4TH NATIONAL CLIMATE ASSESSMENT: NORTHWEST

DRAFT ASSESSMENT

 

Title: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Chapter 24: Northwest

Agency: U.S. Global Change Research Program

Comments Close: January 31st, 2018

Summary Index: 

  1. Purpose
  2. Context: The National Climate Assessment & US Global Change Research Program; Chapter 24 Writing Process; Tips for Chapter Review
  3. Details: Key Messages; Summary of Three Key Messages

 

Source: Mark Stevens, Creative Commons

 
PURPOSE:

Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment “summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future” (GlobalChange.gov).

Chapter 24, “Northwest,” dives into how  the region’s natural resource economy and  cultural heritage, 'deeply embedded within the natural environment,' will continue to be challenged by substantial warming in the region. As the Northwest continues ‘to warm during all seasons under all future emissions scenarios,’ impacts will be felt in both mountain areas, where there will be an increase in snow-pack loss and higher risk for insect infestations and wildfires, as well as ocean environments, which will experience changes 'such as warmer waters, altered chemistry, sea level rise, and shifts in the marine ecosystems.'  Climate-related changes in mountain and ocean environments 'will affect the Northwest’s natural resource economy, cultural heritage, built infrastructure, recreation, and the health and welfare of Northwest residents.' 

 

 

CONTEXT:

The National Climate Assessment & The Global Change Research Program

The National Climate Assessment is a scientific report synthesized by the US Global Change Research Program.  The Program, established by Presidential Initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in 1990, is made up of 13 federal agencies that “conduct or use research on global change and its impacts on society." The purpose of the Program is “to assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change” (GlobalChange.gov).

Chapter Writing Process

Chapter 8: Northwest was developed by two Coordinating Lead Authors, five Chapter Authors, one Review Editor and four US Global Change Research Program Coordinators. Since the assessment focused on 'different aspects of the interaction between humans, the natural environment, and climate change... the author team required a depth and breadth of expertise that went beyond climate change science, and included social science, economics, health, Tribal communities, frontline communities, climate adaptation, as well as expertise in agriculture, forestry, hydrology, coastal and ocean dynamics, and ecology.' Chapter development consisted of technical discussions at workshops, teleconferences, and via email by chapter authors, and included stakeholder meetings and other outside input through 'comments submitted by the public, interested stakeholders, the National Academies of Sciences, and Federal agencies.'

Tips for Chapter Review

Each chapter is broken down into sections by “Key Messages.” Some chapters may also begin with an executive summary or introduction before delving into the details of each Key Message. Each one- to two-sentence Key Message is followed by a short section that contains a summary of the literature and data that support and expand upon the message.

At the end of each chapter is a final “Traceable Accounts” section, which gives a brief overview of how the chapter was developed. This section then goes on to address the following for each Key Message: (1) describes where evidence for that key message was drawn from, including major projects and particularly critical studies, (2) acknowledges major uncertainties in conclusions and related data, and (3) classifies scientists’ confidence in conclusions.

 

 

DETAILS:

Chapter 8 Key Messages

  • Natural Resource Economy
  • Natural World / Cultural Heritage
  • Infrastructure
  • Health
  • Frontline Communities

 

Key Message 1: Natural Resource Economy

'Climate change is already affecting the Northwest’s diverse natural resources which support sustainable livelihoods and provide a robust foundation for Tribal and rural communities. Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and changes in coastal ocean waters have already reduced agricultural and fishery productivity, while also providing new business opportunities for parts of the natural resource economy. Climate change is expected to continue affecting the natural resource sector, valued at over $180 billion per year, but the economic consequences will depend on future market dynamics and adaptation efforts. Proactive management can increase the resilience of natural resources and economies.'

Cited data and figures include:

  • 'Decreases in low- and mid-elevation snowpack and accompanying decreases in summer streamflow will impact snow- and water-based recreation, such as downhill and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, boating, rafting, and fishing.'

  • 'Specialty crops, including apples and other tree fruits, are already experiencing changes. Earlier high spring temperatures have led to earlier flowering, which can lead to a mismatch with the availability of pollinators required for fruit setting.'

  • Projected impacts on Northwest fisheries ‘associated with ocean warming, acidification, and harmful algal blooms.’ This is expected to include ‘extensive fisheries closures across all of the region’s coastal fisheries, with severe economic and cultural effects on commercial and subsistence shellfish industries.'

Data sources include:

Uncertainties include:

  • 'Impacts on the economic viability of natural resource-based economies in the region,' such as 'the degree to which individual sectors are integrated into global commodity markets.'
  • 'Effects of potential increases in supply volatility' in timber markets, and 'the consequences for investment and ultimately on harvest and milling jobs.'
  • 'How individual actors will respond to climate changes.'
  • 'How precisely [climate impacts] will affect natural resource managers’ financial security, as well as other factors important to sustainable livelihoods and community well-being.'

 

 

Key Message 2: Natural World / Cultural Heritage

'Valued aspects of Northwest heritage and quality of life—the natural environment, wildlife, outdoor recreation, and Tribal cultures—will change with the climate. Increasing temperatures, reduced water availability, changing snow conditions, forest fires, habitat fragmentation, and other changes are endangering the well-being of a wide range of wildlife, threatening popular recreational activities and tribal subsistence and culture. For the Tribes, the health and vitality of the salmon runs is a direct indicator of the wider health of the region.'

Cited data and figures include:

  • Projected habitat loss / fragmentation and increased mortality ‘of waterfowl, trout and salmon and, other coldwater fish. amphibians, wolverines, lynxes, and snowshoe hares’ from ‘Droughts, wildfires, reduced snowpack and persistence, shifted flood timing, and heat stress.'
  • High risk of salmon, 'one of the most important First Foods for Northwest Tribes' for 'subsistence, economical, and ceremonial purposes,' to climate change impacts. Risks are a result of projected 'decreasing summer flows due to changes in seasonal precipitation and reduced snowpack, habitat loss through increasing storm intensity and flooding, and physiological and behavioral sensitivity and increasing mortality due to warmer stream and ocean temperatures, and cascading food web effects due to ocean acidification.'
  • ‘Multiple lines of evidence’ verifying ‘that reduced snowfall and snowpack in the future will adversely impact winter and snow-based recreation fewer skiing visitation rates. This will also adversely affect summer water-based recreation such as boating and rafting, although warmer temperatures in the future can increase demand for water-based recreation and visitations rates to parks.'

Data sources include:

  • Peer-reviewed studies
  • NOAA and USGCRP Reports

Uncertainties include: 

  • 'The perceived importance of future recreation opportunities' prioritization in people's quality of life, despite the direct reduction of recreational opportunities.'
  • 'Effects of climate change on game species;' climate impacts could have a positive or negative effect on certain game species depending on 'which [climate] processes may dominate consequences for game, and how managers might be ablet o effectively adapt to changing climate.'

 

Key Message 3: Infrastructure

'Existing water, transportation, and energy infrastructure already face challenges from flooding, landslides, drought, wildfire, and heat waves. Future climate change raises the risk for many of these extreme events, potentially compromising the reliability of water supplies, hydropower, and transportation across the region. Isolated communities and those with systems that lack redundancy are the most vulnerable. Adaptation strategies that address more than one sector, or are coupled with social and environmental co-benefits, can increase resilience.'

Cited data and figures include: 

  • Investigations 'highlighting the vulnerability of water supply, hydropower, and transportation' to 'extreme events such as flooding, landslides, drought, wildfire and heat waves.'
  • Projected heavy rainfall events, which 'can lead to slope instabilities and landslides, which can close roadways and railways.'
  • Projected increase in wildfires, which 'can result in road and railway closures, reduced water quality in reservoirs, and impacts on the energy sector.'

Data sources include:

  • Peer-reviewed studies

  • Reports by Seattle City Light, Washington State Department of Transportation and the US Department of Energy

Uncertainties include: 

  • Demographic shifts and the important of different infrastructure; fluctuations in 'migration to and within the region' may change 'the relative importance of different types of infrastructure.'
  • Non-climate stresses and interaction with climate-related stresses
  • The 'role of redundancy in minimizing or managing impacts. Metrics for determining the extent to which networking or emergency/back-up systems yield adaptive capacity are not currently available at the regional scale.'

 

 

Are you a scientist at or near the University of Washington? Attend the UW Program on Climate Change's workshop for this chapter's review. More details here

 

Sources

Note that all single quotes ‘’ cite from the Chapter Two draft text; material in double quotes “” may come from any of the sources below.

"Chapter 2: Our Changing Climate." In Fourth National Climate Assessment. US Global Change Research Program. Chapter Lead: Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech University.

"About USGCRP." United States Global Change Research Program. Retrieved from: www.globalchange.gov/about

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contributor: M.S. Student, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

4TH NATIONAL CLIMATE ASSESSMENT: COASTAL EFFECTS

DRAFT ASSESSMENT

 

Title: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Chapter 8: Climate Effects

Agency: U.S. Global Change Research Program

Comments Close: January 31st, 2018

Summary Index: 

  1. Purpose
  2. Context: The National Climate Assessment & US Global Change Research Program; Chapter 8 Writing Process; Tips for Chapter Review
  3. Details: Key Messages; Summary of Three Key Messages

 

Source: Mark Stevens, Creative Commons

 
PURPOSE:

Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment “summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future” (GlobalChange.gov).

Chapter 8, “Coastal Effects,” summarizes the observed and expected impacts of climate change on coastal communities in the United States. The main concern is sea-level rise and increasing incidence of severe storm weather and coastal flooding. These climate impacts have and are expected to continue to have costly economic impacts on coastal infrastructure, decrease community and ecosystem resilience in coastal habitats, and increase vulnerability and displacement of socially and economically marginalized coastal communities.

 

 

 

CONTEXT:

The National Climate Assessment & The Global Change Research Program

The National Climate Assessment is a scientific report synthesized by the US Global Change Research Program.  The Program, established by Presidential Initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in 1990, is made up of 13 federal agencies that “conduct or use research on global change and its impacts on society." The purpose of the Program is “to assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change” (GlobalChange.gov).

Chapter Writing Process

Chapter 8: Coastal Effects was developed by two Coordinating Lead Authors, five Chapter Authors, one Review Editor and four US Global Change Research Program Coordinators. Key messages were initially developed at a Chapter Lead Authors meeting; the team identified key vulnerabilities to focus on through 'ongoing interactions of the author team with coastal managers, planners, and stakeholders as well as a review of the existing literature.'

Tips for Chapter Review

Each chapter is broken down into sections by “Key Messages.” Some chapters may also begin with an executive summary or introduction before delving into the details of each Key Message. Each one- to two-sentence Key Message is followed by a short section that contains a summary of the literature and data that support and expand upon the message.

At the end of each chapter is a final “Traceable Accounts” section, which gives a brief overview of how the chapter was developed. This section then goes on to address the following for each Key Message: (1) describes where evidence for that key message was drawn from, including major projects and particularly critical studies, (2) acknowledges major uncertainties in conclusions and related data, and (3) classifies scientists’ confidence in conclusions.

 

 

DETAILS:

Chapter 8 Key Messages

  • Coastal Economies and Property are Already at Risk
  • Coastal Environments are Already at Risk
  • Social Challenges Intensified

 

Key Message 1: Coastal Economies and Property are Already at Risk

‘America’s trillion-dollar coastal property market and public infrastructure are threatened today by the ongoing increase in the frequency, depth, and extent of tidal flooding due to sea level rise, with cascading impacts to the larger economy. Higher storm surges due to sea level rise and the increased probability of heavy precipitation events exacerbate the risk. Under a higher scenario (RCP8.5), many coastal communities will be transformed by the latter part of this century, and even under lower scenarios (RCP4.5 or RCP2.6), many individuals could suffer significant financial impacts as chronic high tide flooding leads to higher costs and lower property values. Actions to plan for and adapt to more frequent and severe coastal flooding may decrease direct losses and cascading economic impacts.’

Increasing severity of storms and tides have already resulted in costly infrastructure changes on the East Coast. Charleston, SC and Miami Beach, FL have installed pumping stations to clear floodwaters from the streets, while other coastal cities mobilize first responders frequently to close flooded streets. The New York Times recently published an article and photos on flooding impacts. 

Cited data and figures include:

  • Coastal flooding and erosion rates
  • 'Frequency of compound events with both surge and heavy precipitation'
  • Model projections of the 'frequency, depth and extent of both high tide and more severe, damaging coastal flooding'
  • Economic valuation of coastal properties
  • Economic value of coastal economies and infrastructure, such as 'coastal seaports for access to goods and services,' and 'critical energy infrastructure'

Data sources include:

  • Documented impacts to coastal properties and infrastructure
  • Satellite and tide gauge data
  • Projections from digital elevation models
  • Well-documented importance of coastal economies and infrastructure; economic ripple effects of impacts to property markets

Uncertainties include:

  • 'Magnitude of [sea level rise] that will occur and how it will vary across different regions' with different emissions levels.
  • 'Adaptive responses to sea level rise risk and impacts, including individual action and public policy development.'

 

Key Message 2: Coastal Environments are Already at Risk

Fisheries, tourism, human health, and public safety depend upon healthy coastal ecosystems. However, coastal ecosystems are being transformed, degraded, or lost due to climate change impacts, particularly sea level rise and higher numbers of extreme weather events. Restoring and conserving coastal ecosystems and adopting natural and nature-based infrastructure solutions can enhance community and ecosystem resilience to climate change and help ensure the continued health and viability of these environments and our coastal communities. Adapting to degradation of habitat integrity and quality may enhance community and ecosystem resilience and decrease both direct and indirect impacts.’

Coastal habitats such as wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico and marshes along the Atlantic coast provide natural buffers to erosion and break or slow down tidal waves. In turn, these habitats protect coastal communities and provide recreational opportunities. Sea level rise is resulting in habitat loss and degradation of these important ecosystems.

Cited data and figures include:

  • Benefits of coastal ecosystems to fisheries, shoreline erosion prevention, water quality, and recreation
  • Rate of loss of coastal wetlands and marsh degradation
  • Improved resilience of coastal communities from 'natural and nature-based infrastructure'

Data sources include:

  • Scientific literature on 'coastal fisheries, tourism, and human health and safety.'
  • Growing body of research on coastal restoration and 'living shorelines.'

Uncertainties include: 

  • 'Exact amount of coastal habitat loss that is due to climate change versus other human stressors or multiple stressors'. 
  • The amount of 'storm and erosion risk reduction' that is provided by different restoration techniques. 

 

Key Message 3: Social Challenges Intensified

'As the pace of coastal flooding and erosion accelerates, climate impacts along our coasts are exacerbating preexisting social inequities as communities face difficult questions on determining who will pay for current impacts and future adaptation strategies and if, how, or when to relocate vulnerable communities. These questions challenge existing legal frameworks; coastal communities will be among the first in the nation to test climate relevant legal frameworks and policies against these impacts. The answers to these questions will establish precedents that will affect both coastal and non-coastal regions.'

About 13 million people are potentially at risk from sea-level rise and will need to migrate. Many property owners cannot afford to modify their homes or move away without selling their property because of circumstances related to insurance and financial capital. These communities are more vulnerable to climate impacts including increased flood frequency. Pathways forward for these communities are unclear in the absence of clear policies and legal precedent.

Cited data and figures include: 

  • Exacerbation of existing, 'deeply ingrained inequities'
  • Observations from the 2017 hurricane season and a case study of adaptation to high tide flooding in Norfolk, Virginia
  • Adaptation strategies available to coastal property owners

Data sources include:

  • Reports and scientific literature
  • New tools 'to quantify risks and vulnerabilities along the coast,' such as the 'Coastal Community Social Vulnerability index and the Coastal Economic Vulnerability Index.'

Uncertainties include: 

  • How 'different types of coastal effects (chronic flooding v. storms) will impact areas and communities along the coast,' given 'the degree of variation between communities.'

 

 

Are you a scientist at the University of Washington? Attend the UW Program on Climate Change's workshop for this chapter's review. More details here

 

Sources

Note that all single quotes ‘’ cite from the Chapter Two draft text; material in double quotes “” may come from any of the sources below.

"Chapter 2: Our Changing Climate." In Fourth National Climate Assessment. US Global Change Research Program. Chapter Lead: Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech University.

"About USGCRP." United States Global Change Research Program. Retrieved from: www.globalchange.gov/about

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contributor: M.S. Student, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

4TH NATIONAL CLIMATE ASSESSMENT: OUR CHANGING CLIMATE

DRAFT ASSESSMENT

 

Title: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Chapter 2: Our Changing Climate

Agency: U.S. Global Change Research Program

Comments Close: January 31st, 2018

Summary Index: 

  1. Purpose
  2. Context: The National Climate Assessment & US Global Change Research Program; Chapter 2 Writing Process; Tips for Chapter Review
  3. Details: Key Messages; Summary of 3 Select Key Messages (chosen by Contributor)

 

Source: Mark Stevens, Creative Commons

 
PURPOSE:

Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment “summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future” (GlobalChange.gov).

Chapter 2, “Our Changing Climate,” reviews the anthropogenic causes of global climate change, as well as the wide-ranging climactic and systemic changes that have been observed from long-term monitoring and projected from experiments and empirical modeling.

 

 

 

CONTEXT:

The National Climate Assessment & The Global Change Research Program

The National Climate Assessment is a scientific report synthesized by the US Global Change Research Program.  The Program, established by Presidential Initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in 1990, is made up of 13 federal agencies that “conduct or use research on global change and its impacts on society." The purpose of the Program is “to assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change” (GlobalChange.gov).

Chapter Writing Process

Chapter 2: A Changing Climate was ‘based on the collective effort of 32 authors, 3 review editors, and 18 contributing authors.’ The author team was assembled from ‘leading experts in climate science trends and projections, detection and attribution, temperature and precipitation change, severe weather and extreme events, sea level rise and ocean processes, mitigation, and risk analysis.’

Tips for Chapter Review

Each chapter is broken down into sections by “Key Messages.” Some chapters may also begin with an executive summary or introduction before delving into the details of each Key Message. Each one- to two-sentence Key Message is followed by a short section that contains a summary of the literature and data that support and expand upon the message.

At the end of each chapter is a final “Traceable Accounts” section, which gives a brief overview of how the chapter was developed. This section then goes on to address the following for each Key Message: (1) describes where evidence for that key message was drawn from, including major projects and particularly critical studies, (2) acknowledges major uncertainties in conclusions and related data, and (3) classifies scientists’ confidence in conclusions.

 

 

DETAILS:

Chapter 2 Key Messages

  • Global Climate is Changing Rapidly as a Result of Human Activities
  • Future Warming Depends on Human Emissions and Earth’s Response
  • The Oceans are Changing
  • Global Sea Level Rise
  • Observed and Projected Temperature Change
  • Observed and Projected Precipitation Change
  • Arctic Changes
  • Atmospheric Circulation Patterns are Changing
  • Ocean Circulation, Regional Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding
  • Potential Surprises in Future Climate

 

Key Message 2: Future Warming Depends on Human Emissions and Earth's Response

‘Earth’s climate will continue to change over this century and beyond. Past mid-century, how much climate changes will depend primarily on global emissions of greenhouse gases and on the response of Earth’s climate system to human-induced warming. With significant reductions in emissions, global temperature increase could be limited to 3.6°F (2°C) or less compared to preindustrial temperatures. Without significant reductions, annual average global temperatures could increase by 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century compared to preindustrial.’

Cited data and figures include:

  • Feedbacks within the land-ocean-atmosphere system that impact climate projections and climate sensitivity
  • Projected temperature increases under different emission scenarios (if greenhouse gas concentrations stabilized at current level, if emissions continue over time, if emissions were significantly reduced)
  • Figure of observed and project changes in global average temperature alongside projected emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from human activities

Data sources include:

  • ‘Extensive evidence documented in the climate science literature’
  • Statements made in previous national and international assessments (including the Third National Climate Assessment and the International Panel on Climate Change 2013)

Uncertainties include:

  • ‘Precise magnitude and nature of changes at global, and particularly regional, scales’
  • Feedbacks, particularly ‘ice-albedo and cloud cover feedbacks’

 

Key Message 3: The Oceans are Changing

The world’s oceans have absorbed 93% of the excess heat from human-induced warming since the mid-20th century and are currently absorbing more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere annually from human activities, making the oceans warmer and more acidic. Increasing sea surface temperatures, rising sea levels, and changing patterns of precipitation, winds, nutrients, and ocean circulation are contributing.’

Cited data and figures include:

  • Measured increases in heat content and sea surface temperature
  • Measured increases in CO2 and acidity
  • Measured decreases in oxygen levels in inland seas, estuaries, and nearshore coastal waters
  • Projected increases in average sea surface temperature, decreases in ocean oxygen levels, and increasing in surface ocean acidity

Data sources include:

  • Scientific literature (specific reference to Rhein et al. 2013)
  • Data collected via World Ocean Circulation Experiment, Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperature v4 ERSSTv4, satellites, surface drifters and shifts

Uncertainties include: 

  • Magnitude of ocean warming
    • ‘Disparate measurements’ of ocean temperature over the past century
    • Sparse data on warming trends at depths greater than 2,000m
    • Uncertainties in timing and reasons for decadal and interannual variations in ocean heat content, and contributions that different ocean basins play in overall ocean heat uptake
  • Ocean oxygen content
    • Moderate uncertainty related to ‘regional variability driven by mesoscale eddies and intrinsic climate variability such as ENSO’

 

Key Message 8: Atmospheric Circulation Patterns are Changing

‘Human-induced change is affecting atmospheric dynamics and contributing to the pole-ward expansion of the tropics and the northward shift in Northern Hemisphere winter storm tracks since 1950. Increases in greenhouse gases and decreases in air pollution have contributed to increases in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1970. In the future, Atlantic and eastern North Pacific hurricane rainfall and intensity are projected to increase, as are the frequency and severity of land-falling “atmospheric rivers” on the West Coast.’

Cited data and figures include: 

  • Observed changes in ocean-atmosphere variability and extreme weather events
  • Projections of changes in storm strength and intensity according to climate model simulations

Data sources include:

  • Scientific literature: A ‘large number of studies using a variety of metrics, observations and reanalysis’ to show expansion of the tropics poleward; Modeling studies and theoretical considerations; Recent downscaling studies that provide more fine-scale information on changes in storm intensity and precipitation
  • International Panel on Climate Change AR5 Assessment; International Panel on Climate Change 2013 Assessment
  • Third National Climate Assessment
  • CMIP-based climate change projection studies

Uncertainties include: 

  • Expansion of the tropics
    • Dynamical mechanisms behind changes in the width of the tropical belt
    • How various climate forcings affect the width of the tropic belt
    • Model limitations resulting from horizontal and vertical resolution of global climate models
    • Contribution of natural decadal and multi-decadal variability on observed expansion of the tropics
  • Tropical Cyclones
    • Lack of supporting detectable anthropogenic signal in historical data, to add further confidence to projections
    • Uncertainty in projected pattern and magnitude of future SST
  • Atmospheric Rivers
    • Modest uncertainty in quantifying expected change at a regional level
    • Uncertainty in model ability to represent atmospheric rivers and their interactions with climate
    • Modest uncertainty in lack of a supporting detectable anthropogenic signal in historical data to add further confidence to projections

 

 

Are you a scientist at the University of Washington? Attend the UW Program on Climate Change's workshop for this chapter's review. More details here

 

Sources

Note that all single quotes ‘’ cite from the Chapter Two draft text; material in double quotes “” may come from any of the sources below.

"Chapter 2: Our Changing Climate." In Fourth National Climate Assessment. US Global Change Research Program. Chapter Lead: Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech University.

"About USGCRP." United States Global Change Research Program. Retrieved from: www.globalchange.gov/about

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contributor: M.S. Student, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

REPEAL OF THE 2015 CLEAN POWER PLAN

PROPOSED RULE

 

Title: Repeal of Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units

Docket ID:  EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0355-0002

Agency: Environmental Protection Agency

Comments Close: December 15, 2017

Summary Index: 

  1. Purpose
  2. Rule Actions
  3. Context: Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act; 2015 Clean Power Plan; West Virginia v. EPA; Executive Order 1378; EPA review of the Clean Power Plan; Regulatory Impact Analysis of Clean Power Plan Repeal
  4. Debate: Arguments for and against repeal

 

Source: Wikipedia

 
PURPOSE:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to repeal the October 2015 “Clean Power Plan,” or the Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units. This repeal is the result of a review mandated by executive order, and is based on a proposed change in the legal interpretation of Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (discussed in Context section below). The EPA asserts that its new interpretation ‘is consistent with the [Clean Air] Act’s text, context, structure, purpose, and legislative history, as well as the [EPA’s] historical understanding and exercise of its statutory authority.’ Further, ‘under the interpretation proposed in this notice, the [Clean Power Plan] exceeds the EPA’s statutory authority and would be repealed.’ The EPA is requesting comments on the new legal interpretations asserted in this proposal, as well as on their preliminary analyses to assess the regulatory impacts of the proposed repeal.

 

 

 

RULE ACTIONS:

Finalizing this proposal would result in a full repeal of the Clean Power Plan. While the Clean Power Plan was finalized in 2015, it was tied up in court for more than a year and has yet to go into effect. This action to repeal the Clean Power Plan would ensure that the rule as it stands is never implemented.  The EPA has also determined that any future rule that regulates greenhouse gas emission under the Clean Air Act Section 111(d) must begin with a ‘fundamental re-evaluation of appropriate and authorized control measures and recalculation of performance standards.’

This proposed repeal does not include a replacement or alternative to the Clean Power Plan; the EPA has not yet determined whether it will create such a rule, when that rule would be introduced, or ‘what would be the appropriate form and scope of that rule.’ The EPA is ‘engaged in the process of considering whether it is appropriate to propose such a rule,' and is ‘intending to issue [a notice] in the near future’ to solicit information related to this issue.

The EPA will also be assessing the regulatory impacts of the proposed repeal. While they present various ‘preliminary approaches’ in this document, ‘the EPA requests comments on the avoided compliance costs, forgone benefits, modeling assumptions, uncertainties, and other relevant matters related to the development of the [regulatory impact analysis] for this rulemaking.’

 

 

CONTEXT:

Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act

Section 111(d) states “The [EPA] Administrator shall prescribe regulations which shall establish [...] standards of performance for any existing source for any air pollutant […] for which air quality criteria have not been issued”. This section provides the EPA with the authority to regulate, implement, and enforce the standards for emissions of air pollutants and acts to include all pollutants that weren’t specified in other sections. Specifically, “emission guidelines for existing sources” must “reflect the ‘best system of emission reduction’ under certain circumstances.”  

 

The 2015 Clean Power Plan

According to the text of the 2015 final rule, the purpose of the Clean Power Plan is to “protect human health and the environment by reducing CO2 emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants in the US." Fossil fuel power plants are the largest domestic stationary source of emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, which the EPA has determined endangers public health and welfare through the contribution to climate change.

Under the authority of the Clean Air Act (CAA), the EPA established CO2 emission guidelines for existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units. The Clean Power Plan is the first national standard that addresses carbon pollution from power plants and will reduce CO2 emissions from the utility power sector by 32% of CO2 emissions levels from 2005. The Clean Power Plan gives states flexibility on how to achieve these levels and provides guidelines for development and implementation. The three major building blocks of this plan involve:

  1. Making fossil fuel power plants more efficient
  2. Utilizing lower-emission power sources such as combined natural gas and steam power plants
  3. Using more zero- and low-emission power sources like renewable energy 

States can develop a state-only plan or collaborate in multi-state or market based approaches to achieve their interim CO2 performance rates between 2022 and 2029, and the final emission performance rate by 2030. The Clean Power Plan includes an extensive cost-benefit analysis that concludes climate benefits of $20 billion, health benefits of $14-$34 billion, and net benefits of $26-$45 billion. Because carbon emissions are also paired with other dangerous air pollutants, the Clean Power Plan concludes that each year 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks and 90,000 asthma attacks will be avoided.

More extensive summaries of the Clean Power Plan are available from the Congressional Research Service in the form of two white papers: Frequently Asked Questions and Highlights of the Final Rule.

 

Litigation: West Virginia v. EPA

States participating in Clean Power Plan Litigation. Source: Congressional Research Service

The Clean Power Plan was one of the most controversial regulations ever put forth by the EPA, and multiple petitions challenging the plan were consolidated into one large, multi-party litigation case, West Virginia v. EPA. All petitions challenging the Clean Power Plan were submitted by December 2015. The Supreme Court granted an immediate stay of the Clean Power Plan in February 2016, meaning that although the final rule had been published, it could not go into effect until litigation was completed. In September 2016, the Washington D.C. Circuit Court met to hear the arguments for and against the Clean Power Plan. Following oral arguments, the EPA moved to put the case on hold, which it was in August 2017.

There were five primary areas of arguments heard by the Washington D.C. Circuit Court, but petitioners focused much of their challenge on the EPA’s overall design of the Clean Power Plan, especially it’s inclusion of electricity generation-shifting measures and the Plan's three building blocks for the “best system of emission reduction.” Petitioners argued that the EPA does not have authorization to reorganize the nation’s electric grid of states’ energy economies; that authority lies only with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In response, the EPA argued that it’s phrasing around systems of emission reduction were broad enough to not be limiting, and that the Clean Power Plan only limits air pollution under the CAA rather than regulating electricity sales or rates. 

In all, more than 100 parties filed dozens of petitions challenging the Clean Power Plan, supported by members of Congress, scientists, state/local chambers of commerce, legal foundations, and utility companies. In addition to the EPA and former Administrator Gina McCarthy, respondents to the challenges included multiple states, cities, municipal utility and power companies, nonprofit organizations, and several energy industry associations.

A more comprehensive summary of the litigation is available here.

 

Executive Order 1378

Executive Order 13783 was signed by President Trump on March 28, 2017. There were six major directives in the order, one of which was for the EPA Administrator to review the  EPA’s Clean Power Plan (and other related rules and actions), and to suspend or revoke those rules if they were not in line with President Trump’s policy recommendations. These policy recommendations were outlined in the first part of this executive order, and were as follows:

  • The US should develop domestic energy resources and avoid regulatory burdens.

  • Environmental regulations should be developed through transparent processes that employ both peer-reviewed science and economics.

  • “...It is the policy of the United States that executive departments and agencies immediately review existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources and appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law.”

Other directives included repealing certain energy and climate-related policies set by the Obama Administration, and reviewing rules regarding oil and gas exploration on Federal, tribal, and non-federal lands.

 

The EPA's review of the Clean Power Plan

In accordance with Executive Order 13783, the EPA conducted an initial review of the Clean Power Plan. ‘That review raised substantial concerns that the [Clean Power Plan] is not consistent with the policy’ that was articulated in the Executive Order, and that the Clean Power Plan, specifically the second and third “building blocks,” exceeded the EPA’s regulatory authority under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.

 

The EPA's Regulatory Impact Analysis of the repeal

A major aspect of introducing (or repealing) a rule that will have a large economic effect is conducting a regulatory impact analysis. The Regulatory Impact Analysis for the repeal of the Clean Power Plan evaluates the costs and benefits of repealing the Plan, and also re-visits the 2015 Clean Power Plan’s regulatory impact analysis issued under the Obama administration. The new regulatory impact analysis ultimately determined that repealing the Clean Power Plan would save the Environmental Protection Agency $33 billion. The new analysis differed from the previous 2015 analysis in several ways, including the following:

  • It presents the energy efficiency cost savings as a benefit, rather than a cost reduction (as was done in the 2015 analysis).
  • It 'shifts the focus to the domestic, rather than global social cost of carbon.'
  • It uses the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2017 Annual Energy Outlook projections to estimate the benefits lost, and the costs avoided, by repealing the Clean Power Plan. The analysis then projects the net benefits of the repeal.
  • It reconsiders the health benefits put forth in the 2015 analysis, specifically looking at the 'scientific uncertainty regarding the relationship between [fine particulate matter] exposures and the risk of premature death at low fine [particulate matter] concentrations.' 

 

 

 

THE DEBATE:

Pro repeal of the Clean Power Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency’s primary reason to withdraw the Clean Power Plan is that it exceeds their regulatory authority, based on the interpretation of the phrase “best system of emission reduction” in Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA). There is no legal support or prior practice under the CAA suggesting “system” means anything beyond physical or operational measures that can be applied to a power facility by a facility owner. Yet the Clean Power Plan would require power plant facilities to change their energy portfolios to natural gas, wind, or solar energy.

The EPA turns to historical context to validate their interpretation of “best system of emissions reduction” as being limited to measures that can be applied to or at a single source of emissions. Previous house bills pertaining to Section 111(d) use language specifically related to physical or operational changes with terms like “designed and equipped”, and “application of…technology, processes, operating methods,…” The EPA’s withdrawal of the Clean Power Plan under this interpretation of “best system of emission reduction” would remain consistent with historical practices, and simply officially establish the historical context of Section 111(d).

Under this new official interpretation, the second and third “building blocks” of the Clean Power Plan both exceed EPA authority, and the first “building block” can not stand on its own.  The EPA therefore determined that any future rule that regulates greenhouse gas emissions under Section 111(d) must begin with a ‘fundamental reevaluation of appropriate and authorized control measures and recalculation of performance standards.’

The Clean Power Plan might also interfere with other rules that are under different sections of the CAA, like the Cross State Air Pollution Rule and the ACID Rain Program. It would also shift the policy relationship between state and federal governments by encroaching on the authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the nation’s mix of energy generation and transmission of electric energy between states. Indeed, supporters for withdrawal consider the Clean Power Plan an “overreach of executive power” (Chrissy Harbin, Vice President of External Affairs at Americans for Prosperity), and an “unlawful expansion of government authority into the energy sector” (Paul Ryan, R-WI, Speaker of the House). By withdrawing the regulation, some energy businesses could save billions of dollars and the EPA would prevent burden from falling on small businesses. “The Clean Power Plan would drive up operating expenses for small businesses, and it would discourage consumer spending. It would force small businesses to spend more on overhead, and it would leave their customers with less money to spend at their businesses,” stated Juanita Dugan of the National Federation of Independent Business, in an article for Global Trade Magazine.

 

Against repeal of the Clean Power Plan

The opposition to this repeal rests in two major arguments: (1) the new calculations of the regulatory impact analysis do not encompass the full extent of the benefits of the Clean Power Plan, and (2) the EPA’s interpretation of Section 111(d) is incorrect.

The EPA's current regulatory impact analysis claims that their proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan will save $33 billion. But many argue that their analysis is severely flawed. In this proposed repeal, the EPA’s approach to calculating the social cost of carbon is drastically different than the approach used when the agency was proposing the Clean Power Plan. For the repeal:

‘We have estimated the forgone climate benefits from this proposed rulemaking using a measure of the domestic social cost of carbon… [which] focus on the direct impacts of climate change that are anticipated to occur within U.S. borders.’
Source: Environmental Defense Fund

Source: Environmental Defense Fund

This first leaves out any social or economic benefits that may occur beyond U.S. borders. When you remove the international benefits of emissions reductions, the Clean Power Plan does end up costing the US slightly more (according to Brookings, domestic benefits are $2-7 billion and cost would be $7 billion). And technically, while analysis of domestic impacts of a rule (or its repeal) is mandatory in a regulatory impact analysis, analysis of international impacts is optional.

But in the case of the Clean Power Plan, failure to include an international perspective is seen as a major oversight. As is recognized in the 2013 Technical Support Document: Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866, which was used to calculate the social benefits of the Clean Power Plan in 2014,  

“The climate change problem is highly unusual in at least two respects. First, it involves a global externality: emissions of most greenhouse gases contribute to damages around 15 the world even when they are emitted in the United States... Second, climate change presents a problem that the United States alone cannot solve...When these considerations are taken as a whole, the interagency group concluded that a global measure of the benefits from reducing U.S. emissions is preferable.”

The EPA's current approach also fails to include many of the health benefits that come from reducing air pollutants that lead to asthma, heart attacks, and premature deaths (Politico). This is accomplished using a high “discount rate” to ignore essentially all of the effects that carbon pollution would have on children and future generations (NRDC).

Then there are the arguments against the administration’s new interpretation of Section 111(d) which labels the Clean Power Plan as an overreach because standards are not based on ‘physical or operational changes to the source itself.’ According to the National Resource Defense Council, this is an incorrect interpretation of the Clean Air Act. The Act simply requires the standards to be effective - and “a standard doesn’t represent the ‘best system of emission reduction’ if it does not achieve as much carbon pollution reduction as can be accomplished at an acceptable cost." The Supreme Court has emphasized the EPA’s authority to solve complex air pollution problems as they arise, and has upheld standards that reflect how the power industry actually functions. That authority includes setting standards that include emission credit “systems” that enable significant cuts in power sector pollution at reasonable cost (EPA v. E.M.E. Homer City Generation, in 2014.)

 

 

 

 

 

Sources

Note that all single quotes ‘’ cite from the proposed repeal; material in double quotes “” may come from any of the sources below.

Clean Power Plan, Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 205 / Friday, October 23, 2015 / Rules and Regulations

42 U.S.C. United States Code, 2013 Edition Title 42 - THE PUBLIC HEALTH AND WELFARE CHAPTER 85 - AIR POLLUTION PREVENTION AND CONTROL SUBCHAPTER I - PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES Part A - Air Quality and Emission Limitations Sec. 7411 - Standards of performance for new stationary sources From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov

Gayer, T. (Feb 28, 2017). The social costs of carbon. Brookings Environment. https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/the-social-costs-of-carbon/

Environmental Protection Agency. (May 2013; revision Aug 2016) Technical Support Document: Technical Update of the social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-12/documents/sc_co2_tsd_august_2016.pdf

Holden, E. (Oct 5, 2017). EPA’s climate rule withdrawal will include big changes to cost calculations. Politico. http://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/05/epa-climate-rule-withdrawal-cost-calculations-243520

Tsang, L. & Wyatt, A.M. (March 8, 2017) Clean Power Plan: Legal Background and Pending Litigation in West Virginia v. EPA. Congressional Research Service. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44480.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contributors: PhD Student, Chemical Engineering; PhD Student, Freshwater Ecology; PhD Student, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; MS Student, Quantitative Ecology and Management; MS Student, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; Senior Undergraduate, Biochemistry & Occupational and Environmental Health

Litigation Summary: West Virginia v. EPA (Clean Power Plan)

For use with: Repeal of the 2015 Clean Power Plan

Primary Source: Congressional Research Service document “Clean Power Plan: Legal Background and Pending Litigation in West Virginia v. EPA written by Linda Tsang and Alexandra Wyatt in March, 2017.

 

OVERVIEW

The Clean Power Plan (abbr. CPP) was one of the most controversial regulations ever put forth by the EPA, and multiple petitions challenging the plan were consolidated into one large, multi-party litigation case, West Virginia v. EPA (abbr. WV). Many of the lawsuits dealt with the framework of the CPP, which focuses on regulating emissions of greenhouse gases (abbr. GHGs), including CO2, from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants, under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act (abbr. CAA). The summary here is taken from information in the Congressional Research Service document “Clean Power Plan: Legal Background and Pending Litigation in West Virginia v. EPA written by Linda Tsang and Alexandra Wyatt in March, 2017 (URL here).

 

 

PLAINTIFFS

Against (petitioners): 26 states, 3 labor unions, numerous rural electric cooperatives, industry/trade groups, nonprofit public policy organizations, and fossil-fuel-related companies and local electric companies. In all, more than 100 parties filed dozens of petitions challenging the CPP.

Amici curiae against: Some Members of Congress, a group of scientists, 166 state/local chambers of commerce, several legal foundations, electric utilities, former Public Utility Commissioners, and groups representing women, minorities, seniors and taxpayers. A total of one intervenor brief and 12 amicus briefs were filed in support of the petitioners.

For (respondents & supporters): EPA and past Administrator Gina McCarthy. Parties that have intervened in support of respondents include 18 states, Washington D.C., five other cities and a county, regional, state and municipal utilities and power companies, more than a dozen nonprofit organizations, and several energy industry associations.

Amici curiae for: Some Members of Congress, 2 former EPA Administrators, former secretaries of State and Defense, a Career Diplomat for the State Department. Also a policy institute; a coalition of medical groups, scientists, grid experts, companies and business and labor groups, faith groups, a coalition of the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 54 other cities and localities. A total of 4 intervenor briefs and 18 amici curiae briefers were offered in support of the respondents.

 

 

TIMELINE

  • [April, 2007] Supreme Court decides (5-4) in Masachusetts v. EPA that the EPA has the authority to regulate CO2and other GHGs as pollutants.
  • [June, 2011] Supreme Court upholds EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions (8-0) in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, including EPA’s power under Section 111(d) of the CAA, the basis of the CPP.
  • [June, 2014] Supreme Court again upholds EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions, but held that the EPA cannot regulate a power plant solely due to its GHG emissions. On the other hand, it affirmed EPA’s authority under CAA to require Best Available Control Technology (abbr. BACT) to regulate GHG emissions from power plants if the source is regulated for other air pollutants. EPA also submits the proposed rule at this time and continued its outreach after the proposal held public hearings, and received more than 4.3 million public comments, the most ever for an EPA rule.
  •  [October, 2014] EPA publishes finalized rule in the Federal Register.
  • [DEcember 2015] Deadline for petitions for review of the CPP, and motions to stay the CPP. This passed through the D.C. Circuit Court panel.
  • [February 2016] The Supreme Court, in a procedurally rare step, granted (5-4) an immediate stay of the CPP issued by various state and industry parties in January of 2016. This was the 1st time the Supreme Court had every stayed a regulation before a judgment by the lower Court of Appeals.
  • [September 2016] The D.C. Circuit Court met for argument on five areas of WV.
  • [March 2017] President Trump signs EO 13783— “Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth”, directing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to review the CPP.
  • [October 2017] EPA announces repeal of CPP.

 

 

GROUNDS AND MERITS

The CPP litigation continued in the D.C. Circuit following the Supreme Court’s stay, and there many, nuanced legal arguments that have been presented to the court for or against the CPP. The following gives a quick summary of the condensed examples of some condensed explanations given by the Congressional Research Service. These are presented in the same order as they were briefed.

Standard of Review –  Debate over the standards by which a court should evaluate EPA’s interpretation and implementation of CAA Section 111. This topic brought up previous conclusions of the court in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council (abbr. Chevron), Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (abbr. UARG), and King v. Burwell (abbr. King). Petitioners argued that though EPA has authority to regulatory power under Section 111(d) of the CPP (“a provision that has been used only 5 times in 45 years”), the decision in King makes it such that that the court such demand “clear congressional authorization.” Respondents argued that decision reached in Chevron defends the EPA of including certain steps (in particular, “generation-shifting”) within its selected “best system”. It is expected that WV will bring review of the application of Chevron.

Section 111(d) Scope of Authority – Petitioners focused much of their challenge on EPA’s overall design of the CPP and, especially, it’s inclusion of electricity generation-shifting measures, including “building blocks” for the “best system of emission reduction” laid out by EPA in CPP (particularly, the 2nd and 3rd components). Petitioners argue that the EPA does not have authorization to reorganize the nation’s electric gird of states’ energy economies. EPA argues that it’s phrasing around systems of emission reduction were broad enough to not be limiting. Petitioners also argue that the authority to reorganize power systems is given to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), not EPA. EPA argues that the CPP “does not intrude on FERC’s power”, and only limits air pollution on CAA rather than regulate electricity sales or rates. 
There are other arguments by petitioners over the language in CAA Section 111(d)(1)(A), which sets forth exclusions to EPA’s authority to issue Section 111 (d) emission guideline rules, and the legislative history is complex and confusing, including for judges grappling two differing amendments to Section 111(d) which occurred in 1990.

Constitutional Issues – Petitioners contend the CPP violates the U.S. Constitution, and that CAA Section 111(d) must be interpreted more narrowly. EPA defended the CPP as “a textbook example of cooperative federalism.” In a brief submitted by 166 business associations, the EPA has violated the CPP “by displacing the authority reserved to the States in setting standards of performance for existing sources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contributor: MS Student, Quantitative Ecology and Management

DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT FOR LIBERTY DEVELOPMENT

NOTICE

 

Title: Liberty Development and Production Plan Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Docket ID: BOEM-2015-0068-0164

Agency: DOI - Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Comments Close: November 18, 2017

Summary Index: 

  1. Purpose
  2. Rule Actions
  3. Context

Source: BOEM Draft EIS Vol. 1

 
PURPOSE:

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has prepared a draft Environmental Impact Statement (Volume 1Volume 2) in response to a proposal by Hilcorp, Alaska LLC to recover and process oil from the Liberty oil field off the coast of Alaska. The Environmental Impact Statement will help the BOEM decide whether to approve or reject the proposal, determine environmental mitigation strategies companies must implement, and inform other federal agencies that are involved in regulating oil field development like the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The BOEM is calling for comments from 'federal, state, tribal, and local governments and/or agencies and the public' through Regulations.gov and at public meetings across Alaska (held in October).

 

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT DETAILS:

Development & Production Plan

Proposed Liberty Development and Production Plan. Source:  EIS Vol. 1

Hilcorp has proposed constructing a small (9.3 acres) gravel island to support drilling and production facilities, similar to other artificial islands used by other companies in the region. In addition, they would build both buried subsea and above-ground pipelines (total 7 miles) to connect to existing pipelines farther inland. To support the operation they would also construct ice roads, boat docks and a gravel mine site on the coast. They estimate that Liberty contains 120 million barrels of recoverable crude oil and their project would extract 65,000 barrels per day in a 25 year lifespan.

'BOEM’s independent reservoir model and reservoir simulation studies using Hilcorp’s development plan indicate that the Liberty Field reservoir would recover from 41% to 48% of the 180 million barrels of oil originally in place. These studies indicate a peak production rate of approximately 58,000 barrels of oil per day within the first two years of production with an estimated life of 22 years.'

Impacts Assessed

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) examines impacts on sixteen environmental and social-cultural systems from the proposed development project, as well as several alternatives for the drilling site. The scenarios assessed include the original Liberty Development and Production Plan, no development, 3 alternative locations for the production island, 2 alternative locations for the oil and gas processing facility, and 3 alternative sources of gravel for the production island.

The 'physical and biological environment, socioeconomic and sociocultural systems, and oil and gas and related intrastructure' that may be affected by the proposed development are categorized as follows:

Bathymetry and Physiography • Oceanography • Oil and Gas Geology • Water quality • Air quality • Climate Change • Lower trophic level organisms • Fish and shellfish • Marine and coastal birds • Marine mammals • Terrestrial mammals • Vegetation, Wetlands, and Substrate • Sociocultural systems • Economy • Subsistence Activites and Harvest Patterns • Public and community health • Environmental justice • Archaeological and historic resources

A summary of predicted impacts from the Liberty Development and Production Plan can be found in the chart below. 

Chart of predicted impacts of the Liberty Development and Production Plan, per the Executive Summary of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement

The draft Environmental Impact Statement also noted that GHG emissions from the Plan would contribute to climate change, and that any major impacts of the Plan would be disproportionately felt by the Nuisqut community. The report concluded that a very large oil spill from the Liberty facility is highly unlikely, but would have significant ecological and public health consequences for the region.

 

 

CONTEXT:
Location of proposed construction in Liberty Development and Production Plan. Foggy Island Bay, AK

Location of proposed construction in Liberty Development and Production Plan. Foggy Island Bay, AK

The Liberty oil reservoir was discovered in the 1980’s by Shell Oil beneath the Beaufort Sea. The water in this region is 19 feet deep and the proposed site sits about five miles from the closest Alaskan coast. Hilcorp Alaska LLC became the 50% owner (shared with British Petroleum) and primary developer for Liberty in 2014. 

In December 2014, the BOEM received a Development and Production Plan from Hilcorp for the Liberty oil reservoir. Upon review of the plan, the BOEM determined that it "did not contain sufficient information to fully address one or more" data requirements. Once Hilcorp provided this information, the BOEM initiated an Environmental Impact Statement in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The scope of the Environmental Impact Statement was established using prior development plans, input from cooperating state, federal, and tribal agencies, and 46,678 public comments collected online and in public meetings held throughout Alaska in 2015.

According to their mission statement, the BOEM is responsible for making coastal areas available for development under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Part of this responsibility includes evaluating the potential environmental impacts of such development, to promote responsible stewardship of energy and mineral resources. 

 

 

 

Contributor: PhD Student, Atmospheric Sciences

RETRACTION OF 2015 RULE ON HYDRAULIC FRACTURING ON FEDERAL AND INDIAN LANDS

PROPOSED RULE

 

Title: Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands; Rescission of a 2015 Rule

Docket ID: BLM-2017-0001

Agency: DOI - Bureau of Land Management

Comments Close: September 25, 2017

Summary Index: 

  1. Purpose
  2. Rule Actions
  3. Context
The Hydraulic Fracturing Process. Source: ProPublica

The Hydraulic Fracturing Process. Source: ProPublica

 
PURPOSE:

The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to rescind a 2015 rule entitled "Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands." In March of 2017, the President published Executive Order 13783, which directed the Secretary of the Interior to review this specific rule 'for consistency with the order's objective "to promote clean and safe  development of our Nation's vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth and prevent job creation".' As a result of this review, the Bureau of Land Management is now 'proposing to rescind, in its entirety, the 2015 final rule.'

 

 

RULE ACTIONS:

This proposed rule would rescind the 2015 final rule, “Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands." This 2015 rule established new requirements to 'ensure wellbore integrity, protect water quality, and enhance public disclosure of chemical and other details of hydraulic fracturing operations.' The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) notes that rescinding the rule could potentially reduce assurances that operators are conducting hydraulic fracturing in an environmentally safe manner and reduce public awareness of hydraulic fracturing operations. However, there are other regulations (state and tribal) as well as 'pre-existing authorities in other Federal regulations' that would not leave hydraulic fracturing operations unregulated.

Some of the requirements for well operators dictated by the 2015 rule include: (1) Obtaining the Bureau of Land Management's approval before conducting hydraullic fracturing by submitting an application, (2) Including information about the proposed water source in each hydraulic fracturing application, (3) Include available information about the locations of nearby wells to prevent "frack hits," or unplanned surges of pressurized fluids into other wells that may damage the wells and equipment and cause surface spills, (4) Verifying that the well casing is surrounded by adequate cement, (5) test the well to make sure it can withstand the pressure from hydraulic fracturing, (6) Isolating and protecting “usable water” as defined by states and tribes, (7) Monitoring and recording the pressure during hydraulic fracturing and report significant pressure increases, (8) Submitting lists of the chemicals used (non-trade-secrets) to the BLM, and (9) Storing recovered fluids in aboveground rigid tanks of no more than 500-barrel capacity until the operator had a approved plan for permanent disposal.

 

 

CONTEXT:

The 2015 rule under consideration built upon an earlier Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule proposed on May 11, 2012 called Oil and Gas; Well Stimulation, Including Hydraulic Fractures, on Federal and Indian Lands , amended with a supplemental notice in May 2013 because of significant public interest. Public comments, meetings with public and state officials, and tribal consultations regarding the BLM's 2012 proposed rule and 2013 notice were used to draft the 2015 final rule.

1480603683_20161201_eia_hydraulic_fracturing.png

Prior to the 2015 rule, regulations designed to “ensure the environmentally responsible development of oil and gas resources on Federal and Indian lands” were 25-30 years old. Since those rules were passed, there has been a rapid expansion of the practice of hydraulic fracturing and significant technological advances in horizontal drilling. This increased public concern about whether fracturing 'contributes to or causes the contamination of underground water sources, whether the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing should be disclosed to the public, and whether there is adequate management of well integrity and the "flowback" fluids that return to the surface during and after hydraulic fracturing operations.' The 2015 final rule responded to this public concern.

Two industry associations, four states, and a tribe challenged the 2015 rule in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming in March 2015. On June 21, 2016 the District Court issued an order that set aside the rule (Wyoming v. Zinke, No. 16-8068 (10th Cir.)). They concluded that Congress revoked the BLM’s authority over hydraulic fracturing operations by enacting the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 and the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Both the Department of the Interior and environmental groups appealed the District Court’s decision, focusing on the primary question of whether or not the BLM complied with the Administrative Procedures Act in the 2015 rule-making procedure. ‘Briefing was completed in October 2016,’ but the appeal never made it to oral argument; ‘the Court of Appeals in a March 2017 order required the BLM to report whether it had changed its position in the appeal following the Presidential Inauguration.’ 

The March 2017 Executive Order 13783 “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” directed the review four specific rules, including the 2015 final rule, for consistency with the order’s objective “to promote clean and safe development of out Nation’s vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth and prevent job creation.” In response to the order the Department of the Interior (BLM) commenced a review of existing energy-related regulations to determine whether the rules’ changes “would be appropriate to support domestic energy production.” As a result of the review, the BLM now proposes to rescind the rule based on its believe that the compliance costs are not justified; in a previous Regulatory Impact Analysis for the 2015 final rule, the BLM estimated that compliance with the rule could cost the industry approximately $32 million dollars annually.

'In sum, the 2015 final rule has never gone into effect, and was set aside by the District Court on June 21, 2016.'

 

Contributor: PhD Candidate, Earth and Space Sciences