Changes to Clean Power Plan and Endangered Species Act ruffle feathers; petrochemical blind spot

Trump administration eases endangered species rules
Ben Lefebvre, Politico, August 12, 2019

The Trump administration announced on Monday it would change how it implements the Endangered Species Act, weakening protections that environmentalists say violate the law and make it easier for oil companies, real estate interests and the agriculture industry to develop land inhabited by vulnerable wildlife.

The revisions spearheaded by Bernhardt, who previously lobbied on behalf of oil and agriculture sectors, include preventing Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service from automatically offering full endangered species protections to wildlife classified as “threatened” and minimizing its consideration of climate change when analyzing a species.

The changes would also allow the department to publish economic impacts of whether to list a species as endangered or threatened, and it would loosen protections on habitats where a species does not currently live but could move into if its numbers rebound.

Our Take: Last year at the RDC conference, we heard from Bradley Oliphant (EER Group, Perkins Coie LLC) that the Endangered Species Act is nuanced—not just add-an-animal, protect-it-forever. However, coming from an Alaska perspective, we understand that protecting wildlife is one of our top priorities as stewards of the land. This is likely not the end of this fight, and we hope that  balance is achieved for the future of the Endangered Species Act.

 

Twenty-two states sue Trump administration over carbon rule replacement
Valerie Volcovici, Reuters, August 13, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Twenty-two states, including New York and California, and seven cities on Tuesday sued to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s replacement of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, arguing it prolongs U.S. reliance on coal power and obstructs states that pursue cleaner electricity generation.
The lawsuit filed in a federal appellate court in Washington charges that the EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which it finalized in June, will not curb rising carbon emissions from power plants and will prolong the operation of…coal plants.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in June unveiled the ACE, which set guidelines for states to develop performance standards for power plants to boost the amount of power produced relative to the amount of coal burned.

Our Take: EPA Administrator Wheeler visits the state early next week, and we look forward to hearing what he has to say about ACE and other administrative priorities.

 

From the Daily on Energy:
TRUMP’S VISIT TO PETROCHEMICAL PLANT SHOWS A DEMOCRATIC ‘BLIND SPOT’ ON FOSSIL FUELS: President Trump is touring a petrochemical plant in western Pennsylvania Tuesday afternoon to tout booming U.S. energy production and its ties to the economy of a swing state whose Democratic leadership is more embracing of fossil fuels than the national party.

While no one can guess how Trump will focus his visit, his allies say he has the opportunity to make the case for the growing demand for oil and gas for petrochemicals used in plastics, fertilizers, clothing, digital devices, and other everyday products, and how that contrasts with pledges from Democratic presidential candidates to phase out fossil fuels.

“There is such a contrast for the president going out to celebrate the fact that petrochemicals are the building blocks of modern day life, versus the Democrats who want to shut that industry down,” said Mandy Gunasekara, a former senior EPA official in the Trump administration who now runs the Energy 45 Fund, a nonprofit supporting the president’s energy agenda.

“It’s within the strategy of the Democrats to go after these plants because of their demand for fossil-based energy to do what they do,” Gunasekara told me in an interview.

Demand for petrochemicals is booming: Petrochemicals derived from oil and gas are becoming the largest drivers of global oil demand, the International Energy Agency said in a report last year, outpacing demand from cars, planes and trucks. IEA projects that petrochemicals will account for more than a third of oil demand growth over the next decade, and nearly half of growth through 2050. Petrochemicals could consume an additional 56 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas by 2030, and 83 bcm by 2050, IEA said.

The U.S. is poised to be a major part of serving that demand growth. It has become a low-cost location for chemicals production thanks to the shale gas revolution, and is now home to around 40% of the global ethane-based petrochemical production capacity.

Production of ethane, a byproduct of natural gas that can be made into polyethylene, a form of plastic, is projected to increase more than 20 times by the year 2025, according to the Department of Energy.