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Whither the White House climate plan?

I was recently accused of being too harsh on the federal government in these posts, so I thought I’d start off this week on a more hopeful note.  President Obama has been making noises over the past few weeks about a soon-to-be-announced climate plan from the White House, likely focused on actions the President can do without Congressional authority (remember his promise in the State of the Union to act on climate even if Congress refuses). The plan could include any number of things the White House has put on its agenda, including more research and development funding for clean energy, new efficiency standards, and of course the critically important EPA rules on power plants. It might also include a new push for a “global compact to confront a changing climate”, something the President mentioned in a speech in Berlin today.

Of course the big question on everyone’s mind is this: Will the White House climate plans include rejecting the Keystone pipeline?  Tom Steyer certainly hopes so. He’s headed to DC tomorrow to urge the President and his supporters to oppose the pipeline and commit strongly to a low-carbon agenda.

We’ll be watching the drama from out here in sunny California, which could become a whole lot sunnier in the decades to come. A new study out of UCLA this week predicts that snowfall in Southern California’s mountains could all but disappear by the end of the century if global greenhouse gas emissions continue as usual. Those are scary statistics, but L.A. has beat the odds before – after all, this was the city that once had smog so thick WWII-era residents believed the Japanese had launched a chemical attack.

One thing L.A. can start doing right now to lower emissions is to get people into less-polluting cars, since transportation accounts for 40 percent of our statewide carbon emissions. The Electric Power Research Institute just released a study on the lifetime costs of buying and driving electric, hybrid and gasoline cars, and found that with California rebates and the current price of gas, all-electric cars are now about $7,000 less expensive than gasoline or hybrid cars over their lifetimes. Pretty soon you might have to buy one just in order to keep up with the Joneses: it turns out there’s an entire neighborhood of EV drivers in Austin, TX living on Pecan Street, which is now the largest concentrated community of EV drivers in the world. 

Of course, I’m a city planner by training, so I’m actually a fan of driving less or not at all, if possible! Which leads me to this week’s favorite report: a new study from Navigant Research on “peak cars,” showing that we’re actually seeing a decline in car sales and vehicle miles traveled for the first time in 30 years. 

Some other things to watch here at home:

  • The state budget: For the first time in years, state legislators and Governor Brown struck a budget deal on time. (See state lawmaker comments on the budget here.) While a balanced budget is cause for celebration, many will not easily forget what was left out of the budget deal. Leaders of over 60 organizations signed an open letter to the Governor this week, urging him to quickly pay back the $500 million in cap and trade revenues he borrowed in this budget cycle, and to focus those funds on some of the many greenhouse gas reduction projects the state’s Air Resources Board has identified as priorities for the state.
  • Prop 39 doesn’t make up for cap and trade raid:  While Gov. Brown has said that the new Prop 39 funds, focused on helping schools across the state save energy and reduce emissions, can help make up for the $500 million taken out of the cap and trade program, that’s a bit of a sleight of hand.  CARB’s scoping plan definitely has energy efficiency as a key carbon emission lever in California, but it’s one of many critical areas including, importantly, transportation (see above for thoughts on that!).  One is not a substitute for the other; both AB32 and Prop 39 are critical components of the state’s overall climate and energy agenda.  Neither should be short-changed.
  • Ongoing focus on fracking: Only one legislative measure on fracking (Senator Pavley’s SB 4), out of more than 10 proposed, remains on the table this legislative session. Fracking in California remains an ill-understood issue, but Energy Innovation’s Policy Director Chris Busch (formerly of the Apollo Alliance, I’m proud to say) is helping to change that with a recent report that includes important policy recommendations for the California Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources. Among other things, Busch points out that storing waste products from fracking in open pits should be prohibited in a state prone to flooding, and that the greenhouse gas emissions from the fracking process should be regulated, among other key findings.

 That’s it for this week; see you next Wednesday! 

Find more of Kate's Cliffnotes »

News

Fracking Can Strain U.S. Water Supplies

As the level of hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells in the United States has intensified in recent years, much of the mounting public concern has centered on fears of underground water contamination. But in some parts of the country, worries are also growing about fracking’s effect on water supply, as the water-intensive process stirs competition for the resources already stretched thin by drought or other factors.
14/Jun » Center for American Progress

“Frack or Fiction” recommends upgrades to California’s draft regulation of hydraulic fracturing

On June 6th, Energy Innovation released the report “Frack or Fiction”, which offers recommendations to the California Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). Last December, DOGGR released a Pre-Rulemaking Discussion Draft Regulation to start the process of oversight of fracking in the state. “Frack or Fiction” includes specific recommended changes to the regulation, as well an overview of technological, environmental, and policy issues associated with fracking.
07/Jun » Energy Innovation

Fracking bills flop after gusher of opposition cash, report says

Campaign contributions from the oil industry flooded into the California Legislature before it killed several bills that would have closely regulated the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to get oil and gas from the ground, a nonprofit group called MapLight reports. For example, state lawmakers who voted against AB 1323, a bill that would have imposed a moratorium on frakcing, received an average of 31 times as much money from opposing groups as supporting groups, MapLight found.
14/Jun » Los Angeles Times

Lifetime Costs of Electric Cars Within 10% of Competing Vehicles

It’s no secret that upfront cost is one of the major obstacles when it comes to the attractiveness of electric cars on the market. But drivers should think again, according to a new analysis from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), that compared the prices of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt for the 2013 model season against comparable gasoline cars on the market. Overall, the two plug-ins were within 10 percent of conventional vehicles, both gas and hybrids. EPRI also looked at California incentives for the Leaf and Volt and found that the combination of state incentives ($1,500 for the Volt and $2,500 for the Leaf), high gas prices and discount on charging equipment made both cars even less to operate over their lifetimes.
12/Jun » Greentech Media

California awards $18 million to build hydrogen fueling stations

Projects supporting California’s hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure will see a hefty boost thanks to more than $18 million in grant funding, the state’s Energy Commission announced this week. The grants will fund construction or update of hydrogen fueling stations around Southern California. The initiative and this particular round of awards are intended to move the state toward reaching a goal set by Gov. Jerry Brown in an executive order last year to have 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025.
14/Jun » Los Angeles Times

Environmentalists take close look at Brown

When Gov. Brown and legislative leaders announced their budget agreement at a press conference Tuesday, the tone was victorious; the budget was on time and balanced. But the governor still had something of a political Achilles’ heel – his environmental record. Brown’s decision to lend cap-and-trade auction proceeds to the General Fund has drawn pressure from environmentalists, who say the money was intended to go directly to programs to fight greenhouse gases. He also has raised environmentalists’ concerns for his actions on hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – as well as his diversion of money from voter-approved Proposition 39. These tensions have pushed Brown into a classic political battle, with the state’s economic needs on one side and the protection of its environmental resources on the other.
13/Jun » Capital Weekly

Climate change could slash snowfall in Southern California mountains

A UCLA study released Friday projects a significant decline in snowfall on the ranges that surround urban Southern California. By mid-century, the amount of snow draping the mountains could decrease 30% to 40%, and if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, the ranges could lose two-thirds of their snow by century’s end. This could lead to substantial effects on winter recreation and water supply in Southern California.
14/Jun » Los Angeles Times

California Energy Storage Plan May Require $3 Billion Investment

Energy companies may invest as much as $3 billion on power-storage systems in California to facilitate wider use of renewable energy. Utilities would be required to procure 1,325 megawatts of storage capacity by 2020 under a June 10 proposal from the California Public Utilities Commission. California’s utilities are required by 2020 to provide a third of their power from renewable sources like wind and sunlight that can’t generate electricity constantly, and storage systems will make it easier to integrate renewables into the grid.
13/Jun » Renewable Energy World

Department of Energy’s Crusade Against Leaks of a Potent Greenhouse Gas Yields Results

Every year, the United States Department of Energy’s far-flung operations generate millions of tons of climate-warming greenhouse gases. By tightening valves, replacing worn gaskets and such, Josh Silverman and the department’s engineers have managed to cut the annual leaks of one gas by about 35,000 pounds. While this seems small, this gas is sulfur hexafluoride, the most potent greenhouse gas in existence — in fact, 23,900 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
13/Jun » New York Times

China Carbon Permits Trade 22% Below Europe on Market Debut

China traded its first carbon dioxide permits for 22% less than today’s price in Europe as the nation inaugurated the Shenzhen Emissions Exchange as part of its plan to limit heat-trapping gases linked to climate change. The permits were priced at roughly $4.90 a metric ton, compared with $6.30 for European Union permits. Shenzhen was the first of seven test markets to start trading emissions permits in China. When all are operational, the new markets are set to regulate 800 million to 1 billion tons of emissions by 2015 in the world’s biggest cap-and-trade program after Europe’s.
18/Jun » Bloomberg

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