You are here

NRDC

The Clean Power Plan Is Not Worth Saving. Here Are Some Steps to Take Instead

By Dennis Higgins - Truthout, January 19, 2018

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) was proposed by President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014 to mitigate human-caused factors in climate change. It focused principally on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The plan was much heralded by environmental groups. Not surprisingly, in October 2017, Trump's appointed EPA head, Scott Pruitt, signed a measure meant to repeal this plan. 

Several states attorneys general and many national environmental groups are pushing back. However, in censuring Trump's attack on the CPP, valid criticisms of the plan itself have been ignored. No one remembers to mention that promoting gas was always at the heart of the CPP.

The current US gas boom is due to hydraulic fracturing of shale beds. This extreme extraction mechanism jeopardizes human aquifers, uses millions of gallons of water per well, and produces toxic flowback whose disposal is linked to water contamination and earthquakes. The product of fracturing is often referred to as "fracked gas." In short, the CPP supports the use of "natural" (fracked) gas.

Under Obama, the EPA, aided by the gas industry, declared "natural gas" to be "clean." Gas is mostly methane, and "fugitive methane" -- the gas that leaks by accident or through intentional venting, from well-head to delivery -- was discounted in the CPP. Noting the only factor in methane's favor (it generates less carbon dioxide on combustion than coal or oil), the field is tilted in favor of gas-burning power plants. In an article entitled, "Did the 'Clean Natural Gas' lobby help write EPA's Clean Power Plan?" Cornell scientist Robert Howarth points out a fundamental flaw in the CPP. The plan, "addresses only carbon dioxide emissions, and not emissions of methane... This failure to consider methane causes the Plan to promote a very poor policy -- replacing coal-burning power plants with plants run on natural gas ... "

Only at leakage rates lower than 1 to 3 percent (depending on usage) is gas cleaner than coal. But methane leaks at rates between 2 and 12 percent, and its climate impact -- or global warming potential (GWP) -- is 86 times that of CO2 over 20 years. (The GWP means a pound of methane in the atmosphere has the warming equivalent of 86 pounds of CO2 over 20 years. Of course, we're not talking about pounds here, but about millions of tons per year.) In a review of the CPP, Howarth said, "Converting to natural gas plants, which is what this latest rule is likely to do, will actually aggravate climate change, not make things better. It's well enough established to suggest the EPA is on the wrong side of the science."

It should be noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Paris accord and New York State all use the year 1990 as a baseline from which to measure greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. But, perhaps disingenuously, Obama's EPA chose to use 2005, at which time recession had already achieved significant carbon reduction, rendering the plan's proposed cuts to CO2 even less significant.

In August 2015, James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for three decades and one of the first to sound the alarm about global warming, described the CPP as "almost worthless" in that it failed "to attack the fundamental problem." Hansen stated bluntly: "As long as fossil fuels are allowed to be the cheapest energy, someone will burn them." Of the steps the CPP claimed to be taking to address global warming, Hansen said, "It is not so much a matter of how far you go. It is a matter of whether you are going in the right direction." That same year, the US Energy Information Administration came to the same conclusion that others had: Under the CPP, the natural gas industry would benefit before renewables did.

Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University also examined the efficacy of the CPP. He told Truthout that instead of using the IPCC's global warming potential for methane of 86 pounds over 20 years, the CPP assessed methane's impact (GWP) at 25 pounds over 100 years. This factor, its failure to fully assess fugitive methane, as well as its curious 2005 baseline, mean that the projected 32 percent reduction in CO2 from power plants by 2030 would have the net effect of reducing those greenhouse gas emissions by only 11 percent. The CPP "more than compensates for the elimination of coal CO2 with additional CO2 and methane," according to Ingraffea. "If this is all we manage in the power sector in the next 13 years, we are screwed," he said.

Diablo Canyon nuclear plant to be shut down, power replaced by renewables, efficiency, storage

By Damon Moglen and Julia Peek - Friends of the Earth, June 21, 2016

An historic agreement has been reached between Pacific Gas and Electric, Friends of the Earth, and other environmental and labor organizations to replace the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors with greenhouse-gas-free renewable energy, efficiency and energy storage resources. Friends of the Earth says the agreement provides a clear blueprint for fighting climate change by replacing nuclear and fossil fuel energy with safe, clean, cost-competitive renewable energy. 

The agreement, announced today in California, says that PG&E will renounce plans to seek renewed operating licenses for Diablo Canyon’s two reactors -- the operating licenses for which expire in 2024 and 2025 respectively. In the intervening years, the parties will seek Public Utility Commission approval of the plan which will replace power from the plant with renewable energy, efficiency and energy storage resources. Base load power resources like Diablo Canyon are becoming increasingly burdensome as renewable energy resources ramp up. Flexible generation options and demand-response are the energy systems of the future.

By setting a certain end date for the reactors, the nuclear phase out plan provides for an orderly transition. In the agreement, PG&E commits to renewable energy providing 55 percent of its total retail power sales by 2031, voluntarily exceeding the California standard of 50 percent renewables by 2030.

"This is an historic agreement," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. "It sets a date for the certain end of nuclear power in California and assures replacement with clean, safe, cost-competitive, renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage. It lays out an effective roadmap for a nuclear phase-out in the world's sixth largest economy, while assuring a green energy replacement plan to make California a global leader in fighting climate change."

A robust technical and economic report commissioned by Friends of the Earth served as a critical underpinning for the negotiations. The report, known as “Plan B,” provided a detailed analysis of how power from the Diablo Canyon reactors could be replaced with renewable, efficiency and energy storage resources which would be both less expensive and greenhouse gas free. With the report in hand, Friends of the Earth’s Damon Moglen and Dave Freeman engaged in discussions with the utility about the phase-out plan for Diablo Canyon. NRDC was quickly invited to join. Subsequently, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, Coalition of California Utility Employees, Environment California and Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility partnered in reaching the final agreement. The detailed phase out proposal will now go to the California Public Utility Commission for consideration. Friends of the Earth (and other NGO parties to the agreement) reserve the right to continue to monitor Diablo Canyon and, should there be safety concerns, challenge continued operation.

The agreement also contains provisions for the Diablo Canyon workforce and the community of San Luis Obispo. “We are pleased that the parties considered the impact of this agreement on the plant employees and the nearby community,” said Pica. “The agreement provides funding necessary to ease the transition to a clean energy economy.” 

Diablo Canyon is the nuclear plant that catalyzed the formation of Friends of the Earth in 1969. When David Brower founded Friends of the Earth the Diablo Canyon was the first issue on the organization’s agenda and Friends of the Earth has been fighting the plant ever since. This agreement is not only a milestone for renewable energy, but for Friends of the Earth as an organization.

For more information, see the final, signed Joint Proposal and the Joint Letter to the State Lands Commission.

Senate Bill 4 Regs Will Expand Fracking in California

By Dan Bacher - IndyBay, July 2, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Governor Jerry Brown administration, known for its subservience to Big Oil, is gearing up for a massive expansion of fracking and other extreme oil drilling techniques that will contaminate California's groundwater supplies, pollute rivers and streams, and devastate coastal ecosystems, including so-called "marine protected areas" implemented under his helm.

On July 1, anti-fracking, environmental and watchdog groups responded to the release of final fracking regulations developed under Senate Bill 4, pointing out that the rules promote more fracking and pollution of water supplies in the drought-plagued state.

Senate Bill 4, the green light for fracking bill, was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 20, 2013. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the California League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Fund and other corporate "environmental" NGOs provided green cover for the odious legislation. They backed the bill until the very last minute when they finally decided to withdraw support because of amendments from the Western States Petroleum Association and other Big Oil interests that further weakened the already weak legislation.

In a statement, Food and Water Watch said, "Today the Brown Administration finalized regulations on fracking and other dangerous oil extraction techniques that will allow oil and gas companies to continue to conduct these techniques at the expense of California’s water, air, agriculture and public health."