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Friday, February 22, 2013

Cheap natgas displacing nukes, raising CO2 emissions

U. S. emissions of carbon dioxide have fallen dramatically - since 2007, they've plummeted 13% and are back to 1994 levels - in significant part due to cheap shale gas.

But as I wrote here, this development, while positive, is not necessarily sustainable for at least five reasons.

Now let’s add reason number six.

Cheap shale gas is elbowing out carbon-free nuclear power in the U.S.. Since 2010, the amount of electricity generated from America’s nuclear reactors has fallen about 3 percent.  Gas-fired power is replacing it.  While gas-fired power is 50% cleaner than coal-fired power, it's a long way from zero emissions – though it could come close with CCS.  But the net result is that displacement of nukes by gas generation pushes us further away from the emissions reductions that we fail to make at our peril.

The market will not guide us to climate safety.  There is simply no substitute for an aggressive federal climate policy.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

U.S. EPA posts summary of fracking/drinking water study technical roundtables

The U.S. EPA has posted a 25-page summary of the five technical roundtables held in November 2012 to help inform its Study of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources. The roundtables focused on a different stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle:
  • Water acquisition
  • Chemical mixing
  • Well injection
  • Flowback and produced water
  • Wastewater treatment and waste disposal

The technical roundtables involved external subject-matter experts from a variety of stakeholder groups.

EPA expects to release the draft report of results in December 2014 for peer review.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Geisinger to begin study of public health impacts of natgas development

Pennsylvania's Geisinger Health System has received a one million dollar grant to begin studying the possible public health impacts of natural gas development. (Full disclosure: I have consulted to Geisinger in the past.)

Geisinger's announcement described the study’s purpose:

The goal is to create a cross-disciplinary, integrated and sharable repository of data on environmental exposures, health outcomes and community impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling -- the first systematic longitudinal study to do so…Some of the potential health effects that are likely to be investigated first include asthma, trauma and cardiovascular disease.

Guthrie Health and Susquehanna Health
will collaborate with Geisinger in the planning and execution of the study.

This is an extremely important development.  While additional funding will be needed to build out Geisinger’s vision, this will be the first major effort to answer vexing questions about the public health impacts of drilling. The University of Pennsylvania has also announced a study plan in collaboration with scientists from Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of North Carolina.

Geisinger will begin to provide answers soon - the first preliminary results are expected to be available in about a year.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Now’s the time for a national commitment to green infrastructure

In his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of our nation’s “aging infrastructure” - ports, pipelines, roads and schools – “badly in need of repair.” He proposed an eminently sensible “Fix-It-First” program for the most urgent repairs and a “Partnership to Rebuild America” to attract private capital to improve infrastructure.

The President’s call for more public-private partnerships (P3) to fix infrastructure has the private sector salivating.  I’m not at all sold on – in fact, I’m very skeptical of - the P3 concept.  I looked at it as Mayor of a small city in northeastern Pennsylvania almost two decades ago, and my opinion hasn’t changed since.  See here, for an example of why.

But that skepticism is a side note.  What’s important is that the President’s call presents an opportunity for green infrastructure.

Green infrastructure (GI) generally includes measures that replicate and restore the natural hydrologic cycle to reduce the volume of stormwater runoff: porous pavements, vegetated roofs and planter boxes, rain gardens, rain barrels, irrigation supply systems, and more. The deployment of green infrastructure produces a very significant range of economic and social benefits - capital and avoided cost savings compared to conventional infrastructure, energy savings, property value increases, reduction in urban heat island effect, improvements in community health, and more.

In Pennsylvania, the cities of Lancaster and Philadelphia have aggressive green infrastructure programs that could serve as statewide – and national - models. 

The economics of green infrastructure are particularly important.  In 2008, a survey by the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Task Force (SWITF) found that Pennsylvania alone is facing nearly $11 billion in unmet drinking water infrastructure needs and at least $7.2 billion in unmet wastewater infrastructure needs – the latter a major source of the state’s poor water quality - plus millions of dollars more in ongoing operation and maintenance costs. The need for new investments – and for better approaches like GI - are painfully obvious in the combined sewer overflows, leaking and deteriorated collection systems, deferred rehabilitation and replacement work, and shortage of treatment capacity that plague the state’s water systems.

SWITF found that over the next 20 years, the funding gap between Pennsylvania’s total drinking water and sewer service needs and total available funding adds up to $43.8 billion. Realistic strategies for closing the financing gap will likely require increased reliance upon user rates related to the cost of service, as well as increases in federal and state funding.

GI can help close the gap and provide multiple community benefits at the same time.  And as the President wisely knows, an aggressive water infrastructure investment program would have significant job-creation capacity. 

A national infrastructure push should include strong support – indeed, a preference - for green infrastructure.