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.

 

The Bureau of Land Management’s NEPA Review of Land Plans: Is Net Zero A Reasonable Alternative?

Posted on August 20, 2019 by Robert Uram

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) requires the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to review and revise its land use plans periodically. In the current round of reviews, the BLM is seeking to roll back protections for areas of critical environmental concern, to reduce lands managed for wilderness, and to greatly expand lands available for oil and gas and coal leasing. Since production and consumption of oil, gas, and coal result in the release of vast amounts of carbon, these changes threaten to worsen the outlook for global warming.

Before it can adopt these land use changes, the BLM must, of course, comply with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Now nearing its 50th anniversary, NEPA is one of the most important federal environmental laws. While NEPA does not mandate that a federal agency take actions that are most protective of the environment, it does require decision makers to fully disclose the environmental impacts of any major federal action in an Environmental Impact Statement. Additionally, an EIS must present and consider reasonable alternatives to a proposed federal action that might mitigate environmental impacts. Consideration of alternatives is at the heart of an EIS. An EIS that does not cover a full range of reasonable alternatives is deficient.

Increased future fossil fuel development on public lands will lead to enormous increases in climate change gases. The fact that fossil fuel development affects global temperatures has long been clear to federal decision makers. Indeed, as long ago as 1979, the Programmatic EIS for the Federal Coal Leasing program warned that coal use was a contributor to greenhouse gases and could result in increased temperatures of 2-3° Celsius. The BLM will certainly make some attempt to disclose these impacts, but mere disclosure is not enough. The BLM needs to present meaningful alternatives that would address climate change concerns.

To date, the BLM has been considering a short list of alternatives in its land use planning EISs,  a no-action alternative that would keep the current land use plan in place, and several alternatives that vary the amount of protection for sensitive lands and the extent of lands open to fossil fuel development. If Judge Skelly Wright (the author of the seminal NEPA case, Calvert Cliffs v. Atomic Energy Commission) were alive today, he would undoubtedly call the BLM’s approach “crabbed.”

In particular, the BLM’s alternatives fail to present the decision maker with an alternative that would directly address the increase of carbon emissions. Many authoritative analyses, including the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have concluded that the world needs to achieve net zero carbon emissions economy-wide by 2050 to limit the temperature rise to 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels. Net zero carbon dioxide can be achieved by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal or offsets or simply eliminating carbon emissions altogether.

To comply with NEPA, the BLM needs to add a “net zero” land-use planning alternative that would reduce or mitigate net carbon impacts from activities in the planning area to zero by 2050 or another date certain. This alternative would, by necessity, constrain fossil fuel development and provide for offsetting carbon reductions. A net zero alternative can be fully consistent with FLPMA.

Net zero land use planning is not unrealistic. Many countries, states, local governments, and private businesses have or will adopt net zero policies, and many development projects are being planned to achieve net zero now. Even very large carbon producing projects can achieve net zero emissions. For example, a master planned community in southern California that will build 21,000 homes and 11.5 million square feet of commercial and office space associated with 60,000 jobs was originally planned with little consideration of climate effects. Years of litigation, environmental analysis, and private initiative transformed the project into a net zero project by incorporating a combination of onsite and offsite measures.

To achieve net zero, the project will design homes and business to be energy efficient and use solar power, will install an electric vehicle charging station in every home and build 4,000 other electric vehicle charging stations, half in the community and half offsite. In addition, the project will provide subsidies for converting public transit buses to electric buses and creating an electric school bus program within the community. Offsite, the project will invest in carbon reducing measures in the surrounding area as well as elsewhere in California and other locations.

In these critical times for the planet, NEPA can play an important role in showing a path to net zero. Net zero alternatives for the BLM’s land-use plans and other activities would illuminate the role public lands plays in contributing to (and potentially avoiding) the adverse effects of global warming and identify changes needed to reach net zero for the proposed federal action. It might be too much to hope for that this administration will seize the opportunity to adopt a net zero alternative, but the analysis of what is needed will be informative and can be a blueprint for future administrations.