Environment Local News

Local Utilities Ready for Greenhouse Gas Reporting

31 different industry sectors are now required to track and, in 2011, report their greenhouse gas emissions under a mandatory reporting rule the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enacted last Fall.  Now, the agency wants additional sectors to track some of the smaller sources, and local utility E.on-US has been preparing for the requirements, according to spokesman Brian Phillips.

“We don’t think that these new expanded CO2 reporting mandates will add much burden to our staff and won’t directly cost the customers through the proposed reporting requirements,” says Phillips.

The new requirements cover methane — a powerful global warming gas – that can escape from natural gas operations, among other sources.  The EPA estimates the reporting would cover more than 85% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Industrial sources only have to report those emissions for now, not control them.

Environment Local News

Three New US Energy Plans Worry Governor

The initiatives have to do with biofuels for transportation, biomass crops for energy, and capturing and storing carbon from coal-fired power plants.  One new requirement is that makers of some biofuels must demonstrate their products generate significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline– from the first seedling to the gas tank.

Another is for a coordinated federal strategy to develop technologies for carbon capture and storage, and to ensure several new demonstration plants are online by 2016.  Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has written a letter to the president, claiming any regulatory changes for coal would stifle the industry and hurt the nation’s energy supply.

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Some Progress, Some Waiting: Louisville's Climate Plan

In April 2005, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson signed on to the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.   Today, nearly 1000 cities have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions seven percent below what they were in 1990.  And that’s by 2012.

“What it means for us in terms of seven percent below the 1990 would be the community would have to decrease its carbon output by more than two million tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is, just to put it in context, the electricity generated by about 300,000 homes,” the Mayor said.

Abramson’s number comes from an emissions inventory commissioned by the Partnership for a Green City—which includes Louisville metro government, the University of Louisville, and Jefferson County Public Schools.  Partnership director Brent Fryrear says they found that the three entities together account for only five percent of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The reality of the greenhouse gas inventory is that 29 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in this community come from residential electricity generation and use.  Another 29 percent comes from transportation,” says Fryrear.

Armed with that information, Fryrear says the partners, as well as industry and community representatives, spent two years coming up with a plan to reduce those emissions–and meet the Mayor’s target. The result: the city’s Climate Action Report, with 175 recommendations on everything from establishing an asthma action plan to protecting wetlands to creating a low-cost loan program for homeowners to improve their energy efficiency.  Partnership director Brent Fryrear says that now the three organizations must figure out how to implement them.

“What they will do is translate those recommendations into climate action reports at each of those entities, and then Louisville Metro, U of L, and JCPS will work on how we can do things for the community,” Fryrear says.

All three have taken many steps already to reduce their emissions.  Louisville Metro government has updated its vehicle fleet and worked to reduce energy consumption in public buildings.  U of L has an agreement that will allow it to pay for expensive energy efficiency upgrades with the money saved on energy over time.  But tackling those personal energy uses could be the biggest challenge.  Fryrear says it’s no light undertaking—but they’re in the initial planning stages.

“We’re compiling different things that are happening in the community right now, as well as the three partners, to figure out what’s happening, where those fall under the recommendations, and what kind of greenhouse gas reductions we can expect from those,” Fryrear said.

It’s still unclear who’s ultimately accountable for making sure the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions—residents—is addressed.  Sarah Lynn Cunningham represented the Louisville Climate Action Network on several committees that crafted the report.

“I don’t think anybody in particular is responsible for making it happen. It’s important to note that the initiative itself only has one full-time employee who certainly can’t do everything and can’t make anybody do anything,” says Cunningham.

That employee is Brent Fryrear, who says he can advocate and coordinate but not enforce.  But Cunningham says she believes action on the plan in general has been too slow, that bolder, more urgent action is needed now to curb emissions.  But she says the report is a good road map.

“We were trying to take the stuff that anybody who works in climate change knows and apply it to Louisville.  The whole point was to make this be tailored to Louisville’s needs and Louisville’s abilities and interest and that sort of thing,” Cunningham says.

That included scientific research showing specifically how climate change might impact this region—including increased flooding, harsher droughts, and a spike in infectious diseases. But as the report’s authors found, no single recommendation, no silver bullet will address those impacts or help the community reduce its emissions.  The work will take time.

In the meantime, while the city won’t meet its obligations in the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement on time, agreements reached in Copenhagen or on Capitol Hill could provide the impetus—and funding—to take action more quickly.

Environment Local News

Former Air Pollution Chief Off to Copenhagen

The next round of major climate treaty negotiations kicks off today in Copenhagen, Denmark, with more than 100 world leaders slated to attend, including President Barack Obama.  Louisville’s former Air Pollution Control District Director Art Williams will also be in attendance, as part of the Sierra Club’s national delegation.  Williams says the focus will be not only on reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also on renewable energy.  In that regard, he says Kentucky’s economy has much at stake.

“The outcomes in Copenhagen and after that will probably make coal additionally more expensive as we price carbon in the energy system to encourage other types of energy use,” says Williams.

As a Sierra Club delegate, Williams will participate not only in formal United Nations meetings but also so-called “side sessions,” where delegates present ideas and discuss solutions in more informal setting.

Environment Local News

KY Forest Owners Receive Cash for Carbon Storage

Most of Kentucky’s thousands of acres of woodlands are owned privately.  And this week, some forest owners received sizable checks not for the timber they harvested, but for the carbon dioxide their trees stored and kept from forming global warming gases in the atmosphere.  Mountain Association for Community Economic Development program manager Scott Shouse (like “house”) says the checks came from the sale of carbon credits on an open market.  He says the program may not suit every forest owner.

“Timber is always going to be worth more per acre than carbon, absolutely without question. But a lot of people just don’t want to do a lot of more intensive management,” says Shouse.

So in those cases, Shouse says, selling carbon credits may be just enough to pay for property taxes, or the kind of less intensive management woods that aren’t harvested call for.

Local News

Kentucky Joins Greenhouse Gas Registry

Kentucky has joined the North American Climate Registry, along with more than forty other states, and most Canadian provinces. Members of the nonprofit registry agree to collect and calculate greenhouse gas emissions from a variety of sources.  They report those emissions yearly and make the data available to the public.  The news comes as state officials are finishing a comprehensive energy plan for the next few decades.  Governor Steve Beshear’s spokesman Jay Blanton says the plan will include recommendations not only for generating enough electricity to meet growing demand but also for reducing pollution and energy consumption.

“So as part of that process of developing that plan, we thought it made a lot of sense, it was very prudent to join the climate registry, which is trying very hard to develop sort of these common methods for how we measure greenhouse gas emissions across the country,” says Blanton.

Blanton says he expects the energy plan will be available in about a week, although it was originally scheduled to be delivered more than a month ago.

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Landmark California Legislation Fights Sprawl

It was touch and go there for a while, but on the last day of official bill signing, according to this Sacramento Bee report, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law the nation’s first bill to take a comprehensive whack at sprawl. The bill’s main mechanism is links the transportation funding the California doles out with state climate policies. It establishes incentives for more compact housing developments. And it also requires individual regions of the state to set greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2010.

Not everyone was wildly in favor of the legislation. Some local governments opposed it because of concerns over losing transportation funding; some businesses had their hackles raised over the extra regulation. Considering the number of miles Californians drive, and the expected increase in the state’s population, environmentalists hope the legislation will keep greenhouse gas emissions from worsening.

Kentucky may not have the population numbers California does, but we and our neighboring states do face questions over how we’ll handle sprawl in the future. California’s law could hold some interesting answers.

Local News

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for Louisville Metro

Louisville Metro now has a baseline inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions.  Knowing where it stands with those emissions will help city officials move forward with developing recommendations on how, and where, to cut those emissions.  And they must move fast if they’re to meet the 2012 deadline agreed to under the terms of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.  Member cities are obligated to reduce their total level of greenhouse gas emissions by seven percent below what they were in 1990.  Environmental consulting firm Trinity produced the inventory. Consultant Rich Pandullo says that seven percent goal is not as small as it may sound.

“Reaching the 7% reduction in emissions by 2012, compared to 1990, really is a fairly major challenge.  Even for communities that are already implementing programs, it’s a big challenge,” Pandullo says.

The inventory reveals that greenhouse gas emissions in Louisville metro went up nearly 10% from where they stood in 1990.  Now, city officials will use the inventory to complete a comprehensive list of recommendations for how to meet the 2012 goal.  They plan to unveil those recommendations in March of next year.

Click here for more on the city’s climate change-related activities.

Local News

KY Farmers Earn Thousands for Carbon Credits

American farmers earned nearly $6 million dollars for a year’s worth of carbon credits sold on the Chicago Climate Exchange. The National Farmers Union has just mailed out the checks to farmers—including four in Kentucky who earned more than $20,000. To participate in the carbon credit program, farmers agree to certain farming practices that capture more carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas, in the soil. They can use a low-impact farming method called no-till or convert acres to grass. Farmers Union president Tom Buis says there are two other ways farmers can participate.

“Forestry projects, which capture a lot more carbon from the air, and methane digesters, where you turn livestock waste into energy and capture the carbon,” says Buis.

Buis says the Farmers Union then sells their aggregated tons of carbon as credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange. And companies wanting to offset their own pollution buy them. This past year, farmers enrolled nearly 3 million acres in the program, keeping enough carbon dioxide stored in the soil to offset the yearly emissions of 320,000 automobiles.

Local News

Bigger Market for IN Coal Seen in New Plant

Work has begun on a new kind of coal power plant in southwestern Indiana, near Edwardsport.  The plant will use a technology called “integrated gasification combined cycle,” or IGCC.  Coal isn’t burned, but heated and turned into a gas.  Both the gas and the heat from the process then power generators. Proponents say IGCC plants are cleaner than traditional plants because they don’t emit harmful pollutants during combustion.  And that means the plant could make more use of Indiana coal, which is higher in sulfur than coal from western states.  Indiana Office of Energy and Defense Development director Brandon Seitz says the state’s coal industry is trying to make sure it replaces an aging workforce in time to take advantage of greater demand.

“What you are seeing is that, in anticipation of more of these IGCC plants, there is planning already to make sure that the working force are ready for going into mines and starting new mines,” Seitz says.

Pikeville, Kentucky has also been selected as a site for a new coal-to-liquid plant.  Currently only two such plants are in operation in the country.  Critics say they still emit greenhouse gas producing carbon dioxide, though Seitz says owners of the new Indiana plant will look for ways to capture the gas and store it.