Greens challenge Trump’s rollback of coal ash standards

The Hill

October 22, 2018

Environmental groups are suing the Trump administration for rolling back parts of a major regulation governing how companies store coal ash.  The groups, led by Earthjustice, filed their lawsuit Monday against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  The original 2015 rule from the Obama administration was the first national regulation regarding disposal of coal ash, a black sludge leftover from burning coal that contains concentrated levels of heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium and chromium. Coal ash storage ponds are often adjacent to waterways, since coal-fired power plants need cooling water.

Advocates warn New Jersey solar market could collapse again

Utility Dive

October 22, 2018

New Jersey’s solar market could be on the verge of its second collapse experts warn, as the state’s Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program prepares to wind down and legislatively-set cost caps on renewable energy create complications.  Officials at the Sierra Club say the law must be changed to avoid a market crash in 2020 when cost caps kick in, and a stopgap replacement for the expiring SREC program is necessary to avoid near-term job losses.


FirstEnergy West Virginia coal plant staves off 2019 deactivation

Utility Dive

October 22, 2018

FirstEnergy announced last week that it will not shutter its 1,300 MW coal-fired Pleasants Power Station in West Virginia next year as previously announced, and the plant will instead continue operating into 2022.  The change is part of the bankruptcy proceeding to the company’s unregulated generation subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions (FES). The plant, owned by FirstEnergy subsidiary Allegheny Energy Supply, will remain operating until it is transferred to FES’ creditors to give them more time to make decisions about its future.


Pennsylvania so far not joining rush to support struggling nuclear plants

Energy News Network

October 22, 2018

As other states move to rescue their uneconomic nuclear power plants, Pennsylvania is still weighing whether to take action.  Fueled by concerns over climate change, grid reliability, and job retention, states including Illinois and New York have recently given billions of dollars to support nuclear energy by essentially broadening their definitions of clean power. In May, New Jersey approved $300 million annually to help support its nuclear fleet. A similar push is underway to persuade Ohio lawmakers to rescue two facilities there.

Exiled Obama aides work on climate in ‘alternative reality’

E&E News

October 15, 2018

They may be out of the White House, but the players behind President Obama’s landmark initiatives on climate change aren’t out of the fight.

Obama’s universe of environmental officials — almost to a person — has pressed ahead on climate and clean energy issues despite efforts by President Trump to reverse much of its past work. 

Many of these officials, such as former Obama aide Kate Brandt, are doing it from the boardroom; in her case, as Google’s sustainability officer.

Others have set up shop in the nonprofit world or as activists. Among them: Luke Bassett, a climate policy adviser at Obama’s Energy Department, who now works on a similar portfolio at the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group.

Several Obama officials have found jobs in the arena of climate-friendly investing — a growing and potentially lucrative market.

These moves aren’t unique. It’s typical for administration officials to return to their chosen fields once their time with the government is over.

That said, one Obama alumnus made the case that it’s significant so many former aides and agency leaders have tried to keep up the momentum — a continuity that he said could foreshadow a second, more ambitious attempt on the federal level to address climate change and promote renewable energy.

“When the moment comes — and I can’t predict when — there will be another push on federal policy,” said Jon Carson, a former Obama campaign aide and onetime chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “And when it happens it will be a remarkably different moment than it was in 2009 and 2010.”

His reasoning is that the Obama team didn’t have a built-in network of support when it took political risks on environmental issues — such as the $90 billion it steered to the clean energy industry as part of the roughly $800 billion stimulus package of 2009. But now, Carson said, there’s an established market in renewables that could provide a drumbeat of support for future solar and wind policies.

That includes Carson himself, who co-founded a clean-energy development company called Trajectory Energy Partners. He also has stayed involved politically — notably by supporting the candidacy of Democrat Sean Casten, another clean-energy entrepreneur trying to unseat six-term incumbent Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) (Climatewire, Aug. 7).

“He will walk into Congress a leader in this issue,” Carson said.

Cameron Davis, another administration veteran, is running for office in Obama’s political home turf of Illinois. Davis once served as Obama’s Great Lakes czar; now he’s trying to win a commission seat on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

If elected, Davis said he would push the agency to tackle issues like phosphorus runoff, which can affect the health of downstream waterways as far away as the Gulf of Mexico. “From an environmental standpoint, it’s a really important office,” Davis said.

Davis said he was inspired by Obama’s farewell speech in January 2017, particularly the part in which Obama said, “If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself.”

Davis said, “I let those words haunt me for a little too long.”

He was one of several former Obama officials interviewed for this story who said they remain in close contact with a number of their former colleagues. Some said this loose network often serves as a hub to share job postings or vent about the current administration.

But Davis said there’s a political angle too.

“Most of the chatter isn’t about policy,” he said. “It’s more about helping to turn out the vote. Because you can’t have good policy without electing good policymakers.”

One Obama alumna said last month’s Global Climate Action Summit in California served as a “reunion of sorts” for past officials in the White House, EPA and the Energy Department.

“I ran into people I worked with throughout my time in the Obama administration,” said Liz Purchia, EPA’s former head of communications. “It felt like an alternative reality if there were never a Trump administration.”

Purchia, who now works on climate and health at Harvard University alongside former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, said she expects candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential field to reach out soon to Obama’s environmental team as they prepare for a White House run.

“They will be tapping former Obama staffers, asking them to craft their energy and environmental positions,” Purchia said.

For prospective 2020 candidates, the business world is a good place to start.

Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is with Apple Inc., serving as its vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives. Rohan Patel, once a senior adviser for climate and energy policy, now works at Tesla Inc., the electric car company led by Elon Musk.

Several Obama alumni have landed in the finance field, specifically for banks and firms that invest in the broad category of “sustainability,” which includes everything from clean energy to waste management.

Among them is Ivan Frishberg, who promoted the administration’s climate policies at Organizing for Action, Obama’s chief mouthpiece. Frishberg is now the sustainability banking chief at Amalgamated Bank, an outfit that’s become a go-to financial institution for environmentalists (Climatewire, Sept. 28).

Brian Deese, who played a key role in Obama’s negotiation of the Paris climate agreement, is in a similar spot — he heads sustainable investing at BlackRock Inc., the global financial powerhouse.

A number of Obama officials now work for Ridge-Lane, an advisory and venture development firm, co-founded by Tom Ridge, the former chief of Homeland Security.

The firm has moved into the emerging sustainability market, and to help advance that line of business, Ridge-Lane has recruited former White House officials such as Christine Harada, once the federal chief sustainability officer, and Kerry Duggan, a top adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden on energy and climate issues.

“It is not a huge surprise that some top-shelf subject matter experts who care about the health of our people and planet have found ways to still work together to have real impact,” Duggan wrote in an email.

Duggan, who acted as a conduit between Detroit and the Obama White House, said another trend is the migration of administration officials into local and state government.

“A lot of us have gone out to the states and the cities to continue the work,” Duggan said.

One of those is Janine Benner, an Obama political appointee who was a liaison between House lawmakers and the Energy Department. She now heads the Oregon Department of Energy.

“The federal game has turned more defensive and the action is mostly at the state and local level,” Benner wrote in an email.

Not surprisingly, the advocacy world also has attracted its fair share of Obama officials.

Former deputy EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe is the president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Former Obama “climate czar” Carol Browner chairs the board of directors at the League of Conservation Voters.

And then there’s Bassett at the Center for American Progress.

He said he’s not surprised that many of his former colleagues remain engaged on climate change, which he called the “defining, existential crisis that is facing all of us.”

But he said it won’t be enough to simply take back the White House and continue where the Obama administration left off.

Bassett said Trump has cut into U.S. progress on climate by undermining Obama initiatives to reduce emissions from cars and power plants (Climatewire, Aug. 24).

Because of that, “we have to be even more ambitious,” Bassett said.

But, he added, to help accomplish those feats, the climate movement shouldn’t overlook the most famous Obama alumnus of all — Obama himself.

“He is personally passionate about this issue,” Bassett said. “I have no doubt that he and many of his staff are thinking about it.”

Analysis: US coking, thermal coal exports rise in 2018 on India, Europe

S&P Global

October 12, 2018

Growing export demand for US coking coal has supported prices, and rising shipment volumes into India, Brazil and Europe including Turkey have been highlights so far in 2018, according to an analysis by S&P Global Platts. While Brazil took the lead in US exports of coking coal at over 5 million mt over the first eight months of the year, US exports of coking coal to India surged to 4.1 million mt between January to August.

EPA scraps pair of air pollution science panels

The Washington Post

October 13, 2018

The Environmental Protection Agency moved this week to disband two outside panels of experts charged with advising the agency on limiting harmful emissions of soot and smog-forming pollutants. The agency informed scientists advising the EPA on the health impacts of soot that their “service on the panel has concluded,” according to an email shared with The Washington Post. Experts being considered to sit on a separate board evaluating ground-level ozone also received an email from the EPA saying it will no longer form the panel, which had yet to meet. The EPA had asked for nominations in July.

Trump says climate change isn’t a hoax, but it may not be man-made and will ‘change back’

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

October 14, 2018

President Donald Trump is backing off his claim that climate change is a hoax but says he doesn’t know if it’s manmade and suggests that the climate will “change back again.” In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night, Mr. Trump said he doesn’t want to put the U.S. at a disadvantage in responding to climate change.

NATIONAL Exiled Obama aides work on climate in ‘alternative reality’

Exiled Obama aides work on climate in ‘alternative reality’

E&E News

October 15, 2018

They may be out of the White House, but the players behind President Obama’s landmark initiatives on climate change aren’t out of the fight. Obama’s universe of environmental officials — almost to a person — has pressed ahead on climate and clean energy issues despite efforts by President Trump to reverse much of its past work. Many of these officials, such as former Obama aide Kate Brandt, are doing it from the boardroom; in her case, as Google’s sustainability officer.