion, however for a combination of policy and political economy reasons.

On the policy side, cutting methane would have immediate benefits that aren’t limited to reducing warming. Because methane contributes to ozone pollution, emissions cause immediate health effects as well as warming effects. According to the U.N., “a 45 per cent reduction would prevent 260 000 premature deaths, 775 000 asthma-related hospital visits, 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat, and 25 million tonnes of crop losses annually.”.

In addition, one reason to worry about methane is that it accelerates warming, even if the world would have eventually gotten to the same temperature due to CO2 emissions. The pace of warming matters, not just the extent of warming. A pulse of methane today may not matter in a century, but it does mean that warming over the next few decades will happen faster. Slower warming gives the world less time to adopt adaptation measures like strengthening flood defenses, making crops more drought resistance, taking precautions against heat waves. . Before we can take those steps, institutions and public attitudes will themselves have to adapt to the realities of climate change. If we can slow warming a bit, even if we end up in the same place ultimately due to carbon emissions, that gives us more time to prepare for what’s coming down the road.

Read more at https://legal-planet.org/2021/06/17/why-i-was-wrong-about-methane/

Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & EnergyTags , ,

Biden administration to propose first rule requiring cut in climate pollutants

Juliet Eilperin and Dino Grandoni, THE WASHINGTON POST

The new Environmental Protection Agency rule targets hydrofluorocarbons, greenhouse gases that are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule Monday to slash the use and production of a class of powerful greenhouse gases used widely in refrigeration and air conditioning in the next decade and a half. The proposal marks the first time President Biden’s administration has used the power of the federal government to mandate a cut in climate pollution.

Unlike many of the administration’s other climate initiatives, there’s broad bipartisan support for curbing hydrofluorocarbons, pollutants thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the planet. Congress agreed at the end of last year to slash the super-pollutants by 85 percent by 2036 as part of a broader omnibus bill.

A global phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons, also known as HFCs, is projected to avert up to 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by the end of the century.

Widely used in refrigeration, as well as residential and commercial air conditioning and heat pumps, HFCs were developed as a substitute for chemicals that depleted the Earth’s protective ozone layer. But their heat-trapping properties have helped increase temperatures.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/05/03/epa-climate-hfcs/

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Healdsburg debuts biggest floating solar farm in nation

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Over the last four months, two ponds at Healdsburg’s wastewater treatment plant were transformed by workers assembling rows of solar panels and pushing them out one by one to float gently on the water’s surface.

The project covered roughly half the combined 15 acres of ponds with 11,600 panels. It is likely the largest floating solar farm in the United States, the builders said, and will provide 8% of the city’s annual electrical needs.

The farm puts Healdsburg’s municipal power utility, itself a unique electricity model in the county, at the cutting edge of solar energy development. Floating solar farms are quickly gaining popularity in the U.S., backers say, particularly in places like Sonoma County where the price of land is dear.

“You couldn’t go out and buy a bunch of vineyard land for a solar project and make it economical,” Healdsburg utilities director Terry Crowley said. Floating solar farms are cost effective as the price of solar panels continues to drop, and are easy to build, Crowley said. Workers began assembling this one in mid-October and mostly finished by mid-January.

“It’s just new to California,” he said.

Windsor two years ago deployed a smaller floating solar installation to power its wastewater treatment plant. The new Healdsburg project is set to provide enough power to cover the annual supply of roughly 1,120 households.

The two-sided panels capture the sun’s energy as it strikes them from above, and also from below when sunlight reflects off the water. Metal cables anchor the floating farm to the ponds’ banks, while floating walkways give technicians and wastewater treatment plant workers the ability to check the panels.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/healdsburg-debuts-biggest-floating-solar-farm-in-nation-if-not-for-long/

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How Biden aims to amp up the government’s fight against climate change

Juliet Eilperin and Annie Linskey, THE WASHINGTON POST

A new administration would enlist departments like Transportation, Agriculture and Treasury to advance its climate goals

President-elect Joe Biden is poised to embed action on climate change across the breadth of the federal government, from the departments of Agriculture to Treasury to State — expanding it beyond environmental agencies to speed U.S. efforts to mitigate global warming and to acknowledge that the problem touches many aspects of American life.

The far-reaching strategy is aimed at making significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions even without congressional action, by maximizing executive authority.

“From the very beginning of the campaign, when President-elect Biden rolled out his climate plan, he made it clear he sees this as an all-of-government agenda, domestic, economic, foreign policy,” said Stef Feldman, campaign policy director for Biden, a Democrat. “From the very beginning, when he talked about infrastructure, he talked about making sure that it built in climate change, that we are making our communities more resilient to the effects of climate change.”

The vast majority of scientists agree that carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases released when humans burn fossil fuels is helping warm Earth. On the campaign trail, Biden proposed the most aggressive plan of any major party nominee to try to slow that warming.

In a sign of how Biden has already elevated the issue, he discussed the topic with every European head of state with whom he spoke on Tuesday, including the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Ireland. Biden has started frequently referring to the climate “crisis,” suggesting a heightened level of urgency.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/11/11/biden-climate-change/

Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Global emissions plunged an unprecedented 17 percent during the coronavirus pandemic

Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens, WASHINGTON POST

But scientists say the drivers of global warming could quickly bounce back as social distancing ends and economies rebound.

The wave of shutdowns and shuttered economies caused by the coronavirus pandemic fueled a momentous decline in global greenhouse gas emissions, although one unlikely to last, a group of scientists reported Tuesday.

As covid-19 infections surged in March and April, nations worldwide experienced an abrupt reduction in driving, flying and industrial output, leading to a startling decline of more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That includes a peak decline in daily emissions of 17 percent in early April, according to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. For some nations, the drop was much steeper.

Scientists have long insisted that the world must scale back carbon pollution significantly — and quickly — to mitigate the worst effects of climate change over coming decades, although none have suggested that a deadly global pandemic is the way to do so.

Tuesday’s study projects that total emissions for 2020 will probably fall between 4 and 7 percent compared to last year — an unheard-of drop in normal times, but considerably less dramatic than the decline during the first few months of the year when economies screeched to a halt. The final 2020 figure will depend on how rapidly, or cautiously, people around the world resume ordinary life.

The unprecedented situation produced by the coronavirus has offered a glimpse into the massive scale required to cut global emissions, year after year, to meet the most ambitious goals set by world leaders when they forged the 2015 Paris climate accord. Last fall, a U.N. report estimated that global greenhouse gas emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year beginning in 2020 to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/05/19/greenhouse-emissions-coronavirus/?arc404=true

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Governor’s May revision to California budget proposal puts air quality, other environmental outcomes at risk

Kathryn Phillips, SIERRA CLUB CALIFORNIA

Governor Gavin Newsom released his May revision of his January budget proposal today and environmental quality is among the revised budget’s most hard-hit victims.

Since January, the state has suffered a dramatic shutdown in economic activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The current budget estimate by the Department of Finance continues to be that the state will suffer a $54.3 billion deficit.

In his May revision, the governor proposes cutting general fund contributions to the California Environmental Protection Agency by more than 94 percent. That agency houses departments and boards that oversee air pollution control, water quality, and pesticide and toxic substance control.

Moreover, about $83 million in funds collected by the California Air Resources Board from fees and settlements from polluters will be shifted over to the Department of Toxic Substance Control and the State Water Board “to reduce costs” for those two entities.

The May budget proposal also eliminates a biodiversity program proposed in January, and raids a fund for habitat conservation to spend the money for other purposes.

The proposal mentions that $995 million in funds from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds collected through the cap-and-trade program will be prioritized for a list of programs. It is unclear whether those programs will include funding for incentives to accelerate transition of diesel and gas buses and heavy-duty trucks to zero-emission electric trucks and buses.

Statement of Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California:

“Nobody envies this governor or legislature for the job they need to do in this tragic year to balance the state’s budget.

“But cutting and shifting funds away from key environmental programs that will protect the basic needs of life—clean air, clean water, healthy ecosystems—is the wrong approach.

“We look forward to working with the legislature to refine this budget to make sure it doesn’t slow the march toward a healthy environment for everyone in California.”

http://www.sierraclubcalifornia.org

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

California’s solar mandate to allow homes without solar

Cuneyt Dil, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Over the objections of environmentalists, California regulators approved a proposal Thursday to allow builders to construct homes without solar panels, a decision critics said undercuts California’s seven-week-old law that all new houses have their own solar power.

At a passionate hearing, the California Energy Commission unanimously approved the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s plan to build its own large-scale solar site that homeowners can tap into, forgoing the need for solar on each new home.

Environmentalists said it guts the state’s new landmark mandate and will lead to other statewide proposals copying Sacramento’s utility, which serves 1.5 million residents. But regulators backed the proposal after support from home builders and lawmakers who said it provides clean energy without raising home prices in a state facing a housing crisis.

“This is something that is bold and cutting edge,” Commissioner Janea Scott said of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s application.

The mandate that took effect Jan. 1 calls for new single-family houses or low-rise apartments to install solar panels. Alternately, utilities and organizations can apply to the California Energy Commission to build an offsite “community shared solar” site for buildings to draw from.

Using the latter option, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s plan sets a blueprint for private and public entities to seek their own large solar sites to meet the mandate, watchers say. The largest public utility in the U.S. — the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power — endorsed the idea in filings to the commission.

Public testimony ran for two hours at the commission meeting Thursday. Environmentalists and some homeowners said the move means fewer homes will be built with solar panels included. Solar advocates said consumers would save more money with their own solar panels rather than the savings from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s proposed plan.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10734660-181/californias-solar-mandate-to-allow

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , ,

Vision Zero, meet VMT reductions

Todd Litman, PLANETIZEN

Many jurisdictions have vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction targets, intended to reduce congestion and pollution. They can also provide large but often overlooked traffic safety benefits.

Many jurisdictions are officially committed to Vision Zero, an ambitious goal to eliminate all traffic deaths and severe injuries. Although some cities are making progress, most jurisdictions are failing. U.S. traffic death rates declined during the last half of the the 20th century, reaching a low of 32,479 in 2014, but subsequently increased, averaging about 37,000 annual deaths during each of the last three years. New strategies are needed to achieve ambitious safety goals.

Several new strategies exist, and are overall very cost effective, considering their total benefits, but are generally overlooked in conventional traffic safety planning. Conventional traffic safety programs tend to assume that motor vehicle travel is overall safe, and so favor targeted strategies that reduce higher-risk driving, such as graduated licenses, senior driver tests, and anti-impaired driving campaigns. However, such programs generally fail because it is not feasible to reduce high-risk driving alone. It is infeasible for most teenagers, seniors and drinkers to significantly reduce their driving in sprawled, automobile-dependent areas that lack non-auto travel options. Every time we tell somebody to reduce their high-risk driving, we have an obligation to create more accessible and multi-modal communities so they have viable alternatives.

Although the United States has rigorous road and vehicle safety standards, and numerous traffic safety programs, it also has the highest per capita traffic death rate among developed countries. Why? Because people in the United States also drive more than residents in peer countries, as illustrated below.

An abundance of research, described in the World Resources Institute report, “Sustainable & Safe: A Vision and Guidance for Zero Road Deaths,” and in my report, “A New Traffic Safety Paradigm,” indicates that, all else being equal, increases in motor vehicle travel increase crashes, and vehicle travel reductions increase safety. In other words, the new traffic safety paradigm recognizes exposure, the amount that people drive, as a risk factor. Since about 70% of casualty crashes involve multiple vehicles, so vehicle travel reductions provide proportionately large crash reductions. For example, if you reduce your mileage by 10%, your chance of being in a crash declines by 10%, but there is also a reduction in risk to other road users, since your vehicle is no longer vulnerable to other drivers’ errors.

Read more at https://www.planetizen.com/node/108401?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-02132020&mc_cid=747bd915ad&mc_eid=50ff5c2bfe

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

US greenhouse gas emissions likely fell last year after rising in 2018

Emma Foehringer Merchant, GREEN TECH MEDIA

The power sector led the way, but adequate emissions cuts remain far off, according to a new analysis from the Rhodium Group.

U.S. emissions likely fell in 2019, putting the country back on a downward emissions trend, according to newly released analysis from research firm Rhodium Group.

The results, which estimate a decline in greenhouse gas emissions of around 2 percent in 2019, contrast with 2018, when emissions rose for the first time in three years. Rhodium attributes much of the 2019 turnaround to the electricity sector, where technologies such as wind and solar, in addition to super-cheap gas prices, continued to erode the dominance of coal-fired power.

But emissions increases in other sectors tempered the 10 percent reductions in the power sector.

“[It] shows how much coal matters, because in reducing generation from coal we get pretty sizable reductions in the power sector. But at the same time, it shows the limit of coal-led reductions in power, and of the power sector overall, in bringing down economywide emissions,” said Hannah Pitt, a senior research analyst with Rhodium’s climate and energy group. “There is only so much you can squeeze out of the power sector before you really need to start seeing reductions in other sectors.”

While electricity emissions declined and transportation emissions remained fairly flat in 2019, Rhodium estimates that emissions from buildings, industry and other sectors increased.

Taken together, the U.S. is still dangerously far from the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, whether or not President Trump is successful in his bid to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement.

Read more at: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/emissions-fell-in-2019-per-rhodium-group

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Developer Bill Gallaher sues Santa Rosa over natural gas ban as city doubles down on climate goal

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa has a new goal of drastically reducing or offsetting its carbon emissions by 2030, a target set by city leaders this week hours after discussing one of many fronts in Santa Rosa’s fight to shrink its climate footprint: a lawsuit over the city’s pending natural gas ban for new homes.

The City Council in November, seeking to curb future use of fossil fuels in houses, unanimously approved the ban over the objections of home builders, who fear higher prices for all-electric homes will deter buyers. Some concerned residents also pointed to the recent reliance on natural gas during the series of prolonged power outages imposed last fall by PG&E to prevent its equipment from starting wildfires.

The city’s prohibition, which needs approval from state regulators, requires most new homes three stories or less to use appliances — stoves, water heaters, dryers — that run on electricity instead of natural gas.

But the ban now faces a lawsuit from local developer Bill Gallaher, owner of a Windsor-based home building company and a chain of senior living facilities located across California and Nevada. He and a development group also lodged separate lawsuits against Windsor last year over its natural gas ban, which is similar to the measure advanced in Santa Rosa. Dozens of municipalities in the state have considered or adopted a similar ban.

All three suits are pending in Sonoma County Superior Court. At least one mandatory settlement conference on the litigation against Windsor has taken place, and another such meeting with Santa Rosa is set for early February.

Santa Rosa council members discussed Gallaher’s lawsuit Tuesday in closed session, directing City Attorney Sue Gallagher to defend the city’s ordinance. In the open portion of the same meeting, the council unanimously adopted a resolution declaring a climate emergency and setting the citywide goal of carbon-neutrality by 2030 through a combination of reducing emissions and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“I do think it would be a dereliction of duty if we did not take individual and systemic actions to curb our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Councilman Chris Rogers.

At his direction, city staff will develop a public tracker so residents — many of whom urged the council to take action Tuesday — can follow the city’s progress toward achieving its climate goals. In an interview Friday, Rogers noted that city officials were aware of the potential threat of litigation when they voted unanimously to adopt the natural gas ban and that the city might have to fight a lawsuit as a result.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10587634-181/developer-bill-gallaher-sues-santa