Manchin Releases Permitting Plan, But Will Democrats And Republicans Go Along?

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Thursday, September 22, 2022

One Wednesday evening, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee released long-awaited text for permitting reform legislation sponsored by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).

One Wednesday evening, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee released long-awaited text for permitting reform legislation sponsored by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).

One Wednesday evening, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee released long-awaited text for permitting reform legislation sponsored by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).
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Energy Department rule would cut government building emissions 90 percent

A new proposed rule from the Biden administration would cut emissions from new federal buildings 90 percent from 2003 levels in the next two years. Under the proposed rule, new or renovated federal buildings would be required to reduce emissions from the 2003 baseline by 90 percent beginning in 2025. Beginning in 2030, the rule...

A new proposed rule from the Biden administration would cut emissions from new federal buildings 90 percent from 2003 levels in the next two years. Under the proposed rule, new or renovated federal buildings would be required to reduce emissions from the 2003 baseline by 90 percent beginning in 2025. Beginning in 2030, the rule would make new buildings and major renovations fully carbon-neutral, according to the Energy Department. “Ridding pollution from our buildings and adopting clean electricity are some of the most cost-effective and future-oriented solutions we have to combat climate change,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “For the first time ever, DOE is establishing a firm timetable to reduce the government’s carbon footprint in new and existing federal facilities—ensuring the Biden-Harris Administration is leading by example in the effort to reach the nation’s ambitious climate goals.” About a quarter of federal emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels in government buildings. The proposed rule is estimated to cut federal buildings’ emissions by about 1.86 million metric tons and 22.8 thousand tons in methane emissions in the next three decades. Natural gas trade associations took umbrage at the proposal to fully electrify all new federal buildings and eliminate the use of natural gas. “Eliminating natural gas in federal buildings is an impractical, unscientific and expensive idea that will have no environmental benefit. In reality, the demand for electricity fueled by natural gas will only increase and the costs will be borne by every taxpayer,” American Gas Association President and CEO Karen Harbert said in a statement. “The American Gas Association supports the goal of lower emissions and is investing every day to continue to decarbonize our systems. AGA will thoroughly evaluate the proposal and vigorously participate in the public comment process.” The Biden administration has set a target of making federal government operations fully carbon-neutral by 2050, with a 65 percent reduction by 2030.

Going, going, gone: Feds hold first-ever auction for California offshore wind leases

Several dozen companies are competing today for leases to build massive floating wind farms in deep ocean waters off Morro Bay and Humboldt County. The auction is the first major step toward producing offshore wind energy off the West Coast.

In summary Several dozen companies are competing today for leases to build massive floating wind farms in deep ocean waters off Morro Bay and Humboldt County. The auction is the first major step toward producing offshore wind energy off the West Coast. Federal officials today will auction off leases for 583 square miles of ocean waters off California that could lead to the nation’s first massive floating wind farms. The auction — the first on the West Coast — includes five sites in deep ocean waters about 20 miles off Morro Bay and Humboldt County. The leases are the first step in a years-long regulatory process that could culminate in the first commercial-scale floating wind turbines off California’s coast.  Offshore wind projects are considered critical to meeting California’s goals to provide a new source of carbon-free electricity, end reliance on fossil fuels and battle climate change. “Today’s auction is great news for California’s offshore wind industry, workers, and electricity ratepayers,” said Adam Stern, executive director of Offshore Wind California, a trade group for industry developers and technology companies. “It’s the most consequential milestone yet for the Golden State’s efforts to make offshore wind a key part of its diverse clean energy future.”  The results of the auction, which begins at 7 a.m., will offer the first key signs for gauging how strong the market is for producing offshore wind off California. Forty-three companies, including industry leaders like the Danish company Ørsted, are eligible to bid on the leases offered by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees offshore energy and mineral projects. The waters to be auctioned off today have the potential to host several hundred turbines that produce more than 4.5 gigawatts to power about 1.5 million homes. “There’s a lot of opportunities, but there’s also some challenges…California has deeper waters than any other areas with these floating turbines so far in the world.”Habib Dagher, University of Maine Experts say construction is at least five to six years away, and an array of unknowns must first be addressed by the companies: the high costs of construction, the logistics of producing the energy and bringing it to shore, and the environmental risks to marine life and commercial fisheries. “There’s a lot of opportunities, but there’s also some challenges,” said Habib Dagher, executive director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, who is helping develop the first offshore floating wind turbines in the U.S. “California has deeper waters than any other areas with these floating turbines so far in the world,” he said. “How do you protect the environment, protect local stakeholders, protect the fisheries, protect indigenous communities, while also speeding up permitting so we make a difference with global climate change?”  Unlike current offshore wind turbines fixed to the ocean floor off the East Coast, California’s first-of-its-kind turbines would float on platforms anchored by cables in waters reaching about half a mile deep. The turbines — hundreds of feet tall with blades that are bigger than a football field — would largely be out of sight from the shore, about 20 miles away. The Morro Bay lease area covers 376 square miles, while Humboldt’s is 207 square miles. The state’s ambitious offshore wind targets build off President Joe Biden’s 2021 pledge to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind nationally by 2030. Gov. Gavin Newsom hopes to add between 2 to 5 gigawatts of offshore wind off California’s coasts by 2030.  The state’s ultimate goal is to produce at least 25 gigawatts from offshore wind sources by 2045 – the boldest commitment any state has made. That could supply electricity for 25 million homes.  “Offshore wind is a critical component to achieving our world-leading clean energy goals and this sale is an historic step on California’s march toward a future free of fossil fuels,” Newsom said in a statement. “Together with leadership from the Biden-Harris Administration, we’re entering a new era of climate action and solutions that give our planet a new lease on life.” How do offshore wind farms work?   Offshore wind turbines work similarly to land-based ones. Wind makes the turbine's blades spin around a rotor, which then turns a generator to produce electricity. The turbines send energy through cables under the seabed to an onshore substation, where the energy is converted to a higher voltage before being fed into the grid that provides electricity.  California’s offshore wind farms would be the first in the country constructed with floating platforms at a large scale. Europe has long been a leader in developing offshore wind technologies, including a few existing floating offshore wind farms. The U.S. hopes to soon become another world leader in developing the technology, said Dagher of the University of Maine.  “The U.S. still has an opportunity to lead in floating technologies,” he said. “But we need to move forward on the technology side and keep investing in research and development.” The first offshore wind turbines in the U.S. are rooted to the sea floor in relatively shallow waters on fixed structures, which are unsuitable for deep waters. California’s floating turbines, however, will be located about 20 miles offshore and will need to be anchored by cables that reach to the ocean floor at depths of several thousand feet. To date, the federal government has held ten competitive lease sales and issued 27 commercial wind leases in the Atlantic Ocean, spanning from Massachusetts to North Carolina, according to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The two offshore wind farms operating in U.S. waters are capable of generating a combined 42 megawatts of electricity. The country’s first offshore wind project, off the coast of Rhode Island, launched in 2016 with five turbines, followed by a project in Virginia with two turbines. More projects are on the way, including off the coasts of Massachussetts, New York and New Jersey. Bigger and deeper carries more risks and higher costs The auction is just one of many steps in the permitting and construction of commercial offshore wind development off California. Once the sites are leased, developers must submit plans detailing the cost and scale of the wind farms before going through an extensive environmental review. That process could take five to six years before construction, which could take a couple more years, begins, said Stern of Offshore Wind California. The companies would have to seek approval or permits from several state and federal agencies, including the California Coastal Commission. The scale and size of the technology means California would need to rapidly build specialized port facilities and servicing vessels to construct and transport the gigantic turbines. To speed up deployment, he said it’s critical that the state start now investing in transmission and port infrastructure and developing a clear roadmap on permitting and procurement.  At a climate summit hosted by the California Energy Commission on Monday, state leaders, public officials and companies gathered to discuss offshore wind deployment in California ahead of the lease sale. San Francisco City Attorney and former Assemblymember David Chiu said the burgeoning industry could help grow the state economy by adding thousands of good-paying union jobs in multiple sectors and helping fossil fuel workers transition into renewables. Chiu authored AB 525, passed in 2021, requiring the state Energy Commission to establish offshore wind planning goals for 2030 and 2045 and develop a five-part strategic plan by 2023. He said strong workforce training programs and community benefit agreements, especially with Native American tribes, will be crucial to implementing the law.  The potential impacts on commercial fisheries also must be considered. “We know that we have to do something different. Offshore wind is different,” he said. “But that being said, we're also acutely aware that there are impacts on communities.”  The federal government will offer bidding credits for developers who enter into community benefit agreements and invest in workforce training or supply chain improvements in communities. Companies that develop offshore wind projects in California also will be required to enter into labor agreements and work with Native American tribes before beginning construction. “We know that we have to do something different. Offshore wind is different. That being said, we're also acutely aware that there are impacts on communities.”david chiu, former Assemblymember Wind power tends to be stronger in the ocean than on land, making offshore wind a particularly valuable renewable energy source that could help the grid during times when other renewables like traditional wind and solar can’t produce energy. Winds off the coast are strongest in the late afternoon and evening, which is exactly when – particularly in the summer – electricity demand surges as people go home and turn on appliances like air conditioners. But several challenges exist with deploying the technology in deep ocean waters, including risks to marine life and concerns over natural disasters, such as earthquakes, said Dagher of the University of Maine.  The turbines off Eureka would be in waters 2,490 feet deep and for Morro Bay, 3,320 feet, he said. No project in the world exists in waters this deep. The deepest project to date is in Norway, in waters 721 feet deep, Dagher said.  “That adds costs and risk because no one's building anything this big or this deep yet,” he said.  Studying risks to dolphins, whales, fish and birds While offshore wind is a climate-friendly resource, many environmental groups and researchers say floating wind turbines could pose environmental risks. Sea turtles, fish and marine mammals could become entangled in the cables, while birds and bats could get caught in the turbines, said Irene Gutierrez, an environmental attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.   “We want to make sure it’s done right,” she said. “There's a lot that we don't know about offshore wind in the West and what that means for various marine and coastal ecosystems.”  To reduce harm to these animals, Gutierrez said federal and state agencies, developers and researchers must work together to conduct more research and commit to regularly monitoring the effects on natural habitats once the projects launch.  “We want to make sure it's done right. There's a lot that we don't know about offshore wind in the West and what that means for various marine and coastal ecosystems.”Irene Gutierrez, Natural Resources Defense Council Brandon Southall, a scientist with the environmental group California Ocean Alliance and a research associate at UC Santa Cruz who studies the effects of noise on marine mammals, is performing a risk assessment on the lease areas for the federal government to assess how to avoid disruptions to endangered animals and noise-sensitive marine life.  “There’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “But there are a lot of tools that we have that are rapidly evolving, like listening and directional vector sensors to locate where animals are coming from, and we have some baseline data from other projects.”  He said the boats servicing and maintaining the turbines would pose some of the largest risks to dolphins and whales, which communicate over long distances and are sensitive to noise. To avoid being too disruptive to their communication patterns, Southall said the turbines should be installed with noise-reduction technology. Ship operators should also be required to follow a speed limit to avoid striking marine mammals, he added.  Despite the risks, Southall said they shouldn’t derail efforts to deploy the clean energy source given the severity of the climate crisis. He said it’s important that the federal and state governments develop a regulatory framework for companies to ensure they comply with environmental protections.  “I hope that when we're looking at these concerns about impacts, that we, as a scientific community and as a conservation community, don't lose sight of the fact that we need sustainable, alternative energy,” Southall said. “We need a balance of informed and conservative cautionary decision-making, but not so precautionary and so afraid of the uncertainty that we never get there.” 

How to Decarbonize Crypto

The sins of FTX aren’t the only problem the crypto world needs to pay for.

Maintaining bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies causes about 0.3 percent of global CO2 emissions. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s more than the emissions of Switzerland, Croatia, and Norway combined. As many cryptocurrencies crash and the FTX bankruptcy moves into the litigation stage, regulators are likely to scrutinize the crypto world more than ever before. This presents a perfect opportunity to curb their environmental damage.The good news is that cryptocurrencies don’t have to be carbon intensive. In fact, some have near-zero emissions. To encourage polluting currencies to reduce their carbon footprint, we need to force buyers to pay for their environmental harms through taxes.The difference in emissions among cryptocurrencies comes down to how they create new coins. Bitcoin and other high emitters use a system called “proof of work”: To generate coins, participants, or “miners,” have to solve math problems that demand extraordinary computing power. This allows currencies to maintain their decentralized ledger—the blockchain—but requires enormous amounts of energy.[James Surowiecki: Here come the crypto hypocrites]Greener alternatives exist. Most notably, the “proof of stake” system enables participants to maintain their blockchain by depositing cryptocurrency holdings in a pool. When the second-largest cryptocurrency, Ethereum, switched from proof of work to proof of stake earlier this year, its energy consumption dropped by more than 99.9 percent overnight.Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies probably won’t follow suit unless forced to, because proof of work offers massive profits to miners—and they’re the ones with power in the system. Multiple legislative levers could be used to entice them to change.The most blunt solution is to ban cryptocurrency mining altogether. China did this in 2018, but it only made the problem worse; mining moved to other countries with even less efficient energy generation, and emissions went up. The only way for a mining ban to meaningfully reduce carbon emissions is to enact it across most of the globe. Achieving that level of international consensus is, to say the least, unlikely.A second solution is to prohibit the buying and selling of proof-of-work currencies. The European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs considered making such a proposal but voted against it in March. This is understandable; as with a mining ban, it would be both viewed as paternalistic and difficult to implement politically.Employing a tax instead of an outright ban would largely skirt these issues. As with taxes on gasoline, tobacco, plastics, and alcohol, a cryptocurrency tax could reduce real-world harm by making consumers pay for it.Most ways of taxing cryptocurrencies would be inefficient, because they’re easy to circumvent and hard to enforce. To avoid these pitfalls, the tax should be levied as a fixed percentage of each proof-of-work-cryptocurrency purchase. Cryptocurrency exchanges should collect the tax, just as merchants collect sales taxes from customers before passing the sum on to governments. To make it harder to evade, the tax should apply regardless of how the proof-of-work currency is being exchanged—whether for a fiat currency or another cryptocurrency. Most important, any state that implements the tax should target all purchases by citizens in its jurisdiction, even if they buy through exchanges with no legal presence in the country.This sort of tax would be transparent and easy to enforce. Because most people buy cryptocurrencies from one of only a few large exchanges—such as Binance, Coinbase, and Kraken—auditing them should be cheap enough that it pays for itself. If an exchange fails to comply, it should be banned.Even a small tax on proof-of-work currencies would reduce their damage to the planet. Imagine that you’re new to cryptocurrency and want to become a first-time investor. You’re presented with a range of currencies to choose from: bitcoin, ether, litecoin, monero, and others. You notice that all of them except ether add an environmental tax to your purchase price. Which one do you buy?Countries don’t need to coordinate across borders for a proof-of-work tax on their own citizens to be effective. But early adopters should still consider ways to encourage others to come on board. This has precedent. The European Union is trying to influence global policy with its carbon border adjustments, which are designed to discourage people from buying carbon-intensive products abroad in order to skirt taxes. Similar rules for a proof-of-work tax could persuade other countries to adopt one.[Annie Lowrey: The Black investors who were burned by bitcoin]Of course, some people will try to evade the tax, just as people evade every other tax. For example, people might buy tax-free coins on centralized exchanges and then swap them for polluting coins on decentralized exchanges. To some extent, this is inevitable; no tax is perfect. But the effort and technical know-how needed to evade a proof-of-work tax will be a major deterrent.Even if only a few countries implement this tax—and even if some people evade it—the desirability of bitcoin will fall globally, and the environmental benefit will be significant. A high enough tax could also cause a self-reinforcing cycle that will drive down these cryptocurrencies’ prices. Because the value of many cryptocurrencies rely largely on speculation, they are dependent on future buyers. When speculators are deterred by the tax, the lack of demand will cause the price of bitcoin to fall, which could prompt more current holders to sell—further lowering prices and accelerating the effect. Declining prices will pressure the bitcoin community to abandon proof of work altogether.Taxing proof-of-work exchanges might hurt them in the short run, but it would not hinder blockchain innovation. Instead, it would redirect innovation toward greener cryptocurrencies. This is no different than how government incentives for electric vehicles encourage carmakers to improve green alternatives to the internal combustion engine. These incentives don’t restrict innovation in automobiles—they promote it.Taxing environmentally harmful cryptocurrencies can gain support across the political spectrum, from people with varied interests. It would benefit blockchain innovators and cryptocurrency researchers by shifting focus from environmental harm to beneficial uses of the technology. It has the potential to make our planet significantly greener. It would increase government revenues.Even bitcoin maximalists have reason to embrace the proposal: It would offer the bitcoin community a chance to prove it can survive and grow sustainably.

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