Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Protection Agency’

EPA Putting the Lid on Coal-Fired Power Plants

Monday, April 16th, 2012

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new greenhouse-gas standards for power plants, following through with the authority conferred by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling declaring carbon dioxide a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.  The new regulation effectively bans new coal-fired power plants unless they capture and sequester carbon dioxide.  Advanced natural-gas plants would meet the standard without mitigation, while existing power plants would be grandfathered in.  The regulation would require new power plants to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt‐hour of electricity generated.

What are the implications?  It is clear that the short-term impact will be minimal: cheap natural gas derived from plentiful shale deposits is already overtaking coal as a source of power.

An average coal-fired plant generates more than 1,700 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt. The majority of natural-gas fired plants – and the bulk of power plants currently under construction – emit less than the new standard, approximately 800 pounds per megawatt.

Environmentalists praised the proposed restrictions, while the coal industry warned that the change would lead to higher electricity prices.  “Today we’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.  “We’re putting in place a standard that relies on the use of clean, American-made technology to tackle a challenge that we can’t leave to our kids and grandkids.”  Currently, there is no consistent national limit on the amount of carbon emissions that new power plants can release.  According to an EPA fact sheet, the agency was obliged by the landmark 2007 Supreme Court ruling “to determine if (the emissions) threaten public health and welfare.”  In December of 2009, the EPA formally confirmed that greenhouse gases “endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations.”

Older coal plants have already been going offline, thanks to low natural gas prices and weaker demand for electricity. Nevertheless, some accused the Obama administration of clamping down on low-priced, domestic energy sources and said the regulation raises questions about the seriousness of the president’s pledge for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy.  “This rule is part of the Obama administration’s aggressive plan to change America’s energy portfolio and eliminate coal as a source of affordable, reliable electricity generation,” said Representative Fred Upton, (R-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  “EPA continues to overstep its authority and ram through a series of overreaching regulations in its attacks on America’s power sector.”

“There are areas where they could have made it a lot worse,” said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coalition of power companies.  Nevertheless, “the numerical limit allows progress for natural gas and places compliance out of reach for coal-fired plants” not planning to capture carbon dioxide.  Steve Miller, CEO and President of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a group of coal-burning electricity producers, was more negative about the proposal.  “The latest rule will make it impossible to build any new coal-fueled power plants and could cause the premature closure of many more coal-fueled power plants operating today,” Miller said.

Writing for Reuters, John Kemp, Senior Market Analyst, Commodities and Energy notes that “Because natural gas is currently so much cheaper than coal, the agency projects gas-fired units will be the facilities of choice until at least 2020.  ‘Energy industry model ling forecasts uniformly predict that few, if any, new coal-fired power plants will be built in the foreseeable future,’ according to the proposed rule.  The key word is ‘foreseeable’.  No one can predict the economics of natural gas as far ahead as 2020, let alone 2030.  Recent development of abundant gas reserves through fracking may have caused prices to plunge, leading to a ‘golden age of gas’, but just seven years ago the industry was gripped by panic about gas production peaking and thought America stood on the brink of needing to import increasing quantities of expensive gas.”

Jeff Goodell of Rolling Stone writes “So this new rule is, at best, a baby step in the right direction.  As always with the climate crisis, physics is moving much faster than politics.  Just yesterday top scientists warned that global warming is close to irreversible now. In the biggest sense, we’re still doing next to nothing to confront this crisis.  Global carbon pollution is rising faster than ever, and the weather – to say nothing of future our future climate – is getting wilder.  The urgency of our situation just underscores the need for an economy-wide price on carbon, or cap-and-trade system, which would impact all major emissions sources and actually limit the amount of carbon we dump into the atmosphere, rather than just speeding the shift from coal to gas.  Still, this is an important moment, a small sign of progress.  Goodbye, Mr. Coal.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

LED Lightbulbs More Affordable, Easy on the Electric Bill

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

If you’d like to slash your electric bill, switch to the LED light bulb, the “light-emitting diode” that General Electric invented 50 years ago.  Now, LED bulbs are the focus of intense competition among all of the major lighting manufacturers.  “There are two races going on,” said Todd Manegold, LED product manager for Philips Electric.  “One is the race to equivalency.  It’s about delivering light bulbs that replicate or imitate what people are used to.  Once you reach equivalency, the game is how to make it more affordable.  We think we have gotten it more affordable.”

According to industry experts, within 10 years LEDs will surpass conventional lighting such as halogen and compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).  This will not occur because of government regulations, but rather because it makes economic sense.  The changeover is already underway for commercial customers, particularly in new construction, where newly designed fixtures incorporated LEDs.  But there are an estimated 2.6 billion light sockets in American homes, making them a major market for the industry.  Philips for some time has offered LED bulbs to replace conventional 40-watt, 60-watt and 75-watt lamps.

LED prices are falling rapidly.  Replacing an old 60-watt bulb with a Philips 12.5-watt LED bulb cost approximately $40 one year ago.  The price now averages $25.  Introduced in 2010, the first household LED able to direct light in all directions — the 8.5-watt bulb — was $50.  Now it retails for $30 to $35.  Philips considers CFL bulbs and especially its halogen bulbs as “bridge technology” to LEDs — products that people will use until LEDs become more affordable.  GE Lighting has had virtually the same experience.  “Think of it as a lighting revolution,” said Linda Pastor, GE’s LED product manager.  The switch will take less than 10 years, industry experts say.  “I absolutely believe that the incumbent lighting technology will be replaced by solid state alternatives — all of them with very rare exceptions, within 10 years,” said Tom Griffiths, president and publisher of Austin-based Solid State Lighting Design.

Writing for MSNBC Real Estate, Brian Clark Howard says that “If you want to consider an LED bulb for your fixture, you’ll get even better efficiency and longer life.  For a 60-watt replacement, one popular choice right now is the Philips 12-watt Ambient LED, which produces remarkably soft, yellow light.  It’s also fully dimmable, and is rated to last 25,000 hours.  It costs $40, which we know is more than you’re used to spending on a bulb.  But let’s calculate potential savings.  For a lamp that’s on six hours a day, that would give us 12 watts x 6 hours x 365 = 26.3 kWh.  At 12 cents per kWh, that’s $3.12 a year to operate.  Subtract that from $16, and that’s a savings of more than $12.80 a year.  With a lifespan of 25,000 hours, it should theoretically last for about 12 years in this application.  Over 12 years, we would otherwise have to buy 24 incandescents, for a cost of $18, or about $1.50 each year.  With the annual savings of $12.80 in energy and $1.50 in bulbs, the LED will pay for itself in just under three years.´

Another advantage that LED has over CFL bulbs is that they don’t emit a mercury hazard into the atmosphere.  Many states have been instrumental in passing laws to reduce toxic pollution in their workplaces, communities and our environment.  Additionally, the majority strongly support replacing harmful products with safer alternatives when available.  In the case of light bulbs, the switch to CFLs cuts mercury and other pollutants such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide.  CFLs use less mercury because they require less electricity to produce the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a power plant emits four times more mercury pollution to produce the electricity that lights an incandescent bulb than a CFL for the same amount of time.  CFLs do contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing – though  no mercury is released when the bulbs are intact or in use.  That is why it is important to recycle these bulbs.  Many states provide convenient venues to recycle old CFLs, which prevents spent bulbs from breaking in the trash and releasing mercury into the environment.

President Obama Proposes Significant Increase in CAFE Standards

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

President Barack Obama and the nation’s predominant automakers have agreed to increase new vehicles’ fuel mileage.  The major way to accomplish this is to reduce the size of vehicles.  By 2025, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) must be 55.4 mpg for cars.  That’s up from the 2009 Obama mandate of 35.5 mpg by 2016.  The CAFE standard for 2011 is 30.2 mpg, with light trucks having slightly less burdensome standards.

The Obama administration says the new standards will save drivers $8,200 in fuel over the life of a car.  Between now and 2015, Americans will save $1.7 trillion on fuel costs, eliminate six billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution and use 12 billion fewer barrels of oil.  Environmentalists applauded the new standards.  According to President Obama, “This agreement on fuel standards represents the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”  Joining the president at the announcement were executives of Detroit’s Big Three automakers: GM, Chrysler and Ford.  GM and Chrysler were bailed out of insolvency by the Obama administration with taxpayer money.  The government still owns 27 percent of GM; the United Auto Workers, an ally of the Obama administration and which supports the revised CAFE standards, owns 46.5 percent of Chrysler.

The tiered standards are expected to yield approximately $50 billion in net benefits over the life of model year 2014 to 2018 vehicles.  Additionally, it will result in significant long-terms savings for vehicle owners and operators.  President Obama, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked closely with truck and engine manufacturers, fleet owners, the State of California, and environmental groups – among them, Navistar, Volvo, Chrysler, and Con-way – to garner support for the new standards.  “While we were working to improve the efficiency of cars and light-duty trucks, something interesting happened,” said President Obama.  “We started getting letters asking that we do the same for medium and heavy-duty trucks.  They were from the people who build, buy, and drive these trucks.  And today, I’m proud to have the support of these companies as we announce the first-ever national policy to increase fuel efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas pollution from medium-and heavy-duty trucks.”

Waste Management CEO David Steiner said the rules will help his company meet a  goal of reducing emissions 15 percent by 2020.  The company will save 350 million gallons of fuel over the life of their vehicles.  FedEx CEO Fred Smith said that commercial vehicles account for 20 percent of all transportation emissions.  “Today’s progress is a win for the transportation industry, for the environment and for all Americans as we seek to decrease U.S. dependency on oil,” Smith said.

According to the White House,  the revised heavy-truck rules will cost owners as much as $8 billion in additional technology, but “will save American businesses that operate and own commercial vehicles approximately $50 billion in fuel costs over the life of the program.”  The majority of fleet operators, according to the EPA, are likely to recover their up-front costs within a year or two.  Under the new program, heavy-duty vehicles are divided into three major categories: combination tractors (semi-trucks), heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and what is referred to as “vocational” or special-purpose vehicles such as transit buses and garbage trucks.  More specific targets within each of these categories are based on each vehicle’s design and purpose.

American Trucking Association (ATA) president & CEO Bill Graves said the new regulations are “welcome news to us in the trucking industry.  Our members have been pushing for the setting of fuel efficiency standards for some time and today marks the culmination of those efforts.”  He said that in 2007, the ATA endorsed a six-point sustainability program that included a proposal to set “technologically feasible” efficiency standards.

The new rules do not mean that President Obama has given up on his backing of electric vehicles.  Writing on the Climate Spectator website, Jessie Giles says that “While there has been some suggestion that Barack Obama’s new measure to double fuel economy targets for cars in the U.S. might be bad news for electric cars, at Better Place our assessment is that this will in fact be important for increasing the adoption of zero-emission vehicles.  The agreement to increase the CAFE standards is good news, not just in terms of taking steps to stretch our limited oil resources further and helping to reduce our carbon emissions.  Critically, it will also help to increase the adoption of zero-emissions vehicles such as electric cars.  Now, the twist: manufacturers must meet the CAFE standards on a sales-weighted basis – that is, the average fuel economy of all the cars sold by that particular car company.  What’s the easiest way of achieving the new standards on a sales-weighted basis?  It’s by increasing the proportion of electric cars in the manufacturer’s sales mix. It’s far easier to increase this proportion of electric cars than it is to make improvements in the current fuel consumption of every single car in the rest of the portfolio, where years of product development have produced incremental, but relatively minor improvements.”

New Car Fuel-Efficiency Labels Mandated by EPA, DOT

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation (DOT) have directed that cars and light trucks carry labels comparing estimated five-year fuel costs with those of the average new vehicle following industry opposition to adding fuel-economy letter grades to the window stickers.  The labels, which will include yearly fuel-cost estimates, must be affixed to passenger cars and trucks starting with model year 2013.  The new stickers will rate vehicles on a scale of one to 10 for smog and greenhouse-gas emissions.  “These new window stickers are a win-win” for car buyers and the auto industry, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.  “They’ll help consumers make informed choices to save at the pump.”

Plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles must carry labels that specify how far a car can drive on electric power when charged.  The government decided to scrap plans for labels with letter grades after automakers, dealers and Congress said that consumers may avoid vehicles labeled with lower rankings.  Regulators abandoned the letter-grade proposal after being criticized by automakers and consumer tests indicating that some found the plan confusing, according to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.  “About half the people didn’t think the letter grade gave them all the information they needed,” Jackson said.  “And there was confusion that the letter grade was about the whole car.”

The labels will be quite detailed.  The estimated annual fuel cost is there, as are the standard miles-per-gallon figures for city and highway driving.  New features include the amount of fuel or electricity the vehicle will require to drive 100 miles, as well as the expected savings or cost of fuel over the next five years.  The miles-per-gallon range for same-class vehicles will be featured on the decals, as well as the highest fuel economy.  “The new labels…are the most dramatic overhaul to fuel economy labels since the program began more than 30 years ago,”  the DOT said.

The labels have some new features,  including a QR Code that allows smart phones users to access online information about how various models compare on fuel economy.  Consumers can enter information about their particular commutes and driving habits to get a more exact estimate of fuel costs.  The rule also finalizes new labels for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids to convert the use of electricity to a miles-per-gallon equivalent — and to allow users to compare charging costs to gasoline use.  In 2010, the EPA approved interim labels for the electric Nissan Leaf and extended range electric Chevrolet Volt, which it categorizes as plug-in hybrids.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers – the trade association representing Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Toyota and seven other automakers, praised the move and said the move complements labels between the federal government and California.  “Today’s announcement by EPA and DOT is a victory for consumers.  The average car buyer is a savvy shopper who gathers much information prior to buying a car, so the decision to go with informative MPG labels fits consumer needs well.  This label provides clear, visible data on fuel economy in a format consumers are already familiar with,” the group said.

Not everyone is happy with the move.  Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said “The Obama administration caved to auto industry pressure and pulled the plug on a key consumer education proposal intended to help us determine which cars are cleanest.  This decision denies consumers clear information to help them make educated choices.”

The EPA created the new labels with the Transportation Department as part of rules adopted in 2010 requiring a 42 percent increase in average CAFE efficiency standards to 35.5 miles per gallon for 2012 – 2016 vehicles.  The agencies plan to require that 2017 – 2025 cars and trucks push efficiency goals to 60 mpg, a target automakers would likely resist.  Automakers, who supported the new labels, are retooling their production lines to meet government and consumer demands that they offer greater efficiency and cut pollution.

EPA Can Bypass Congress and Act on Climate Change

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

There may be only one way to enact climate-change legislation.Congress — wary of 2010 mid-term elections – appears to be unlikely to pass climate change legislation this year, writes Jeffrey D. Sachs in Scientific American.

According to Sachs, “The fracture lines are countless, but probably the most important one runs through public opinion.  A recent poll showed only 36 percent of Americans believing that the evidence of human-induced climate change is firm, down from 47 percent in early 2008.  The rise of unemployment has perhaps made people more reluctant to accept adverse news on living standards.  There is also considerable public confusion about climate science and possible remedies.”

The coal and oil lobbies are powerful; their opposition to climate-change legislation is well-financed and highly organized.  Environmental groups have difficulty reaching consensus, with many opposing nuclear power and coal use.  Conservationists have even fought renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines near farms and coastlines, solar thermal plants in desert states and high-voltage transmission lines close to homes.

Sachs believes that the Environmental Protection Agency – with the mandate provided by the Clean Air Act – could do an end run around Congressional inaction by imposing a schedule of emissions standards impacting electric companies and cars, trucks and buses.  Finally, a plan needs to be articulated because the public fears that climate-change legislation might impact jobs and living standards.  Although the Obama administration has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020, the public does not know how the government intends to meet that goal.

“Cash for Appliances” Part of an Ongoing Effort to Jump Start the Economy

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

After the success of the “Cash for Clunkers” and “Cash for Caulkers” programs, the Obama administration has rolled out “Cash for Appliances”, with the goal of replacing aging washers and refrigerators with new ones that consume less energy.  Funded by the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus bill, “Cash for Appliances” is a $300 million program where consumers receive rebates for purchasing energy-efficient appliances.  Eligibility requires that the appliance carry the Energy Star logo, which affirms that it meets efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.  The program’s goal is to conserve energy, boost retail sales and help speed the economic recovery.Stimulus bill’s “Cash for Appliances” seeks to replace old washers and fridges with energy-efficient models.

Rebates are allocated by the states.  New York, for example, is offering rebates that range from $75 to $105 on refrigerators, freezers and washing machines.  If all three appliances are purchased together, the rebate can be as much as $555.  “This program will provide a tremendous incentive for consumers all across New York to reduce their energy consumption while providing an important stimulus to our economy,” according to a statement by New York Governor David Paterson.

Retailers are pleased with the program, but think it will not be easy to predict how the program will affect sales.  Home Depot spokeswoman Jean Neimi notes that “It’s tough to say, from a sales perspective, because each state has such a different program.  But we’re excited the program is in place.  Any opportunity to educate our customers on the benefits of energy efficiency is welcome.”