During a summit in Brussels on October 23-24, 2014, European Union (EU) leaders agreed to a blueprint to guide climate and energy policy through 2030. The overall goals of the blueprint are to achieve a 40 percent emissions reduction by 2030, relative to 1990 emissions levels, as well as a target of 27 percent for total energy consumption in the EU being provided by renewable sources by 2030. The EU already has a 20 percent emissions reduction target for 2020. The target is expected to help build and maintain momentum for the larger 2030 emissions goal. Individual countries will not be responsible for the 27 percent renewable energy goal, rather, the EU as a whole wants to reach that level of renewable energy. In order to assist countries in achieving this goal, the EU is increasing the current 300 million Emissions Trading System (ETS) allowances to 400 million to help fund low-carbon innovation. More information about the 2030 Climate and Energy Policy Framework can be found in the EU's post-summit communique.
On August 7, 2014, a group of nine Democratic Senators led by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) sent a letter to the EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, on the treatment of biogenic carbon emissions from stationary sources. The other eight Senators who signed the letter are: Tim Johnson (D-SD); Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND); Ron Wyden (D-OR); Maria Cantwell (D-WA); Al Franken (D-MN); Patty Murray (D-WA); Joe Donnelly (D-IN); and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The letter comes at a time when EPA is working to issue in final a rulemaking providing guidelines for such treatment.
In their letter, the Senators caution that treating biogenic carbon emissions in the same way as fossil fuel emissions could negatively impact the development and commercialization of advanced biofuels, biopower, renewable chemicals, and other industrial biotechnologies. They urge EPA to recognize in its treatment of biogenic carbon emissions that "carbon emissions resulting from the utilization of sustainably-sourced, renewable biomass feedstocks do not result in lasting increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, and therefore should not be subject to greenhouse gas regulations."
BRAG has previously reported on developments in the biogenic carbon debate. The most recent report is available online.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held its first "listening sessions" this week on its controversial proposed rule to reduce carbon dioxide at existing power plants. BRAG has previously reported on the proposed rule. A copy of the proposed rule is available online.
The listening sessions took place on July 29 and 30, 2014, in Atlanta, Georgia, Denver, Colorado, and Washington, D.C., and will take place on August 1, 2014, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During the sessions, EPA heard from a wide range of stakeholders on both sides of the issue, including industry representatives arguing that the proposal would harm the economy, environmental groups stating their support for the rule, and private citizens describing the need for EPA to take action to clean up the air in their states and communities.
On July 15, 2014, Inside EPA reported that "the White House is examining options for reversing EPA's proposed cuts to several renewable fuel standard (RFS) production targets in order to promote biofuels that create fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than conventional fuels, informed sources say, as part of the Obama administration's broader efforts to combat climate change."
The article also quotes sources stating:
"[F]igures under discussion between administration officials and industry representatives include raising the renewable fuel target -- largely met with corn ethanol production -- from 13 billion gallons in the proposed rule to a range of 13.5-13.6 billion gallons in the final rule; increasing the advanced biofuel target from 2.2 billion gallons in the proposed rule to a range of 2.3-2.5 billion gallons; and raising the biomass-based diesel target from 1.28 billion gallons under the proposed rule to 1.5-1.7 billion gallons in the final rule.
"The most dramatic increase under consideration is said to be for cellulosic biofuel, which would rise from 17 million gallons in the proposed rule to 23 million gallons in the final rule, the sources say. "
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on Monday, June 23, 2014, which upheld the authority of EPA to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act (CAA), but with limitations. The Court held that EPA may require permits and carbon control efforts for large stationary sources that emit large quantities of carbon dioxide. The emission of certain quantities of other regulated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions -- not carbon dioxide alone -- must trigger the requirements, however. The Court held that EPA went impermissibly beyond its authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the CAA when, under its "Tailoring Rule," the Agency raised the triggering thresholds for carbon dioxide regulation.
The biomass community has been weighing in on EPA efforts to determine how to account for bioenergy emissions under its Tailoring Rule. Despite this week's Supreme Court ruling, there are ongoing efforts to urge EPA to issue in final its biogenic carbon accounting framework for those bioenergy facilities that would trigger permitting and other carbon control requirements based on the levels of emission of regulated GHG emissions other than carbon dioxide. See related item below.
On June 2, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a pre-publication version of its proposed rule on "Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units." This precedent-setting proposal seeks to reduce carbon dioxide from existing power plants by 30 percent by 2030.
According to the pre-publication version of the proposed rule, four public hearings will be convened in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Washington, D.C. Comments will be due 120 days following the date the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. A copy of the pre-publication version of the 645-page proposed rule is available online. Fact sheets on the proposal are available online.
Lobbying efforts on the proposal have already begun in earnest. The Algae Biomass Organization (ABO), for instance, issued a press release on June 2 calling on EPA to include Carbon Capture and Utilization strategies in its final rule to reduce carbon emissions. A copy of ABO's press release is available online.
This week, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (GCRP), a collaboration of 13 federal agencies and myriad academia, issued its third National Climate Assessment. The 841 page report and a summary of its highlights are available online.
This report is significant because compared to previous reports it more definitively attributes human activity as the cause of increased climate change, which is causing more severe weather. The report asserts that climate change is here now and will have more and more devastating impacts throughout the country. It is not a future event. Additionally, it more strongly links climate change to severe weather.
The Administration reportedly is hopeful that the report will help motivate action on climate change. It may be working to some extent as two prominent Republicans -- former Utah Governor and Presidential Candidate John Huntsman, and Lee Thomas, an EPA Administrator under the Regan Administration -- authored op-eds published on May 7, 2014, urging Republicans to accept climate change and offer leadership on the issue.
Nearly 30 Democratic Senators participated in an all-night session from the evening of March 10, 2014, through the morning on March 11, 2014, to highlight the need for action to combat the harmful effects of climate change. This session was the first major act of the Senate Climate Action Task Force, which was formed earlier this year by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to urge action on the issue. The all-night session was organized by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI).
On March 3, 2014, EPA released its final rule on "Control of Air Pollution from Motor Vehicles: Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards" (the "Tier 3 rule"). A copy of the 1069-page Tier 3 rule is available online. A copy of EPA's five-page fact sheet on "EPA Sets Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards" is available online.
The Tier 3 rule is designed to reduce air pollution from passenger cars and trucks. Beginning in 2017, the Tier 3 rule will set new vehicle emissions standards and reduce the sulfur content of gasoline. It will treat the vehicle and its fuel as an integrated system. The final Tier 3 rule is very similar to the proposed version of the rule, although the final Tier 3 rule sets the ethanol content for emissions test gasoline at ten percent (E10) instead of at 15 percent (E15) as proposed.
The final Tier 3 rule is a part of the Obama Administration's efforts to combat the harmful impacts of climate change. It is expected to reduce several tons of harmful GHG emissions by 2030.
Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are leading a new Senate Task Force on Climate Change designed to combat stated plans by some in the Republican leadership to weaken President Obama's expected upcoming Executive actions to address climate change. While legislative action on climate change remains unlikely this year, Members of the Senate Task Force are doing what they can to highlight the issue. To this end, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) is organizing an all-night Senate floor session during which the issue of climate change will be discussed. The session is expected to take place sometime in March 2014.