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How the EPA’s New Oil and Gas Standards Will Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently issued final rules to reduce air pollution at natural gas wells and other sources in the oil and gas industry. The rules—a New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and National Emissions Standards for hazardous air pollutants—establish the first federal standards for emissions from production wells (natural gas processing plants were already covered). They are designed to limit the release of VOCs and other air toxics that contribute significantly to smog and are associated with a wide range of adverse health effects. (For more on the oil and gas rules, see M.J. Bradley & Associates’ Issue Brief.)

In addition to reducing VOC and air toxics emissions, these rules will help reduce methane emissions from shale gas development. According to the EPA, there are over 11,000 new hydraulically fractured wells each year, and while water-related environmental concerns have received the lion’s share of public attention and are the focus of EPA’s ongoing hydraulic fracturing study, uncontrolled emissions from hydraulic fracturing can negatively impact air quality and the climate.

Coming Up: Assessments of UK and US Fast-Start Finance

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), developed countries have pledged to provide “fast-start” finance approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010-2012. Now, in the final year of the fast-start period, these countries are under pressure to demonstrate that they are meeting this pledge. But divergent viewpoints on what constitutes fast-start finance – coupled with unharmonized approaches to delivering and reporting on it – complicate such an assessment.

Starting in May 2012, the Open Climate Network (OCN) will release a series of reports that aims to shed light on these discussions by clarifying how developed countries are defining, delivering, and reporting their fast-start finance.

Launch of New Online Power Almanac of the American Midwest

This post was written by Nicholas Bianco, Senior Associate, WRI, and Rolf Nordstrom, Executive Director, Great Plains Institute

We are launching a new online tool, the Power Almanac of the American Midwest, that will assist government officials, industry leaders, energy analysts and others in making informed energy decisions in the region. The Almanac integrates key energy and environmental data from some 50 disparate sources, tailored to the Midwest region, in a graphic and easy-to-use way.

The Almanac is built around a dynamic interface that allows users to explore the power sector through interactive Google maps, graphs, and charts. You can use it to learn more about an individual coal mine or power plant, or to compare wind and solar resources in the Midwest to the rest of the United States. You will also find a range of other useful background, including up-to-date information on relevant state and federal energy policies.

Bringing Ecosystem Markets to Scale in the Southern United States

For the most part, Ecosystem Markets still linger in the early stages of development. There is much more theoretical work to be done to set up environmental credit markets, including carbon offsets and payments for watershed services. But more pilot projects can also help these markets evolve and show how they might work in the real world.

Development pressures in the U.S. South often mean that forests are worth more cut down than left standing. In the U.S. South alone, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that suburban encroachment will convert approximately 31 million acres (approximately 14 percent of 2010 southern forest area) of southern forests to development between 1992 and 2040.

Leading the Renewal of American Manufacturing: Ohio’s Combined Heat and Power Program

On March 9, 2012, the Ohio Public Utility Commission hosted a workshop for the Pilot Program on Combined Heat and Power, which it has launched in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The workshop convened industrial companies, energy experts, and state-level policymakers to discuss the role of Combined Heat and Power (CHP) technology in complying with upcoming federal Boiler MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) standards. The CHP pilot program in Ohio is an important precedent that recognizes the potential for U.S. industry to raise its energy productivity while improving the health of workers and surrounding communities.

Payments for Watershed Services: Pilot Projects for Watershed Protection

Forested watersheds of the southern United States provide numerous services to the region. At no cost, they purify water, control flooding and erosion, and provide places for people to relax and have fun. Yet despite their value, many watersheds are under threat from development and poor land management.

“Payments for Watershed Services” (PWS) programs are one strategy to keep watersheds healthy. Through a PWS program, landowners receive financial incentives to conserve, sustainably manage, and/or restore watersheds to yield the kinds of benefits described above.

A New Snapshot of Energy Use in Midwest Manufacturing

Policymakers at all levels of government are focusing on getting the economy moving again. Recent economic news suggests that the manufacturing sector, which has struggled in recent decades and lost 30% of its workforce between 2000 and 2010, is leading the U.S. out of recession.

By including industrial energy efficiency as a core component of economic development strategies, policymakers can help ensure that today’s capital investments in infrastructure and industry leave U.S. manufacturers better positioned to compete in the 21st century.

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