Earlier this week, Judge William Alsup denied a motion by Oakland and San Francisco to remand their public nuisance claims against some of the world’s largest fossil fuel producers to state court. However, I’m not sure that this is a victory for the oil companies. This might be more of a “be careful what you wish for” scenario.
Category Archives: Infrastructure
President Trump’s infrastructure plan includes a number of important proposals. My initial reaction is consistent with my view of many of the President’s initiatives – he gives regulatory reform a bad name. We do need to reform the way we implement infrastructure projects in the US, but this President is not the one to lead the effort.
Here are some of the problems I see.
As I’ve previously discussed, whether a discharge to groundwater may be subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction is currently in dispute. Now the 9th Circuit has weighed in, finding that point discharges to groundwater are subject to the Clean Water Act, so long as an ultimate discharge of pollutants to surface waters of the United States is “fairly traceable” to the discharge to groundwater. … More
Yesterday, FERC terminated the docket it opened in response to DOE Secretary Perry’s September proposal to compensate generators who maintain a 90-day fuel supply on-site. The intent of the proposal was to compensate generators who provide reliability and resilience attributes to the grid.
The decision was unanimous, though there were several concurrences. The commissioners were not persuaded that there is a reliability problem that requires immediate,… More
The Washington Post reported this week that Utqiagvik, Alaska (formerly known as Barrow), has gotten so warm, so fast, that NOAA’s computers can’t even believe it. The data for Utqiagvik (that’s hard to type!) were so high that the computers determined it must be anomalous and pulled all of the data from Utqiagvik from the NOAA monthly climate report. Only when scientists realized that Utqiagvik was completely missing from the report did they notice what had happened.… More
Earlier this week, Moody’s Investors Service announced issuance of a report (payment required) warning that:
the effects of climate change, including climbing global temperatures, and rising sea levels, are forecast to have an increasing economic impact on US state and local issuers. This will be a growing negative credit factor for issuers without sufficient adaptation and mitigation strategies.
In other words, if you are an issuer of state or local bonds in an area likely to be impacted by climate trends,… More
On Monday, EnergyWire (subscription required) reported that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a plan to cap fossil fuel use in buildings in New York City. (I haven’t seen the specific plan, but it is referenced in City’s overall plan, “1.5°C: Aligning New York City with the Paris Climate Agreement,” that the City just released.) The building plan is based on data gathered as a result of local ordinances requiring buildings with more than 25,000 square feet to report energy and water use. … More
Yesterday, Judge Mark Wolf dismissed part of the Conservation Law Foundation’s claims in its litigation against ExxonMobil concerning ExxonMobil’s Everett Terminal facility. The opinion is both interesting and pleasurably concise – a rare combination!
Judge Wolf found that CLF had credibly alleged that the Terminal is violating its NPDES permit. Importantly, he also found that CLF stated that there is:
substantial risk”… More
Last week, a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that FERC violated NEPA in failing to assess downstream greenhouse gas emissions resulting from construction of the Sabal Trail pipeline, part of the Southeast Market Pipelines Project. If the decision stands, it is going to have a very significant impact on review and development of gas pipelines.
(Full disclosure – Foley Hoag represents NextEra,… More
According to Bloomberg BNA (subscription required), last week, for the first time ever, more than 50% of the load in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas service area was supplied by wind power. This is the state that consumes more coal than any other. Installed wind capacity is now more than 18,000 megawatts and is projected to be as high as 28,000 MW by 2020.… More
According to the American Wind Energy Association blog, installed wind capacity in the United States has reached 82,000 MW. That puts it past the 80,000 MW of installed hydropower capacity and makes wind the largest installed renewable energy resource.
While the overall number represents a significant milestone, some of the details are interesting as well. Wind represents 5.5% of US generation. Moreover,… More
In one of the first acts of his presidency, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order entitled “Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects”, with a stated goal of streamlining environmental permitting for infrastructure projects.
The order establishes a process by which the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality may be petitioned to designate an infrastructure project as “high priority”. … More
This week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors enacted an ordinance that will require that the developers of all new buildings of 10 floors or less that apply for building permits after January 1, 2017 install solar PV or solar thermal systems. I’m not an expert in the California Code of Regulations, so I’m not familiar with all of the potential exemptions, but the only one stated in the new ordinance is for buildings (residential or non-residential) with a “solar zone” of less than 150 contiguous square feet.… More
This week, the Federal Highway Administration issued a Noticed of Proposed Rulemaking to promulgate performance measures to be used in evaluating federal funding of transportation projects. The requirement for performance measures stems from the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, aka MAP-21. MAP-21 requires the FHWA to establish performance standards in 12 categories, one of which is “on-road mobile source emissions.”
The NPRM addresses this criterion,… More
Yesterday, the White House released a fact sheet describing its efforts to create a “21st Century Clean Transportation System”. There’s a lot of interesting material in the plan, but all the headlines have been on the President’s inclusion of a $10/barrel tax on oil in his FY2017 budget as a means of paying for the various improvements contained in the plan.
The fact sheet doesn’t use the words “carbon tax” and it emphasizes the purposes for which the tax revenue will be used,… More
On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act—a five-year, $305-billion transportation authorization and spending bill. The FAST Act largely focuses on funding highways and other transit infrastructure, but, interestingly, it also contains provisions overhauling the environmental review of infrastructure projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
For example, the FAST Act requires agencies to coordinate their environmental reviews of transportation projects to avoid duplication and accelerate the review process.… More
Earlier this month, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum on “Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment.” If that portentous title isn’t enough to make developers quiver in their boots, how about this first line?
We all have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave America’s natural resources in better condition than when we inherited them.… More
Governor Baker recently submitted Senate Bill No. 1965 to the Legislature. It calls for utilities to solicit long-term purchases of renewable energy. We are talking about as much as 1/3 of Massachusetts’ annual electricity use over a 15-25 year period. Two rationales are often provided to justify the large purchase of Canadian hydropower. First, cheap hydropower will ameliorate the high cost of electricity. Second, it will help Massachusetts attain its initial Global Warming Solutions Act goal of reducing GHG emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. … More
In an important decision last week, United States District Judge Jorge Alonso rejected the Environmental Impact Statement for the Illiana Corridor Project, which would connect I55 in Illinois to I65 in Indiana. (And why Illiana? Why not Indianois?)
The two key criticisms were raised by metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in Illinois and Indiana. First, they argued that DOT used a “market-based” population forecast that showed much faster growth in rural areas than the “policy-based” forecast used by the planning agencies. … More
On Sunday, the Boston Globe had a fairly comprehensive look at the causes of the current failings of the MBTA. Interesting reading for those who like to belabor the obvious. The short version? Lack of political will and combined with a typical willingness to spend money we didn’t have.
As an environmental lawyer, I found the article interesting, because a discussion of the origin of the Big Dig transit commitments – a story I know pretty well – for the first time turned on a light bulb for me. … More
Yesterday, I suggested that Massachusetts EOEEA may not have authority to issue its “MEPA Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency Policy.” However, since I also conceded that Massachusetts courts are unlikely to agree with me, it’s probably worth taking a look at what the Adaptation Policy would require. As with any MEPA (or NEPA) analysis, it has two parts: identification of impacts and discussion of mitigation measures.… More
Environmental Impact Analysis — The Impact of a Project on the Environment or the Impact of the Environment on a Project?
Traditionally, environmental impact analysis, under NEPA and state analogs, has focused on the impacts that a proposed project may have on the environment. In Massachusetts, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs has proposed a draft MEPA Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency Policy. The policy seems sufficiently important to warrant more than one post. Today, I’ll look at EOEEA’s authority to promulgate an Adaptation Policy. Tomorrow,… More
Transportation Projects Get A Lot Of Deference in Demonstrating Compliance With Air Quality Standards
In a decision late last month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made clear just how much deference agencies can get under the Supreme Court decisions in Chevron and Auer. The question in NRDC v. USDOT was whether, in determining whether a project to connect the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to I-405 was in conformity with the California SIP,… More
Still Using Economic (and Safety) Arguments to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Massassachusetts Enacts Gas Leak Legislation
As I noted last year, there has been a concerted effort on the part of those fighting climate change to emphasize economic issues in connection with their policy proposals. That post concerned Senator Markey’s efforts to highlight the economic costs resulting from gas leaks. Of course, methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, with a global warming potential of 21.… More
On Tuesday, Governor Patrick announced a series of climate change preparedness initiatives, including about $50 million in funds for a variety of programs. Before summarizing the plan, I’ll note that Massachusetts appears to have jettisoned “adaptation” as the descriptor for programs designed to mitigate the effects of climate change. We are no longer “adapting”. Now, like the Boy Scouts, we will be “prepared.” Shrewd call.
The biggest piece of the pie with be $40 million for a municipal “resilience” grant program,… More
Making Economic Arguments to Reduce GHG Releases: Senator Markey Releases a Report on Methane Leaks From Gas Distribution Lines
Two years ago, when I participated in a D.C. fly-in with a renewable energy group, we were instructed not to use the words “climate change.” Instead, we were told to focus on “growing the clean energy economy.” The push to frame the climate debate in economic terms continues. This week, Senator Markey released a report asserting that, in Massachusetts alone in 2011, 69 billion cubic feet of natural gas was released from gas distribution lines. … More
It was a busy week on the climate change front in Boston. First, RGGI announced a new Model Rule. Under the new Model Rule, summarized here, the 2014 cap would be reduced by 45%, from 165 million tons to 91 million tons. Because such a sharp decrease in allowances will be expected to cause an increase in allowance prices, RGGI has now provided a safety valve,… More
The Massachusetts DPU Approves the Cape Wind NSTAR Contract: Do I Feel Wind At The End Of The Tunnel?
On Monday, the Massachusetts DPU gave an early holiday present to Cape Wind, by approving the power purchase agreement it entered into with NSTAR. When the 27.5% of Cape Wind represented by this PPA is added to the 50% included in the National Grid PPA, it is looking more and more as though Cape Wind will actually make it to the finish line.
As a follow-up to my post earlier this month on BOEM’s release of the Environmental Assessment for the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area, I just thought that I would note that, according to Daily Environment Report, Maureen Bornholdt of BOEM announced earlier this week at a public hearing on the EA that BOEM expects to start auctioning leases for the WEA by the fall of 2013. … More
E&E News reported yesterday that the U.S. Conference of Mayors has requested a “moratorium” on Clean Water Act enforcement of stormwater limitations on municipalities. The report makes clear that the Mayors avoided an attack on either the CWA or the current EPA administration. Moreover, they acknowledged that there is still “much to be done to protect our water resources.”
Why the moratorium request, then? Two words – they’re broke. One of the mayors who spoke was Michael Bissonnette of Chicopee,… More
Here’s a Suprise — A Cap-and-Trade System For Nutrients Would Substantially Decrease the Cost of Nutrient Reductions in Chesapeake Bay
Yesterday, the Chesapeake Bay Commission released a study showing that implementation of a nutrient trading system would dramatically reduce the cost to achieve nutrient reductions in Chesapeake Bay.
Pardon me if I seem to be posting a lot of dog bites man stories recently.
Although it should not come as a surprise that a trading system would permit nutrient reductions to be attained most cost-effectively,… More
On Friday, E&E News reported that EPA had – for the fifth time – missed its deadline for proposing regulations governing stormwater discharge from post-construction activities. Apparently, EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which was the plaintiff in the original litigation, are negotiating a new deadline. Good luck with that.
Last week, the Geneva Association, which describes itself as “the leading international insurance think tank for strategically important insurance and risk management issues,” issued a report entitled “Extreme events and insurance: 2011 annus horribilis.” Quick take-away? Insurance losses are growing. Why? While there were large earthquakes in 2011, the bigger long-term concerns are extreme weather events and an increasing number of people and resources located in areas subject to such events.… More
Does Energy Efficient Technology Make Buildings More Energy Efficient? The Answer May Not Be So Obvious
ClimateWire had a fascinating story on Monday about federal efforts to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, which are estimated to consume about 40% of our nation’s energy. The story concerns the less than inspiringly-named Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy-Efficient Buildings, which is seeking to substantially alter how building owners think about energy efficiency and the use of technology.
The problem facing GPIC, as it is known,… More
Is Massachusetts the NIMBY Capital of the World? What Will Be the Impact of the Wind Turbine Health Impact Study?
Yesterday, the “Independent Expert Panel” convened by MassDEP to review whether wind turbines cause any adverse health effects issued its report. I was pleased that the headline in the Boston Globe was that “Wind turbines don’t cause health problems.” Similarly, the Daily Environment Report headline was that “Massachusetts Study Finds ‘No Evidence’ of Health Impacts from Wind Turbines.”
I hope that that’s the way the report will be read,… More
Last Friday, noting a story about the extent to which concerns about sea level rise from climate change might affect development in East Boston, I wondered whether battles over whether and how to adapt to climate change might be moving from the realm of the hypothetical to the realm of the real. Climate Wire has now begun a series of stories on how cities are planning for climate change. This week,… More
A story in today’s Boston Globe makes clear that, at least in states where it is permissible to use the words “climate” and “change” in the same sentence, the battle over adaption may no longer be hypothetical. The neighborhood known as East Boston is one that might appropriately be described as having unfulfilled potential. Last month, at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Mayor Menino pledged to revive East Boston, specifically calling out five projects that have been on the drawing board for some time.… More
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed the decision by the Department of Public Utilities to approve the power purchase agreement, or PPA, between Cape Wind and National Grid. (Full disclosure: Foley Hoag represented the Department of Energy Resources in support of the contract before the DPU.) The decision doesn’t mean that Cape Wind will now get built. Given the (one hopes) temporary problems with the federal loan guarantee program and Cape Wind’s failure thus far to sell the rest of the power from the project,… More
Last night, the United States Senate voted to reject President Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan. Recall that the bill, filed by the President on September 12 and styled the “American Jobs Act of 2011”, includes a mix of tax cuts, extensions of expiring jobless benefits, and new spending on infrastructure – including roads, railways and schools. The bill also includes an expansion of the discretionary TIGER grant programs, and the increasingly popular TIFIA loan program. Big picture, it was designed by the White House as its plan to keep the country out of a recession in the coming year.
As Congress considers approaches to climate change legislation, with pragmatists seeming generally to support a cap and trade system, while purists support a carbon tax, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has now weighed in with a new approach: How about both?
Although Massachusetts dithered a bit at the end of the Romney administration, it rejoined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Emission under Governor Patrick in time to participate in the first auction under the RGGI cap and trade program. Last week,… More
Massachusetts Takes Steps to Ensure That Stimulus Spending is Not Bogged Down in Environmental Reviews
It looks as though Massachusetts is going to at least try to avoid having lengthy environmental reviews create obstacles to spending its share of the federal stimulus package. A draft report prepared by the Commonwealth’s Permitting Task Force makes several recommendations which, if implemented, would indeed help to ensure that the money can get out the door and the shovels in the ground. Highlights include:
- Allowing projects to proceed,…