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Energy in the News: Friday, March 18

Up for debate: RFS has increased rather then decreased the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere (scroll to bottom)

Bloomberg Government, feat. John DeCicco

The claims that biofuels reduce CO2 emissions rely on lifecycle analysis, a method for comparing the so-called carbon footprint of various fuels. When it expanded the RFS through the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), Congress required EPA to evaluate the lifecycle emissions impact of non-grandfathered biofuels. The agency also adapted the method for its RFS impact assessments. EPA did not originate lifecycle analysis. Rather, the methods used were largely developed by the Department of Energy and academic proponents of renewable energy, and their use was advocated by green groups that back the RFS.

Unfortunately, these lifecycle analysis methods make a serious mistake by assuming that biofuels are automatically carbon neutral. In reality, only under certain conditions does replacing a fossil fuel with a biofuel neutralize the CO2 leaving the tailpipe. For that to occur, harvesting the corn or other feedstock must greatly speed up how quickly cropland pulls CO2 from the air.

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Will Cheap Gas at the Pump Stall Progress on Car Emissions?

The New Republic, feat. John DeCicco

Retail gasoline prices are now as low as they were in the “roaring ’90s.” The 1990s, that is, when the energy crisis of the 1970s had faded from American consumers’ memories, the economy was strong and the market share of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) had more than tripled over the decade.

As in the 1990s, low-cost gasoline is changing consumers’ habits, encouraging them to drive more and purchase less fuel-efficient vehicles. What’s different now is that U.S. automakers face far more stringent fuel-economy standards. The rules, which require automakers to have a fleet-wide, on-road average of roughly 40 miles per gallon by 2025, are the country’s primary policy for reducing carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from motor vehicles.

However, fuel prices have plummeted since these rules were put in place. What does cheap gasoline mean for the country’s progress in reducing emissions?

To answer this question, we need to look at the interplay between gas prices and consumer behavior. We also need to consider the impact that technology and policy can have—and cannot have—on reducing emissions from motor vehicles.

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Iran abandons production freeze — oil won’t be going up any time soon

Deseret News, feat. Mark Barteau

Iran’s lack of cooperation led to a 2 percent drop in oil prices on Monday morning from a three-month high of around $41 a barrel on Friday. Still, some believe that freezing production is not the way for oil to recover.

When the production freeze was initially announced in February, University of Michigan Energy Institute director Mark Barteau wrote for Fortune that slowing production will not close the gap between supply and demand.

Barteau notes that if Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries were to freeze production rates now, they would still be producing more oil than ever before. Combined with the fact that the supply restricted by one producer can be replaced by another, freezing production is unlikely to limit supply enough to make a significant impact.

“There is ample evidence that we have arrived upon a new normal,” writes Barteau. “We have likely entered an era of abundant and relatively cheap oil.”

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Read and view John DeCicco’s March 16 House testimony on Renewable Fuel Standards

Energy Institute, feat John DeCicco

Energy Institute Research Professor John DeCicco testified on March 16 before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform’s Subcommittees on Interior and on Health Care, Benefits and Administrative Rules. The purpose of the hearing was to “examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s management of the Renewable Fuel Standard program,” which mandates a certain percentage of biofuels from corn be added to commercially sold gasoline in the United States with the twin goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing reliance on imported oil.

Energy Institute External Advisory Board member Christopher Grundler also provided testimony.

In his testimony, DeCicco states that “My recent research has included scientifically rigorous evaluations of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and other policies that promote biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. RFS proponents claim that the policy reduces CO2 emissions. I have found that it does not. In fact, from its inception, the RFS has increased rather than decreased the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere compared to petroleum fuels such as gasoline.”

See video of the hearing, and download a pdf of the DeCicco’s testimony here.

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MISO projects additional coal retirements under Clean Power Plan

E&E News

The U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, if upheld by the courts, could force more coal plant retirements than initially expected in the nation’s midsection, according to the most recent modeling by the region’s grid operator.

In its most recent report discussed at a committee meeting Wednesday, the Carmel, Indiana-based Midcontinent Independent System Operator looked at various greenhouse gas reduction scenarios and how they would affect the coal fleet across the 15 states where it operates.

MISO found that the most cost-effective way of achieving a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over the next two decades – similar to what would be required nationally under the Clean Power Plan – would lead to the retirement of 16 to 21 gigawatts of coal generation, or nearly one-third of the 65 GW that will be operating at the end of this year.

MISO had said as recently as December that it expected up to 14 GW of additional coal retirements on top of the 12.6 GW retired to help operators comply with the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (EnergyWire, Dec. 17, 2015).

The analysis also considered a 17 percent reduction in carbon emissions that could keep coal retirements to 8 to 11 GW, and a 43 percent carbon cut that could force as much as 30 GW of coal generation off the grid by 2035.

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