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Partisan Zeal Is Hallmark of New Senate's Votes on Environment

League of Conservations Voters' scorecard underlines partisan divide that defines Capitol Hill on climate change and energy.

Feb 5, 2015

Thirty-seven Republican senators voted against protecting the environment 19 different times—every single opportunity they had—during last week's contentious vote to fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Across the aisle, 32 Democrats voted pro-environment 100 percent of the time.

That assessment was released Thursday by the political advocacy group the League of Conservation Voters, which tracked senators' votes on 18 different environment-, climate- and energy-related amendments attached to the Keystone XL bill, as well the Keystone bill itself. The report's results demonstrate the sharp partisan divide likely to rule Congress' climate-and-energy decisions for the next two years.

In W.Va., New GOP Majority Defangs Renewable Energy Law That Never Had a Bite

New Republican majority's first act overturns broad renewable standard that counted even burnt tires as an alternative energy source.

Feb 5, 2015

In a largely symbolic move, West Virginia legislators have repealed a law that required utilities to generate a quarter of their power from renewable or alternative sources by 2025. The bill repealing the state's energy portfolio standard passed 95-4 in the House and 33-0 in the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Tuesday. The law leaves intact one provision that provides rebates to people who generate their own electricity.

The repeal, which was the first piece of legislation to come out of the GOP-led legislature this session, is seen by the environmental community as political theater orchestrated entirely to placate constituents.

"This whole thing is a charade," said Bill Howley, a citizen activist following energy policy in West Virginia. "The Republicans had made it a big issue in the elections and they want to be able to say, 'See, we told you we were going to do something about it and look, here it is.'"

Prior to the November 2014 elections, both the House and Senate in West Virginia were controlled by the Democratic Party. But in an unexpected sweep last year, Republican candidates running primarily on a pro-coal platform seized control of the House for the first time in eight decades, winning 64 of the 100 seats. In the Senate they gained control by a two-seat majority.

De Blasio Plans Affordable Housing in Areas Swamped by Hurricane Sandy

Groups say the plan must be carried out carefully to avoid putting more people in danger as water levels rise because of global warming.

Feb 4, 2015

Mayor Bill de Blasio's affordable-housing plan for New York City announced Tuesday calls for thousands of new residences to be built in low-lying neighborhoods hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Botched Again: EPA Tells State Department to Redo Its Keystone Analysis

Environmentalists say the EPA memo effectively tells Obama that the pipeline fails his climate test and paves the way for final rejection.

Feb 3, 2015

The Environmental Protection Agency has called on the State Department to reconsider a key finding that led its Keystone XL review team to suggest that the pipeline wouldn't worsen climate change. The EPA said the recent sharp decline in oil prices makes it more likely that the project would significantly increase emissions of greenhouse gases.

In a memo filed Tuesday as President Obama's decision on the Keystone seemed to be drawing near, the EPA challenged the year-old environmental review's assertion that with oil prices relatively high, no single pipeline would significantly affect tar sands production or greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA said that finding "was based in large part on projections of the global price of oil"—projections made a year ago that have not held up.

"Given the recent variability in oil prices, it is important to revisit these conclusions," the EPA said.

The EPA is charged by law with reviewing the environmental impact statements issued by other federal agencies, and each time it has reviewed the State Department's work on the pipeline, it has found weaknesses.

Want to Build with Federal Funds? New Order Requires Planning for Future Flood Risk

Executive order helps ensure tax dollars aren't wasted on repairing projects that just end up getting flooded again.

Feb 3, 2015

President Barack Obama's latest executive order looks to curb future damages from one of the nation's most common and costly forms of climate-related disasters: flooding.

The order, issued Jan. 30, creates a new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard that requires current—and future—flood risk assessments to be rolled into the planning and construction of federally funded projects in and around floodplains.

Today, most agencies determine a new construction project's flood hazard based on historic flood data, not future flood projections. In fact, the latest flood hazard maps designed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency do not currently account for future risks—although the agency is working on this.

Wind Industry, Riding Tax-Credit Rollercoaster, Reports Year of Growth

Last year's growth of 4,850 megawatts was more than four times that of 2013, but it's still well below the expansion rates of just a few years ago.

Feb 3, 2015

U.S. wind energy installations grew more than four-fold in 2014, according to a new report, but the growth was well short of its 2012 peak, and uncertainty over a key industry tax credit is dampening prospects for growth beyond this year.

New onshore wind energy projects added 4,850 megawatts to U.S. power supplies during the year, up from an increase of 1,087 megawatts in 2013, according to a report this week from the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group. With those additions, the U.S. has 65,879 megawatts of wind power capacity.

The big year-over-year increase in 2014 is partly a function of being compared to 2013, a down year for the industry because many projects weren't started until after Congress belatedly extended a critical tax credit to the end of 2013. To qualify for the reinstated credit, wind projects had to begin construction in 2013. That led to a rush to get projects underway before that deadline, and the 2013 construction push, in turn, led to the surge of completed wind projects in 2014, according to the Washington-based industry group.

Texas, already the nation's largest wind energy producer, installed more than 1,800 megawatts of new capacity last year—more than the nationwide total in 2013.  The state will host the majority of the 12,700 megawatts of wind energy under construction at the beginning of 2015, but 21 other states had projects underway, according to trade group's report.

"Wind is gaining strength, but as recent history shows, we can do a whole lot more," said Tom Kiernan, AWEA's chief executive officer.

Obama's Budget Reveals Depth and Breadth of His Climate Agenda

However the negotiations with Congress turn out, the budget will lock in the course of climate policy through the next presidential election.

Feb 2, 2015

This story has been updated on Feb. 3 at 9:00 PM ET to add more budget details and reactions.

Many of the climate-change goals were old, but some were new in President Obama's budget request to Congress, published on Monday.

Familiar elements included more green-energy R&D, permanent status for tax breaks that subsidize renewable production of electricity, and yet another plea to end existing subsidies for fossil fuels. Among the novelties: new incentives for states to meet the low-carbon targets of proposed Clean Air Act regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which would manage the $4 billion Clean Power State Incentive Fund, said it would support "state efforts to go above and beyond their carbon pollution reduction goals in the power sector."

Some environmental advocates have criticized the EPA's proposed power regulations for not going far enough, with some states likely to meet the targets without introducing tough new measures.

In a significant new argument to bolster his case for action on climate, Obama's budget warns that if Congress delays spending now, it will only pay a higher price in years to come.

"The Federal Government has broad exposure to escalating costs and lost revenue as a direct or indirect result of a changing climate," says an extensive discussion of the financial risks facing the nation from global warming.

Even though Congress, which controls the purse strings, is now in Republican hand, it's worth paying attention to both the overarching message and to the details in a presidential budget. No single document in the policy universe better outlines a president's priorities, and this one shows the depth and breadth of the administration's climate agenda. It covers the fiscal year that begins next October. And however the negotiations with Congress turn out, it will lock in the course of climate policy through the next presidential election.

Southern Forests' Ability to Suck Carbon From the Air May Be Slowing

New findings concern team of scientists who studied data from 40,000 sites in 11 states.

Feb 2, 2015

When U.S. Forest Service scientist David Wear hikes the trails crisscrossing the Appalachian Mountains, he pauses to revel not only in the beauty and solitude, but to consider the remarkable role that the forest around him plays in the world's environment.

"A walk in the woods is as much recreation as intellectual stimulation for me," Wear said. "I see questions about what’s happening in the changing dynamics of the forests."

One of those questions: How are today's forests doing when it comes to sucking carbon out of the atmosphere?

Wear and two Forest Service colleagues, John Coulston and Jim Vose, recently completed a study examining the carbon accumulation levels of forests in the southern United States.

They discovered a possible reduction in the ability of these forests to absorb carbon. That worries Wear and his colleagues because carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas that causes climate change.

The trio of scientists, who worked out of the Forest Service's Southern Research Station, recently had their findings published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Keystone XL Primer: Explaining the National Interest Process

For a step so critical to the Keystone pipeline's outcome, the determination of national interest is profoundly opaque.

Jan 30, 2015

Six years, two environmental reviews, one presidential delay, two Nebraska trials and innumerable rallies, commercials and op-eds later, the decision to grant a federal permit to the Keystone XL pipeline has now entered its home stretch, as the Obama administration moves to determine if the project is in the national interest.

The Congressional push to land a bill mandating approval for the Keystone XL has attracted most of the media attention, as has the president's vow to veto it. But parallel to the Congressional Keystone campaign, the State Department has quietly revived the national interest determination process after the Nebraska State Supreme Court tossed a challenge to the pipeline's route through the state. The administration had suspended the national interest determination process last spring while the case was pending.

The State Department asked eight federal agencies to weigh in on the national interest determination before Secretary of State John Kerry and, ultimately, the president determine the pipeline's fate. They are: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pentagon and the Departments of Energy, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation and Homeland Security. Their comments are due Monday, February 2.

What is the definition of "national interest?"

Senate Approval of Keystone 62-36 Hides Deep Divisions, Fierce Battles Ahead

Nothing in the Keystone debate suggests there's bipartisan consensus on any basic energy issue, or on the biggest climate question of all.

Jan 30, 2015

The moment the gavel hammered through Thursday's vote in Congress to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, some in the Senate were predicting that a bipartisan consensus on energy policy was just around the corner.

The Republican and Democratic senators who stage-managed the pipeline bill—Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Maria Cantwell of Washington—both surmised after the 62-36 vote that before long they might be working in tandem.