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Important letter to the EPA by 41 scientists questioning biomass

November 26, 2013

Mr. Joe Goffman Senior Counsel, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Mail Code: 6101A Washington, DC 20460

Dear Mr. Goffman:

We, the undersigned scientists, believe regulations governing how stationary sources account for biogenic carbon emissions must be based on sound science and ensure adequate protections for forests and the climate. We applaud the EPA for setting a high standard in making policy on this important issue by seeking expert scientific input from the Science Advisory Board (SAB). We now urge the agency to follow through on that process and embrace the central scientific principles underscored by the SAB as you finalize these accounting rules. Doing otherwise at this juncture will fail the test of rigorous, science- based policymaking and could result in regulations that distort the marketplace towards greater use of unsustainable sources of biomass, with significant risks to our climate, forests and the valuable ecosystem services they provide and we rely on.

In 2011, EPA initiated a science-driven process to develop a methodology for properly quantifying biogenic carbon emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act. As part of this process, the agency rightly solicited scientific input by submitting a draft “Accounting Framework for Biogenic CO2 Emissions from Stationary Sources” to the SAB for review by an assembled Biogenic Carbon Emissions Panel. As now EPA finalizes its biogenic carbon accounting rules, it must follow through on that process and adopt the science panel’s key recommendations: 1) moving beyond the flawed assumption that bioenergy is inherently carbon neutral; 2) rejecting the regional accounting method originally proposed in the draft Accounting Framework; and 3) ensuring a scientifically-sound methodology for determining the carbon emissions impact to the atmosphere from burning long-recovery biomass feedstocks—most notably, whole trees.

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, Greenwashing, Illegal logging, Land Grabs, Pollution, The Greed Economy and the Future of Forests

Doha: US envoy’s cutting remark on CO2 emissions fails to add up

By Suzanne Goldenberg, December 6, 2012.  Source: The Guardian

Li Muzi/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Li Muzi/Xinhua Press/Corbis

The Obama administration has been vigorously defending its climate record at the Doha conference in Qatar. But it appears that Todd Stern, the US state department climate envoy, has been rather selective with his facts.

In his sole press conference at the meeting, Stern told reporters the US was on track to meet its commitment on cutting emissions by 2020, citing a report by the Resources for the Future thinktank.

The report said that incoming Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal-fired power plants, along with other measures, could lead to a 16.3% cut in emissions by 2020.

“The US has done quite significant things in the president’s first four years, in his first term,” Stern said. “I saw just the other day actually a report by Resources for the Future which is a quite good kind of environmental economic thinktank in Washington that projects us to be on track for about a 16.5% reduction based on the policies that we have in place now.”

That figure is not far off Barack Obama’s admittedly modest target of 17% cut on emissions from 2005 levels, which he offered to the UN climate meeting at Copenhagen in 2009. The problem was, however, that Stern overlooked official US government reports indicating the US would be nowhere near a 16% cut by 2020. He also overlooked several different cautions included in the RFF report (pdf).
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Filed under Climate Change, Coal, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Greenwashing, UNFCCC

Shell Chemical equipment failure causes flame and flares in St. Charles

By Juliet Linderman, December 3, 2012.  Source: The Times-Picayune

Photo: Diya Chacko/nola.com

Photo: Diya Chacko/nola.com

For more than 30 hours, Shell Chemical, located on the Motiva Enterprises campus in Norco, has been experiencing elevated flares, shooting flames and leaking thick black smoke into the air above St. Charles Parish. According to a report submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center, the plant is releasing unknown amounts of hydrogen sulfide, butadiene and benzene, a known carcinogen.

Shell Chemical reported the incident to the NRC at approximately 8 am on Sunday, Dec. 2, citing no deaths or injuries associated with the accident.

According to Department of Environmental Quality Press Secretary Rodney Mallet, an unknown unit within the plant sustained damages, and Motiva has opted to send the chemicals typically routed to the damaged unit to a flare to be burned, rather than shutting the unit down altogether and rebooting it. The quantity of chemicals being funneled to the flare, as well as anticipated emissions, are unknown at this time. Neither DEQ nor NRC has specified whether the material is coming from Shell Chemical or Motiva.
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U.S. officials to visit Indonesia for palm oil emissions talks

Note: Oh good, let’s “open up a potentially huge market” for rainforest-destroying, orangutan-killing, culturally genocidal palm oil.  As long as we call it “green” that is…

–The GJEP team

By Michael Taylor and Yayat Supriatna, Oct 19, 2012.  Source: Reuters

(Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will visit Indonesia next week, officials said on Friday, in what may prove a crucial step in the battle to meet green standards and open up a potentially huge market for the world’s top palm oil producer.

Indonesia is seen as a key player in the fight against climate change and is under intense international pressure to curb its rapid deforestation rate and destruction of carbon-rich peatlands.

A recent blow to the Southeast Asian palm oil industry, which supplies more than 90 percent of world supplies of the edible oil, came in late January when it failed to meet greenhouse gas saving standards to qualify for the U.S. renewable fuels program.

The U.S. EPA said palm oil converted into biofuels in Indonesia and Malaysia cut up to 17 percent of climate warming emissions, falling short of a 20 percent requirement to enter the world’s largest energy market.

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From Fukushima Disaster Comes Radioactive Biomass Energy

Note: Okay, here’s a REALLY bad idea–Japan is now planning to take the heavily radioactive wood from the Fukushima power plant and other nuke plants–to feed wood-burning electricity production.  That’s right, because not enough radiation was released by the disaster, they want to release even more in the biomass emissions.

Awesome.  Who said it couldn’t get any worse?

–The GJEP Team

By James Montgomery, News Editor

Cross-Posted from Renewable Energy World
In Japan, the wood from decommissioned nuclear power plants, even some that contains radiation, will serve as feedstock to new biomass power plants.

New Hampshire, U.S.A. — In the wake of the March 11, 2011, earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster, nearly all of Japan’s 50-plus nuclear plants are now offline, and soon they all will be dark. That’s left a gaping hole in Japan’s power generation, just ahead of the traditionally grid-stressing summertime season.

Strict energy conservation efforts have helped soften that blow, and Japan is still figuring out how toresponsibly reopen some of its nuclear footprint. In the meantime, renewable energy will be relied upon more heavily to shoulder Japan’s energy load, including megasolar plans and wind projects.

Another renewables plan approved by Japanese officials aims to solve two problems in one stroke. The government says it will fund the ramp-up of several biomass plants specifically to process tons of rubble and debris from the disasters. Most of that, an estimated 70 percent of the 22 million-plus-tons in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures, is wood. Japan’s Forestry reportedly has earmarked ¥9.5 billion to cover up to half the costs for building the four 1-5 megawatt biomass plants in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures. Once they run out of debris from the disasters, they’ll switch to processing wood from lumber and paper mills. This waste is reportedly piling up faster than it can be disposed of.

In Fukushima itself, ground-zero for the March 11 nuclear disaster, biomass efforts have progressed even further. The prefecture has just over 2 million tons of debris from the disaster, only around 5 percent of which has been processed.

First Energy Service Co. (FESCO) says it is now accepting debris from the quake that actually contains radiation. (Here’s FESCO’s brief in Japanese, which the Nikkei summarizes in English.) The 11.5-MW biomass plant in Shirakawa uses around 380 tons of debris per day, and is now starting to accept up to 20-30 tons per day of “tainted” debris, which it will decontaminate to >100 becquerels/kilogram (Bq/kg) of radioactivity using high-pressure hoses and other methods, reports the Nikkei. FESCO claims “practically no” radioactive substances will be released into the atmosphere during incineration.

The leftover ash residue, though, will have highly concentrated radioactive substances (several thousand Bq/kg). Government rules say ashes with up to 8,000 Bq/kg can be buried, while material tallying 8,000-100,000 Bq/kg must be secured and buried in concrete containers. The prefecture apparently has agreed to take the ash and figure out how to dispose of it, so FESCO is moving ahead.

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Japan, Russia Reject New Kyoto Targets, UN’s Figueres Says

Cross-posted from Bloomberg

By Daniel Ten Kate and Alex Morales

“What they’re saying is they will not participate in a second commitment period” of Kyoto, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres told reporters today in Bangkok, where a week of climate treaty negotiations are concluding. Photographer: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Japan and Russia reject new targets under the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty, whose current goals expire in 2012, the top United Nations climate diplomat said.

“What they’re saying is they will not participate in a second commitment period” of Kyoto, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres told reporters today in Bangkok as a week of climate talks concluded. “They have not said, ‘none of you can do a second commitment period.’”

Japan and Russia both argued at the UN’s last round of treaty negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, that taking on new emissions reduction goals under the 1997 Kyoto deal would be pointless if the two biggest emitters, the U.S. and China, don’t have binding targets. The U.S. never ratified the treaty, which doesn’t set enforceable goals for developing nations.

The absence of Japan and Russia, added to that of the U.S., China and India, would leave the Kyoto Protocol without targets for the five biggest emitters of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Divisions between richer and poorer nations made for slow progress in Bangkok, with 3-1/2 days spent negotiating the agenda, U.S. envoy Jonathan Pershing said.

“Progress has been slow and we, along with many other countries, are concerned,” Pershing said. “We are not prepared to go forward with a binding obligation for ourselves which would not apply to the other major economies.”

Major emitters such as China and India contend that they shouldn’t be given legally binding emissions targets because industrialized nations should act first.

‘Catastrophe’ Scenario

Non-binding emissions goals that nations have pledged for 2020 leave developing countries carrying out more emissions reductions than developed ones, Bolivian envoy Pablo Solon said. That leaves the planet “very far away” from stopping temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since industrialization began, he said.

“Where we are now after Cancun is in a scenario of 4 degrees Celsius, and that is a scenario of catastrophe,” Solon told reporters. Decisions made in the Mexican resort “were very good for diplomacy, for multilateralism, but for climate change they weren’t very good.”

Negotiators have conducted the talks on two tracks: one to extend the Kyoto Protocol and another to set out what the U.S. and developing countries will do to fight climate change. In Cancun, delegates agreed to a package of measures aimed at protecting forests and channeling aid and technology to poorer nations to help them cope with the effects of global warming and reduce their own greenhouse-gas output.

‘Come Along’

The ideal outcome would be a single, legally-binding instrument, though that looks like it won’t be possible, said European Commission negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger, speaking on behalf of the 27 European Union members. He said nations can’t expect to continue after 2012 with the Kyoto Protocol covering just 10 percent of global emissions and no other instruments binding other countries.

“We want to fight climate change but we need the other countries to come along with us,” Runge-Metzger said. “That requires a legal certainty that they are going to do this.”

Delays in extending Kyoto threaten the future size of the Clean Development Mechanism, the UN pollution offset trading program that’s worth about $2.7 billion a year in new offsets. Still, the demand in the market is fueled mainly by European nations that plan to use it even if new commitments aren’t agreed to under the Kyoto treaty.

Countries still need to decide on when global greenhouse output should peak and what mid-term and long-term global emissions goals to adopt, the UN’s Figueres said. They also need to decide whether the next round of commitments will be legally binding, she said.

‘Sense of Predictability’

She said that while a binding treaty would provide a “certain sense of predictability,” it’s up to envoys to decide the format of any new deal.

In Bangkok, delegates discussed the institutions needed to carry out the decisions made last December in Mexico and laid the groundwork for talks at the end of the year in Durban, South Africa, where Bolivia’s Solon said countries need to agree to new legally-binding measures to fight climate change.

“In Cancun, we threw a bucket of water at a forest on fire. We cannot throw a new bucket of water to this forest that is on fire,” Solon said. “We really have to contain the fire.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net; Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net; Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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New studies raise doubts about greenness of biomass

Wood-based bioenergy, aka biomass, is the leading force driving development of plantations of genetically engineered trees in the United States, and is becoming a threat in countries like Brazil and various countries in Europe.  As the article points out below, this is merely one of many problems with wood-based electricity production.  There is no good, sustainable way to produce the amount of electricity consumed in the US.  The first step in our transition to a society that lives within the boundaries of the Earth’s life support systems is to dramatically reduce the amount of energy we collectively consume.  Once that is done we can look at truly sustainable ways to meet the remaining energy needs.  But turning our forests into bioenergy plantations to burn is in no way a sustainable solution.

–The GJEP Team

Cross-posted from the Seattle Times

By Kyung M. Song

Simpson Tacoma Kraft got a $17 million federal tax credit to convert the plant to produce biomass energy.

WASHINGTON — Simpson Tacoma Kraft would seem like one of the greener power plants. It boils water by burning sawdust, bark and wood shavings from saw mills and pulp mills, funneling the resulting high-pressure steam into a turbine to generate electricity.

Such power produced from biomass — tree trimmings, scrap lumber and other plant material — is a small but growing part of the nation’s quest for renewable energy. The goal is to curb demand for imported oil by supplanting coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels and to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions blamed for altering the climate.


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Japan says to work on new global climate framework

Cross-posted from Reuters

Smoke rises from factories at Keihin industrial zone in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo November 30, 2009. Credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai

By Risa Maeda

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan said it aims to propose an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol in coming months, after criticizing the international climate framework as neither using effective technology nor including major emitters.

Tokyo will come up with a set of proposals to fight global warming beyond 2012, including bilateral agreements between countries on emission offsets generated by the use of clean-energy technology, government officials said on Thursday.

The move underlined Japan’s urgent need to regain the trust of developing countries, many of which have blamed Japan’s opposition to extending the Kyoto Protocol for causing a major delay in U.N.-led climate talks.

“We are not at all looking backward. We now think we should come up with a Japan proposal,” said Ikuro Sugawara, director-general at the trade ministry’s industrial science and technology policy and environment bureau.

“We should draw a vision of what the globe should be, use Japan’s wisdom (on clean-energy technology) and propose what can be done with the remaining 96 percent of emissions,” he said at a meeting of the ministry’s climate policy advisory panel.

At the last U.N. meeting in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of 2010, governments put off tough decisions until this year on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Japan at that time argued that Kyoto is out of date because it covers less than 30 percent of current global emissions, including a 4 percent share for Japan, and fails to provide a solution.

The protocol, whose current round ends in 2012, obliges almost 40 rich countries — except the United States — to cut emissions or face penalties.

Last week, Prime Minister Naoto Kan made public, albeit with few details, Japan’s intention to take the lead in areas of the environment this year.

“In addition to the existing framework for environmental countermeasures … I would like to put forth a new international initiative addressing Asian environmental challenges in particular,” Kan said in a speech on foreign policy.

The internal process to come up with such a proposal in Japan will have little to do with a split parliament, which makes it difficult to pass bills related to next fiscal year’s budget as well as those for policy measures on domestic emission cuts.

(Editing by Jane Baird)

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