Also possible without needing a pandemic

NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China. There is evidence that the change is at least partly related to the economic slowdown following the outbreak of coronavirus.

At the end of 2019, medical professionals in Wuhan, China, were treating dozens of pneumonia cases that had an unknown source. Days later, researchers confirmed the illnesses were caused by a new coronavirus (COVID-19). By January 23, 2020, Chinese authorities had shut down transportation going into and out of Wuhan, as well as local businesses, in order to reduce the spread of the disease. It was the first of several quarantines set up in the country and around the world.

The maps on this page show concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities. The maps above show NO2 values across China from January 1-20, 2020 (before the quarantine) and February 10-25 (during the quarantine). The data were collected by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA’s Sentinel-5 satellite. A related sensor, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite, has been making similar measurements.

“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Liu recalls seeing a drop in NO2 over several countries during the economic recession that began in 2008, but the decrease was gradual. Scientists also observed a significant reduction around Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, but the effect was mostly localized around that city, and pollution levels rose again once the Olympics ended.

It doesn’t take a disaster or even an emergency – beyond the one we have already created with the usual emissions levels. Reductions are possible. Disasters and loss are not mandatory, though we do make them inevitable to some extent by doing nothing. Still, these dramatic images should be instructional about what’s possible. It would be interesting to know the near-term implications of these reductions. You know, science.

Two Invisible Hands Clapping

Even scienticians agree: the modest new goals of the new EPA plan for clean power are only making official what the invisible has been waving through like a naked [invisible] traffic cop:

_CLAPOur best hope for carbon reduction is steep price drops in the cost of generating electricity by wind and solar; in the cost of installing wind turbines and solar panels; and in the cost of storing energy in batteries. If those price drops are achieved, we’ll head toward vast reductions in emissions regardless of what the EPA does. No one is going to pay 12 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity (our current national average) if it can be had for 2 cents a kilowatt hour, all other things being equal.

Coal-use as the source of electricity has been trending downward for a while, for many reasons, and as long a modest rule-making [see Cole’s discussion above] keeps sending signals to the invisible hand, it will continue to do so. But, crappy analogy aside, the bigger news in the in the new rules is the commitments to clean energy R & D. That, coupled with reductions for carbon emissions from power plants will leverage even more research and new businesses to sprout. Even silicon itself will be replaced with cheaper alternatives that bring the price down for solar panels. I remarked to my passengers on a recent road trip down a super bright hot interstate highway that I couldn’t believe we weren’t using all of that glarea [get it?] to generate electricity and connect every city along the way with the power it soaks up on a daily basis. The same goes for the waves that pushed us around along the shore over a clear, windy weekend. Whatever the technological difficulties in doing either of these, let you remind me that we just saw pictures from a space probe we sent to Pluto ten years ago.

That was a year before the first iPhone.

Teaser image: The Beach, Sunset, Gustave Courbet, 1867

EPA Rolls [over]

There’s one thing about electing a progressive president, well there are many, actually. But one is that, even though media narratives coalesce around ‘a political savior’ or whatever, no one actually thinks that. It’s just a great relief not have a C-plus Augustus at the helm for a while. Otherwise, all other caveats about agitation, feet and fire hold true. You keep your expectations high, no matter what. Obama can disappoint, as can his agencies; that doesn’t mean I don’t like him or what he’s said he stands for or that his progressive stance was all a ploy all along. But some things may make you wonder.

Residents of Pavillion, Wyoming, had been complaining for years that their well water started smelling and looking foul after the oil and gas company EnCana began drilling in a previously drilled field near their homes. Some contracted weird health problems, including neurological disorders and rashes, after drinking or bathing in the stuff.

After their concerns were essentially passed over by both EnCana and the state of Wyoming, the EPA stepped in to conduct its own tests in 2008. As ProPublica and High Country News reported, the agency found suspicious quantities of hydrocarbons and trace contaminants in residents’ wells that could be linked to gas development. Then, after drilling two 1,000-foot-deep monitoring wells, the agency found high levels of benzene and other carcinogens in the deep groundwater underlying Pavillion. An EPA report released late in 2011, concluded that:

(P)ollution from 33 abandoned oil and gas waste pits – which are the subject of a separate cleanup program – (was) indeed responsible for some degree of shallow groundwater pollution in the area. Those pits may be the source of contamination affecting at least 42 private water wells in Pavillion. But the (deep) contamination, the agency concluded, had to have been caused by fracking.


On June 20, though, after vigorous complaints from industry and Wyoming that the agency flubbed its study, as well as years of delays, the EPA announced that it is abandoning the project completely.

I remember JamesWatt. And if you don’t look him up. THAT was a travesty. But this is serious. We can do better. We have to.

Via LGM.

What if a New Carbon Pollution Rule fell in the woods?

The ACA case in the Supreme Court is rightfully taking up most of the media oxygen at the moment.

But, via Romm, the EPA is also expected to issue its first limits on carbon pollution from power plants this week:

The proposed rule — years in the making and approved by the White House after months of review — will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.

Industry officials and environmentalists said in interviews that the rule, which comes on the heels of tough new requirements that the Obama administration imposed on mercury emissions and cross-state pollution from utilities within the past year, dooms any proposal to build a coal-fired plant that does not have costly carbon controls.

While these are ‘new source performance standards,’ they will also ensure that future electricity generation comes from renewable sources. Without the penalty incentive, the new technologies keep poking off down the road, never getting any closer. This is kind of a boring way to bring them into the near(er) future. Let the ennui ensue.

Force Multiplier

Inside the clown car that is the field of 2012 Republican Presidential candidates, one the fake knobs that doesn’t do anything but that each one of the pushes when they can get their big shoes out of their mouths and the rubber noses out of each others… ear holes, is the EPA. By turns they want to abolish it, burn it, churn it, make it cry and turn it into a boo-boo blanket for everything the Democrats know, love and want. Their opinions on environmental issues and what the EPA does are, of course, unhinged and ill-informed, as this “debate” highlighted for all to see and ignore. But guess who else thinks the EPA is the route to their own sustainability, ne’ the future part of their future?


The Army’s vision is to appropriately manage our natural resources with a goal of net zero installations. Today the Army faces significant threats to our energy and water supply requirements both home and abroad. Addressing energy security and sustainability is operationally necessary, financially prudent, and essential to mission accomplishment. The goal is to manage our installations not only on a net zero energy basis, but net zero water and waste as well. We are creating a culture that recognizes the value of sustainability measured not just in terms of financial benefits, but benefits to maintaining mission capability, quality of life, relationships with local communities, and the preservation of options for the Army’s future. The Army is leveraging available authorities for private sector investment, including using power purchase agreements (PPA), enhanced-use leases (EUL), energy savings performance contracts (ESPC), and utilities energy service contracts (UESCs) as tools to achieve these objectives. The Army must invest in its installations and improve efficiencies in energy, water and waste for the benefit of our current and future missions.

“Net Zero,” is a signed program between the Army and the E.P.A  to collaborate on implementing technologies for resource conservation, renewable energy and energy self-sufficiency on Army bases, Perryromneygingrichbachmannpaulthatotheronemorans.

Killing ‘carbon-capture’ Softly

You often hear – and I often write – about the unfashionable ‘need for more government regulation.’ Whether it is exotic financial instruments or greenhouse gas emissions, there is really no other entity who can handle reigning in our excesses at the scale of their own destructive impacts. The discussion is often set up as a public vs. big business, easy-to-understand (if not swallow) debate. But what gets less attention is how much big business needs sustained government policies, too.

American Electric Power, a huge utility company providing electricity mainly in the Midwest, is postponing or killing plans to build a full-scale “carbon capture” facility at its Mountaineer plant, in West Virginia.

Then Fallows hits on the implications:

Companies can’t do this without a sustained government policy. AEP, which is by no means a pinko organization — it is running acampaign now of complaint about burdensome EPA regulations — said the reason it was calling off the plans was governmental failure to set a clean energy/climate policy. By definition, any “cleaner” form of using coal will be more expensive than the current dirty approach, at least in the short run. This is true “by definition” because if the cleaner approaches were cheaper, the utilities would already have switched to them; because the cleanup technology is still in its developmental phase; and because in many places cleaner systems mean new capital investment.

You should also read his cover story on our future with coal, but this is an important addendum to it. It’s the other side of the story of companies needing to know what the regulations will be in order to plan. And whatever they are, companies will adapt. That means even if they hate it, which they will, they will still find a way to profit. Hint to EPA, Congress and the WH: go ahead and do something.

Ruling on Clean Air

Not sure who reads unsigned editorials anymore, but there was a good one from the Times on Thursday touting a new EPA ruling on expansions of the Clean Air Act:

The rule, which takes effect in 2012, would cut emissions of sulfur dioxide, a component of acid rain, and nitrogen oxide, a component of smog, by more than half by 2014 compared with 2005 levels.

As is true of nearly every regulation spawned by the landmark 1970 Clean Air Act, the rule’s benefits will greatly outweigh its costs to industry — a truth routinely ignored by the act’s critics, most recently the Tea Party supporters in Congress. The E.P.A. estimates annual benefits at $120 billion to $240 billion, mostly from fewer premature deaths, hospital visits and lost work days associated with respiratory illnesses.

By contrast, the costs of new pollution controls and plant retirements are estimated at $800 million annually, on top of about $1.6 billion in capital improvements already under way in anticipation of the rule.

These new regulations are part of a package that includes new mileage standards for cars and reductions in other greenhouse gases – a way for WH to do the job of congress through the EPA.When cap and trade went from a foregone conclusion to a dead letter, there was really little other option for the Obama Administration to act on climate change, air and water pollution or any other snapshot of the future of the country than to issue new EPA guidelines. Again, howls of indignation from the Confederates, while the corporations on whose behalf they roam work feverishly to come up with new eco-themed advertising to disguise their craven end-times profiteering. For those who would like to see through the smoke, the crushing hand of government regulation momentarily stuns the intruder by being at home. Now where’s that bat?

Spending their Dime

Climate Progress has both the skinny and the ‘gras’ on what the Koch brothers are getting for the quarter mil they dropped on members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee:

The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to hold a hearing Wednesday to discuss blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce carbon dioxide pollution.  We can expect the same old half-truths, misstatements, and outright lies from the new majority, with an extra dose of special interest pandering.

So… they line up a slew of paid contestants people to testify that it’s all a hoax, but how does this come off? What does it look like to the average non-Fox viewer, non-Rush listener? What about the perception that they might be protesting a little too much? Do they begin attacking teh Globalwarmingisrealism as a threat to America that must be eliminated? Into the mike? You and I might think this is already happening but… this is a formal committee process where these charlatans have to speak clearly  and on the record. I think it will take more than a mere refutation of the facts as construed to get the Koch brothers’ point across; they’ll feel the need to go on the attack to stop the traitorous EPA from protecting the common right of access to clean water and air. Because it won’t be enough to merely hold the line and play one side, and because that’s what they actually are paid to believe. And to do.

I smell overreach.

FlimFlam alert

This editorial from the LAt brings up an interesting situation that we’re already in, as the EPA leans toward issuing a ruling on whether greenhouses gases are a danger to public health. If they do, which they are likely to, it will lead directly to some forms of preliminary carbon dioxide regulation. It’s going to be difficult and people are going to be screaming; driving a car is going to get more expensive when everything else already is. But is it the end of the world? That’s an interesting question.

Firmly focused on the downside is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has long argued that a climate-change crackdown would devastate Main Street America, imposing costly permitting requirements on such facilities as schools, hospitals and office buildings. Reacting to news of the pending EPA finding, chamber officials are even claiming that it would undermine President Obama’s economic stimulus package because infrastructure projects to be built with the money would be delayed by reviews of their impact on greenhouse gases.

Not really. The EPA finding would apply only to emissions from vehicles. If the agency does find that they endanger the public, it would add urgency to a process that’s already underway to toughen fuel-efficiency standards. Eventually, it might also lead to regulation of emissions from other sources, particularly power plants. But that’s years away, and onerous rules for schools and offices are unlikely. As for the stimulus money, most or all will be spent by the time the EPA gets around to regulating new construction.

It’s already really expensive to drive a car, only we don’t count all of the negative externalities as costs. These would include, of course, tailpipe emissions but also everything from the human design fiasco that is our highway-connected suburbs to the strips of fast-food joints that line them to the talk radio poison we self-inject sitting in so much traffic everyday. This is to say nothing of the wars and armaments necessary to safeguard said sources of earlier-described dangers to public health. No hyperbole is necessary to see all the ways we could begin to change how we live just by taking their real costs into account – not to mention, as the editorial does, the costs of doing nothing.

So get ready for the rending of garments as the EPA is demonized and carbon pricing construed as the end of civilization as we know it. There’s an irony I will not explain (Mean Joe?). The EPA will be doing its job in accordance with our laws. As the editorial points out, there will be winners and losers in so doing. But, in reference to the above, why shouldn’t we see ourselves as winners in this grand scrum, focusing on the things we will decide to change as positive steps?


NYT reports that Obama is paving the way for a major change for vehicle emissions.

President Obama will direct federal regulators on Monday to move swiftly on an application by California and 13 other states to set strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said Sunday.

Mr. Obama’s presidential memorandum will order the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration’s past rejection of the California application. While it stops short of flatly ordering the Bush decision reversed, the agency’s regulators are now widely expected to do so after completing a formal review process.

Once they act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies have lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.

Anyone can correct me on this but, I’ve been in the market for a new car, trying to make the right decision based on a few variables discussed here at length. The trail is leading us to a very short list of extremely expensive vehicles, especially as I’m trying to buy a diesel for a family of four + dog. My understanding of the paucity of available models is that these particular kinds of cars must be 50-state compliant in a couple of environmental categories, to which most car makers simply say, “no thanks.”

This sort of opt-out posture had the effect of making California standards the de facto standards anyway, though it allowed car makers not to bother with any adjustment to their SOP. Again, the article

But the centerpiece of Monday’s anticipated announcement is Mr. Obama’s directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to begin work immediately on granting California a waiver, under the Clean Air Act, which allows the state, a longtime leader in air quality matters, to set standards for automobile emissions stricter than the national rules.

The Bush administration denied the waiver in late 2007, saying that recently enacted federal mileage rules made the action unnecessary and that allowing California and the 13 other states the right to set their own pollution rules would result in an unenforceable patchwork of environmental law.

The auto companies had advocated a denial, saying a waiver would require them to produce two sets of vehicles, one to meet the strict California standard and another that could be sold in the remaining states.

Those last eight words are/were what the car makers (such as they still exist) were aiming for; producing that other set of cars is their last ditch effort to play hard ball with the environment (!), I’m sure. The tactic, as in trying to isolate California and its inordinately stringent regulations, is typical yet nonsensical when you think about anything being at stake other than profits and business-as-usual, though one would think that what this strategy has done to both would cause the car makers (such as they still exist) to reconsider their position.

Anyway, serious news that the new administration should and will trumpet.