AN INVITATION TO ACOEL MEMBERS: A TOOL TO SUGGEST TO YOUR CLIENTS AND FRIENDS TOWARD IMPLEMENTING NET ZERO GHGs

Posted on February 18, 2021 by Jeffrey C. Fort

 

Climate is clearly an early priority of the Biden Administration.  The array and breadth of executive orders surely demonstrates the vast power of  the Federal  bureaucracy to achieve reductions in GHG emissions and climate impact.  While those measures would have been gladly received 4 years ago, the prior administrations retreat from climate leadership to climate denial has evoked a groundswell of actions by cities and states, and private citizens.  “We’ re still in” and the Climate leadership states have stepped up their commitments.  Indeed, even before the Clean Power Plan was replaced in 2019 by the American Clean Energy Rule, it was evident the private sector investment incentives from federal tax credits had substantially increased the use of solar and wind-powered electric generation,  reducing US dependence on coal for power generation.

Other actions, including renewable portfolio requirements from almost 30 states,  enhanced the results from the federal investment tax and production credits.  To keep nuclear power as part of the solution, some states [e.g. Illinois and New York] crafted “zero-emission” incentives to keep nuclear, base-load power plants running.

But the largest potential reduction in carbon emissions is the geologic sequestration tax credit, which earns a tax credit of $50 per ton of CO2 stored in appropriate geologic formations. Even when used for enhanced oil recovery or Direct Air Capture, the credit is $35 per ton.  Not only is this perhaps the largest emission reduction tax credit, but when implemented is a huge CO2 reduction strategy.  Sources in the mid-South and mid-west may boast excellent geologic formations for such.

The federal tax credit [known as 45Q for its position in the tax code] has captured much attention, as it should.  Getting the results expected of that tax credit will be difficult, but would go far beyond anything EPA assumed in the Clean Power Plan when adopted in 2015.

The 45Q tax credits for geologic sequestration and direct air capture have already stimulated as many as 30 projects announced to use geologic sequestration principles to remove CO2 from the troposphere.  Credits from these kinds of projects also may be used as credits in the low carbon fuel standard credits, which is part of California’s suite of climate policies.

As important as these tax incentives are for geologic sequestration, and for climate benefit if implemented, there are other actions which private citizens and states can take. One of those is to incentive changes in industrial processes by chemical fixation of CO2 exhaust gases. The reaction processes are well known and established; but the cost of making existing products using this approach is more expensive than existing in-place technologies.  

A potential incentive is to monetize the environmental attributes of such an approach by use of a carbon offset credit methodology. We have crafted such a methodology to quantify the saved emissions when certain conditions are met, and then create carbon offset credits to use elsewhere. A dozen or more end-use durable products in existing markets could be formulated using exhaust CO2 gas.[1]

Developed in consultataion with the American Carbon Registry and waiting to be put to public notice and peer review, this carbon offset methodology would do just that -- earn carbon credits for the re-use of CO2 exhaust if used in beneficial products.[2]

This is an open invitation to ACOEL members to investigate this opportunity -- to develop   a peer-reviewed carbon offset methodology, and apply it to a particular client or business segment.  Dentons and a client have done the heavy and creative initial lifting -- the opportunity is too special not to share. See americancarbonregistry.org/carbon-accounting/standards-methodologies

This is an opportunity to recover waste gases and convert into a wide range of commercial products, regardless of the extra market value from potential offset sales.


[1] A wide number of intermediate products could be created, which would then  be used in appropriate products. End use products which we have found likely to be eligible under this draft Methodology include: Plastics, Polymers, Coatings, Paints, Adhesives, Rubber & leather, Textiles, Paper, Glass, Metals, Wood and Concrete.

[2] Fuels would likely not qualify, since the focus of such is to again combust and release the CO2 into the environment.

 

Plastic Planet

Posted on February 12, 2020 by Mary Ellen Ternes

Plastic is a remarkable material that has forever changed our societal expectations regarding the quality of our food, water, health care, safety and products that improve our lives every day. But all good things remain good within limits. For many years now there has been growing recognition that, because plastic does not degrade like natural materials, it is now present everywhere and our approach to plastic must change. As a result, we’ve seen China’s 2018 rejection of plastic shipments, the May 2019 Basel Amendments to list plastic waste, and while industry, DOE and NGOs have tried to get ahead of the issue, a recent global wave of single-use plastic bans.

We know that we need to turn off the tap of plastic waste leaking into the environment, both macro and micro plastic, through “reduce, reuse and recycle,” and then turn to mopping up the floor. First on the list for turning off the tap: single use plastics. They are ubiquitous in daily life, yet generally are not reused and likely, as a result, represent most of the ocean waste we see. Hence, the single-use plastic bans, though some sector stakeholders, like healthcare, may figure out how to capture post-single use plastics in sector-specific circular economies (managing material from cradle-to-cradle as in closed-loop recycling).

Other sources of environmental plastic are tougher to address, especially microplastics. Microplastics can be created when macroplastics fracture into smaller pieces, so all macroplastics potentially have a future as microplastic. However, the majority of microplastic appears to come from ubiquitous consumer products, such as shreds from tire wear, microfibers from polyester, rayon and other fabrics, and particles from latex and other coatings. The only way to reduce microplastics from these sources may be to reduce plastic in the source itself.

Moving on to recycling, it is evident that, even after collection, cleaning and sorting, recycling is a challenge. Single types of plastic are themselves heterogenous. For example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) used for a soda bottle is quite different than the PET used for a take-out container. And then there are the additives. Post-use plastic’s variability would render it “inherently waste-like” pursuant to EPA’s “legitimate recycling” factors in Sylvia Lowrance’s 1989 RCRA guidance. Like most inherently waste-like material, post-use plastic currently lacks sufficient value to reliably support management as a product sufficient to keep it out of the environment. Turning off the tap will therefore necessitate different approaches for manufacturing and use, including potential reformulation of current products within defined circular economies to both mitigate sources, increase homogeneity and boost the value of post-use plastic to support financially viable recycling.

Turning to mopping up our floor, our environmental mitigation and remediation tools in the United States are generally triggered by acute or chronic chemical toxicity; plastic is generally inert and not recognized as posing such a threat. Potential imperfect approaches to addressing plastic pollution now, as simple categories of solid material, include: PM2.5 under the Clean Air Act (CAA); turbidity under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA); total suspended solids or other pollutants under the Clean Water Act (CWA); solid waste under Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) (though litter is generally left to municipalities); and as a source of hazardous substances, if not a hazardous substance itself, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, (CERCLA). The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) generally exempt plastics due to their high molecular weight and inert nature.

New policy and legal authority may be helpful, but we still have work to do in hazard assessment. Although generally chemically inert, plastics may still pose physical risk. Evaluating physical toxicity sufficient to define a reference dose, or exposure assessments similar to asbestos, may allow application of traditional risk-based approaches as we would other environmental pollutants. Progress is being made in this direction. In February, the National Academy of Sciences gathered international experts to discuss microplastics, potential effects on human health, options for mitigation, and ways to leverage new approaches to inform public health and policy decisions. As we learned, plastics break down into unique shapes, based on their molecular structure and use, which may pose different hazards based on their shape and size. Further research will allow development of approaches that can be used to develop action thresholds and reassure the public regarding acceptable concentrations. Defining the possible scope of potential harm, including when plastic may eventually break down completely and become “mineralized,” will assist in applying existing authority as well as developing new authority.

In addition to defining risk, there have been increasing commitments toward better defined circular plastic supply chains and technological innovation in plastic recycling (including electrifying plastic into instant graphene, which raises its own issues), as well as project funding and other federal and state legislative responses to the issue of plastic waste including public education. The push and pull of progress continues on all fronts, with consumer activism expediting the timeline.