Energy in the News: Friday, June 16

Friday, June 16, 2017

Remarks on U-M’s commitment to environmental sustainability at June 15, 2017 Board of Regents Meeting

U-M Office of the President, feat the Beyond Carbon Neutral Project

[Remarks made upon appointment of Jonathan Overpeck as dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at U-M Board of Regents Meeting]

Thank you, Interim Provost Courant, for the terrific job you’ve done to recruit these outstanding individuals to lead our schools.

I want to take a moment to discuss one of them, because his appointment aligns closely with a high priority of mine and shared by many members of our community at the University of Michigan –environmental sustainability.

The recommendation to appoint Jonathan Overpeck as dean will give our School for Environment and Sustainability a great start when it is officially launched on July 1st.

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When politicians cherry-pick data and disregard facts, what should we academics do?

The Conversation, feat. Andrew Hoffman

When politicians distort science, academics and scientists tend to watch in shock from the sidelines rather than speak out. But in an age of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” we need to step into the breach and inject scientific literacy into the political discourse.

Nowhere is this obligation more vivid than the debate over climate change. Contrary to the consensus of scientific agencies worldwide, the president has called climate change a “hoax” (though his position may be shifting), while his EPA administrator has denied even the most basic link to carbon dioxide as a cause.

It’s another sign that we, as a society, are drifting away from the use of scientific reasoning to inform public policy. And the outcome is clear: a misinformed voting public and the passage of policies to benefit special interests.

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Climate policy: Americans want states to pick up federal slack

University of Michigan News, feat. Barry Rabe and Sarah Mills

A majority of Americans across the political spectrum believe states are responsible for addressing climate change in the absence of federal policy, according to a new survey by University of Michigan researchers.

The National Surveys on Energy and Environment track public opinion on climate change and energy policy. This update gives a snapshot from this spring—after President Trump began eliminating former President Obama's Clean Power Plan, and just before Trump's June announcement to withdraw from the international Paris climate agreement.

"Prior to the Obama administration, the states were really driving climate policy, and Americans say if the federal government doesn't want to act on climate anymore, then states should be back in the driver's seat," said Sarah Mills, a research fellow at the U-M Ford School of Public Policy and co-author of the study. "States are where we have historically made progress and where we can continue to make progress in the future."

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For more on this topic: 

Big majority of Americans want states to act on climate — poll, E&E ClimateWire, feat. Barry Rabe Read more
Survey: Majority of Americans want states to take the lead on climate change
Michigan Radio, feat. Sarah Mills Read more

How future electric cars could recharge on the road

CBS News, feat. Bruce Belzowski

What if electric cars could recharge while speeding along the highway — freeing drivers to go greater and greater distances without having to stop and plug in?

Researchers are working on it. A team from Stanford University reported their latest advance in a research paper published Thursday in the journal Nature. In the paper, they share their progress towards developing new technology to wirelessly deliver electricity to moving objects — namely, electric vehicles. As the technology stands now, electric cars generally require hours in one place in order to charge.

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Leaving money on the table

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, feat. Barry Rabe

One would be hard-pressed to find a better poster child for the hydraulic fracturing industry than Pennsylvania. Billboards promoting natural gas litter the state’s highways. A Matt Damon film dubbed the state the “Promised Land.” As natural gas production has soared, the Keystone State has become an increasingly prominent energy exporter.

But the poster child of fracking has a dirty secret. It lags behind other major oil and gas producing states in tax policy. While most producing states — as many as 38 — tax energy production, Pennsylvania does not. All others, from Alaska to North Carolina, levy severance taxes directly on extraction of their oil, gas or coal. Revenues from such taxes allow these states to either address current budget needs, keep other taxes low or invest in their futures once drilling declines.

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Through the looking glass in Beijing

Huffington Post, feat. EAB member David Sandalow

In Through the Looking Glass, Alice steps through a mirror into a world in which many things are reversed.  In Beijing last week, I felt like I’d stepped through that mirror.

I was in Beijing to deliver lectures on energy policy at Peking University and attend the Clean Energy Ministerial, an annual meeting of more than 20 countries hosted this year by China.  During my stay, President Trump announced the United States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a climate change accord adopted by more than 190 countries.  He did so with remarks that rejected both widely-accepted science and long-accepted norms of U.S. leadership.   

Meanwhile the Chinese government reaffirmed its commitment not just to the Paris Agreement, but to market-based policies for addressing global warming.  Chinese leaders unambiguously endorsed the scientific consensus on climate change.

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University of Michigan endowment boosts its investments in energy

Bloomberg

The University of Michigan’s endowment is looking for yield by boosting its holdings in two Texas-based energy funds.

The school said it plans to add to its investment in Denham Oil & Gas, a Houston-based fund that focuses on upstream exploration, according to an agenda item for the June 15 board of regents meeting. The endowment committed $30 million to Denham in March.

It’s also seeking to bolster its co-investment in Dallas-based Four Rivers Resources. The school committed $5 million in April to the fund, which acquires assets from an operator in the San Juan basin in Colorado.

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There are now 16,000 public electric vehicle charging stations in the US (and China has way more)

Quartz

Welcome (back) to the electric era. In 1900, a third of the cars on the roads in New York City, Boston, and Chicago were electric. Today in the US it’s less than 1%. But sales, relatively speaking, are soaring: 130,000 new electric vehicles (EVs) hit the road last year, a 700% jump since 2011.

All those batteries will need juice, so charging infrastructure is surging as well. University of Michigan researchers using data from the Department of Energy in a June 15 report (pdf) counted 16,000 public charging stations in the U.S (with nearly 43,000 individual charging connectors or plugs). That compares to 112,0000 gasoline stations in the US as of 2015.

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40 countries are making polluters pay for carbon pollution. Guess who's not.

Vox

Most people who have given climate change policy any thought agree that it is important to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. They are a form of harmful waste; those producing the waste should pay for the harms. (There’s plenty of debate over just how central pricing is to a serious climate strategy, but very little debate that it should play some role.)

That policy consensus has been in place for quite a while. It seems the political world is beginning to catch up.

The sustainability think tank Sightline has just updated its map of carbon pricing systems across the world. Things have gotten quite lively.

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U.S. power plant emissions fall to near 1990 levels, decoupling from GDP growth

InsideClimate News

Emissions from the nation's power generators have been on the decline, even as the economy has grown—providing evidence that contradicts pro-coal arguments promoted by the Trump administration.

A report released Wednesday by the consulting firm M.J. Bradley & Associates finds that climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions from the country's power generators declined between 2005 and 2015 as the companies shifted away from coal and toward renewable energy sources and natural gas. Preliminary data from 2016 suggests that emissions dropped further last year, putting them at or near the same level they were in 1990. Meanwhile, the report notes, gross domestic product (GDP) has grown steadily over the same period.

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Scientific panel concludes ARPA-E is working. Will it matter?

MIT Technology Review

After two years of analysis, the National Academies has concluded the Department of Energy’s moonshot clean-energy research program is on track to accomplish what it was established to do and should remain focused on supporting potentially breakthrough technologies.

The 238-page assessment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy from the respected scientific institution, released Tuesday, follows years of attacks by Republican lawmakers, and the Trump administration’s recent calls for its elimination (see “Will ARPA-E Survive Trump’s Looming Budget Cuts?”).

As of last October, ARPA-E had invested more than $1 billion in more than 500 projects, across a variety of areas including carbon capture, biofuels, grid storage, and batteries for electric cars.

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Lyft promises to tackle climate change. Can it?

E&E ClimateWire

The ride-sharing company Lyft is promising to tackle climate change with electric autonomous cars as a way to drive business and spark city redesigns.

The commitment is among the hundreds of pledges by American businesses, cities and states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions despite President Trump's announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

It's significant because researchers are unclear whether new transportation technologies like automation and ride-sharing will reduce emissions without electrification.

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Solar power will kill coal faster than you think

Bloomberg

Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast.

That’s the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India.

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