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March 30, 2021 by Daniel Farber

Biden's Dilemma: Limiting Carbon from Existing Power Plants

This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Coal- and gas-fired power plants are a major source of U.S. carbon emissions. The Obama administration devised a perfectly sensible, moderate policy to cut those emissions. The Trump administration replaced it with a ridiculous token policy. The D.C. Circuit appeals court tossed that out. Now what?

It wouldn't be hard to redo the Obama policy based on all the changes in the power industry since he left office, which would result in much more rigorous emissions controls. The problem is that the ultra-conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to be very skeptical of the legal basis of any plan that, like Obama's, requires states to expand use of renewable energy.

Opponents of Obama's plan made two legal arguments, which both came up again in the litigation over the Trump rule. The first was that existing power plants were exempt from section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, which was the legal basis of the Obama plan. The other argument was that section 111(d) merely allows restrictions on emissions from fossil fuel plants but can't require a change in a state's energy …

Feb. 24, 2021 by Robert Verchick
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Since I began serving on Louisiana’s Climate Initiatives Task Force, charged with finding a way to zero out net greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, there is one question I get from people more than any other: “C’mon, are you serious?”

It’s not that Louisianans don’t see the need. Sea-level rise could soon swallow our coast, and hurricanes souped up by climate change are now the new normal.

The problem is how we see ourselves. Louisiana, I’m reminded, is an oil-and-gas state. Whatever were we thinking?

My quick response is Louisiana is really an energy state, with more sun and offshore wind than most of our peers.

My longer answer is that I really don’t know how serious we are. But I’ve started following a trio of issues that could tip the scale …

March 19, 2020 by K.K. DuVivier
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This post is part of a series related to the March 12 Conference on Public Lands and Energy Transitions that was hosted by the George Washington University Law School's Environment and Energy Law Program.

Offshore wind holds huge promise as a renewable electricity source. Using existing turbine technologies, the U.S. potential is 2,058,000 megawatts (MW), enough to generate double the electricity demand of the entire United States in 2015. About 80 percent of that electricity demand is along the coasts, so getting the power to the public could prove easier than transmitting it from wind-rich midwestern states. Utilities from eight states up and down the East Coast from Maine to Virginia have committed to procuring 22,500 MW of offshore wind so far, and wind power appeared poised to take off when the Department of the Interior awarded 11 commercial offshore leases in 2016 …

Dec. 9, 2019 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Despite the efforts of the Trump administration, renewable energy has continued to thrive. Key states are imposing rigorous deadlines for reducing power generation from fossil fuels. Economic trends are also supporting renewables. In the first half of 2019, Texas produced more power from renewables than coal.

Texas may be content to rely on market forces, but other states are taking a more active hand in shaping their energy futures. Here are the new renewable energy mandates and targets of 2019:

  • In January 2019, the District of Columbia increased its RPS target to 100 percent renewable electricity sales by 2040.
  • New Mexico mandated 100 percent zero-carbon electricity by 2045, up from the previous target of 20 percent renewable generation by 2020.
  • Maine adopted a 100 percent target for 2050.
  • Maryland increased its target to 50 percent of electricity sales from …

April 30, 2019 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet.

Every day seems to bring more news of the Trump administration's dogged efforts to reduce environmental protections and accelerate climate change with increased carbon emissions. But, as has been true since Trump took office, the picture at the state level is much different. State governments across the country have accelerated their efforts to decarbonize while efforts to save the coal industry have foundered. Here are some of the latest developments.

Earlier this month, Maryland's legislature adopted a 50 percent renewable energy mandate for 2030. The law also doubled the target for obtaining power from offshore wind. Governor Larry Hogan had vetoed an earlier increase in the renewable energy mandate in 2017 but was overridden by the legislature. Hogan, a possible primary challenger to Donald Trump, is still thinking over his next move at this writing.

In mid-April, New Jersey adopted a 50 …

April 22, 2019 by Joseph Tomain
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Fossil fuels are reaching their consumption peak. By way of example, the United States has a surfeit of coal, but coal use is on the decline as natural gas and renewable resources replace the dirty fuel for generating electricity. Similarly, oil and natural gas are on the same decreasing consumption trajectory as recent data and modeling suggest.

Consider the following market facts that directly impact coal and reveal its consumption peak:

  • In Europe, fossil fuels peaked when renewables reached 3 percent of the market.  
  • The majority of new electric capacity comes from solar, wind, and natural gas.  
  • Today, local wind and solar can replace 74 percent of the coal fleet, and by 2025, it will be sufficient to replace 86 percent of the fleet.  
  • Since 2013, 100 banks have restricted or left coal lending.  
  • In 2016, Peabody Coal, the nation's largest coal company, declared bankruptcy after having …

April 22, 2019 by Joseph Tomain
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In 1956, Texas oil geologist M. King Hubbert predicted that U.S. oil production would peak no later than 1970. Lo and behold, in 1970, oil production topped out at just over 9.6 million barrels a day (mbd) and began its decline. The predicted peak had been reached. Regarding the world oil supply – no worries. There were oceans of oil in Middle East deserts, particularly in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, new finds in the North Sea, as well as discoveries, largely offshore, of recoverable oil in other parts of the world, meant that the world was not running out of oil; just the United States was.

Domestically though, trouble was brewing on two fronts. For most of the century, U.S. oil imports were modest. Then, in the mid-1950s, oil imports reached 1 mbd and began climbing. From a consumer perspective, imported oil meant lower prices. But …

Dec. 31, 2018 by Daniel Farber
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A version of this post was originally published on Legal Planet.

Yes, it was a grim year in many ways. But there actually were some bright spots. Here are just the high points.

  1. Scott Pruitt. Pruitt resigned under fire. While his successor may be more successful in some ways, the fact remains that Pruitt was a disgrace. We're better off without him. Trump was apparently unfazed by his incompetence and aversion to hard work. But the succession of scandals and investigations – about personal travel at government expense, extravagance, the top-secret phone booth in his office, and so on and so on – eventually got to be too much of a distraction that threatened to undermine Trump's own monopoly on the spotlight.  
  2. Ryan Zinke. Yet another bad apple who was forced out. His acting replacement is equally wrong-headed and more competent but has multiple conflicts of interest that require …

Oct. 29, 2018 by Daniel Farber
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

The Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment published a survey of state energy policies through 2017. The trend toward renewables has continued in 2018. Even after nearly two years of the Trump presidency, states haven't given up. Instead, they're moving forward aggressively. If anything, Trump seems to have stimulated these states to try even harder.

Here's a quick rundown of what's happened so far in 2018:

  • California mandated that all new homes have solar energy and adopted bold new goals in a statute mandating 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045.  
  • Colorado adopted California's car standards, including greenhouse gas standards.  
  • Connecticut adopted new laws requiring utilities to get 40 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030, mandating that the state cut greenhouse gases 45 percent below 2001 levels by 2030, requiring that government-funded coastal projects take into account a projected sea …

July 12, 2018 by Daniel Farber
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At the end of June, in a vote divided along partisan lines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) handed down a sweeping order that will impact electricity markets in a wide swath of the country – likely at the expense of renewable energy and nuclear power. Unfortunately, like Trump's power plant bailout, the result may be to delay the closing of coal-fired power plants. That's a serious problem. A new study by researchers at Resources for the Future shows that a two-year delay in plant closings would cause 353-815 deaths and release 22 million extra tons of carbon. A two-year delay would cause one death for every four or five coal mining jobs it saved for those two years.

The FERC order applies to PJM, which operates a vast part of the national grid encompassing much of the mid-Atlantic, upper South, and Midwest. My first thought was that …

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