In 2014, Colorado became the first state to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas drilling, with the goal of shrinking its carbon footprint and improving local air quality. While a couple industry trade groups fought the rules, some producers, including Encana, Devon Energy and Anadarko, supported the measures. They even helped write the rules with the state and the Environmental Defense Fund. A couple years in, even the trade groups agree that the rules are reasonable and effective. This is about as close as the environmental regulatory world ever gets to kumbaya. But when the Bureau of Land Management, a federal land agency, finalized its own rules to cut methane emissions from oil and gas operations this fall, collaborative agreements proved far more elusive. Instead, the BLM faced stiff blowback from industry, despite the fact that the rules, developed over a nearly two-year public process, are similar to Colorado’s, and to a successful North Dakota program. Environmentalists call them common sense, but industry groups and a handful of Western states responded by immediately slapping the BLM with a lawsuit, claiming the BLM can’t regulate air quality, and that the rules are too expensive and unnecessary.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan may have the approval ratings. But the Democrats who control both houses of the state legislature have the votes. Despite vigorous opposition from the popular Republican governor, the Maryland Senate voted 32 to 13 on Thursday to override Hogan’s veto of a bill to boost the state’s use of renewable energy. The House of Delegates voted to reverse the veto earlier this week. That means the measure — which requires Maryland to obtain 25 percent of its energy from wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2020, instead of 20 percent by 2022 — will become law. Legislative analysts estimate that the annual compliance costs for energy companies would average $28 million to $111 million from 2017 through 2025, an expense that will probably be passed on to consumers.
Massachusetts energy officials on Tuesday announced an overhaul of the way the state subsidizes solar projects. The switch is expected to cut the annual cost of solar installations to electricity ratepayers in half, from $400 million to $500 million under previous versions of the program to $200 million to $250 million under the new program. State energy officials say the new structure will also provide more certainty to the market by ensuring that developers know how much of an incentive they will get for their projects over a 10- or 20-year time frame, depending on the type of project.
In the past two months, two rural Michigan counties have adopted one-year moratoriums on wind development, though they appear to be in vastly different positions when it comes to regulatory experience. On December 29, Huron County in Michigan’s Thumb region — also known as the state’s wind capital due to the comparatively high density of turbines there — enacted a one-year moratorium for areas that fall under county zoning laws.
The future of how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency implements the Renewable Fuel Standard is at the epicenter of a federal court case set for oral arguments April 24 in Washington, D.C. This week a number of groups filed briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit challenging EPA's management of the RFS on a number of fronts. Though Congress may at some point consider changing the RFS, the lawsuit originally filed by Americans for Clean Energy attempts to force the agency to apply the law as the groups believe was intended. The group argues in a brief this week the EPA has no statutory basis to control or limit the growth of biofuels. Joining the group is the American Coalition for Ethanol, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Growth Energy, National Corn Growers Association, National Sorghum Producers, Renewable Fuels Association and the National Farmers Union. The EPA has faced a wide array of criticism for missing statutory deadlines and about the methods used in setting biofuel volumes.
In November, the EPA made a sound decision to fully enforce the Renewable Fuel Standard and improve options for American-made biofuels at the pump. That commitment must remain strong as a new Congress takes effect this year. We must grow consumers’ access to E15 — a 15 percent ethanol blend — by removing arbitrary restrictions during the summer driving season. E15 could provide a market for up to 2 billion bushels of corn to stabilize commodity prices. Every time a new E15 pump is installed, I hear reports that it is a top seller, providing great performance at an affordable price. American agriculture has helped us improve our national security, lower fuel prices and heal our environment by providing the feedstock for homegrown biofuels. We can do more, and we must do more, for the sake of not only rural areas, but all of America.
In Wyoming, Republican Gov. Matt Mead is counting on a state-funded research center set to open this year to find a way to produce energy from coal without releasing carbon dioxide into the environment. In Kansas, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is eyeing new wind farms to bring jobs and economic growth. And in Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich says the state needs to support renewable energy to stay competitive and reduce electricity costs.
As policymakers in Ohio and elsewhere look to modernize their aging electric grid, concepts in Germany’s changing energy system suggest how today’s decisions can set the stage for a greater share of renewables and more energy security. Germany has committed to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels with a shift known as the Energiewende. The country sees the shift not only as “an important energy project, but also an important economic project,” said spokesperson Beate Baron at the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy in Berlin. “This of course can serve as a model for other countries as well.” Germany and other countries, including the United States, have traditionally operated their electric grids with the view that some amount of power would always be needed as “baseload” to meet constant demands placed upon the electric system, and additional power plants would ramp up or down as necessary to meet peak power needs.
BNSF Railway Co will start offering discounts to ethanol shippers this April if they agree to use new, safer train cars, as it pushes to scrub puncture-prone ones from its rail lines at a faster pace than required by U.S. regulations. The move by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway rail company comes even as ethanol shippers have been slow to embrace the new train cars mandated by sweeping new regulations enacted in 2015 after a series of fiery crude oil derailments.
Exxon Mobil Corp., the U.S. oil giant that’s facing investigations over what it knew and when about climate change, sees the Paris agreement to mitigate global warming as a “monumental” achievement, according to a top executive. The company supports the December 2015 Paris accord as a “very meaningful and constructive process,” William M. Colton, Exxon’s vice president for corporate strategic planning, said in an interview in Berlin. Adhering to the accord’s commitments are achievable and compatible with Exxon’s business strategy, he said. Exxon “fully appreciates and acknowledges the risk posed by climate change,” Colton said, following a panel discussion at an energy conference. “We really admire the Paris process, where you have all the major nations of the world coming together on a global basis -- for it is a global challenge.”