Only a few weeks ago, the U.S. released a report detailing the devastating effects that climate change will bring to the country and the fact that time is running short to try and prevent them. Back in October, the UN IPCC released a report commissioned at the time of the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, detailing the effects from global warming of a rise in 1.5 Celsius. These reports created a sense of urgency about the impending climate crisis in many, but not in the President of the United States or in his cabinet members. U.S. agencies and the Department of the Interior have worked steadily over the past few weeks to continue the rollback of certain protections instituted during the Obama Administration.
Last week, the EPA announced plans to revise the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for greenhouse gas emissions from new, modified, and reconstructed fossil fuel-fired power plants. This action would replace the determination from 2015, which required partial carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the best system of emission reduction (BSER) for all new coal-fired power plants. Power plant operators and builders disliked the 2015 determination, because they felt that the cost for installing CCS technology was too high. This new proposal is designed to ease the financial burden and disregard the danger to the environment that is caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has billed the proposal as an action to ensure the energy independence of the United States, since it will remove the burden (the cost of CCS technology) from energy providers. This is part of the push for what the Administration bills as “clean coal technology”, a seeming oxymoron since coal is one of the dirtiest forms of energy production in use. The actions will be proceeding under section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act. The plan is to take four different actions, based on revising the BSER, to achieve the proposal. First, comes the plan to revise the standards for newly constructed steam units and separate the standards for large units and small units. Large units would have a proposed emission rate of 1,900 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour on a gross output basis. Small units would have a slightly higher emission rate of 2,000 pounds per megawatt hour gross. Second, the EPA would create separate standards for newly constructed coal refuse-fired units of 2,200 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour gross. Third, the standard for large modifications to steam generating units would be made consistent with those for newly constructed steam generating units. Finally, the standard for reconstruction of fossil-fuel fired steam units, which also use the BSER standard, would be modified to align with those for new construction of such units.
Although not specifically a rollback of regulations, NOAA Fisheries’ issuance of incidental take permits at the end of November is part of the Administration’s efforts to increase oil and gas drilling along the eastern coast. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act requirements, NOAA issued five applicants with incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to incidentally harass marine mammal species while performing geophysical surveys of the Atlantic. Essentially, the companies will be allowed to blast sound underwater in order to assist in mapping the floor of the Atlantic Ocean off the Eastern coast of the United States. In response to concerns about the effects of the sound on marine species, the agency stated that there is a growing body of literature on the effects, but that there are data gaps in relation to population level and cumulative impacts. Furthermore, they said that they expected the required monitoring and mitigation to result in negligible impact. They also noted that the noise from the survey would be infrequent and brief in any given area, which would also limit the impact (p. 63274).
The Interior Department, through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), announced the updated plan for changes to the protection of the Greater Sage-Grouse throughout the Western U.S. The actions are billed as providing greater collaboration between the federal government and the states involved to increase economic activities while still protecting the species. However, the expected effect of the amendments will be to open up more public land for drilling or fracking natural gas at the expense of the Sage-Grouse and other species.
Finally, during the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland over the weekend, the United States decided to align with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Russia to weaken reference to the UN IPCC report issued in October. The countries represented at the meeting were all planning to come together and welcome the findings of the report. However, the United States only wanted to note the report, which would acknowledge the existence of the report but not comment on it. This falls in line with President Trump’s treatment of the U.S. report issued on Black Friday, which he said he had seen, but does not agree with.