Friday, April 8, 2011

Energy Statistics from the Classroom to Capitols

I noted in a recent "Property and Renewable Energy" post on Land Use Prof Blog that I am teaching a "Law of Electricity" seminar this semester, which describes the laws that apply to all phases of electricity production (from the siting and construction of generation to transmission and distribution).  The course focuses primarily on wind energy, and I have assigned each of my students to compose a portion of a model wind energy code for Oklahoma and to suggest how portions of the code could benefit other states' energy policy projects.  As part of the project we have begun to speak with state senators and representatives in Oklahoma to identify the policy challenges facing wind and other energy industries.   One point raised in a recent call struck me as particularly relevant to professors teaching in this area and looking for creative projects for students.  One state senator expressed frustration over the lack of energy "facts" from neutral third parties, such as information on the current and projected price per kilowatt hour of electricity from all energy sources--both traditional and renewable.  If state legislators want these facts, why not have our students research, compile, and analyze them and send them to policymaking bodies?   The facts could be combined with relevant legal analysis, such as comparisons of local, state, and federal energy subsidies and other laws that have affected the pace of various forms of energy development.  Students in policy, economics, business, or science programs might be better equipped to provide many of these neutral third-party facts, but it seems that law students have an important role to play, too.  If federal policymakers in Washington benefit from hoards of white papers and briefs from active research institutions, why not give state and local policymakers similar information that could better inform their decisions?  

Professor Michael Gerrard at Columbia Law School is already putting this idea in action through the Center for Climate Change Law's Model Municipal Ordinance Project; the Center is currently seeking comments on its model ordinance.  Other law schools have also begun providing valuable information on energy to local, state, and federal policymakers.  To name a few, the University of Houston's Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Center presented carbon trading ideas to federal policymakers at the conclusion of its "Practice of Carbon Trading Class," which included business and law students.  Berkeley Law's Center for Law, Energy & the Environment similarly involves students in analysis of energy policy, as does the University of Colorado Law School's Center for Energy & Environmental Security, the University of Connecticut School of Law's Center for Energy and Environmental Law, the UC Davis School of Law's California Environmental Law & Policy Center, the UNC School of Law's Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation and Resources, Pace Law School's Pace Energy and Climate Center, Stanford's Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, San Diego School of Law’s Energy Policy Initiatives Center, the University of Texas School of Law's Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration, and Environmental Law, the University of Tulsa's and George Kaiser Family Foundation's National Energy Policy Institute, and Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment.  I am sure that I have omitted key institutions here; I welcome comments and additions. 

With the rise of energy and environmental policy work in law schools, I also pose a question:  Are state policymakers getting the message? How can we better distribute the valuable information produced by bright law students so that policymakers have access to the neutral, third-party information that they are demanding?  In a world of overabundant information, it seems that classes embarking on code writing projects or policy whitepapers should include communications students to ensure that the  information produced does not go to waste.

-Hannah Wiseman

April 8, 2011 in Climate Change, Energy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Yucca, v.4.2011

In only the latest of the many twists and turns of the saga that is Yucca Mountain, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced last week that it will investigate the Obama administration's decision to de-fund the only site in the nation slated for long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste.  At least two factors clearly informed this move: the ongoing disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, and the growing GOP push-back against the incumbent administration's environmental agenda.

The press release makes this clear.  Some highlights:

  • "Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Environment and the Economy Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) are launching the inquiry after reviewing available evidence indicating there was no scientific or technical basis for withdrawing the [DOE's] application [for approval of the project]."

  • "Congress is demanding answers about the administration’s decision to halt development of the only permanent U.S. site for spent nuclear fuel."

Congressman Upton's view of the Obama administration's decision, clearly, is quite dim:

The administration’s move to shutter Yucca raises serious red flags.  Despite the scientific community's seal of approval, extensive bipartisan collaboration, as well as nearly three decades and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, this administration has recklessly sought to pull the plug on the Yucca repository without even the sensibility of offering a viable alternative.

No matter what conclusions the investigation ultimately reaches, both the fact that it's happening and the tone in which it has been launched are notable.  They remind us of a few truths of energy policy in the United States:  We constantly allow what will eventually be pressing energy issues lie dormant in the background until a catastrophe or disaster pushes us to action.  When we do take action, we allow politics to divide us.  And our allowance of those divisions, in turn, fractures our overall energy policy.

Only time will tell whether the latest turn of events for Yucca Mountain will lead us down the same road we have repeatedly trod over the last century, or whether, as we enter the second decade of this millennium, we might find new hope in old problems.

Further coverage on the investigation is available here, here, and here.  The letters to Secretary Chu and Chairman Jaczko are, respectively, here and here.

-Lincoln Davies

April 7, 2011 in Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

EPA Dodges Major Bullet... But it Won't Be the Last Time Congress Fires its Gun

In a 50-50 vote, the Senate today rejected the Energy Tax Prevention Act.  (A tiebreaking vote was not cast because the vote that took place related to cloture—which requires 60 votes.)  As a comic side note, it is worth knowing that House member Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) suggested that the bill be renamed the “Koch Brothers Appreciation Act” or “Protecting Americans from Polar Bears Act.”  Regardless of what one calls the bill, however, had it become law, the bill would have stripped away a substantial chunk of the EPA’s power to use the Clean Air Act to address climate change.  While the bill would have preserved the more stringent mobile emission standards put in place to address greenhouse gases, it would have put an end to other regulations under the Act, particularly the regulations associated with major stationary sources.  While the House is almost certain to pass the bill later today and while President Obama would have been likely to veto the bill had it made it to his desk, all of this doesn’t matter much given its death in the Senate.

(For those following the legislative process closely, note that the Senate also decisively rejected a number of other amendments, including amendment 215 proposed by Senator Rockefeller, amendment 236 by Senator Baucus, and amendment 265 by Debbie Stabenow.) 

Despite the fact that that the Senate rejected the bill, it should not come as a surprise to anybody that Congress is rethinking EPA regulations.  And, this is not just because many in Congress oppose addressing climate change (though that is true).  In fact, it was not all that long ago that many of the present defenders of the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations assumed that Congress would and should preempt these regulations.  The major difference being that at the time, these same advocates assumed that we would not only dump these regulations but also replace them with some other form of regulation, most likely a cap-and-trade.  For example, consider the following response to a question that Administrator Lisa Jackson received at a press conference held at the White House on the day that the Obama administration announced its intention to regulate light-duty vehicles many months ago:

Q: If Congress doesn't come through, though, on some sort of climate legislation, would you be ready to pull the trigger using the Clean Air Act with some of the work that you’re doing right now?

ADMINISTRATOR JACKSON: I have said before that I actually hope that doesn’t come to pass. I believe very strongly that legislation is the preferable route. It allows for a comprehensive economy-wide discussion of the issues that are going to make for a successful program. That being said, the Clean Air Act is a strong and extraordinarily successful piece of legislation. It has made huge differences in air quality in our country.

And we have an obligation under the law, based on the Supreme Court ruling, to continue to do our job. And that is what we will do. I have also said that I believe strongly that that job can be done in a way that's, step one, that's reasonable, that complies with all administrative processes.

It is uncertain whether, as some have argued, the EPA actually used the Clean Air Act to force Congress into addressing climate change back in the days when Democrats controlled both chambers.  Regardless, the EPA is living with the reality that its endangerment finding and regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act have come at a political cost.  While the EPA is not likely to have its statutory authority clipped by our present Congress, the EPA is not out of the woods.  It seems quite likely that it will still face a substantial budget cut or—at the very least—have to live with the burdens that go along with a mobilized opposition both inside and outside the halls of Congress.

-- Brigham Daniels

Update:  The House indeeded passed the Energy Tax Prevention Act passed by a 255-172 vote.  However, because the same bill died in the Senate, it is largely a symbolic gesture at this point.


April 6, 2011 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Law, Legislation, US | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Outing the Reasons for Climate Change Doubt

Each year when I teach my climate change law course, I deal with the issue of how to address student doubts about climate change science.  One part of my solution is to invite a climate change scientist as a guest speaker on the first day of class. I give many thanks to University of California at San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography scientists David Pierce, Andrew Dickson, and Alexander Gershunov, who have all performed this important service for my class and the legal profession more broadly. 

After doing this for a couple years, I discovered the other part of my solution, and I’d like to share it because I think it works really well.  Before the climate scientist arrives (I teach the class as a 3-hour weekly seminar), I pose a set of questions like the following:  

As reported in the media, recent polls show that only about fifty-seven percent of Americans believe climate change is happening and only about fifty-one percent of Americans worry a great deal or a fair amount about climate change.  Let’s just assume for this discussion that the scientific case for climate change is as strong as the book says it is, and as strong as our speaker later today will tell you it is.  What reasons can you think of that would make Americans -- people like yourself, your friends and your family – not believe that it is happening?  What reasons can you think of that would make Americans not worry much about it? 

And after a lot of good discussion, I may prompt more by asking:

Also, what reasons can you think of that would make the United States government resistant to acknowledging the severity of the problem and addressing it through new national and international law?

With these questions, students articulate many reasons that I think really help them put climate change science into its social, cultural, and (most notably) psychological context.  They look inside themselves, and they find a lot of reasons that make them not want to believe or worry.  For example, if it’s true, then what does it mean for their personal futures?  And, they think, the problem is so big, what can they do about it anyway?  The question about US policy often brings out how our country's responsibility for climate change might undermine our positive national image, our view of the US as a force for good in the world. The students realize that denying climate change science might be an understandable response to the feelings of anxiety, powerlessness, and guilt that acknowledging the reality of climate change can produce.  I think that this discussion opens their minds in a way that makes them more receptive to the scientific talk that follows. 

- Lesley McAllister

April 5, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 4, 2011

It's electric! But still emits carbon?

Ecometrica has released a new technical paper detailing the amount of carbon emitted due to electric car use in the UK. The report is available here for download. "But wait, I thought electric cars were zero emission?" They are - but of course there are carbon emissions resulting from the generation of electricity that charges and powers the vehicles.  

Ecometrica first calculated the amount of electricity required to power an electric car for every mile driven and combined this information with measures of carbon emissions produced for ever kilowatt of electricity consumed in the UK. They accounted not only for energy consumed at the charging station, but also energy consumed in the transmission and distribution of electricity across the UK power grid.

The paper concludes that use of an electric car in the UK results in the emission of 75 gCO2/km. This amount is lower than any car in production today, including the hybrid Toyota Prius which emits roughly 89 gCO2/km (the average UK car emits 208 gCO2/km).

Interestingly, the same car driven in the U.S. would result in more carbon emissions (84 gCO2/km). This effect is due to the proportion of carbon emitting sources of electricity generation relative to nuclear and renewable electricity generation in different countries.  In other words, the charging stations in England use lower carbon intensity electricity generating sources than do those in the U.S. As another example, an electric car in China would result in more carbon emissions (118 gCO2/km) than a diesel engine car (99 gCO2/km), because most of the power stations in China are coal fired - the most carbon intensive form of electricity generation.

This report sheds interesting light on the complexity of looking to data to determine what we are truly getting from the green products hitting the market - and it's not always a (carbon) free ride.

- Blake Hudson

April 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Vermont Law School's Colloquium on Environmental Scholarship

Recently, I received an annoucement about Vermont Law School's Fall Colloquium on Environmental Scholarship.  While I did not attend the colloquium last year, I did hear good things about it.  The following comes from Vermont Law School's website:

Vermont Law School will host its second annual Fall Colloquium on Environmental Scholarship on Sept. 23, 2011. The colloquium offers the opportunity for environmental law scholars to present their works-in-progress and recent scholarship, to get feedback from their colleagues, and to meet and interact with those who are also teaching and researching in environmental and natural resources law. The colloquium is designed as a works-in-progress event, attended by professors and academics doing research in environmental and natural resources law.

All selected participants will be required to submit a paper draft no later than Sept. 1, 2011, and all participants will be asked to provide commentary on another participant’s paper draft at the colloquium. Final papers will also be eligible for publication in the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law.

The colloquium will take place on Friday, Sept. 23, and Vermont Law School's Environmental Law Center and its faculty will host a cocktail reception on Thursday evening and dinner on Friday evening.

For further information, please see the full announcement and call for papers on Vermont Law School’s website or contact Professor Jason Czarnezki.

-- Brigham Daniels

April 3, 2011 | Permalink