Vital Environmental Law Comes One Step Closer to Aligning Energy Policy With Climate Science
By David Turnbull
The White House released an important document Tuesday—the final version of guidance for considering climate impacts within the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. While this document is, by the government's own admission, merely guidance and "not a rule or regulation," the updated version marks some important shifts in aligning our energy policy with our climate goals.
In particular, the guidance is improved from previous versions in three notable ways.
First, the new version forcefully states that there is no minimum threshold for considering the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of a project to be considered significant.
The guidance now says (pages 9/10):
"This guidance does not establish any particular quantity of GHG emissions as "significantly" affecting the quality of the human environment or give greater consideration to the effects of GHG emissions and climate change over other effects on the human environment."
It then goes on to say on page 11 in new language:
"Agencies should not limit themselves to calculating a proposed action's emissions as a percentage of sector, nationwide, or global emissions in deciding whether or to what extent to consider climate change impacts under NEPA."
In addition, the guidance also says, as in previous versions (page 11):
"…a statement that emissions from a proposed Federal action represent only a small fraction of global emissions is essentially a statement about the nature of the climate change challenge, and is not an appropriate basis for deciding whether or to what extent to consider climate change impacts under NEPA."
In many fossil fuel infrastructure fights, proponents of building more fossil fuel infrastructure often point to small percentages of global emissions in order to minimize the perceived impact of their pet project. Now, thankfully, the White House is saying what we've said all along—we have to start somewhere in reducing emissions and ending our reliance on fossil fuels. No single cigarette gives you cancer, but if you say that each time you light one up you'll never quit.
Second, new language in the NEPA guidance importantly helps to clarify what emissions the government should look at when considering a given project.
New language on page 14 says:
"NEPA reviews for proposed resource extraction and development projects typically include the reasonably foreseeable effects of various phases in the process, such as clearing land for the project, building access roads, extraction, transport, refining, processing, using the resource, disassembly, disposal and reclamation."
This sentence is long, but it could be shortened pretty easily. It says that full lifecycle GHG emissions—including "using the resource"—should be considered. This is important, as emissions from the operation of a pipeline alone are never the full story. When considering a new piece of fossil fuel infrastructure, it's critical that we look at the full picture. We've written more about this here and in particular the need to understand the global market conditions as they relate to fossil fuel supply and demand.
Third and finally, some new language has been added towards the end of the the NEPA guidance document that is directly linked to our calls for a Climate Test.
This new language on pages 28/29 says:
"Agencies should discuss relevant approved federal, regional, state, tribal, or local plans, policies, or laws for GHG emission reductions or climate adaptation to make clear whether a proposed project's GHG emissions are consistent with such plans or laws. For example, the Bureau of Land Management has discussed how agency actions in California, especially joint projects with the State, may or may not facilitate California reaching its emission reduction goals under the State's Assembly Bill 32 (Global Warming Solutions Act). This approach helps frame the policy context for the agency decision based on its NEPA review."
This is an important addition to this guidance and moves closer to our calls for a Climate Test. What these sentences are saying is that we need to align our energy decision-making with our existing climate "plans, policies or laws." We wholeheartedly agree.
Our government decision-makers must consider our plans agreed to in Paris to limit global warming to far below 2 C, aiming towards 1.5 C, as they weigh the emissions associated with different energy projects. Put simply, we need to plan for success in achieving our climate goals.
What this new guidance does not do, however, is require the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to plot out the fossil fuel supply and demand implications of our climate goals. We've called for the EIA to plot out such a scenario on numerous occassions; it's a critical piece to help "plan for success" in meeting our climate objectives and informing our energy decision-making.
While a new Climate Test policy that has more force and specificity than this NEPA guidance is required, the finalized climate guidance released by the White House marks an important step towards this goal.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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