Environment Local News Politics

McConnell Seeks to Stop EPA From Further Regulating Carbon Emissions

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has filed an amendment to a small business bill that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing new regulations on carbon emissions.

McConnell calls such regulations “a back-door national energy tax,” and says they would lead to higher prices for gasoline, groceries, electricity and natural gas.

Representative Ed Whitfield of Kentucky has filed similar legislation in the House.

Carbon is a common pollutant and is linked to climate change. For more on the science of carbon emissions, watch this video from NPR and Robert Krulwich.

Additional information provided by the Associated Press


The Carbon Conundrum

Saturday, April 3, 2010, 9pm

Producer: America Abroad Media
Listen Again

The quest for a new Kyoto Protocol is generating plenty of hot air around the globe. “The Carbon Conundrum” explores the changing climate of carbon emissions — from the Peruvian rainforest, where economic development is slashing a weapon in the war on warming, to the U.S., where businesses are struggling to scrub their smokestacks and the carbon credit debate is heating up on Capitol Hill. Deborah Amos hosts.

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.

Environment In-Depth News Local News

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 In-Depth News Local News

Carbon Capture Tech Makes Progress, But Enough?

(Part two of a two-part series on carbon capture and storage. Listen to part one here.)

This October, American Electric Power’s Mountaineer coal plant in West Virginia became the first to demonstrate it could capture carbon dioxide from the smoke stack and pipe it underground for storage.  It’s only capturing a fraction of the 9 and a half million tons of CO2 the plant emits every year, and engineers are still fine-tuning the process.  But project manager Brian Sherrick says what they learn from carbon capture and storage, or CCS, will still put the company ahead of the industry when congress passes climate change legislation.

Carbon capture equipment at the Mountaineer plant.
Carbon capture equipment at the Mountaineer plant.

“We think it’s imminent.  One of our main goals, overall goals, is to maintain coal as an affordable, reliable, and clean source of electricity.  It’s an abundant resource in the United States.  There isn’t one silver bullet to address global climate change.  CCS we believe will be part of the solution,” Sherrick says.

“This is not about making coal clean, as some people have claimed,” says Natural Resources Defense Council scientist George Peridas.  “Coal mining is ravaging communities in many areas of the country.”

Not everyone would agree with Peridas on that last point, but most industry and environmental groups agree on this:  “A few hundred power plants, coal plants are operating around the country, and they’re producing large amounts of global warming pollution, and this is where the carbon capture and storage technology comes in.”

The US Energy Information Administration projects that by 2030, 90 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions will come from power plants that already exist.  Pittsburgh-based National Energy Technology Lab manager Jared Ciferno says scientists know how to capture the carbon from that power plant flue gas.  And they know how to store it underground.  But they don’t know how to do both on the scale an existing power plant needs. Ciferno is helping developm of some of the most promising methods.

“First and foremost, we need to scale up, whether they’re existing technologies or advanced ones, as well as they were not optimized for the power sector,” says Ciferno.

This Fall, the US Department of Energy invested $55 million dollars for laboratory or pilot-ready technologies.  Ciferno says the engineering hurdle will be testing those technologies in the real world.

“The majority of them are still on a relatively small scale, being developed in a laboratory scale.  We’re in the process now of looking at systems.  What kind of system does it need to be cost effective?”

Ciferno says the system basically has to include some kind of chemical that attracts and bonds with carbon dioxide molecules well enough to pull them out of the smoke stack gas, but not so well that the co2 molecules can’t later be plucked off and sent packing.  Getting that chemical reaction to be more efficient is the major problem scientists at several of the national labs are trying to solve right now.  But once we capture all that CO2, do we have—say, in the Ohio River Valley—safe places to put it?

“In much of Illinois, Indiana, northern Kentucky, the Mount Simon sandstone is the real focus of much of the geologic storage capacity,” says Dave Harris, with the Kentucky Geological Survey.

That layer of sandstone is many thousands of feet below the surface. And Harris says it’s porous enough to be a pretty good sponge for CO2—which would be compressed into a dense liquid and shot down a well. In Kentucky, industry and university partners have collaborated on two carbon storage test wells.  One’s in Hancock, the other in Boone County.  And they’re working.

“That certainly doesn’t give a green light for sequestration across the state.  We certainly need a lot more data points. But the results of these two tests are certainly favorable in that we were able to inject CO2 at rates approaching what would be needed on a commercial scale,” says Harris.

Harris says there are more potential storage sites throughout the region, too.  But scientists need to test and monitor them.  While they do, it could still be decades before carbon capture and storage technologies are ready for use on a wide scale.  And by then, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models show us that carbon in our atmosphere will likely already have warmed the planet by several degrees.

Local News

Clean Energy Jobs Grow 10% in Kentucky

Jobs associated with the emerging clean energy economy grew 10 percent in Kentucky between 1998 and 2007. That’s compared to overall job growth of about three and half percent, according to new research from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Researchers claim this is the first analysis of its kind to count actual jobs, including those in renewable energy and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes. Research Project Director Kil Huh  says the majority of jobs falls under the categories of pollution clean up and recycling.

“Starting in the 70s, we made a concerted effort with clean up, pollution mitigation, and also around recycling efforts. And that actually contributes to the clean energy economy because it has a direct impact on our carbon footprint,” says Huh.

Researchers found that in the same period clean energy jobs, which include everything from wastewater technicians to biofuel scientists, grew more than nine percent nationwide, compared to total job growth of just under four percent

Environment Local News

Carbon Storage Testing Begins in Hancock Co.

Coal-fired power plants may not be going away any time soon.  But state officials hope they can perform a disappearing act with the carbon dioxide from those plants.  That’s why workers will spend the next couple of months boring to a depth of more than 8000 feet at a site in Hancock County, Kentucky.  Then, researchers will inject carbon dioxide into the well in hopes that it seeps into the tiny pores of subterranean rock.  If it stays put, power plants could have options for storing the CO2 they emit.  But Kentucky Geological Survey researcher Rick Bowersox says the storage part isn’t the problem.  It’s grabbing the CO2 before it escapes.

“The carbon capture part of this process is the unknown.  There are several different processes that are under study and under test,” says Bowersox.

Some of those processes will be studied and tested by members of a recently announced consortium of Kentucky researchers, government officials, and industry representatives.  The consortium will test a portable carbon capture unit as well as new combustion technologies that reduce the amount of CO2 produced.