Working to keep the West special

This is our latest monthly newsletter with information about news and developments on climate disruption and its impacts and on climate action in the West. You can sign up for our newsletter, which is sent out by email, by sending your own email to admin@rockymountainclimate.org. To see more, previous newsletters, continue clicking on "Next" on the bottom right of this and subsequent pages.

 
 

May 2016

Featured Item
Coal on the Ropes

An April 26 Energy Information Administration post, Power sector coal demand has fallen in nearly every state since 2007, documents a remarkably steep decline in consumption of coal to generate electricity, now 29 percent below its peak in 2007.

States with the largest declines were concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast, with six states in these regions accounting for nearly half of the national decline. In the Interior West, progress is mixed:

Nevada: -56%
New Mexico: -26%
Utah: -12%
Montana: -12%
Colorado: -10%
Arizona: -6%
Wyoming: -2%
Idaho: no coal fired generation

In the West Coast states that started out with little coal-fired generation to begin with, and that are leaders in renewable energy standards and coal source restrictions, the reductions are especially high: California -94%, Washington -40%, Oregon -46%.

The EIA describes the fall this way:

“With little or no growth in electricity sales in most states between 2007 and 2015, coal use for electricity generation is closely related to coal's share of total generation. The price and availability of fuels other than coal have had a major effect on coal consumption since 2007. Increased supply of natural gas and a resulting natural gas price decline spurred increases in natural gas-fired power generation in several states, generally at the expense of coal-fired generation. Electricity generation from wind and solar sources also increased significantly over this period, driven by a combination of federal tax credits, state-level mandates, and technology improvements.”

"We didn't see the decline coming this fast and this deep," said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association, an industry trade group. (See GOP states benefiting from shift to wind and solar energy, Associated Press, May 6, 2016, also covered in the National Climate Policies section below.)

News about RMCO and Partners  

News about RMCO Partners

The City of Boulder releases a draft of its first Resiliency Strategy, promoting a series of 15 steps to be taken with the goal of surmounting challenges such as climate change, social cohesion, disaster recovery and more. The strategy was developed as part of the city’s participation in the 100 Resilient Cities program, sponsored by The Rockefeller Foundation. Boulder releases draft on 'resiliency' plan to bolster preparedness, Boulder Daily Camera, April 28, 2016.

The City and County of Denver passes an ordinance authorizing the use of gray water for residential, commercial, and industrial purposes, as authorized by a 2013 state law. The city hopes to cut per capita use of potable water by 20 percent by 2020. Denver authorizes gray water program, Summit County Citizens Voice, May 3, 2016.

Denver Water’s leadership role is featured in Colorado tapping dirty water to extend life of the pure stuff, Denver Post, April 20, 2016, which describes water reuse efforts underway in Front Range cities.

News About Climate Action

Fossil Fuels

The U.S. has been emitting a lot more methane than we thought, says EPA, Washington Post, April 15, 2016. In past newsletters, we have reported on a series of studies about methane emissions from oil and gas production and distribution that indicated that the Environmental Protection Agency estimates were understated. Now, apparently relying on those studies, the EPA in its annual inventory of heat-trapping emissions has revised upwards by about 13 percent its 2013 estimates. EPA also now says that the oil and gas industry is the biggest source of the country’s methane emissions, instead of agriculture (livestock) as it previously reported. The revisions will further up the stakes in a political battle over regulations that the agency is preparing to address emissions from existing oil and gas facilities, as well as its 2015 proposed regulations on new and modified facilities.

Yet uncertainties still abound about sources and emission rates, as reported in The most important mystery about U.S. climate change policy, Washington Post, April 13, 2016. And see also Why we’re still so incredibly confused about methane’s role in global warming, Washington Post, May 2, 2016, which describes a new study (abstract only) that says the protocol to compare other heat-trapping gases to carbon dioxide-equivalents by way of a 100-year “global warming potential” calculation is misleading since powerful heat-trapping gases such as methane disperse from the atmosphere much faster than CO2. This makes methane reductions especially important in dialing back near-term climate changes.

Study: Energy industry supports methane rules in Colorado, Durango Herald, April 16, 2016. In a separate rulemaking proceeding, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is proposing to update its regulations on capture of methane emissions from oil and gas operations it permits on federal lands. Those proposed regulations are based on rules adopted by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission in 2014, which in practice are meeting with the approval of producers, largely due to the revenues they are realizing from sales of the captured emissions.

The invisible plume: Why coal mine methane is worth looking at, Colorado Independent, May 2, 2016. Unlike oil and gas operations, methane vented from underground coal mines is not regulated at either the state or federal level, and a western Colorado mine operated by Arch Coal that vents as much methane as all state oil and gas operations combined is seeking approval of a significant expansion. The article is an in-depth look, well worth your look.

Groundbreaking planned for Wyoming carbon-conversion lab, Casper Star-Tribune, April 26, 2016. The state is teaming up with energy companies to construct a laboratory to test new technologies to make profitable use of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

National Climate Policies

GOP states benefiting from shift to wind and solar energy, Associated Press, May 6, 2016. Related to the Featured Item above, the Energy Information Administration also reports that in 2015 two-thirds of new electricity generation was from renewables and one-third by natural gas. These changes are underway in many of the same states that are party to the federal lawsuit to invalidate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. See also Even in states suing over new climate regulations, coal use is shrinking, Washington Post, May 3, 2016.

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies    

Oregon regulators set ambitious timeline for clean energy programs, Utility Dive, April 27, 2016. Driven primarily by passage this year of a law to boost Oregon's renewable portfolio standard to 50% by 2040 and by other clean energy requirements, the Public Utilities Commission publishes a two-year schedule packed with docket items to transform the state’s utilities, including community solar, demand response, electric vehicles, avoided cost methodology, renewable incentives, and energy storage proposals.

Carbon-tax initiative goes to November ballot, Seattle Times, March 30, 2016, and Carbon fee debate goes mainstream in Washington, Climate Central, April 26, 2016. In Washington state, Initiative 732, which would place a carbon tax on fossil fuels and electricity from coal and natural gas, is now set for the November ballot. There is opposition to the initiative, and some supporters of climate action prefer another approach, so it remains to be seen what will happen. We will follow and report in this newsletter on the public debate as it ramps up.

Colorado lawmakers reach budget deal after Clean Power Plan impasse, Denver Post, April 14, 2016. Republican state legislators united in two unsuccessful attempts to prevent the Department of Public Health and Environment from working on the Clean Power Plan, one by way of budget cuts, and the other by way of a specific bill.

Public Opinion

The George Mason University and Yale University centers for climate communications release survey reports that break out by political orientation attitudes about recognition of climate change and its causes and about support for types of emissions-reduction actions. Global Warming and the U.S. Presidential Election, released May 4, 2016, finds that large majorities of Clinton and Sanders supporters recognize climate change is happening, support electric vehicle tax incentives, regulation of carbon as a pollutant, and a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Among Republican candidates, only Cruz supporters generally fell below the 50 percent support threshold for those topics. Released on April 26 was Politics & Global Warming: Spring 2016, which broke out responses among independents, liberal Democrats, moderate Democrats, moderate/liberal Republicans, and conservative Republicans. In that survey, voters who say global warming is happening - now at 73 percent - have increased 7 percent since spring 2014, including about half of conservative Republicans. But still dismaying is that only just over half (56 percent) think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities.

Clean Energy

Colorado wind power rising; 1,880 turbines and Xcel, Vestas plan more, Denver Post, April 12, 2016. The number of turbines in Colorado has doubled since 2009 and Xcel Energy is planning the largest wind farm yet in the state. On a November 2015 day, Xcel got two-thirds of its instate power generation from wind and just over half on two October days, yet unmatched by other states.

U.S. wind production increases were weakest since 1999, Denver Post, April 26, 2016. According to an Energy Information Administration posting, national wind capacity grew by nearly 13 percent during 2015, but generation increased only by about 5 percent, attributed to a decrease in wind speeds in the West during the first half of the year.

San Francisco to become first city to require solar panels on new buildings, Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2016. Beginning January 2017, San Francisco will require rooftop solar systems on all new buildings under ten stories, said to be the first mandate of its kind in the United States.

Water Preparedness

Lake Powell pipeline debate enters new phase, Deseret News, May 3, 2016. The Utah Department of Water Resources files an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to divert water through a 159-mile pipeline from Lake Powell to Washington County in southwest Utah. Proponents as well as critics point to climate change as a reason to either build the project to supplement Virgin River flows or to deny it as a another draw on a reservoir already stressed by a hotter and drier climate. See also Lake Powell pipeline: unnecessary and too expensive, blog post from RMCO partner Western Resource Advocates.

Wildfire

Firefighting supertanker unveiled in Colorado Springs demonstration, Denver Post, May 6, 2016. The private-sector owners of the converted Boeing 747 freight carrier bill it as the world's biggest and fastest supertanker, capable of getting to any fire in the West within three hours and anywhere in the world within 20 hours. Federal Aviation Administration firefighting certification is expected in about a month.

Wildlife

In March 2016 the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to remove the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the federal lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, along with a revised recovery plan and conservation strategy. A decision is likely by the end of the year, but some scientists and organizations are still vigorously opposed, partly due to climate change impacts on whitebark pine, a key food source. See After a comeback, new challenges for Yellowstone’s grizzly bears, New York Times, May 3, 2016.

Groups sue over bull trout recovery plan, Flathead Beacon, April 22, 2016. Two conservation groups file a suit claiming the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s final plan to recover threatened bull trout (native to waters of the Northwest) is inadequate and violates the Endangered Species Act, in part because it fails to adequately take into account the impacts of climate change.

News About Climate Disruption

Water

Arizona may give up even more Colorado River water, Arizona Republic, April 27, 2016. Under a 2007 agreement among the seven basin states, if the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in July declares a lower basin shortage because Lake Mead water levels could fall below an elevation of 1,075 feet next January, reductions in deliveries to California, Arizona, and Nevada go into effect. Those states are trying to avoid the next cutbacks, triggered at 1,025 feet elevation, by negotiating among themselves additional restrictions. Arizona and Nevada would bear the brunt of those additional restrictions. The Colorado River Basin Forecast Center on May 1 projected April-July inflows of 77 percent of average to Lake Powell and BOR pegs the current elevation of Lake Mead at 1,075.5 feet; in its April forecast BOR projects January 2017 Lake Mead levels at 1,079 feet.

Wildlife

Columbia and Snake sockeye decimated by 2015’s warm rivers, Idaho Statesman, April 13, 2016. Unprecedented and lethally high temperatures in the Columbia, Snake, and Salmon rivers killed all but a few dozen of the 4,000 adult endangered sockeye that had returned to the Columbia River last June and July to return to their Idaho spawning grounds.

Heat

Warming means nicer U.S. weather, but it won’t last, Climate Central, April 20, 2016. According to a new study (abstract only) in the journal Nature, since 1974 the average January temperature has increased by about 1°F, but in July only by about .13°F, making winters generally more pleasant and summer heat waves not much altered. But climate models show this pattern will flip as the century progresses.

For 11th straight month, the globe was record warm, NOAA post, April 19, 2016. The global average temperature made this the hottest March in the 137-year record, and the same goes for the January-March period. Also, March broke the record set in February for the largest monthly departure in average temperature – 2.2°F above the 20th century average.

Resource of the Month

Draft Vulnerability Assessment Summaries
U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region
 

In 2015 the U.S. Forest Service Intermountain Region convened the Intermountain Adaptation Partnership, comprised of federal agency resource specialists and university researchers, with the objectives of developing a framework and tools to incorporate the best available science into resource management/planning, synthesizing the science to assess climate change vulnerability, and developing adaptation options throughout the region. The partnership recently released a draft document, Vulnerability Assessment Summaries, describing vulnerabilities in nine focus areas: physical resources, vegetation, aquatic and terrestrial species, infrastructure, recreational uses, cultural heritage, water resources and ecosystems. The partnership will next convene workshops for its science-management partnership and other participants to identify the most significant vulnerabilities to climate change throughout the region, and develop specific adaptation strategies and tactics. See also Climate change and national forests: Shorter ski seasons? More time to camp?, Deseret News, May 4, 2016.

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Suggestions and comments are welcome!

Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: saunders@rockymountainclimate.org
Tom Easley, RMCO director of programs: easley@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org

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