Daily Media Coverage Highlights Thursday, May 29, 2014
1. Thomson Reuters, “U.S. industry gears up to fight Obama’s climate rules”
May 28, 2014
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, May 28 (Reuters) - A U.S. plan to curb carbon emissions from power plants is likely to come under attack this summer by industry opponents in a bid to stir voter anger ahead of elections in November, when voters in states such as Kentucky and West Virginia could decide whether Democrats keep control of the Senate.
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose on Monday new rules to crack down on power plant emissions as part of President Barack Obama's efforts to combat climate change.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report on Wednesday that predicted the regulations would cost consumers $289 billion more for electricity through 2030 and crimp the economy by $50 billion a year.
The EPA called the report "nothing more than irresponsible speculation" and said it was based on unfounded assumptions about future requirements for natural gas plants.
"The chamber is using the same tired play from the same special interest playbook that is engineered to continue polluting and stall progress," EPA spokesman Tom Reynolds said in a statement.
White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said there is a "moral obligation" for the new climate change rule.
"Every time America has taken common sense steps to protect air quality and the health of our children, polluters have made doomsday predictions - and every time they've been wrong," Lehrich said.
BOTH SIDES ARMED WITH NUMBERS
Industry lobbyists plan to say the new rules will probably raise household electricity costs, prompt power brown-outs during heat waves and cold snaps and destroy jobs at coal mines and manufacturing plants.
"We fully expect that whatever comes out will be overly stringent, and will be something that is not good for American consumers or businesses," said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
In March, Sheehan's group, which represents coal mining companies as well as owners of coal-fired plants like American Electric Power and Southern Co, released a report warning that the EPA plan may kill more than 2.85 million jobs.
The National Mining Association, which represents large coal mining companies including Peabody Coal Co, Arch Coal Inc , Alpha Natural Resources and Cloud Peak Energy Inc has spent $1 million on advertising in five states depicting shocked consumers opening expensive electricity bills.
Environmental groups plan to fight back with their own projections. On Thursday, the Natural Resources Defense Council is expected to release a report concluding the EPA rule would create "hundreds of thousands of jobs" and save consumers "tens of billions of dollars" on electricity.
"The chamber's so-called study is the latest in a long series of 'sky-is-falling' claims that cleaning up harmful air pollution will cost jobs," said David Hawkins, director of NRDC's climate programs.
Because the new U.S. rules would take years to implement, perception matters more than facts, particularly ahead of November elections, said Andrew Holland, a former Republican legislative aide who is now an energy analyst at the American Security Project, a nonpartisan think tank.
The industry's arguments have "the virtue of not being testable" before the midterm elections, he said, noting previous EPA rules have ended up being cheaper than industry feared.
"It turns out that engineers are better at this than the lawyers expect them to be," said Holland.
Industry groups made their concerns clear to regulators. For example, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association sent three of its experts to a White House meeting to show how not-for-profit co-ops that rely on coal for fuel and provide power to some of the nation's poorest regions could be pinched by the new EPA proposal.
And some industry coalitions have said they will try to work with the EPA and state officials to craft practical rules.
After the EPA first said in 2008 that it would treat carbon as a pollutant, power companies including AES and NRG and manufacturers including Boeing and 3M formed the National Climate Coalition.
It wants the EPA to phase in standards, and eventually develop rules for companies and states to trade credits for carbon-reducing actions, said Robert Wyman, a partner with law firm Latham & Watkins, who represents the coalition.
The coalition will take at least a week to read and understand the EPA rule before responding, Wyman said.
"Obviously the more politicized the issue becomes, the more likely it is that rhetoric will overshadow some of the technical issues," he said.
2. Fox News, “Looming EPA power plant rules fuel industry concerns”
May 29, 2014
By Doug McKelway
Lawmakers and Washington interest groups are engaged in a battle over whether looming EPA rules will help or hurt as President Obama prepares to announce a highly anticipated performance standard for power plants June 2.
The proposed standard will require existing natural gas and coal-fired power plants to release no more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity - easily done with natural gas but unobtainable by present day coal plants.
Although coal still provides almost 40 percent of U.S. electricity, the White House's new point man on energy, John Podesta, said Wednesday that climate change necessitates coal’s demise. "President Obama believes we have a moral obligation to act now to curb climate change," he said.
While Podesta affirmed the president's commitment to address climate change, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was releasing a study that found the new standard will result in the loss of 224,000 jobs every year through 2030 and impose $50 billion in annual costs.
"The American household will lose $586 billion of disposable income. That means a household losing over $3,400 of income they'd otherwise be spending on something else," said Karen Harbert of the Chamber of Commerce.
The White House dismissed the Chamber of Commerce study. In an email, spokesman Matt Lehrich wrote that while the White House was still reviewing the study's methodology, "Polluters have made doomsday predictions, and every time they've been wrong."
Environmental groups believe the transition to cleaner energy will stimulate the economy. Bob Deans, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Fox News, “We think this plan is going to drive American innovation and investment and jobs, hundreds of thousands of them, in Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, all over the country."
He added, "These are good paying jobs, doing good work that are going to help save money for our families and are going to protect future generations from the greatest threat of our time, which is global climate change."
Under the new standard, states will have broad flexibility in how to comply. But most are expected to use a cap and trade type of system. Electric plants that don't meet the standard may be able to trade carbon credits with other businesses that do. The details have yet to be worked out.
Even so, seven energy state Democratic Senators, Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Mark Warner, D-Va., who are all facing tough re-election battles, wrote the president last week expressing "deep concerns" about the plan. Among other concerns, they fear it will kill incentive for ongoing research into clean coal combustion.
After the president announces the new standard next week, a one-year public comment follows. States will have to notify the EPA as to how they'll implement it the following year, but lawsuits and the potential for Republican control of Congress or the White House could undo it all.
3. Bloomberg News, “Lobbies debate climate rules’ effect on jobs”
May 28, 2014
By Mark Drajem
WASHINGTON -- The nation's biggest business lobby says President Barack Obama's plan to tackle climate change could cost the U.S. economy $50 billion a year. Supporters predict that it will create jobs and lower power bills.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Natural Resources Defense Council are both releasing economic impact studies this week, signaling that the political battle over the president's plan will be fought over dollars and cents. For Mr. Obama, the risk is the plan gets labeled a job-killer just as campaigns heat up for an election that could determine Senate control.
In an analysis released Wednesday -- days before the Environmental Protection Agency unveils a proposal to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants -- the Chamber said an ambitious pollution-control effort could force more than a third of the coal-fired power capacity to close by 2030, resulting in economic losses of $50 billion a year and the elimination of 224,000 jobs.
"This raises serious questions that need to be answered," Karen Harbert, president of the Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, said in an interview. "Utilities will be faced with some very unappealing choices."
While the Chamber isn't taking a position on the proposal before its release, the dire economic warnings in its analysis shows that the lobbying powerhouse is unlikely to back off opposition to the Obama administration's efforts to fight climate change. Environmental groups such as the NRDC say the EPA's pledge to give states wide leeway will limit the costs, which could be offset by lower electric bills for consumers as utilities become more efficient.
The administration is focusing on an approach that would let states set up their own systems to achieve mandated cuts, including linking into existing cap-and-trade networks, or expanding use of renewable energy, according to people familiar with the plan.
And the EPA, which said any details about the rule are speculation at this point, says the economic risks of not dealing with the threat of climate change are real as well.
"The cost of inaction on climate is the real drain on our economy," EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in an email. "In 2012, we saw the second-costliest year in U.S. history for natural disasters. Even the strongest sectors can't escape the pressures of a changing climate, so it is time for us to lead."
NRDC is set to release a report today showing that the rules could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and cut health care costs and power bills.
"The costs are certainly quite modest," said NRDC fellow Starla Yeh, who helped develop and analyze its proposal. With efficiency programs, she said, "the savings in fuel and maintenance you forgo balances out the costs."
In fact, while the Chamber study predicts that electricity costs will increase, especially in the coal-heavy states of the Midwest and South, the NRDC says efficiency gains will mean a drop in wholesale electricity prices, which has led some utilities to complain about "demand destruction," Ms. Yeh said.
Mr. Obama has pledged to use his regulatory powers to cut U.S. greenhouse gases about 17 percent by 2020 over 2005 levels, with deeper cuts to follow. Groups such as Resources for the Future say achieving those reductions requires the EPA to order cuts deeper than 17 percent in power-plant emissions. Power plants are the top source of carbon dioxide, and the rules aimed at electricity generators could be followed by similar efforts for refineries, steelmakers and cement plants.
The Chamber hired the independent research firm IHS Energy to analyze a plan produced by the NRDC that people familiar with the deliberations say was considered by the Obama administration in developing its approach. The NRDC proposal, released in late 2012, calls for using a broad approach to achieve emissions cuts of as much as 30 percent by 2020 compared with 2005. For its analysis, the Chamber extended those cuts out for another decade, to achieve reductions of 40 percent by 2030.
Under those assumptions, coal's share of the generating mix would fall to 14 percent from about 40 percent now, while 114 gigawatts of coal-fired generating plants would shutter, it said. The compliance costs over that period would be $28 billion a year, with $17 billion of that passed on to consumers as higher electricity costs, the study said. Those higher rates are "an issue of competitiveness with the rest of the world." Ms. Harbert said.
The Chamber's analysis differs from that of NRDC because it forecasts a steady increase in demand for electricity and predicts that the energy-efficiency savings the NRDC forecasts aren't possible.
And the costs come on top of the billions of dollars utilities are now spending to comply with the EPA's mercury rule, which phases in by 2016. To be sure, a $50 billion cost represents 0.31 percent of the overall U.S. gross domestic product, and critics say business groups have a long history of overstating their predictions of what EPA rules will cost.
"Critics have tried for years to convince people that more pollution equals more jobs and a better economy, but history has proved them wrong over and over again," the EPA's Ms. Purchia said. "Climate action sharpens America's competitive edge and spurs innovation."
And not all of what it counts as costs are universal negatives for companies. Nuclear-reliant power producers such as Exelon Corp. and Entergy Corp. say the EPA rules could help their struggling plants get a leg up in the competitive power markets.
Under the Chamber's analysis, use of natural gas would increase to 46 percent of total generation by 2030 from about 27 percent now, which could be a boon for gas producers such as Exxon Mobil Corp., and power generators with gas plants.
Also this week, companies such as OPOWER Inc., which helps consumers monitor and cut electricity bills, will showcase ways that their technology could prosper under the EPA rules.
"We see EPA's carbon rules as a huge opportunity to modernize our grid, and that will help the economy overall," said Malcolm Woolf, senior vice president for government affairs at Advanced Energy Economy, a business group that represents lower-carbon power suppliers and efficiency companies. "We see this as a real opportunity."
4. KTVU, “More illnesses linked to Foster Farms chicken”
May 28, 2014
[Click Here to view the segment]
5. The Oregonian, “Foster Farms salmonella cases slow but chicken outbreak one of biggest, longest”
May 28, 2014
By Lynne Terry
The Foster Farms outbreak is one of the biggest and longest in recent history, with no end in sight. But federal officials said Wednesday that fewer cases are popping up each week, indicating the company is making progress in tackling its salmonella problem.
"People are still getting sick," said Ian Williams, who oversees multistate outbreaks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "But we're heading in the right direction.
The outbreak started in March 2013. At its height later that year, the CDC received reports of 20 cases a week. Those have slowed in the past few weeks to about six, Williams said.
The CDC announced on Tuesday that 50 new cases had popped up since March, bringing the total to 574 in 27 states, including Oregon, and Puerto Rico. Williams said that freshly purchased chicken – not long-stored items retrieved from a freezer – was still making people sick.
He said most of the patients have reported eating a range of Foster Farms products produced on different days. The U.S. Department of Agriculture pinpointed the outbreak to three Foster Farms plants in central California, including one that it shut in January over a cockroach infestation. The plant reopened three weeks later.
Foster Farms said in a statement Tuesday that tests of processed chicken had a 10 percent rate of salmonella contamination compared with 25 percent before. But test results do not guarantee food safety.
"You can't test your way to safety," Williams said. "It indicates if the process is in control or not."
Clearly, Foster Farms continues to have a production issue, Williams said.
This is not the first time. Another salmonella outbreak that started in June 2012 was also traced to Foster Farms chicken. It ended in April last year, with 134 sickened, mainly in Oregon and Washington. That outbreak was traced to the company's plant in Kelso, Wash.
Foster Farms said it stepped up food safety controls at the plant to end the outbreak. It's done the same thing this time around while also stepping up measures in poultry houses. It's not clear why this outbreak is more persistent.
But both have involved antibiotic strains of Salmonella Heidelberg, which can cause a higher hospitalization rates and pose problems for treatment. Williams said in the latest outbreak that of 61 patients tested, 38 showed resistance to at least one antibiotic and 19 were resistant to several drugs. Seven antibiotic resistant strains have been detected.
Though none was resistant to drugs used to treat severe salmonella infections, antibiotic resistance in general poses a huge public health threat, with the specter that in the future that infections now easily treatable could be fatal.
Federal and world health authorities have warned against misuse of antibiotics, including on the farm. Foster Farms has acknowledged using antibiotics, according to Jonathan Kaplan, head of food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"Scientists know that when chicken producers use antibiotics routinely, some bacteria become resistant and escape into the environment," Kaplan wrote in a statement. "Is this happening at Foster Farms?"
The family owned company has declined to disclose details about its antibiotic use, Kaplan said. It also has not released specifics about measures taken to fight salmonella contamination.
6. The Kansas City Star, “KCP&L’s energy efficiency plans again plugged in”
May 28, 2014
By Steve Everly
In 2012, the utility dropped energy efficiency plans that would have, among other steps, given customers rebates for more efficient air conditioners and provided programmable thermostats.
At the time, the move was harshly criticized by environmental groups. But a settlement Wednesday among the utility, environmental groups and state regulatory staffers would allow the programs to finally become a reality as early as July.
“KCP&L has taken a huge step in improving Missouri’s stature as an energy efficient state,” P.J. Wilson, director of the clean energy group Renew Missouri, said in a statement.
The Missouri Public Service Commission still has to give its approval, but such settlements like the one reached Wednesday usually smooth the way for that to happen.
For the last year and a half KCP&L has been offering energy efficiency programs, including the rebates for cooling equipment, to customers in western Missouri who were once served by Aquila Inc. in suburbs like Raytown. Those programs will continue and the settlement will for the first time offer them instant rebates when purchasing more efficient lighting.
But the big change is bringing those programs, which were once offered as a pilot, to KCP&L’s traditional service territory, including most of Kansas City. The utility in 2012 said it wouldn’t proceed with its energy efficiency plans in that area because there was more than enough power to serve those customers and spending money on energy efficiency was not cost effective.
The utility now wants to proceed, believing that eventually demand will outrun supply and it will take a while for energy efficiency to grow and displace enough demand to start making a difference.
“We believe now is the time,”’ said Katie McDonald, a spokeswoman for KCP&L. “We’re excited about making the Kansas City region a leader in the state.”
KCP&L doesn’t offer energy efficiency programs in Kansas, but the state recently approved legislation that will make them possible in the future.
The environmental groups involved in the settlement said that even with the utility’s energy efficiency programs, Missouri will continues to lag behind the rest of the country.
But their relationship with KCP&L has clearly improved with the settlements and an announcement in January that the utility will use more wind power.
“For the second time in less than six months, KCP&L has demonstrated that clean energy can deliver significant savings to its customers,” said Holly Bender, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
The settlement reached Wednesday sets a goal to save enough electricity through 2015 to power more than 5,000 homes. That will be enough to eliminate 101,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired plant, or eliminate the same amount of emissions produced by 21,000 cars on the road for a year.
“Programs like these represent exactly the kind of win-win solutions we’re hopeful Missouri will place at the center of its energy policy and emissions reduction plans under the carbon standards for power plants we expect EPA to unveil next week,” said David Weiskopf, sustainable energy fellow for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
7. Crain’s Detroit Business, “Michigan drops in state rankings of renewable-energy jobs”
May 22, 2014
By Jay Greene
For several years, Michigan’s job creation numbers in the renewable energy industry had been growing, but that streak came to a halt in 2013 and in the first quarter of 2014, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs.
In 2013, businesses in Michigan announced more than 1,700 clean energy jobs, including 910 in energy efficiency positions, 277 in wind energy, 205 in solar and 380 in clean vehicle manufacturing, according to an E2 report.
But those numbers are down from 2012, when E2 said Michigan announced 2,262 renewable energy and vehicle manufacturing jobs.
During the first quarter of this year, Michigan also didn’t rank in the top 10 for clean energy jobs as it had several times in the past. Top states include Idaho, Texas, California, Missouri, New York, Kansas, Arizona, Hawaii, New Mexico and Louisiana.
E2 said congressional inaction on key clean energy tax policies and political attacks on state renewable energy programs led to a dramatic decline this year in clean energy job announcements.
Some 5,600 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced in the first three months of this year, down from 12,000 such jobs reported in the comparable period in 2013, E2 said.
“Congress pulled the plug on smart clean energy tax policies at the end of last year, while in the states, lawmakers are getting bullied by special interests that don’t want our country to produce more clean, renewable energy,” said E2 executive director Bob Keefe in a statement.
Keefe said Congress should act this year to reinstate federal tax incentives, including the Production Tax Credit for wind. The American Wind Energy Association estimated loss of tax incentives have led to the loss of about 30,000 jobs nationally.
Next month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue new standards for existing power plants that will for the first time limit carbon pollution.
Keefe said the new carbon limits pave the way for manufacturing and power-generation companies in clean energy and energy efficiency sectors to invest in operations and add jobs.
8. FuelFix, “Texas ranks high for green job growth”
May 22, 2014
By Jennifer A. Dlouhy
WASHINGTON — Texas added nearly 800 clean energy jobs during the first three months of the year, putting the Lone Star State second in the nation just behind Idaho and well above California, according to an analysis released Thursday.
But that’s where the good news ends, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the non-partisan business group that put out the figures.
Although E2 counted 5,600 new clean energy and clean transportation jobs announced nationwide during the first quarter, that’s fewer than half the 12,000 reported in the same time frame last year, and it marks a steep drop from the past two quarters.
E2 Executive Director Bob Keefe suggests more declines could be on the horizon, amid uncertainty about the future of state mandates and federal tax incentives driving renewable energy investments around the country.
“Congress pulled the plug on smart clean energy tax policies at the end of last year, while in the states, lawmakers are getting bullied by special interests that don’t want our country to produce more clean, renewable energy,” Keefe said in a statement.
Texas success: Renewable energy production up 12 percent
The biggest hit at the federal level is the disappearance of the renewable energy production tax credit which allows project owners to reduce tax bills by 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced over 10 years.
Prospects for quickly reauthorizing the credit are slim, with the Senate stalemated over a measure to extend it and a slew of other expired tax breaks, and House leaders committed to tackling the provisions individually.
Wind industry leaders who have championed the PTC also are up against significant opposition in the House from lawmakers who say it is no longer needed.
An investment tax credit that has been used to finance solar projects with long lead times is also set to expire in 2016.
Tax credits for investing in efficiency improvements and constructing efficient homes also are in limbo.
Outside of Washington, D.C., in statehouses across the country, lawmakers also are weighing measures that would scale back or repeal existing mandates that utilities derive some of their electricity from renewable sources such as the wind and sun.
New customers: Transmission line could expand Texas wind market outside state
So far, renewable energy advocates have been prevailing in most of those fights, most notably when the Kansas House voted to retain the state’s requirement that utilities draw 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. But a similar battle is under way in Ohio, where the state Senate has passed legislation to freeze efficiency and renewable energy targets for 2014.
E2′s assessment, updated quarterly, tracks announcements of new jobs tied to renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and biomass, as well as initiatives involving recycling, public transportation infrastructure, smart meters, transmission improvements and building efficiency.
Nationwide, the group documented a shift in the solar sector, from larger, utility-scale projects to residential initiatives and distributed solar generation. Some sun-drenched states, such as California, have exceeded state quotas for renewable energy, which may be one reason for the shift.
In Texas, the group counted four big new projects: the Barilla Solar project in Pecos County, the Plainview Orchard Wind project in Plainview, the First Wind project in Armstrong and Carson counties and Austin-based Thomas Biodiesel’s plans to locate a 25,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Temple. The wind and solar projects announced in Texas during the first quarter have a combined capacity of 249 megawatts.
Texas narrowly lost the top spot by 11 jobs to Idaho, where a single project — a 25-megawatt geothermal project — is responsible for 800 planned jobs.
Other top-ranking states:
3: California, with four projects tied to 660 jobs.
4: Missouri, with three projects tied to 449 jobs.
5: New York, with three projects tied to 435 jobs.
6: Kansas, with two projects worth 355 jobs.
7: Arizona, with two projects tied to 342 jobs.
8: Hawaii, with two projects tied to 340 jobs.
9: New Mexico, with two projects tied to 328 jobs.
10: Louisiana, with 1 project tied to 300 jobs.