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Smart Cities: Action on Energy Saving Building Codes in India

February 24, 2016

Anjali Jaiswal, Senior Attorney, San Francisco

Authored by Bhaskar Deol, Nehmat Kaur and Anjali Jaiswal

The Indian government recently announced the first 20 cities for the smart cities program. As India's growth accelerates, cities are projected to create an INR 73 trillion ($1.1 trillion) investment opportunity over the next 15 years. With the recent Paris Climate Agreement, countries are even more focused on low carbon development in cities. Nationally, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) is motivating action by recognizing leadership in building efficiency in cities across India. Locally, the state of Telangana and capital city of Hyderabad are moving forward with a new compliance measures for building efficiency.

Since buildings consume 30% of India's electricity and with rapid development, building efficiency needs to be at the core of a smart urbanization strategy. Energy efficiency in buildings can translate into tangible economic gains, and offers several benefits for India. It allows more efficient use of existing energy resources, providing building owners immediate cost savings on energy bills. Efficiency also helps avoid the need to install additional electricity generation capacity, sparing scarce capital investment for use toward more pressing needs, such as providing energy access for over a quarter of a billion Indians without access to reliable electricity.

In order for Indian states and cities to implement energy efficiency, building codes such as the energy conservation building code (ECBC) - a code that sets a minimum energy efficiency performance standard for buildings - need to be implemented successfully, with adequate capacity building efforts and robust compliance mechanisms.

New buildings are being constructed in Hyderabad rapidly with opportunities to incorporate energy efficiency measures (Photo Credit: Nehmat Kaur, NRDC)

BEE is also spearheading other initiatives, such as setting up state level ECBC cells, and a mobile phone app for use by building designers to ensure code compliance. With implementation bottlenecks being addressed in a comprehensive manner at the national, regional and local levels, BEE is leveraging the support of all the technical and civil society experts and working towards strong code adoption across the country.

NRDC with partners, the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) have engaged on national building efficiency policy and market transformation through case studies and national level workshops in New Delhi. NRDC and ASCI are also piloting a new compliance program for efficiency building codes in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. These two states are pioneering code adoption, and place special emphasis on strong compliance and enforceability of ECBC. ASCI, with support from the United Nations Development Programme, has also trained over 300 state officials, real estate developers and architects on the ECBC.

ASCI's Professor RajKiran Biliokar and NRDC's Bhaskar Deol receive a certificate of appreciation from BEE's Dr. Ajay Mathur and Sanjay Seth in New Delhi, January 2016

Pilot Building Code Compliance Project in Hyderabad

NRDC and ASCI successfully supported the state of Telangana in passing into law state-level energy efficiency codes as mandatory requirements for all new large commercial buildings in 2014. The state is now working to strengthen compliance with a pilot program in Hyderabad with the support of NRDC, ASCI and key experts. The compliance program revamps the building approval process and includes engaging with city staff, local real estate developers, architects and others.

The Telangana ECBC Technical Committee, headed by the Special Chief Secretary for municipal administration and urban development, meets every quarter to assess progress and set milestones for effective implementation of the code. The 300 state officials, real estate developers and architects already trained under the BEE program are a boost to the state's building code implementation capacity.

Telangana's ECBC Technical Committee Meeting in February 2016 (Photo Credit: Pavan Parnandi, ASCI)

Over a dozen Indian states and key cities have taken steps toward incorporating energy conservation into by-laws, and made progress towards mandating the ECBC under their jurisdiction. Strong compliance in cities with building efficiency codes coupled with a shift by real estate developers towards efficient commercial buildings could generate sufficient savings to power over 350 million Indian homes. The pilot building code compliance project in Hyderabad could serve as a model for smart cities across India and a chief mechanism for curbing pollution.

Nevada's Attorney General files bogus brief on the Clean Power Plan

February 24, 2016

Noah Long, Senior Attorney, San Francisco

Nevada's Governor Brian Sandoval recently joined 16 other states and a bipartisan coalition of Governors, to commit to advancing clean energy. The accord recognizes the challenge Americans face from climate change: "Current challenges also demand these new energy solutions. Extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, wildfires and sea-level rise, can negatively impact electric reliability and the economy." And seeks clean energy opportunities to address these challenges: "Embracing new energy solutions can provide more durable and resilient infrastructure, and enable economic growth, while protecting the health of our communities and natural resources. These improvements will help secure a safe and prosperous future for our country." Nevada is not without controversy on renewable energy. Recent decisions by the state utility commission have spurred major protests, but these actions show Sandoval recognizes clean energy is a major opportunity in the state.

Following up on the statement, Sandoval created a new taskforce to find ways Nevada could lead in the clean energy revolution now facing the energy sector, saying, "There are few more critical issues to Nevada's future than clean and renewable energy. Not only does this sector drive many economic development opportunities, but it also helps us improve the quality of life for many Nevadans by helping keep our air clean, water fresh, and allows us to explore our unlimited potential in the wealth of renewables Nevada has to offer." On the heels of Sandoval's announcement NV Energy, the state's largest utility, announced it is seeking proposals to build or buy more renewable energy. Nevada has seen some of the lowest clean energy prices in the country and was already well positioned to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

Contrast Sandoval's pragmatism with the recent brief filed by Nevada's Attorney General, making the contorted argument that the State should oppose the Clean Power Plan--one of the biggest federal mechanisms to support clean energy development in state's like Nevada. The brief argues against the rule even though "the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, through its Division of Environmental Protection, concluded that Nevada is differently situated as compared to other States participating as petitioners in this litigation, and therefore Nevada has not joined this litigation as a State petitioner." The facts not being a good enough reason to avoid the litigation, Attorney General Laxalt found other reasons to pile on, including that ever-ready "slippery slope" argument. . The brief argues that the rule "opens the door to further rounds of discretionary EPA regulations--regulations that may well aim directly at Nevada utilities, businesses, and consumers." In otehr words, sure, this rule helps promote an clean energy, protect public health and spur economic growth in Nevada. But what will they do next?

The brief will likely make little difference since the Clean Power Plan is already before the court and will be litigated over the next year or two. NRDC is confident it will ultimately be upheld. Still, it's unfortunate to see another Attorney General ignoring his state's own interest in clean energy and ideologically tilting at windmills, instead.

With More Ambitious Carbon Pollution Cuts, RGGI Can Continue to Lead on Climate

February 24, 2016

Jackson Morris, Director, Eastern Energy, Danville, Pa.

This post was co-authored with my colleague Bruce Ho.

While the Supreme Court has temporarily delayed implementation of the federal Clean Power Plan, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation's first cap-and-trade program designed to cut carbon pollution from the power sector, continues to move forward. RGGI is a pioneering collaboration among nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states - Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont - that has demonstrated to the nation that we can cut dangerous carbon pollution while lowering utility bills, strengthening the grid, and improving our economy. In the seven years that RGGI has been in place, it has helped the participating states cut power-plant carbon pollution by more than 35 percent, while adding public health savings estimated at more than $10 billion, 30,000 job-years of work (a job-year is one year of full-time employment), almost $400 million in energy-bill savings, and $2.9 billion to the regional economy.

The Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states that comprise the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative can continue to lead on climate by modeling, and enacting, ambitious power-plant pollution cuts. (Photo: Nick Humphries via Flickr.)

As the governors of several RGGI states have made clear since the Supreme Court's Clean Power Plan stay, the RGGI program and the states' leadership on climate change will continue. (Here's just one example, from Delaware Governor Jack Markell: "We remain determined to move forward in responding to the issue of climate change. As a RGGI state, Delaware has led the country in working to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, and we will continue to do so regardless of the decision to stay the Clean Power Plan rule.")

Currently, the RGGI states are undertaking a review of the RGGI program to determine the level of carbon pollution reductions that the states will achieve beyond their current commitments, which extend through 2020. While this review was scheduled before the Clean Power Plan existed, the states are also using the review as an opportunity to design a compliance plan for the Clean Power Plan, which includes emissions targets out to 2030.

As articulated by the states, the first steps in their review of the RGGI program are to take stock of where the states' carbon emissions are headed under the current RGGI program and other state and federal clean energy policies - collectively referred to as the states' "reference case" - and then evaluate a range of potential policy scenarios, including future power-sector carbon pollution caps, that would cut emissions further. As NRDC and our environmental and public health allies told the RGGI states in comments filed last Friday, the states have an important opportunity in this review to make good on their commitments to make continued progress in reducing carbon pollution and to cement their leadership on climate change - but only if they get the reference case and policy scenarios right.

To achieve the RGGI states' existing goals to cut economy-wide greenhouse gas pollution in the range of 35-45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050 - the minimum level scientists say we need to avoid climate change's worst effects - the RGGI states will need to continue to cut power sector carbon pollution, both further and faster than the Clean Power Plan requires. Toward this end, we've recommended that the states include in the policy scenario analysis a power sector carbon cap that decreases by 5 percent below 2020 levels per year after 2020, in addition to the states' existing proposal to evaluate a cap that decreases by 2.5 percent per year.

The policy scenarios that the states analyze now will help determine the emissions cap they adopt later in the review. So it's important that the states include in their range of scenarios ambitious carbon pollution reductions that will get the states where they want to go on climate. We're pleased that the RGGI states intend to look at a scenario that posits annual emissions reductions of 2.5 percent between 2020 and 2030. But to achieve the economy-wide reductions that many states have mandated, and the safe future our kids need, it's likely that we'll need more ambitious carbon pollution cuts from power generators. A 5 percent annual cap reduction would work out to about 3.9 million fewer tons of carbon pollution annually. Since 2009, emissions from power plants in RGGI have fallen on average by 3.8 million tons of carbon pollution per year. So our recommendation is right in line with the level of annual emissions reductions that the states have been able to achieve thus far.

It's also critical that the states include assumptions in their reference case that accurately reflect where the region is headed under existing state and federal policies. The reference case is used to help understand the level of effort needed to achieve future RGGI carbon caps, and there's good reason to believe that a variety of existing policies will contribute to lower emissions, making it even easier to meet a more ambitious RGGI cap for the power sector. Currently, the states' reference case has some components that need to be corrected:

The states should account for newly-extended federal renewable energy tax credits, which will drive significant growth in wind and solar energy. Right now, the reference case doesn't include the significant impacts of December's extension of the federal Production Tax Credit for wind power and federal Solar Investment Tax Credit. Over the next five years, these tax incentives will be incredibly important drivers of clean energy deployment, and, all on their own, are projected to bring online as many as 53 gigawatts of renewable energy nationally, according to a new study released this week by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). That additional clean-energy deployment will lower emissions from the power sector and decrease electric prices, making RGGI compliance less expensive.

The states should use more realistic assumptions about renewable energy costs. The current reference case also significantly overestimates the fast-dropping costs of wind and solar power by using out-of-date costs tallied by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). As NRDC analysis has shown, EIA's forecasts consistently overestimate renewable energy costs and underestimate deployment of new wind and solar. The Environmental Protection Agency used more accurate (and lower) prices published by NREL in the EPA's federal Clean Power Plan analysis, and the RGGI states should use NREL's figures as well.

The states should ensure that their reference case fully accounts for other state clean energy policies that will make it even easier to meet a more ambitious RGGI cap. The current reference case also doesn't fully account for other independent drivers of power-sector carbon reductions in the region, such as state renewable energy and energy efficiency policies. Every RGGI state has a renewable energy standard--New York, for example, recently initiated a utility commission proceeding to get 50 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2030--and every RGGI state but one has an energy efficiency standard or goal. (Massachusetts leads the region and the nation by now requiring annual electric savings of 2.93 percent.) These standards will reduce carbon pollution independent of RGGI - thus making it easier to meet a future RGGI cap - and should also be incorporated into the reference case.

Getting these assumptions right and including a more ambitious power sector carbon pollution reduction scenario in the RGGI states' analysis are the first steps in ensuring that the RGGI states will have the information they need to commit to further, meaningful cuts in power-plant carbon pollution later on.

RGGI has shown how smart, forward-thinking policies to protect our environment can improve our economy, create thousands of new jobs and enhance our health. In fact, the program is a clear example of the benefits we can expect to see nationally if the Clean Power Plan is upheld, as we expect it will be. By conducting a thorough program review and committing to further power-sector carbon pollution cuts to achieve the states' existing economy-wide 2030 and 2050 climate targets, the RGGI states can cement the climate leadership they've exhibited so far, and once again help lead our nation forward into the clean energy economy.

Federal Tax Credits Will Now Help Deploy As Many As 53 Gigawatts of Clean Energy, Thanks To You

February 24, 2016

Nathanael Greene, Director of Renewable Energy Policy, New York City

There's great news out this week about the federal tax credits for wind and solar power that were extended as part of December's omnibus spending bill: By 2020, these tax incentives--the Production Tax Credit for Wind Power and the Solar Investment Tax Credit--will, all on their own, help deploy as many as 53 gigawatts of wind and solar power. That's enough to juice up almost 14 million homes. Importantly, they can cut carbon pollution from our country's electric sector by at least 540 million metric tonnes cumulatively between 2016 and 2030. (On average, over the 15-year period, that's 36 million tons of reductions, or the equivalent of taking nearly 8 million cars off the road.) Those are the results reported in a new evaluation of the tax credits' impacts, conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Over the next 5 years, federal renewable energy tax credits will help deploy 48-53 gigawatts of clean energy. Supporters across the country helped get the legislation through a bogged-down Congress. Good work! (Photo: Vote Solar)

Of course, those numbers are good news for our climate: When it comes to combating climate change, the more renewable energy we deploy, and the faster we deploy it, the better. And it's good news for our growing national renewable energy industry, which now employs more than 280,000 workers in wind and solar power alone. (Job numbers weren't included in the NREL analysis. But industry watchers predict that they'll climb along with deployment.)

All this wind and solar power deployment is good news for our health, too: Displacing dirty fossil-fuel power with renewable energy means we'll have cleaner air to breathe and we'll cut down on the startlingly high numbers of premature deaths that occur in the US each year as a result of air pollution. (In fact, the US sees about 80,000 air-pollution-related deaths annually. That's about twice the number who die from breast cancer.)

Americans overwhelmingly favor government support for clean energy, as poll after poll shows. And though these tax credits were bogged down in Congress, our collective efforts on their behalf--our visits to elected officials, our letters to the editor, our lawn signs and marches--helped renew them, despite many delays. Now that NREL has calculated their impacts, it's empowering to know how much impact, together, we clean energy supporters can have.

Will the Delta Tunnels Project Increase Average Water Exports from the Estuary?

February 24, 2016

Doug Obegi, Staff Attorney, Western Water Project, San Francisco

The Department of Water Resources recently released an estimate of how much additional water would have been diverted from the Delta in January and part of February if the proposed Delta tunnels (California WaterFix or BDCP) had already been built. We have asked the State to make the underlying analysis and modeling available, to better inform ourselves, the public and decision-makers about the proposed project and alternatives. For instance, how much would doing so have reduced Delta outflow? What assumptions were they using regarding bypass flows, post-pulse protections, and reverse flows in the South Delta? And how much of the 9,000 cfs capacity would have actually been used, and for how long during that period?

But one thing is already clear, before delving into the details of the modeling - the State's estimate of additional water supply that the tunnels would have made available over this short period of time is misleading someone - we just don't know who's getting the bait and switch.

On the one hand, the State's recent statements suggest that the Tunnels truly are about taking more water from the Delta, rather than protecting fish and wildlife and reducing reliance on water supply from the estuary as required by State law. Conservation groups, Delta farmers, fishermen, and many other stakeholders are rightly concerned that the proposed WaterFix will increase water exports in and upstream of the Delta and worsen water quality for farmers and fisheries. Under some operational proposals, WaterFix will significantly increase average exports from the Delta and greatly worsen conditions for salmon and other native wildlife. In addition, the state's waiver of environmental protections during the drought, in order to increase water supply for the CVP and SWP, undermines the trust that a new facility would be operated according to the rules, even if those rules were adequately protective to begin with.

On the other hand, the State has repeatedly claimed that, on average, WaterFix will not increase water exports from the Delta under the misnamed high outflow scenario, which largely maintains the inadequate Delta outflows that exist today in the spring and worsens conditions in the winter. Numerous agencies and scientists have concluded that these existing outflows fail to protect water quality and the environment. But if Delta exports on average don't increase, for every time period that the modeling shows there will be increased water exports from the Delta, there are time periods when WaterFix will result in an equal reduction in water exports compared to today. And for all the time periods when the new facility will not be used, or will result in reduced exports, the contractors will still have to pay for the costs of the new facility. That means that, if the Tunnels maintain about the same level of exports on average as today, the proposed WaterFix will result in more than 1 billion dollars in debt payments each year in 2014 and 2015, with no additional water supply - money that could otherwise be devoted to more water recycling, stormwater capture, habitat restoration, and other real fixes for California's broken water system.

Of course, the SWRCB, state and federal agencies, and numerous independent scientific reviews have already indicated that current water diversion levels are unsustainable and harm the public's interest in clean water and abundant fish and wildlife populations. The amount of water flowing through the Bay-Delta estuary and into San Francisco Bay is one of the strongest indicators of the health of the estuary's fish and wildlife. Similarly, the amount of water flowing through the Delta is critical to maintain water quality for farmers, cities, and fisheries in the Delta. In 2010, the State Water Resources Control Board recommended that 75% of the unimpaired runoff in the Bay-Delta watershed from January to June should be allowed to flow through the estuary, limiting diversions and storage to 25%. In contrast, in January 2016 - the month that DWR estimates WaterFix would increase exports - approximately 60 percent of the runoff in the Bay-Delta watershed was captured or diverted, resulting in far less of the unimpaired flow making it through the Delta than what scientists recommend for a healthy estuary.

The failure to meaningfully improve Delta outflows in WaterFix/BDCP is a big reason why the State Water Resources Control Board noted in its recent order on the tunnel petition, "The appropriate Delta flow criteria will be more stringent than petitioners' current obligations and may well be more stringent than the petitioners' preferred project." (page 4) If the State Water Resources Control Board or other regulatory agencies require more flow through the Delta (more than the 40% that made it in January 2016), then WaterFix would not have yielded any additional water supply in that month.

I'm certainly curious to see the modeling that DWR used, and would love to see that data for the past 3 years as well. I continue to believe that new conveyance - if properly sized and operated to take less water from the Delta on average - could be part of a broader portfolio of water supply solutions. But to my knowledge, the State has never modeled how existing conveyance would compare to new conveyance alternatives with biologically realistic Delta outflow requirements - significantly higher delta outflow than today. That kind of analysis is critical for informed decisionmaking. And of course, by waiving the operating rules over the past several years, the state and feds have significantly damaged the trust that a new facility would be properly operated.

But to get back to the beginning, and the claims that WaterFix would increase diversions in January 2016 - either the water districts who would pay for the tunnels are being misled because the project on average will result in similar exports, or conservation and fishing groups are being misled because the project on average will result in increased exports.

So, DWR, which is it - does BDCP/WaterFix increase exports from the estuary on average, or not?

Hawaii Wildlife Trade Ban Bill Passes Senate

February 24, 2016

Elly Pepper, Legislative Advocate, Washington, DC

© Megan Coughlin

Yesterday, the Hawaii Senate passed a bill (Senate Bill 2647/House Bill 2502) that would ban the vast majority of the state's ivory trade. And the legislation wouldn't just help elephants--it also bans the trade in a number of animals threatened by wildlife trafficking, including sea turtles, rhinos, and whales.

This is great news because Hawaii is the third largest ivory market in the country, following New York and California. Indeed, a 2008 ivory survey of U.S. ivory markets, found 23 outlets on Oahu selling 1,867 ivory items like jewelry, figurines, and chopsticks, almost 90% of which were likely imported illegally or are of unknown origin. The state also has one of the largest - if not the largest - online ivory marketplaces in the country.

Over the past two years, NRDC has helped secure similar legislation in New York and California. Because the federal government cannot further restrict the trade of wildlife within a state, these state bans are critically important to reducing U.S. demand for ivory, and, as a result, poaching in Africa. In addition, these bans send an important signal to China - the world's largest ivory consumer - that the United States is doing its part as China moves forwards with announced plans to eliminate its domestic ivory market.

Specifically, the bill will ban the vast majority of commercial transactions, including sale, offer for sale, purchase, possession with intent to sell, trade, and barter of the listed animals. It contains reasonable exemptions for activities such as transfers to heirs and beneficiaries, educational and scientific purposes, traditional cultural practices, and antiques and musical instruments containing a small percentage of ivory. Further, the legislation will eliminate cover for illegal ivory by banning commerce in mammoth ivory since wildlife traffickers often claim their products are made from this legal source of ivory when they are actually from recently-poached elephants.

Next, the bill heads to the Hawaii House of Representatives, where it will be heard by the Judiciary Committee on March 25.

Building a more diverse marine conservation community

February 24, 2016

Sarah Chasis, Senior Attorney and Director, Ocean Initiative, New York

I am very excited to announce that NRDC is teaming up with other environmental organizations to sponsor the Roger Airliner Young (RAY) Marine Conservation Diversity Fellowship Program. Named in honor of a pioneering African-American female marine biologist Roger Airliner Young (pictured at the bottom), this fellowship program is a year-long paid opportunity for recent college graduates from diverse communities and backgrounds. The program seeks to provide the graduates with the skills, resources and support to launch rewarding careers in the field of conservation generally and marine conservation specifically. NRDC and other environmental groups are hoping that the RAY fellowship will encourage recent college graduates of diverse communities and backgrounds to pursue career development opportunities in marine conservation, by providing leadership training and developing a pipeline for career development. The program is accepting applications now through March 21st. The Fellows will be announced on June 15, 2016.

The RAY fellow will assist NRDC staff members in ongoing advocacy efforts in ocean conservation. The fellow will have an opportunity to work on a range of ocean issues which may include preventing new oil and gas development along the outer continental shelf, improving fisheries management, securing new marine protected areas, engaging in regional ocean planning, promoting protection of the Arctic and of the high seas, and working to defend against environmental rollbacks in the legislative process. Through this work, the Fellow will gain skills in research and analysis, written advocacy, oral advocacy, and participation in regulatory processes. The Fellow will be an integral part of NRDC's team and will gain exposure to a variety of activities including legislative advocacy, science meetings, and advocacy strategies including meetings with stakeholders.

There is a lot of exciting work going on now in marine conservation, both in the U.S. and internationally, and we are eager to promote greater diversity and inclusiveness within this important field, as well as in the conservation field more generally.

Fellows will be paid and will receive health insurance, benefits and a professional development grant of $1,000. Each fellow will also receive formal mentorship and have access to a variety of professional networks.

For more information, please go to RAY Conservation Fellowship Program.

The UK should invest in real clean energy, not dirty biomass

February 24, 2016

Sasha Stashwick, Policy Analyst, New York

Today there are more signs that Drax, the UK's largest utility--and largest burner of biomass--is struggling, mostly because the future of government subsidies propping up the company is now up in the air. That could be good news for the climate and for US forests, which serve as the sourcing ground for the wood pellets burned in Drax's power plants. But an end to dirty biomass subsidies should clear the path for more, not less, investment in the truly clean energy technologies like wind and solar that the UK needs. Without this investment, the UK risks prolonging the life of its coal plants and seeing the country fall behind the clean energy economies of its neighbors.

The Financial Times reported today that Drax's pre-tax profit plunged by two thirds in 2015 forcing the company to more than halve its dividend. This is no blip. The FT goes on to report that Drax's shares have fallen 68% in the last two years and quotes the company as saying the "pain" will continue in 2016.

A major reason cited for the profit plunge was growing uncertainty about government subsidies for the company's conversion of its coal-fired power plants to burning biomass--subsidies the company is wholly dependent on. [An analysis by the Daily Mail showed that in 2014, subsidies accounting for a whopping 75% of the company's gross profit].

As I discussed here, there are other signs that uncertainty for Drax and the biomass industry is growing as well.

Drax is a top purchaser of wood pellets sourced from the forests of the US South. The consequences of Drax's biomass conversions have been equally devastating for the climate and these forest ecosystems. Burning wood to generate electricity spews more carbon pollution into the environment than coal, so Drax's conversion of coal to biomass just prolongs the life of old inefficient plants by burning a dirtier fuel. And it is driving destructive sourcing practices in some of our most valuable and biodiverse forests, including the ecologically-rich bottomland hardwood forests of the southeastern United States.

Dirty bioenergy is not a 21st century solution to our energy needs and the UK government is right to cut biomass subsidies to Drax and others. Addressing climate change requires smart government policies that invest in leveling the playing field for truly clean energy technologies, not extending the life of coal plants and wasting scarce public resources by locking in decades of subsidies for the polluting fuels of the past.

Unfortunately, the UK's recent move to strip all renewables of the climate change tax levy exemption has hurt the overall effort to transition to a clean energy economy. As it shifts away from its dependence on coal, it's critical that the UK government continue to support real renewables like solar and wind, which are increasingly becoming cost-effective. UK policymakers need only take a cue from their northern European neighbors like Denmark, which met more than 60% of its electricity needs from renewables in 2015, with more than 40% coming from wind power alone.

Supreme Court Will Weigh the Scope of States' Authority over Their Electricity Mix

February 23, 2016

Miles Farmer, Legal Fellow, Energy & Transportation Program, New York City

In what is shaping out to be a banner year for energy regulatory law wonks, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in its second case this year addressing the boundary between state and federal authority over the electricity sector. While the first case, FERC v. Electric Power Supply Association (EPSA), concerned what the federal government can do, this case, Hughes v. Talen Energy Marketing, will address what the states can do. The Hughes case is important because it will help to determine the range of tools that states can use in influencing the mix of electricity generation that is built to address their needs.

The basic issue in Hughes is the extent to which the Federal Power Act (FPA), the statute that regulates much of the electric sector, restricts states' ability to make certain energy policy choices. The basic issue in EPSA was the scope of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC's) power under the FPA. The two concepts are linked because under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, states are not allowed to take on the role reserved exclusively for FERC under the FPA (FERC is responsible for ensuring that wholesale electricity prices are fair), or to regulate in a manner that otherwise irreconcilably conflicts with federal law. In oversimplified terms, states essentially cannot do FERC's job, prevent FERC from doing its job, or require anyone to take action that would violate FERC's rules.

The Case

In 2011, believing that reliability of the power grid in its state was at risk, Maryland took steps to develop more power plants. The Maryland Public Service Commission (MD PSC) solicited proposals for a new natural gas-fired power plant and eventually selected a winner from the pool of bidding power plant developers. The developer whose proposal was ultimately selected, Competitive Power Ventures (CPV), promised to construct a 661-megawatt (MW) power plant according to the following arrangement:

CPV would build the plant and sell its energy and capacity (a promise to be available if called upon to meet electricity demand during a specified period) into the regional wholesale markets regulated by FERC. Maryland's electric distribution companies--the companies that purchase power in the wholesale markets and deliver it to homes and businesses--would be required to pay (or receive from CPV) the difference between the wholesale market prices CPV received through its sales, and a fixed price proposed by CPV and agreed to by the MD PSC. This "contract for differences" thus guaranteed CPV a fixed income stream so long as it held up its end of the bargain. In return, Maryland would get some assurance that a new plant would be built to address its perceived reliability need.

A number of CPV's competitors filed suit, arguing that these contracts for differences were a sweetheart deal and illegal because Maryland intruded into FERC's exclusive jurisdiction over wholesale energy markets. In their briefs, they contend that the MD PSC's order exceeds state authority under the FPA. They argue that the state's order is "field preempted"--in other words, that Congress has forbidden the state to regulate in the area that it did, because the order intrudes on FERC's exclusive field of authority over wholesale sales of electricity. Alternatively, they argue that the MD PSC order is "conflict preempted" because even if it did not impermissibly regulate wholesale sales, it frustrates (i.e. conflicts with) FERC's ability to send its desired wholesale market price signals.

The MD PSC and CPV counter that the MD PSC's order is not field preempted because the FPA preserves states' traditional authority to determine their own generation mix. They argue that it is not conflict preempted because CPV complied with FERC rules when bidding into its markets, and because FERC's organized markets were intended to supplement other forms of contracting for electricity rather than replace them entirely. Maryland also argues that FERC remains free to determine whether CPV's wholesale sales are just and reasonable under the FPA. Maryland and CPV have had a rough go in the lower courts (as did New Jersey and CPV in a similar case considered in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit). The U.S. Court for the District of Maryland and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit both agreed with the companies challenging the MD PSC's order. But, in a move that surprised many observers and ran counter to the recommendation of the Solicitor General (the person who represents the United States before the U.S. Supreme Court), the Supreme Court agreed to hear the MD PSC and CPV appeals.

The Stakes

A decision reversing the Fourth Circuit's ruling against Maryland and CPV would make clear that states have a wide range of tools available to influence the make-up of their resource portfolios, including the ability to require contractual arrangements that alter the market signals sent by organized wholesale markets. The implications of a decision affirming the Fourth Circuit, however, are significantly more complicated, and would depend a lot on how the Court reaches its conclusion. A very broad ruling could limit the range of tools states can use to achieve their energy policy goals, whereas a narrow decision might effectively leave states with nearly all of the practical authority they already have. Whether the Court affirms or reverses the Fourth Circuit, it could use this case as an opportunity to clarify its test for preemption under the FPA. Scalia's death also raises the possibility that the Court could split 4-4, in which case the Fourth Circuit's decision would be affirmed (unless, improbably, the Court were to choose to reschedule the case for another round of arguments), but the Supreme Court's decision would have no precedential value. Such a decision would not bind courts in other regions of the country.

Based on legal theories similar to those at issue in Hughes, several challenges have been brought against state policies both to promote clean energy and to provide lifelines to otherwise uneconomic fossil-fueled power plants. Our colleagues at the State Power Project track the challenges here. But Hughes involves a relatively unique set of facts, so it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court's decision will provide any governing precedent one way or the other. This week's oral arguments may provide some hints on this front. Given the Court's decision to take the case over the recommendation of the Solicitor General, a relatively likely outcome is that the Court may, at minimum, narrow the Fourth Circuit's decision.

Regardless of how the Court decides Hughes, we anticipate that state efforts to promote energy efficiency and demand response (customers reducing their energy use upon request) will continue forward without legal hurdles, and that states will be able to move forward with renewable energy programs in a manner that is consistent with the Court's ultimate decision. States can and should continue to take an active role in ensuring that the grid of the future offers reliable service in a clean and efficient manner.

The Virtues of Clean Power Planning: Pennsylvania After the Stay

February 23, 2016

Mark Szybist, Senior Program Advocate, Energy and Transportation, Washington, D.C.

Recognizing that the Supreme Court's recent "stay" of the Clean Power Plan neither halts climate change nor negates the many good reasons Pennsylvania has (apart from EPA deadlines) for taking immediate steps to expand clean energy and reduce carbon pollution from power plants, Governor Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have announced that they will continue work on a state plan to implement the Clean Power Plan.

Predictably, Pennsylvania's coal interests have cried foul, suggesting that the DEP will inflict irreparable harm upon them just by planning for a clean energy future. In fact, the Wolf administration's decision to move forward is reasonable, prudent, and moral - with a tremendous upside and no downside. Here's why.

With or without the Clean Power Plan, clean energy is just good policy.

As my colleague David Doniger has written, NRDC is confident that the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold the Clean Power Plan. If it does, fossil-fuel fired power plants in Pennsylvania will be legally required to cut their carbon pollution, in which case the Commonwealth's "least-cost compliance approach to benefit consumers of electricity" (to cite the state Greenhouse Gas Regulation Implementation Act) will be to expand energy efficiency and zero-emitting renewable energy. (For more policy detail, check out the comments that NRDC and several Clean Power Coalition partners filed during the DEP's public comment process last November).

The Clean Power Plan isn't the reason for expanding clean energy, though. The reason is that replacing dirty fossil fuels with efficiency and renewables will improve air quality and public health, create clean energy jobs, and also reduce electricity bills, in addition to curbing global warming. Most fundamentally, it's a way to "protect our common home." Moreover, as Secretary Quigley has noted, clean energy is "really good business," especially given the recent five-year extension of the Production Tax Credit for wind energy and the Investment Tax Credit for solar energy.

It's for such reasons that Governor Wolf and 16 other governors last week signed the Governors' Accord for a New Energy Future, which recognizes that "expanding energy efficiency and renewable energy in a cost-effective way strengthens our states' economic productivity, reduces air pollution and avoids energy waste." And it's because clean energy makes business sense that, as my colleague Montina Cole has explained, many power companies are affirming their commitment to cleaner energy resources - regardless of regulatory requirements.

Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support clean energy and a strong and timely State Plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

During the DEP's public comment period on the State Plan last fall, more than 2,000 citizens, generators, businesses, trade groups, legislators, and non-profit organizations filed written comments or testified at the DEP's 14 public listening sessions. NRDC analyzed these comments and found that more than 80% of commenters said they wanted the state to expand clean energy. More than 90% expressed support for the DEP's development of a Pennsylvania-specific State Plan, and almost 70% said they wanted Pennsylvania to submit its Plan on time.

These numbers are consistent with bipartisan polling conducted in late 2014 by Public Opinion Strategies, which found that 82% of Pennsylvanians endorsed a state-crafted plan to curb carbon pollution, while even higher percentages wanted more investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The numbers are also in line with data collected by Yale University, as shown on Yale's Climate Opinion Maps.

The Pennsylvania Coal Alliance has claimed that during the comment period, comments filed on behalf of 73% of Pennsylvania's electricity generation asked the DEP to wait until 2018 to submit a state plan. But a fact-check by NRDC found that less than half of Pennsylvania's generation capacity asked the DEP to delay submission. Furthermore, two of Pennsylvania's largest generators - Exelon and Calpine - specifically asked the DEP to submit a State Plan in September, 2016.

The truth is that the electric industry is increasingly of the same mind as Pennsylvania's citizens, when it comes to clean energy. "Electric utilities are investing in clean energy and pursuing energy efficiency," said the president of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for investor-owned utilities, after the Supreme Court ruling. Another Edison executive added: "You can't simply put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to major strategic investments that the captains of industry are making,"

Pennsylvania is on course to develop a State Plan now - and could be hurt, if it doesn't.

Pennsylvania has been a leader on the Clean Power Plan since the spring of 2015, when it was accepted into the National Governors Association "policy academy" for modeling Clean Power Plan compliance approaches. The Commonwealth's planning efforts through the NGA are ongoing, and in the meantime Pennsylvania has collected more stakeholder input on Clean Power Plan compliance than any other state.

Thanks to this prudent planning and stakeholder engagement, the DEP is now uniquely positioned to finish a State Plan with a relatively small commitment of time and resources. If the DEP were to stop planning, on the other hand, it would lose momentum and focus, and the State Plan could take much longer to develop - and consume more DEP resources. Thus, if there is even a small chance that the Clean Power Plan will survive - and again, we are confident that it will survive - it makes fiscal sense for Pennsylvania to develop a State Plan now.

Failing to move forward with a State Plan could ultimately make Clean Power Plan compliance more difficult for Pennsylvania. Currently, the final deadline for submitting state plans to the EPA is 2018, while the start-date for generators' compliance obligations is 2022. If the Supreme Court upholds the Clean Power Plan, the former deadline will almost certainly be extended - but given the long lead-in period for compliance, we expect that 2022 would remain the year that compliance obligations begin. Consequently, states that postpone planning until after the federal litigation could find themselves with much less time to develop a thoughtful state plan that works for their citizens and generators.

What Now? The Plan for Pennsylvania's State Plan

According to DEP Secretary Quigley, the goal of the DEP is to release a publicly available? draft State Plan in late May, 2016. After the release, the General Assembly, the public, and all interested stakeholders will have a chance to provide input on the draft, most likely through both written comments and public hearings. The DEP will then revise the Plan and submit it to the EPA for review. The DEP is currently targeting a September, 2016 submission. Coal interests say this planning is bad policy, claiming that since coal was Pennsylvania's energy past, it has to be our energy future. The citizens of the Commonwealth know better, though. Happily, so does the DEP.

Rumored Koch Brother Attacks Indicates that Electric Cars are Giving Big Oil a Run for its Money

February 23, 2016

Roland Hwang, Transportation Program Director, San Francisco

If rumors of a Koch brothers-backed campaign are true, Big Oil must be desperate.

According to the Huffington Post, a shadowy group backed by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers appears to be planning a $10 million a year campaign to promote petroleum-based transportation fuels and attack government support for electric cars.

While this may sound like something out of Alice in Wonderland, it fits perfectly with the strategy of the crown jewel of the Koch Brothers' conservative network, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), to attack clean energy and perpetuate climate denial.

It also makes sense because Koch Industries is heavily invested in oil refineries and crude oil pipelines. A Koch Industries board member and energy lobbyist have reportedly already met with executives at Texas oil refining giants Tesoro Corp and Valero Energy.

Electric cars threatening Big Oil's monopoly

The oil industry has good reason to be worried: Battery prices are plummeting; affordable, longer-range electric cars are poised to enter the market; and global electric car markets are taking off.

According to a paper published last year in Nature Climate Change, the cost of producing battery packs for electric vehicles fell dramatically between 2007 and 2014, to lower price points than previous optimistic projections had expected. Bloomberg Energy Finance also confirmed this trend. Over the next five year, GM and Tesla are forecasting major cost reductions with mass economies of scale and improved cell chemistries, making mainstream electric cars a realistic, if not likely, prospect.

Perhaps Big Oil is nervous because, despite a 70 percent drop in oil prices, U.S. electric car sales in 2015 remained essentially flat. In 2016, industry expert Navigant Research predicts sales to rebound as newer, longer range models enter the market, including GM's new Volt with 50-mile electric range, Nissan's upgraded LEAF with 107-mile range, and Tesla's Model X crossover.

Time may be running out for Big Oil with GM, Tesla, and Nissan all poised to "crack the code" with affordable, 200-mile range electric cars. GM's Chevrolet Bolt, capable of traveling more than 200 miles on a charge and described by Wired as ``the electric car for the masses'', should arrive in late 2016, followed by Tesla's Model 3, and then the next generation Nissan LEAF.

And surely the oil industry must be sensing the writing is on the wall with almost 200 countries representing 97 percent of the world carbon emissions joining the historic Paris Agreement to cut carbon emissions, move away from fossil fuels, and accelerate clean energy technologies.

Practically overnight, China's electric car market tripled and now exceeds the U.S., thanks to support from the Chinese government. The powerful German auto industry is furiously trying to catch up. Audi announced that it expects 25 percent of its U.S. car sales to come from electric cars by 2025.

Fossil fuel industry is heavily subsidized

It is ironic - the height of hypocrisy - for the oil industry and its allies to attack federal support for electric cars when the fossil fuel industry enjoys more than $21 billion in annual production subsidies at the state and federal levels, according to Oil Change International.

The Congressional Research Service found that our energy tax code has been directly subsidizing the fossil fuel industry's ability to pollute for the past 100 years.

New York Times reported that "oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, with tax breaks available at virtually every stage of the exploration and extraction process."

Unlike the electric car industry, the fossil fuel industry is an established industry that hardly needs government support and imposes hidden health and other costs on our economy.

According to the National Research Council, the hidden human health costs of fossil fuel energy production and use from air pollution amounted to $120 billion in the U.S. in 2005. The figure does not even include damages from climate change, harm to ecosystems, effects of some air are pollutants such as mercury, and risks to national security, which the report examined but does not monetize.

To reduce these costs, we must move beyond oil. A joint NRDC and Electric Power Research Institute report shows that fueling transportation through electricity instead of petroleum could reduce carbon pollution by 550 million metric tons annually in 2050--equivalent to the emissions from 100 million of today's passenger cars.

Polluters protecting their profits

The rumored campaign comes as low oil prices have been cutting into the industry's profits.

In describing the rumored campaign, Huffington Post notes how deeply invested the Koch brothers are in keeping America tied to the dirty energy sources of the past: ``For Koch and other large refiners, the impact of a growing electric vehicle market could be significant down the road. Koch Industries' refining, pipeline and exploration operations contribute a healthy chunk of its $115 billion in annual revenues.''

A Koch Brothers and Big Oil-fueled campaign to attack electric vehicles would hardly be a surprise. And the public, no doubt, will see such an industry campaign for what it is - a self-serving effort to protect its bottom line.

No Time to Stay Quiet: the Clean Power Plan is Critical to Protect Public Health

February 23, 2016

Kim Knowlton, Senior Scientist, New York

The Supreme Court recently granted a stay that temporarily delays implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan (CPP), pending the resolution of legal challenges to the CPP that have been raised.

If this stay results in delaying carbon limits, public health will suffer. Groups including the American Public Health Association, the American Lung Association, Trust for America's Health, the American Thoracic Society, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Alliance of Nurses for a Healthy Environment, Health Care Without Harm, Climate 911, and the Asthma and Allergy Network voiced deep disappointment with the stay. These groups collectively represent tens of thousands of doctors, medical and health professionals who strive to protect us from health threats.

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) has everything to do with limiting carbon pollution that causes climate change. Climate change is already harming human health, right in our backyards. Burning fossil fuels is the #1 source of heat-trapping carbon pollution that causes climate change. The added benefit of CPP is trimming other nasty health-harming pollution emitted at the same time as carbon pollution.

There's an enormous body of scientific evidence that connects the dots between climate change and our health. The Third US National Climate Assessment makes this clear.

There's people's personal experience - with 2015 the hottest year ever recorded globally, and 15 of the 16 hottest years ever having occurred in the 21st century. In recent years, we've witnessed (or lived through) extreme heat, precipitation extremes from drought to heavy downpours, historic wildfires, emerging infectious diseases, sea level rise and coastal storms flooding cities and towns.

There's public opinion - two-thirds of Americans are in favor of the US taking action to limit climate change.

There's the international community - who reaffirmed at COP-21 meetings in Paris last December, that when it comes to climate change, health is a human right, it's a key principle.

As NRDC's President Rhea Suh said, the stay won't stop us from defending the Clean Power Plan and its health protections.

With the CPP, we can move away from the dirty fossil fuels that are driving climate change and shift to smarter, cleaner, healthier ways to power our future without endangering our planet and our kids' future. With so much hanging in the balance, don't expect the health community to stay quiet.

New NRDC Issue Brief guides cities toward effective, fair, and lawful stormwater credit trading programs

February 22, 2016

Alisa Valderrama, Senior Project Finance Attorney, New York

When rain runs off impervious surfaces such as sidewalks, streets and roofs, it collects a wide range of toxic pollutants, which are then dumped, usually untreated, into local waterways.

Many people don't know that.

If the rain gathers up all the street salt, oil, lawn chemicals, exhaust particles and other nasty things on the ground and sweeps them away, that's a good thing, right? Not if that polluted runoff is left untreated, as it is in most every city, and then goes into the source of your drinking water or where your kids like to play.

And, it gets worse.

In cities with older "combined" sewer systems, the problem is exacerbated because stormwater pipes join with wastewater pipes, sending both the polluted runoff and waste from sinks and toilets into those same waterways.

These systems are products of antiquated approaches to stormwater runoff, but the good news is that many cities are aware of the problem and are taking steps to reduce it through large-scale "green" stormwater infrastructure (GI) solutions, including street trees, rain gardens, vegetated swales, porous pavement and green roofs. This type of infrastructure welcomes rain where it falls, keeping polluted stormwater out of waterways -- until it can be treated, evaporate back to the atmosphere, be used onsite, or filter into the ground to benefit vegetation and replenish groundwater supplies.

Most cities' GI plans include modifications to existing paved space on public properties and in the public right-of-way such as streets and sidewalks, but there are also creative ways to turbocharge municipalities' approaches to the issue by including private land owners as stakeholders as well, and that's where our new "How To" Issue Brief comes in.

An increasingly common and straightforward way for cities to realize some of the GI potential of private land is by requiring on-site stormwater retention as a condition of construction permit approval for new property development or re-development projects above a certain size. The concept of "stormwater credit trading" typically arises within this context.That cities are realizing they need private property owners to help manage stormwater is no suprise. In many cities, the majority of the paved or impervious surface area (which generates stormwater) is privately owned property. Credit trading programs enable property developers or owners who are subject to an on-site retention requirement (for example, a requirement to manage the first inch of stormwater that falls on their site) to meet a portion of their requirements by buying stormwater "credits" from other property owners rather than building all needed GI on their own property.

In our Issue Brief, we describe in detail how cities considering setting up stormwater credit trading markets can ensure that the markets they create are fair, economical for the city, and lead to good water quality outcomes. Some cities, such as Washington, D.C., have already established stormwater credit trading programs, with initial stormwater credit trades taking place in late 2014. As more cities consider local ordinances requiring on-site stormwater management, and as those cities seek to introduce some flexibility into the rules of compliance for private property owners, we anticipate that "stormwater credit trading" or "alternative compliance" systems, as they are sometimes called, will continue to proliferate.

The fact is, each city is a unique instance with its own stormwater reduction goals that it needs to meet using locally tailored strategies. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to how stormwater credit trading should look in every city, our aim in this Issue Brief is to stress important criteria that a trading system must meet in order to be fair, effective, and lawful.

Let's get started.

Aliso Canyon Leak Plugged but Safety Issues Linger

February 21, 2016

Briana Mordick, Staff Scientist, San Francisco

After nearly four months, the leaking well at the Aliso Canyon underground gas storage facility in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles has finally been plugged. Preliminary estimates from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) put the total leakage at 5.4 billion cubic feet of gas, the primary component of which is potent heat-trapping methane. In the next hundred years, the gas that escaped from Aliso Canyon can heat the globe as much as the yearly emissions from more than 700,000 cars.

The leak seriously disrupted the lives of Porter Ranch's tens of thousands of residents, who feared for their health and safety, as well as that of their family, friends, and neighbors. People in Porter Ranch and around the state and country want to see concrete steps taken to ensure that something like this won't happen again - at either Aliso Canyon or the 13 other underground gas storage facilities in California ... or the hundreds more scattered across the nation.

There are several crucial things that need to happen to prevent future disasters at Aliso Canyon and elsewhere, including:

  • All the wells at Aliso Canyon and other underground storage facilities need to be physically inspected to make sure they're not currently leaking or at risk of leaking. This includes evaluating the casing, tubing, packers, and cement in each and every well to make sure there aren't any holes, gaps, leaks, corrosion, or erosion. Any problems need to be fixed, and if they can't be fixed the wells need to be plugged and abandoned.
  • Aging infrastructure must be addressed. As described in more detail below, all of California's underground gas storage facilities are in depleted oil or gas fields that were discovered decades ago and contain aging wells not built to today's standards. These wells need to be subject to the most stringent monitoring requirements. If they exhibit persistent problems, their construction should be updated or they should be plugged and abandoned.
  • Regulations governing these and other injection wells need to be completely overhauled. California's current statewide regulations specifically for gas storage projects run a whopping total of 86 words. They don't include any rules for how to convert old wells to storage wells or even how to build new wells. Inspections to look for holes inside the wells are required only once every five years, and the rules don't say anything about how often gas storage wells have to be inspected for problems with the cement or for corrosion. All of these issues regarding how to build and maintain wells may have played a role in the Aliso Canyon leak.
  • Rules must be enforced. Even the strongest regulations in the world are useless without enforcement. Reports show that the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has been failing to enforce even the weak protections that are on the books for injection projects like underground gas storage. DOGGR regulators have been bypassing critical protections and failing to fix problems once they're found.

The size of Aliso Canyon leak was extraordinary but smaller leaks happen throughout the oil and gas production chain every day. Unfortunately at the national level, although EPA has put in place and proposed important new rules that will apply to new sources of emissions, it has not yet put forth a plan to regulate sources already in operation. It's a no-brainer that if we want to be serious about controlling methane emissions, then any rules must apply to existing sources, which is why we and our partners are calling on EPA to do just that.

This disaster shone a bright light on both the antiquated infrastructure used to store gas and the outdated regulations governing these facilities.

The Aliso Canyon oil field was discovered in 1938. The deep geologic formation, in which the gas is currently stored, once held oil. The failed well - the Standard Sesnon 25 - was originally drilled in 1953 as an oil production well. It was converted to a gas storage well 20 years later - without any major upgrades, even though it was never designed or constructed for that purpose and the design was likely already outdated. And no major upgrades to the well's construction have occurred since then.

The failed well is far from the only one of that age or design. Almost half of the 114 active storage wells in Aliso Canyon were drilled before 1954 - again, not for the purpose of gas storage, but for oil production. The vast majority of the remaining wells were originally drilled 15 years ago or more.

The story is no different for the other 13 storage facilities in the state. The youngest was discovered in 1958 (the Los Medanos Field in Contra Costa County, operated by PG&E) and the oldest in 1929 (the Playa del Rey Field in LA County, operated by SoCalGas). In fact, SoCalGas itself highlighted concerns with its aging infrastructure in 2014 testimony before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) asking for a rate increase to address "...a negative well integrity trend." In language eerily prescient of the Aliso Canyon disaster, SoCalGas warned that without an enhanced inspection and repair program, "SoCalGas will continue to operate in a reactive mode (with the potential for even higher costs to ratepayers) to address sudden failures of old equipment. In addition, SoCalGas and customers could experience major failures and service interruptions from potential hazards that currently remain undetected."

DOGGR's regulations for these facilities haven't been updated in decades, and what regulations the agency does have are totally inadequate to prevent future incidents. In the same testimony to the CPUC, SoCalGas stated that while it "currently meets existing requirements under DOGGR regulations, the possibility of a well related incident still exists, given the age of the wells and their heavy utilization."

Leaders and lawmakers around the state are acutely aware of these issues and are taking steps to address them. For example:

  • Governor Brown's emergency order prohibits injection into Aliso Canyon "...until a comprehensive review, utilizing independent experts, of the safety of the storage wells and the air quality of the surrounding community is completed." DOGGR and independent experts developed a battery of tests that wells will have to undergo before injection is allowed to begin again.
  • DOGGR put in place emergency regulations aimed at addressing immediate safety issues at underground storage facilities around the state and has also begun the process to develop permanent rules.
  • Various bills are moving through the state legislature to address the safety of Aliso Canyon specifically and underground gas storage projects more generally.

The process of modernizing these facilities and how they are regulated won't be easy or fast, but it is critical to ensuring the safety of communities and protection of the environment.

Latin America Green News: World Bank provides $100 million to boost Mexico's energy efficiency, Chile monitoring ozone layer, concern over region's water supply

February 19, 2016

Maria Martinez, Program Assistant, Director of Programs & Latin America Project, Washington, D.C.

Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America.

To get the weekly Latin America Green News blog delivered directly to your email, subscribe here.

February 13th - 19th, 2016

Climate Change

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos this year experts unanimously agreed climate change is the most severe threat facing the world. The chief concern amongst leaders and experts was the issue of water. Currently, around 70 percent of available fresh water is utilized for agricultural purposes and as the demand for food production increases so does the need for water. By 2030 experts estimate the demand for water for agricultural purposes will increase by 40 percent. According to results from a Pew Center study which surveyed 40 nations on topics related to climate change, 59 percent of respondents in the Latin America region are concerned climate change will cause water scarcity problems. Along with the increased need for water, the demand for greater energy resources will also rise. The study put forth by the WEF this year estimates approximately USD $48 billion will be needed to fulfill growing energy demands. The study warns ""Unless water management practices change significantly, many parts of the world will begin to compete for energy and water supplies for agriculture and feed the population." (El Telegrafo 2/15/2016)

A group of researchers from the University of Santiago have successfully installed the first platform dedicated to measuring the ozone layer in the Chilean Antarctic in order to study the impacts of the hole in the ozone layer on climate change in the region. The project will, over a period of ten years, record the total ozone (the total amount of ozone in a column from the surface to the edge of the atmosphere) and its influence on the climate. Just last year scientists concluded the ozone layer hole had grown to over 28 million square kilometers. Dr. Raul Cordero, lead researcher said "the depletion or destruction of the ozone layer is most clearly manifested in high latitudes (particularly in Antarctica),"adding that "a better understanding of the interrelationship between climate change and ozone hole is needed, [and it] is the goal of our work." (El Dinamo 2/17/2016)

President Obama announced this week he will be making a historic trip to Cuba next month, making him the first president in almost nine decades to do so. Obama also plans to visit Argentina, signaling a desire to improve relationships with the country as the newly elected President, Mauricio Macri, settles in. While details are still evolving, the White House indicated that "The President will deepen efforts to increase cooperation between (the) governments in a range of areas, including trade and investment, renewable energy and climate change, and citizen security." (La Nacion 2/18/2016)

Deforestation

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has urged Paraguay to stop illegal deforestation in Ayoreo Totobiegosode, an ancestral territory in the Chaco forest where one of the last indigenous groups in the western hemisphere, the Totobiegosodes, lives in isolation. According to the local environmental group Guyra Paraguay, the Chaco region, shared by Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, has some of the highest indexes of deforestation in the world where up to 25 million trees are destroyed every year. Included in IACHR's resolution is a request for a mechanism to prevent third parties from entering the native territories where they can interfere with the indigenous groups' isolation. The Totobiegosodes have reported that three companies, including Brazilian company Yaguareté Porá, continue to deforest their ancestral territory despite the fact that their environmental licenses are suspended. (Diario el Pueblo, 2/12/2016)

A new study by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute reveals that secondary forests regenerate more quickly, absorb more CO2 and are more fertile than primary forests. As part of their study, scientists created a map called Red 2ndFOR to track the biomass recuperation of secondary forests in Latin America. The study includes eight countries in the Neotropic ecozone, from northern Mexico to southern Brazil, 1,478 plots of land and more than 168,000 trees. The secondary forests used in the study showed that after 20 years of recuperation they could absorb up to 11 times more CO2 than primary forests in the Amazons. The study also found that in the areas with the highest concentration of registered precipitation, the levels of biomass and soil regenerated were more fertile than that of primary forests. (La Estrella, 2/15/2016)

A group of scientists from the Center for Advanced Studies in Fruits (CEAF) in Chile is working to develop "climate change-resistant supertrees", able to weather droughts, squalls, cold fronts and storms. Since 2009, the CEAF scientists have been using a method called grafting, or artificial vegetative propagation, to cross different plant species to develop stronger, more climate resistant rootstocks. For instance, in the cross between a peach and an almond root, scientists developed a new drought resistant tree. Experts expect to introduce the supertrees to the market in 2019. (La Gran Epoca, 2/18/2016)

Energy

The World Bank will provide USD $100 million to improve energy efficiency in municipal services such as street lighting and waste treatment in at least 32 cities in Mexico. Director of the World Bank's Energy and Extractives Global Practice, Charles Feinstein, believes this assistance in coordination with Mexico's federal government will make Mexico a leader in energy efficiency in Latin America. Since 2014, at least one city in every state in Mexico has participated in studies led by Mexico's Ministry of Energy and the World Bank to determine region-specific metrics for energy efficiency in street lighting, pumping equipment and water sanitation of municipal buildings. (El Financiero, 2/16/2016)

Enel Green Power, an Italian renewable energy corporation, plans to invest USD $400 million in renewable energy projects in Peru. Included in the investment is a 20-year plan for the generation of wind (126MW), solar (180 MW) and hydroelectric (20 MW) power. In addition to 326 MW awarded in bids, Enel Green Power will become the top producer of renewable energy in Peru by 2018 and the only company operating three different renewable technologies. Nazca, the 126 MW wind farm, will be located in the district of Marcona in the south of Peru and is expected to generate 600 GWh per year, avoiding approximately 370,000 tons of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. The solar installation is expected to generate 440 GWh per year, avoiding 270,000 tons of CO2 emissions. (La Vanguardia, 12/18/2016)

This week's blog was completed with the help of contributions from Andrea Becerra.

For more news on the issues we care about visit our Latin America Green News archive or read our other International blogs.

Disaster Plan Updates in 2016: A Critical Opportunity for Climate Change Resilience in Maryland, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico (Part 1 of 5)

January 18, 2016

Becky Hammer, Project Attorney, Water Program, Washington, DC

As 2016 kicks off, it's a good time to reflect on the accomplishments of the past year, while also anticipating a preview of what the coming year will bring.

We certainly had some big victories to celebrate in 2015. In Paris, the world reached a historic agreement to limit the carbon pollution that is driving global climate change. And closer to home, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) adopted a new policy last spring - thanks in part to the efforts of NRDC and our allies - that will help our nation prepare for the impacts of climate change that are coming down the pipeline, even if we cut our greenhouse gas emissions moving forward.

This new policy, which goes into effect early next year, requires states to take account of climate change projections in their natural disaster preparedness plans, known as State Hazard Mitigation Plans. As we've been saying for the past several years, integrating climate change into these plans is a huge opportunity for states to take stock of what the future holds, strengthen their resilience-building strategies, and take advantage of federal grant funds to implement projects that will keep people safe.

States update their hazard mitigation plans on a rolling basis every five years. Four jurisdictions - Maryland, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico - are required to submit plan updates in 2016, and therefore they'll be the first to develop plans under the new policy.

Critically, approval of a state's hazard mitigation plan by FEMA makes the state eligible for federal grants that can be used on pre-disaster preparedness projects - things like strengthening bridges, moving structures out of the floodplain, and upgrading storm drain systems - that make people and property safer. Over the last 25 years, over $8.5 billion in federal grants have been distributed to states through these programs. If a state fails to develop an approvable plan under FEMA guidelines, it could be putting its future grant eligibility at risk.

This week we're going to check in with these jurisdictions - one each day, starting with Maryland tomorrow - to find out what climate impacts they should be considering as they assess their risk of future natural disasters, and what we might expect them to include in their 2016 plans based on their previous actions and policy statements.

In the meantime, here's a little preview of our assessments (click to view larger):

Check back with us tomorrow (and the rest of this week) for all the details.

Remembering MLK

January 18, 2016

Al Huang, Senior Attorney, Environmental Justice, New York

Today we remember and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who - alongside countless other activists like Julian Bond and John Lewis, among others - paved the way toward achieving social justice, civil rights and equality for all people. Thanks to their tireless advocacy during the civil rights movement, the nation witnessed the historic passages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Today, we bear witness to similar grassroots activism for social change in the context of the public health disaster that has unfolded in Flint, Michigan. In fact, there is no better example than Flint as an environmental justice disaster, where the people of Flint, including its children, have been forced to bear the disproportionate burden of lead exposure in drinking water due to the government's misguided effort to save a few dollars by switching water sources without treating the water to ensure it's safe.

Environmental justice refers to the disproportionate burden of environmental harms on a vulnerable community. The citizens of Flint - where forty percent of the city's residents, most of whom are African American, live in poverty - have remarkably elevated public awareness and brought collective national attention to a public health disaster caused by reprehensible government misconduct. Through their persistent advocacy, the story of Flint has unfolded from a local issue to a national headline and has become a symbol of government failure at every level - including the local, state and federal government.

NRDC's clients, Concerned Pastors for Social Action and Melissa Mays, along with countless others, have been at the frontlines of this struggle. Community groups invited NRDC to lend a hand in the struggle by providing expertise on the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the federal environmental law that the government violated. The SDWA is designed to ensure that water is safe for consumption, requiring water systems to test, monitor and treat drinking water.

In November, NRDC served a notice of intent to sue the City of Flint and Michigan officials for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) on behalf of Concerned Pastors and Mays, as well as NRDC and ACLU of Michigan. NRDC, along with many other community groups, including Concerned Pastors and Mays, had also petitioned the federal EPA to use its emergency powers to step in and fix this public health crisis, which fell on deaf ears. Now, as a result of government failures on every level, NRDC is helping Flint residents seek federal court involvement to step in and resolve this mess.

Like climate change, the drinking water contamination crisis in Flint was manmade and avoidable. In an effort to save a few bucks, an entire general of children will be dealing with the life-long impacts of lead exposure from drinking their tap water. It is a cruel irony that children of Flint, many of whom were already at higher risk of lead exposure, have now been dealt another blow by their own government. MLK's legacy and fight for equality continues.

New analysis shows Clean Power Plan is "very achievable" and delivers enormous benefits at low costs

January 15, 2016

Starla Yeh, Senior Policy Analyst, Climate and Clean Air Program, New York

When President Obama announced the final Clean Power Plan last August, the public only had a few detailed model runs to evaluate the new carbon pollution limits on power plants. Now, a new report out by M.J. Bradley & Associates, with insights and feedback from stakeholders including utility companies, trade associations and NGOs including NRDC, is the first in-depth analysis of a broad range of policy design options under the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The analysis confirms EPA's conclusions with even more data that the CPP is readily achievable and produces benefits that greatly outweigh the modest costs nationally. Because the Clean Power Plan helps cut energy waste, household electricity customers will even save money on their monthly electricity bills. And, there are options for even further reducing CPP costs and boosting benefits, such as trading allowances or credits (ERCs), which leads to significant cost savings and flexibility for both power generators and states.

The report also points to what we view as an important issue: EPA requires that state plans following the mass-based approach that exclusively covers existing power plants prevent "emissions leakage." "Emissions leakage" results from the incentives under a mass-based plan to shift generation and emissions to new fossil-fired plants outside of the program. The analysis found that while EPA is correct to require state plans to mitigate leakage, its proposed approach would only have a minor impact. EPA is taking comment on this, and stakeholders are currently working to offer alternatives that could be more effective.

M.J. Bradley studied 16 different scenarios - two reference cases and 14 policy cases with the CPP standards in place. The 14 policy cases examined both mass- and rate-based compliance along with various policy elements (e.g., treatment of new sources, allocation of allowances, and resources eligible to generate ERCs). The charts below refer to these various cases by their shorthand names. A fuller description of each of the cases and the accompanying assumptions appear in the report itself, but for now, this post will focus on the most important takeaways from this study.

On average, households will save on their electricity bills under the Clean Power Plan

U.S. households will also benefit from the Clean Power Plan. In 2030, M.J. Bradley found that they would save between 5 and 20 percent on average on their monthly electricity bills. The level of average savings depends on both the level of energy efficiency achieved and how revenue for the auction of carbon allowances would be used. This is even more reason that energy efficiency should feature strongly in any state implementation plan.

If all states were to achieve a modest level of energy efficiency in their compliance plans, electricity customers would save 8 percent on average on their monthly household electricity bills. With significant energy efficiency savings, customers could more than double their monthly electricity bill savings!

Choosing to reinvest revenue from the auction of allowances in bill assistance, energy efficiency, and/or other clean energy programs would yield even greater benefits for households. On average, the analysis shows that bills decline by an additional three to seven percent across the cases when revenue is reinvested into energy-related programs. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) does exactly this and generated over $1 billion in economic value across the region in the years 2012-2014.

Compliance can be achieved with a diverse energy mix

The analysis finds that the U.S. maintains a diverse mix of generation across all scenarios. On average, coal generation declines by 21 percent relative to reference, but still represents 23 to 28 percent of total electricity generation in 2030. Natural gas generation makes up a similar portion of total generation in 2030, supplying between 25 and 32 percent of U.S. electricity needs. The rest of U.S. demand is met by nuclear, energy efficiency, and renewable sources, with renewable generation increasing to between 11 and 15 percent of total U.S. generation in 2030.

Clean energy resources will play an increasing role in the energy market

Renewable generation from wind and solar will continue to grow and expand across the country. Since incremental renewable energy capacity (in operation after 2012) can help generators meet the emissions targets by providing a zero-emission source of energy and is eligible to generate "Emission Rate Credits" (ERCs) under a rate-based program, these cost-effective sources are key components of state compliance plans.

The assumptions underlying the modeling do not include distributed generation (i.e., solar panels on home roofs, microturbines) or the Congressional extension of the Investment tax credit (ITC) for solar energy or the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy - which we expect will result in further new renewable energy capacity than these scenarios project. We will continue to analyze the potential impacts of these current developments.

Compliance costs are modest, and are greatly outweighed by the benefits

M.J. Bradley found in this analysis that among the scenarios assuming states adopt mass-based compliance plans, the incremental costs to the electric sector ranged from $1 billion to $4 billion in 2030. To put this in perspective, it represents only an increase of between 0.7 percent and 2 percent over what the industry is projected to spend in 2030.

According to the analysis, the CPP will reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector 16 to 22 percent below 2012 levels (29 to 34 percent below 2005 levels) in 2030. This is equivalent to taking 69 million to 93 million cars off the road. The benefits of reducing this much pollution are huge. In 2030 alone, the benefits of reducing pollution under the CPP in these scenarios exceed the costs by $33 to $86 billion!

Conclusion

M.J. Bradley's analysis confirms that the Clean Power Plan is readily achievable and will result in large net benefits for consumers and the nation as a whole. Trading and energy efficiency will allow generators and states to meet CPP targets at low cost, while making the electricity system more flexible, saving consumers money, and improving public health.

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Thanks to my colleague, Amanda Levin, for co-authoring this post.

Water Loss Performance Standards: Where Should the States be Headed?

January 15, 2016

Ed Osann, Senior Policy Analyst, Santa Monica

Every water system leaks, and billions of gallons of drinking water are lost each day in the US alone. Fortunately, water losses are receiving welcome new attention, by individual utilities, the water industry generally, and state regulators, as shown on NRDC's water loss landing page. The question of what form a state water loss standard might take was a topic of conversation at a December meeting of the Water Loss Committee of the American Water Works Association (AWWA). There is no committee recommendation (AWWA doesn't actually advocate regulation), but with more states considering a water loss audit reporting requirement, this topic is likely to receive more attention in 2016.

Some regulators may be looking for a single metric to replace the old "% unaccounted" approach. Meanwhile, most utilities are phobic about a single metric, afraid that they'll be forced to overinvest in costly efforts to reduce losses that are not economical.

I see a hybrid approach evolving over time.

Economic Level of Losses

An ideal standard would be to require losses to be reduced by each water supplier to the level that no further cost-effective loss reductions are identifiable. Another way of putting this is that water suppliers have the responsibility to reduce all leakage that is cost-effective to prevent or eliminate. In the illustration below from the AWWA's new water loss manual, this is called the Economic Level of Real Losses (ELRL). With this concept, no water supplier is expected to make investments in water loss reduction that are not cost effective for its own system and customers. (This, by the way, is the approach that is already written into a voluntary best management practice in California, but which is not likely to be widely implemented as water suppliers there continue to drift away from BMP implementation.) Presumably, a regulation would allow some period of time, perhaps 5 years, to reach the ELRL, and then require it to be maintained at that level in subsequent years. Shifts in technology and economics are sure to take place over time, so the cost-effective level of intervention is likely to shift a bit as well.

The two requirements for making this operational, however, are for there to be good information available on both the costs and the benefits of intervention strategies to reduce losses. Regarding the costs of potential intervention, this requires a good "component analysis" - the next step beyond the water loss audit -- that will effectively characterize the type and location of losses, as well as current cost information on various loss reduction techniques (leak detection surveys, data logging, pressure-reducing valves, full pipe replacement, etc.). The second has to do with benefits - an accurate assessment of the value of water loss reduction, especially the value of saved water, aka the "avoided cost" of water. (Other benefits need to be quantified as well, including avoided street repairs, property damages, insurance premiums, service disruptions, etc.)

The most challenging part of determining the avoided cost of water is to account for savings of long-run capital costs, and not just short-run operating costs. The latter is the easy part, and the type of costs that the AWWA audit process defaults to. However, for the many utilities with a growing customer base, a value of water that does not include the avoided costs of capacity expansion will be far too low. Add to this the reality that most water suppliers are publicly owned, and not subject to consistent rate regulation and financial reporting that comes with state PUC regulation. So a regulator attempting to set a water loss performance standard based on the Economic Level of Real Losses would have to identify an avoided cost methodology and get all water suppliers familiar enough with it to use in a regulation -- a potentially tall order.

Avoided cost is not likely to change so frequently that it would have to be updated every year, but whenever a new capital improvement plan is adopted, a new avoided cost number should be recalculated. It could take the better part of a decade to put such a water loss regulatory framework in place. But this would be the ideal. Regulators might start with requiring the ELRL to be reported annually, and see what they get.

Loss Reduction Performance Indicators

Recognizing that few states will be ready to adopt a water loss standard based on the Economic Level of Real Losses any time soon, the AWWA water audit performance indicators for real losses and apparent losses can be used judiciously to make progress toward the elimination of economically recoverable losses of both types. The AWWA water audit software automatically calculates the volume of real losses and apparent losses, normalized for the size and configuration of the utility. For most urban utilities, real losses per service connection per day and apparent losses per service connection per day are the key indicators to work with.

Two or three years of validated water audits should give regulators enough performance data to design a performance standard. But rather than taking one number and applying it to all utilities, the scatter of utility performance can be used to establish reasonable expectations. For example, in the recent EPA-funded review of mostly unvalidated water audit data sets by WSO and published by the Water Research Foundation, real losses were found to have a median value of 40 gallons per service connection per day and an average value of 52 gallons per service connection per day, suggesting a disproportionate distribution toward higher losses. It would be logical for regulators to examine such a distribution of performance for validated reports under their jurisdiction, and call upon the worst performers to improve or to show why they shouldn't. The regulation could be written to establish a specific level of performance, say twice the reported median, as the basis for a rebuttable presumption that losses are excessive and that cost-effective reductions are possible and required. Water suppliers above this level could have the option to rebut the contention that reductions would be cost-effective, but if the bar is set high enough, most of those so identified will have few grounds to make a plausible claim that they have no cost-effective opportunities to reduce losses. The top group could be identified as the top quintile, top quartile, or some multiple of the median value itself. Over the years, should overall reported losses decline, the numeric volume of losses at the top quintile would edge downward as well, potentially reaching a different group of water suppliers.

A similar stratification (say bottom quintile) could identify water systems on the low end of the spectrum whose losses would potentially be close to the economic level of leakage. For the majority of water suppliers between these two groups on the ends of the spectrum, an approach of continuous improvement could be taken. Water suppliers in this group could be required to improve their three-year rolling average of reported losses by a specific volume, again drawing upon the data set of validated audit reports to help establish what is reasonable. These requirements could also be expressed as a rebuttable presumption, with the regulator taking care to make sure that the targets are obtainable enough so as to avoid wholesale appeals rather than actual loss reduction efforts.

Conclusion

It is quite possible that investor-owned utilities and their state regulatory commissions might actually lead the way toward a standard based directly on the Economic Level of Losses, and that would be most welcome. Perhaps the state controllers who are beginning to look at the financial implications of water loss might also lead the way. But it is likely to be very challenging for a state water resource agency without direct financial oversight over municipal water suppliers to make much progress on a standard based on Economic Levels. That's why I think we have to make meaningful use of the AWWA performance indicators that we have on hand, at least for the next several years.

While not involving a single metric applied across the board, a standard based on the judicious use of water loss performance indicators offers a fairly simple framework that would lay out a clear roadmap and allow each water supplier to anticipate and understand its responsibilities for water loss reduction. And if state financial assistance for water loss reduction were prioritized on a "worst first" basis, this could further encourage accuracy and candor in water loss reporting, as well as highly cost-effective water savings.

Latin America Green News: Mexico seeking ratification of Paris agreement, Lake Titicaca restoration plans, deforestation intensifies flooding in region

January 15, 2016

Maria Martinez, Program Assistant, Director of Programs & Latin America Project, Washington, D.C.

Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America.

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January 9th - 15th, 2016

Climate Change

Mexico's Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources, Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, said the government will seek to ratify the climate agreement reached by over 200 world leaders in Paris this past December. Pacchiano explained that after President Enrique Peña Nieto signs the accord, it will be submitted to Mexico's Senate so it may begin the formal process of becoming federal law. He expressed confidence in Mexico's ability to stick to its climate commitment saying the country has already shown leadership in climate action in the past by being the first developing country to submit an INDC and the second country in the world to implement a Climate Change Law back in 2012. (Excelsior 1/11/2016)

The Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) will loan Nicaragua USD $5.1 million for infrastructure and social programs to support the most vulnerable parts of the country's Caribbean region against climate change. The loan will be used to build four shelters, five community centers and to renovate two health centers. The Emergency Social Investment Fund (FISE) will lead efforts to fortify the region, in particular for 33,000 inhabitants that were affected by hurricane Félix in 2007. From 1994 to 2013, Nicaragua was affected by at least 49 climate-related events which caused $301 million dollars in damage and 2.98 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. (Spanish People Daily, 1/13/2016)

Conservation

Bolivia and Peru signed a bilateral agreement on Saturday to invest USD $400 million throughout the next 10 years to restore Lake Titicaca, the largest-fresh water lake in South America. The two countries began discussions on the lake in June 2015, a collaboration that Bolivian Environment Minister Alexandra Moreira described as "historic." "We are proud that the environmental sector is the first to give concrete, direct results and with the signing of this agreement that sets the guidelines of action for the recovery of Lake Titicaca," added Moreira. For the past 50 years, mining and industries in the area have been responsible for contaminating Lake Tititcaca. The first investment of USD $63 million will be used to begin water treatments. Three million people in both Bolivia and Peru depend on the lake's resources. The lake is also a tourist destination. (Telesur, 1/10/2016)

A conservation working group was launched by Mayor of Concón, Oscar Sumonte, in an effort to protect and preserve the La Isla Park in Concón, Chile. The park's wetlands are home to more than seventy species of migratory birds and a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. In addition to identifying primary barriers to conservation and suggesting a development plan for the surrounding area, a goal of the working group will be to establish better management techniques for the National Petroleum Company (ENAP)'s petroleum plant located close to the park.(EL Dinamo 1/13/2016)

Deforestation

Climate experts are linking the series of devastating floods of 2015 in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina to the effects deforestation and the intensification of the weather phenomenon El Niño. El Niño usually causes increased rains in South America, but scientists say global warming has intensified the effects of El Niño in recent years and in 2015 caused several rivers in the region to overflow. Rampant deforestation has prevented trees from acting as natural sponges that soak up the extra water. Experts now warn the same scenario could happen in other countries deforestation and El Niño are impacting, such as Bolivia. This could mean millions of dollars in property destruction and thousands of displaced families. (El Ciudadano 1/10/2016, El Pais 1/9/2016)

A project in Guaviare, Colombia, aims to reforest 1,600 hectares with the help of 400 farming families. Relictos de Bosque, led by the Institute of Amazonic Scientific Investigations (Sinchi) and funded by the General System of Royalties seeks to recover patches of forest belonging to peasant farms in 37 villages in Guaviare. Guaviare is one of six departments in Colombia with the greatest concentration of deforestation. In the two years since Relictos de Bosque began its work, 377 families in 1,217 hectares have participated in the reforestation efforts. One of the aims of the project is to transform attitudes about forests so that farmers do not see them as hindrance to development, but rather as the source of productive opportunities, like fruit trees. According to Bernardo Girardo, an engineer at Sinchi, for every hectare of planted forest 433 tons of carbons are not emitted into the atmosphere. (El Espectador, 1/9/2016)

Energy

The El Gato hydroelectric project on the Maullín River in Los Muermos and Puerto Montt, Chile, announced it will remove its environmental impact statement from official consideration by the Environmental Impact Service. The environmental assessment by El Gato Hydro Spa was missing essential information for a standard assessment, including failure to consult indigenous groups as well as the surrounding Maullín community, which depends on the river for their livelihood. Several grassroots organizations were involved in the efforts to stop the project, including the Committee for the Defense of the Maullín River. (El Ciudadano, 1/09/2016)

British company Cubico Sustainable Investments purchased two wind farm projects in northern Brazil for USD $495 million. The 392 MW farms represent one of the largest wind farms in South America, with one hundred seven wind turbines distributed over 3,500 hectares. The operation includes Ventos Santa Brigida (182 MW) in the state of Pernambuco and Ventos do Araripe I (210 MW), located in Simões (Piauí). Ventos' capacity of 182 MW is enough to power 350,000 homes. The construction of the wind farms cost USD $213.8 million dollars and is expected to generate 1,000 direct jobs and 2,000 indirect jobs in the region Caetes, 155 miles from the state capital, Recife. By the end of 2018, 10% of Brazil's energy is expected to come from wind sources, doubling the current rate. (Expansion, 1/11/2016)

This week's blog was completed with the help of contributions from Andrea Becerra.

For more news on the issues we care about visit our Latin America Green News archive or read our other International blogs.