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Is The Constantly Changing Natural Gas Market About To Change Again?

MAR 15, 2017 @ 12:30 PM

David Blackmon , CONTRIBUTOR

I write about issues impacting the energy sector

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

  1. Has the industry's ability to build infrastructure once again been so slow that it has largely missed the market?
  2. LNG exports from the U.S. and other major producing countries are creating a global glut of the product


The Asia Vision LNG carrier ship sits docked at the Cheniere Energy Inc. terminal in this aerial photograph taken over Sabine Pass, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. Cheniere said in a statement last month. Cheniere Energy Inc. expects to ship the first cargo of liquefied natural gas on Wednesday to Brazil with another tanker to be loaded a few days later, marking the historic start of U.S. shale exports and sending its shares up the most in more than a month. Photographer: Lindsey Janies/Bloomberg

The growing glut of natural gas on the global market - spurred in part by increased exports of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) by U.S. producers over the last year - reminds us of the dynamic nature of the domestic natural gas market, and the role shifting public policies have played into that over the years.

My own frame of reference here begins during the summers of 1977 and 1978, when I earned college tuition money by taking summer jobs on pipeline crews in deep South Texas.  In 1978, the Congress and the Carter Administration had become convinced by some really bad science that the U.S. would actually run out of natural gas in a few decades, and thus needed to conserve what little remaining reserves it had on-hand for home heating usage.  Acting on this belief, then-President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Natural Gas Policy Act (NGPA) and the Fuel Use Act (FUA), both of which had major impacts on natural gas markets, and both of which inhibited investment in new natural gas-burning infrastructure.

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Stripping Miners of Safety Protections

A West Virginia proposal to help the coal industry by paring back safety regulations may actually protect neither miners or their jobs.


A memorial to the 29 miners killed in a 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia

John Raby / AP

Updated March 15 at 3:31 p.m.

When is a mine-safety agency not really a mine-safety agency? Soon, if a bill under consideration in the West Virginia Legislature passes. The proposal would prevent state regulators from writing policies, downgrading their work to drafting suggested guidelines; strip them of the ability to issue citations and fines; and demote safety inspections to offering “safety compliance assistance.”

Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, an expert reporter who’s set the standard on the mining beat for years, writes:

Those and other significant changes in a new industry-backed bill would produce a wholesale elimination of most enforcement of longstanding laws and rules put in place over many years — as a result of hundreds of deaths — to protect the health and safety of West Virginia’s coal miners.

Opponents are furious about the proposed changes but also fearful that backers of the bill could easily have the votes to push through any language they want. Longtime mine safety experts and advocates are shocked at the breadth of the attack on current authorities of the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training and the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety.

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Trump Administration Would Resurrect Yucca Mountain And Nuclear Energy

Ken Silverstein , CONTRIBUTOR

I write about the global energy business.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.


ZION, IL - MARCH 11: A rusted chain secures a gate to the shuttered Zion Nuclear Power Station along the shore of Lake Michigan March 11, 2009 in Zion, Illinois. About 1,000 tons of highly radioactive spent fuel is reportedly stored in a containment pool on the property due in part to a lack of permanent storage. President Barack Obama's proposed budget all but kills the Yucca Mountain project, a site in Nevada where energy companies had planned to dispose of spent fuel rods. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Recall Yucca Mountain, the site that was intended to be the permanent burial for the nation's 70,000 tons of radioactive nuclear waste? It has laid practically lifeless since 2010, although it may now get a new lease on life given that the Trump administration has budgeted money to relicense it.

Nuclear energy has its devotees and its detractors. On the one hand, it is a carbon-free fuel that can run around the clock and that has good a safety record in this country. But, on the other hand, nuclear plants are hugely expensive to build while this month's sixth anniversary of Japan's Fukushima facility disaster still haunts many. At the same time, when nuclear energy is burned, it creates radioactive waste that must be disposed of, or buried.

While the interim solution has been to store the used fuel on site where the plants are located, most experts agree that it should all be transported to a safe and central location where it could be permanently placed. Enter Yucca Mountain.

Politically, though, that had become nearly impossible, given not only the local opposition to it but also the testimony of some engineering experts who said that the radioactivity could eventually seep out and damage ground water supplies. In 2010, President Obama cut funding for the project and withdrew the application.

Now, the While House's 2018 budget has allocated $120 million to restart the effort -- and to indicate a show of support for nuclear energy, Reuters reports. Nuclear power is now having a tough time competing against natural gas. A handful of plants have had to close as a result.

Recommended by Forbes

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Tennessee Valley Authority Kicks Off A Potential Nuclear Energy Rebirth

The Price Of Cutting Carbon: More Natural Gas To Back Up Green Energy

U.S. Nuclear Energy Industry Has A Clean Bill Of Health And Says Its Plants...

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With E.P.A. Cuts, States Would Lose Help in Emergencies




Coal piles at a Utah power plant regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency faces the largest cut under President Trump’s budget.


George Frey/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Late one Friday night in 2014, Ohio’s environmental agency received word of a frightening test result from Toledo’s water supply: A toxic greenish substance had rendered the drinking water of half a million Toledo residents unsafe to drink.

“Immediately we reached out to the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Craig Butler, the director of Ohio’s environmental agency. “Because of the scale of the problem, and the technical knowledge required, we needed their expertise.”

State officials flew water samples from Toledo to an E.P.A. laboratory in Cincinnati, where staff scientists identified the substance as microcystin, a rare but toxic substance that is produced by algae blooms in water and causes liver damage in humans.

The resources to respond to those emergencies, along with much of the other state-level work performed by the agency, would be eliminated or sharply reduced by President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018, which cuts the E.P.A. by 31 percent, more than any other agency.

While the agency may be known for sweeping regulations to curb climate change, increase auto fuel efficiency or mandate smokestack controls, the agency’s bread and butter is more prosaic. The staff and scientists at its regional offices and laboratories across the country regularly respond to emergency calls from city and state officials: a December 2016 chemical leak from an asphalt plant into the water supply of Corpus Christi, Tex.; airborne drifts last summer in southern Missouri of dicamba, an herbicide that damages non-genetically modified crops; a 2014 fire at a perfume factory in Bridgeport, Conn., that spewed dangerous chemicals into the surrounding neighborhood.

Funds to respond to many of those calls would no longer be available under Mr. Trump’s budget. He proposed lowering the agency’s $8.1 billion budget to $5.7 billion, and cutting 3,200 jobs from the its staff of 15,000.

The proposal appears to be a realization of the federalist philosophy of the agency’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt, who has ardently championed states’ rights. He has said repeatedly that he wants to pare down the agency’s overreaching federal authority and return the work of environmental regulation to states.



But former E.P.A. officials say that in the case of responding to emergencies like the one that polluted Toledo’s water supply, states often lack the expertise and resources of the federal government.

“What he fails to understand is that states do not have the technical capability to do some of this work,” said Gina McCarthy, who led the agency under the Obama administration.

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Hydro power facilities are oldest power plants in the U.S.

Posted by ryanhandy Date: March 15, 2017

    The oldest power generating facilities in the U.S. are hyrdoelectric plants, which are on average 64 years old. But some are even older–dating to before 1908, according to analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy.

    Hydroelectricity remains the primary source of renewable energy in the U.S., and it now generates around six or seven percent of the country’s power. In 2015, renewable energy contributed around 14 percent of the country’s power, driven by hydro, wind and solar.

    Most states have hydroelectric plants, but half of the country’s hydro power capacity is in three states, Washington, California and Oregon.  Texas has few hydro plants that together generate only about 500 to 1,000 megawatts. (One megawatt is enough to power 200 average homes on a hot Texas day.)

    The pitfalls of the country’s aging hydroelectric plants have been highlighted recently by California’s Oroville Dam, which state officials worried would fail following heavy rain. Damage to the dam could affect it’s hydroelectric facility, which dates from 1968 — old by modern standards for electricity generators, but newer than most of California’s hydro power facilities.

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    The Buzz

    16  MAR 2017

    Carbon emissions and taxes are not the only skunks at the picnic. So too is California’s carbon cap-and-trade. But, the tax skunk has redeeming qualities, including clear price signals, market certainty and less complexity, the non partisan Legislative Analyst tells an Assembly Budget Committee.

    While that committee debated the controversial cap-and-trade program, another legislative panel approved a bill that aims to create better and real time accounting of carbon emissions of unlabeled power imports, notably from coal-fired generation.  AB 79 wants the Air Resources Board to work with the grid operator to develop data-based carbon accounting protocols by 2020.

    Bubbling on a legislative burner is a new bill that would pay consumer advocates, public health and environmental representatives for effectively intervening in transmission matters at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and California Independent System Operator

    Midweek, the grid operator concluded that no new transmission lines are needed.  CAISO’s board agreed and approved a 2016-17 transmission plan that only backs two minor high voltage lines.

    Lessening the need for new transmission projects is metered energy efficiency. This week’s Guest Juice insists that metering energy conservation turns it into an energy resource on par with generation.

    Pacific Gas & Electric’s San Bruno woes have finally come to an end with the proposed settlement of shareholder suits charging the company directors and officers were aware of natural gas safety violations that led to the 2010 pipeline blast.

    The same can’t be said for Southern California Edison and its San Onofre woes.  This week, an International Arbitration Panel found Mitsubishi was only liable for $72 million for the faulty steam generators. Edison sought several billion dollars in damages from the manufacturer, and is weighing going to court.

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    Guest Juice: Energy Efficiency as a Distributed Resource

    MAR 2017

    Editor’s Note: This is a second in a series of articles on how California counts on energy efficiency to help meet state greenhouse gas reduction and clean energy goals while serving as a meaningful distributed energy resource alongside of rooftop solar, energy storage, and demand response.[1]

    By Cynthia Mitchell

    As California’s “first loading order resource,” energy efficiency is to help with much needed utility rate relief. And, as California moves away from fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a more decentralized system of significant variable renewable resources, energy efficiency also is needed to help meet ramping and peak capacity requirements caused by California’s infamous “Duck Curve.”

    The opportunities (imperative) for using efficiency to ameliorate the duck curve are there[2] – how to make them happen is the “billions of dollars” question.

    (The duck’s neck reflects a run-up in late afternoon of commercial building loads from internal heat gains [increased space cooling, lighting, data centers, other office and retail functions] and early evening residents returning home from school and work [turning on/up air conditioners, lights, starting cooking, watching television, etc.]. Californians and others have recognized for some time that energy efficiency solutions targeted at reducing electrical demand on a whole building/home basis can ease the need for and provide dramatic ramping and peak capacity.)

    The market for energy efficiency meter-based savings tools is fledgling. California needs to accelerate CPUC-approved commercial specification of automated, open-source, meter-based savings tools (developed by CPUC-retained experts) for the commercial building sector, where non-routine adjustments to savings baselines are needed.

    CPUC President Mike Picker, at a recent conference on California’s Distributed Energy Future, said the today’s challenge is greenhouse gas reduction:[3] “As we have seen from the Germans and China, you can increase the amount of renewables and still have to build backup [gas-fired] generation, thus contributing to more GHG emissions.”

    He added that increasing amounts of variable resources lead to a grid becoming “highly variable,” causing over-generation, peak shifts, and annual shifts in generation. “The most important part of this [electric system transformation] is at the distribution level where you can prioritize ‘negawatts versus megawatts’ – demand resources become part of the exchange, and customers become part of the exchange, as generation technologies.”

    Picker’s recent remarks speak to the critical intersection of energy efficiency at both the aggregate system and distribution level.

    Despite CPUC proceedings on distributed energy resources and distribution resource  plans, and all source solicitations,[4] energy efficiency as a distributed energy resource is not being developed at anywhere near the scale and pace of rooftop solar and energy storage.

    There are various reasons why this is so. Perhaps the largest is that energy efficiency programs number in the hundreds. Each program, in turn, is made up of thousands of discrete and dispersed efficiency measures. The savings from nearly all of these measures are not metered.

    As a result, energy savings measurements are unmetered estimates.

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    California Solar Industry and Utilities Unveil Dueling Solar-Storage Tariffs


    The state will soon have special rate structures for homes, businesses that want to invest in battery-backed solar, EVs—but the details are subject to debate.

    by Jeff St. John March 17, 2017

    California is already breaking ground in attempting to properly value the distributed technologies hitting the grid. So far, that’s been done through large-scale capacity contracts, demand response auction mechanisms, and utility pilots. Now the state is opening another front in distributed energy integration -- tariffs.

    Over the next year or so, the state’s investor-owned utilities are under regulatory pressure to create specially designed, optional tariffs available to homeowners or businesses that want to invest in solar PV, batteries, EVs or on-site energy controls.

    These rates would change from hour to hour, but with drastic price differentials between on-peak and off-peak times than the mass-market time of use (TOU) rates being rolled out across the state over the next four years. Such extreme price differentials could punish customers who can’t shift energy use.

    But they could also provide the financial incentives to cover the costs of adding a battery to a new or existing solar PV installation, to charge up when prices are low and discharge when they’re high. And unlike mass-market TOU rates, they could include different measures of real-time value -- price changes based on wholesale grid power costs, for example, or demand charges or distribution grid values aimed at getting customers to change energy use patterns to mitigate local grid congestion needs.

    All of these options are now on the table in the general rate cases (GRCs) being put forward by Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. PG&E’s rate case is coming first -- and we’ve already seen new tariff proposals come out from the utility and from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), two parties that have clashed before over solar-friendly rate design.

    Two different approaches to solar-storage tariff design

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    California is recruiting disgruntled EPA staffers

    By Rebecca Leber on Mar 16, 2017

    This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

    Michael Picker stood in the freezing cold outside of the Environmental Protection Agency early Thursday morning passing out fliers that read, “Come work for California. Fight climate change.”

    Picker was far away from his home in Sacramento, where he is the president of California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), for meetings with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. He decided to try to recruit demoralized EPA staffers, who are facing deep program cuts and controversial new leadership. The EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt, has a long record of opposing the agency’s work.

    Picker hopes to entice them to work for a state government with one of the most ambitious climate goals in the country. California is looking to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The fliers pointed people to a webpage to sign up for more details.

    Picker’s timing was good: The White House had just unveiled cuts of 31 percent to the agency’s budget, the smallest proposed budget in 40 years. In Michigan, Trump had announced his plan to roll back the EPA’s fuel efficiency standards for cars. And, any day now, the president’s executive orders gutting EPA’s climate change work are expected to be announced.

    “I don’t agree with the president and certainly am not going to shy from an opportunity to give people good work to pursue their goals,” Picker told Mother Jones. He’s hoping to find a handful of D.C.-based federal workers willing to move west to work for the utility energy regulator and add some fresh insight and much-needed talent to the CPUC.


    Rebecca Leber

    Picker squeezed in the EPA visit — and another one at the Department of Energy — because the CPUC faces a hiring problem. CPUC needs to replace about 60 percent of its staff in the next three to five years because its older workforce is approaching retirement. Two other government agencies that work on helping the state cut greenhouse gases — the California Air Resources Board and California Energy Commission — are also recruiting for the same reason. But CPUC was the only agency targeting EPA employees; Picker joked representatives from the other regulators probably just didn’t want to wake up that early.

    The unusual hiring drive isn’t a political stunt, argues the California energy regulator, even if it might appear to be another example of California’s antagonism towards Trump. Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who appointed Picker, promised after the presidential election, “If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.” Trump has opened the door to weakening the EPA and Department of Transportation’s fuel efficiency standards, and lawmakers in California are poised to fight if the administration rescinds the waiver that gives California the freedom to pursue tougher standards on automotive emissions.

    California still has a way to go to meet its climate goals. It will have to tackle the transportation sector, its single-largest source of emissions, and compensate for ditching nuclear power, which cuts down on carbon emissions, after its last nuclear plant closes in the next decade. Still, the electricity sector has made strides, with solar, wind, and natural gas now comprising a majority of electricity generation. (Prior to the prolonged drought, large hydropower projects accounted for a lot of generation too, at 18 percent). “Who would’ve thought [a few years ago] you’d have wind and solar so competitive with hydropower?” Picker asks.

    So far, Picker’s unconventional recruiting drive has resulted in some interest from federal workers. When he went through the same exercise in front of the Department of Energy from 7 to 9 a.m. on Wednesday, one staffer even helped him pass out fliers. CPUC’s executive director texted him later that day, excited to inform him that one other federal worker found his contact information on the website and expressed interested in a job.

    The verdict is still out on if this approach is the most effective solution for the state’s recruitment challenges. But after his long day on Wednesday, Picker seems to have sympathy for the federal workers in D.C. “I feel bad for them,” Picker says about the Department of Energy staffers. “I noticed some folks coming in late.”

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    How we can turn railroads into a climate solution

    By Patrick Mazza on Mar 13, 2017

    Patrick Mazza is an independent journalist-researcher-activist focused on climate, clean energy, and global sustainability, and coauthor of the new book Solutionary Rail. Mazza has more than one way of “working on the railroad.” He also was one of the Delta 5 oil train blockaders.

    Railroads have become a nexus of controversy in recent years due to their role in transporting climate-twisting fossil fuels. But they could become a locomotive driving the growth of clean energy. That is the aim of a new proposal to electrify railroads, run them on renewable energy, and use rail corridors as electricity superhighways to carry power from remote solar and wind installations to population centers.

    The proposal, called Solutionary Rail, has been developed by a team of rail experts, economists, and public interest advocates assembled by the Washington state–based Backbone Campaign. Bill McKibben writes in the foreword to the recently released Solutionary Rail book that he has “been following the debate over energy, transportation, and climate change since the late 1980s … So it’s hard to come up with an idea I haven’t come across before. Rail electrification, as proposed in this remarkable book, is that rarest of things: a genuinely new idea, and one that makes immediate gut sense.”

    An activist movement, sometimes known as the “thin green line,” has grown up in the Northwest in recent years to resist coal and oil shipments through the region, between the rich fossil resources east of the Rockies and the growing markets of Asia. The Backbone Campaign, a group that develops innovative strategies and tactics to build grassroots democratic movements, has been enmeshed in this movement.

    The movement has been successful in stopping many fossil fuel export facilities from being built along the Pacific Coast. But it’s largely been a defensive campaign rather than a proactive one. In 2013, a rail labor leader challenged Backbone Executive Director Bill Moyer to green a labor concept for modernizing rail lines in the northern states, a “yes” to accompany the “no.” Moyer took up the challenge, and the result is Solutionary Rail.

    Rail electrification is common in other parts of the world. Around the globe, electricity serves nearly a quarter of railroad track miles and supplies over one-third of the energy that powers trains. But in the U.S., under 1 percent of tracks are electrified. That’s due to high upfront capitalization costs, an obstacle that publicly owned railroads in other nations do not face. Railroads in other countries also do not have to pay property taxes on electrification infrastructure, which U.S. railroads do.

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    Cities Shop for $10 Billion of Electric Cars to Defy Trump

    by Joe Ryan

    March 14, 2017 12:46:00 PM PDT March 15, 2017 7:48:00 AM PDT

    1. L.A., New York among 30 cities seeking up to 114,000 vehicles
    2. Trump said planning to re-examine Obama fuel-economy standards

    Dozens of U.S. cities are willing to buy $10 billion of electric cars and trucks to show skeptical automakers there’s demand for low-emission vehicles, just as President Donald Trump seeks to review pollution standards the industry opposes.

    Thirty cities including New York and Chicago jointly asked automakers for the cost and feasibility of providing 114,000 electric vehicles, including police cruisers, street sweepers and trash haulers, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is coordinating the effort. That would be comparable to about 72 percent of total U.S. plug-in sales last year.

    While urban leaders want more low-emission vehicles to ease the role city traffic plays in altering the climate, automakers say there aren’t enough buyers. They also have advocated for relaxing rules on traditional fuel vehicles. The Trump administration, which seeks to cut regulations it sees as too costly or onerous, is poised to announce Wednesday that it will reconsider tighter standards finalized a week before President Barack Obama left office.

    “No matter what President Trump does or what happens in Washington, cities will continue leading the way on tackling climate change,” Matt Petersen, Los Angeles chief sustainability officer, said in an email.

    Read More -- Why Trump Would Want to Slow Tough Fuel Standards: QuickTake Q&A

    The initiative is still in the early stages, and the cities haven’t actually ordered any of the 114,000 vehicles. Rather, they’ve taken what’s typically the first step in a formal bidding process by inviting manufactures to outline plans to supply them. Plus, some cities are asking about vehicles that don’t exist yet, such as electric fire engines and heavy-duty trucks.

    The initiative could move the market nonetheless, said Colin McKerracher, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Orders for that many electric vehicles would be a significant driver for the U.S. plug-in market, which totaled 160,000 in 2016. While the initiative would probably be spread out over several years, it would provide electric vehicle manufacturers reliable demand as federal policies shift and gas prices fluctuate.

    “I wouldn’t underestimate this,” McKerracher said. “What automakers really want in investing in electrification, whether that’s for passenger vehicles or commercial-use vehicles, is certainty.”

    Trump plans to announce his intentions to re-examine vehicle-efficiency standards on Wednesday during a meeting with auto executives near Detroit. Automakers including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV have pushed for the move, saying the standards drive up costs and don’t reflect motorists’ driving preferences.

    Demonstrating Demand

    The mayors, mostly Democrats, want to demonstrate that demand for low-emission vehicles is robust. “If you build it, we will buy it,” Chris Bast, Seattle’s climate and transportation policy adviser, said in an interview.

    Myron Ebell, the former head of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, said consumers are the ones who want less stringent fuel economy standards. “This is not coming from the auto industry -- it’s coming from consumers and the auto dealers association,” said Ebell, who left the Trump transition team in January.

    Carmakers have invested heavily in cutting emissions, offering 95 different varieties of hybrids and electric vehicles last year, said Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers trade group. However, Americans still prefer gasoline-powered vehicles, he said.

    “Combined, those models were all outsold by a single model of pickup truck,” Newton said.

    Los Angeles began spearheading the effort for a joint electric-vehicle order during the run-up to the Paris climate accord in late 2015. The request to automakers went out earlier this year, initially with an order for 24,000 vehicles from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. Twenty-six other cities have since joined, including Boston, Denver, Kansas City and Houston.

    Nearly 40 automakers, truck makers, bus makers and others have responded so far, Petersen said.

    ‘Cities’ Leadership’

    Tail-pipe fumes are crucial in the fight to stop global warming. Emissions from cars and trucks became the largest U.S. source of greenhouse gases last year, surpassing power plants for the first time since 1979. That makes the EPA standards that Trump is eyeing central to help the U.S. meet its goals under the Paris climate deal.

    “Now more than ever there is a need for cities’ leadership on climate,” Daniel Zarrilli, New York City’s senior director of climate policy and programs, said in an interview. “We really want to send a message that there is a growing market for electric vehicles -- regardless of what is happening in D.C.”

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    Court-ordered Volkswagen settlement could bring millions to Sacramento

    MARCH 16, 2017 5:12 PM

    It might not be possible for Volkswagen to bring its diesel vehicles into full compliance with California's pollution standards, according to the California Air Resources Board. “Our goal has been to fix the vehicles and return them to their certified configuration as expeditiously as possible. Unfortunately, this may not be possible," said Todd Sax, the agency’s chief of enforcement, in testimony March 8, 2016 before a joint hearing of the state Senate Transportation and Housing, and Environmental Quality committees. The California Channel


    As part of its court-ordered payback for cheating on diesel vehicle emissions tests, Volkswagen might bring a heap of green – in the form of money and technology – to Sacramento.

    Under a settlement with federal officials and the California Air Resources Board, the disgraced automaker is poised to spend tens of millions of dollars promoting zero-emission vehicles in Sacramento and four other cities. In addition, Sacramento is the lead contender for Volkswagen’s first “Green City” designation, which would bring the city $44 million between now and 2020 for public outreach and other programs related to zero-emission vehicles, according to a proposal Volkswagen has filed with CARB.

    The Green City money could be used to provide the area with up to 600 zero-emission electric vehicles, or ZEV’s, and 100 larger electric shuttles, as well as infrastructure such as charging stations, said Kelly Fong Rivas, spokeswoman for Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. The vehicles could be used for car-sharing, a delivery fleet, a taxi service and other transportation needs.

    In a proposal submitted to the carmaker, Sacramento envisions using electric cars to target disadvantaged communities where residents can’t easily access public transportation like light rail, suggesting they could be used for the “first mile” to help people get to trains and buses either as taxis or eventually autonomous vehicles. The city also sees potential to use the shuttles to transport the homeless, using them to get people between shelters, residences and services and to transport local high school kids to internships and jobs.

    No final decision has been made on the city’s proposal, and CARB hasn’t signed off yet on Volkswagen’s plan. But Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Thursday he had been working on the project since prior to taking office and it represented a chance for California and Sacramento “to continue to lead on climate change, on diversifying our sources of energy ... (to) show that doing so is not only great for the environment, it is the future of building a modern economy.”

    CARB spokesman David Clegern said the agency believes Volkswagen would pump additional money into the Green City project beyond the initial round of $44 million.

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    Germany Treads Carefully Toward Climate Confrontation With Trump

    by Joe Ryan and Brian Parkin

    March 16, 2017 12:39:53 PM PDT March 16, 2017 9:01:00 PM PDT

    1. Officials to unveil global warming action plan for G-20
    2. Move comes as Trump slashes environmental regulations

    The German government will release next week a plan for the Group of 20 economies to address climate change, taking a cautious step toward confronting U.S. President Donald Trump on an issue that puts him at odds with most world leaders.

    The 23-page draft, obtained by Bloomberg News, outlines how the most prosperous nations can lead by example, cutting their own greenhouse-gas emissions, financing efforts to curb pollution in poorer countries and take other steps to support the landmark Paris climate accord.

    The plan appears to tread carefully. It makes no mention of cutting coal production, which Trump has vowed to increase, nor does it address automotive fuel standards, which he plans to review. And while the plan is expected to be distributed to all G-20 nations, Germany hasn’t scheduled formal meetings for environment ministers, avoiding the risk of a clash over global warming.

    “The Germans are trying to find a way to move their climate change and energy agenda, and at the same time not raise red flags for President Trump,” John Kirton, co-director of the University of Toronto’s G-20 Research Group, said in an interview.

    ‘Core Issue’

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    VW Slams Prosecutors’ Raid of U.S. Law Firm Amid Scandal Probe

    by Christoph Rauwald

    March 16, 2017 5:50:07 AM PDT

    1. Munich prosecutors searched German office of Jones Day
    2. VW’s Audi division was also target of raid this week

    Volkswagen AG pushed back against German prosecutors following a raid of a local office of Jones Day, the U.S. law firm the carmaker has hired to investigate the roots of its diesel-emissions scandal.

    "We view the move by Munich prosecutors as unacceptable in every respect," VW said in an emailed statement Thursday, without specifying where or when the search took place. The manufacturer will take "all measures available to us" to defend itself. Jones Day spokesmen weren’t immediately available for comment.

    The clash comes a day after Munich prosecutors raided the headquarters and main sites of VW’s Audi premium-car division. The coordinated search started three hours before Audi, the biggest profit contributor for the group, began its annual earnings press conference that’s attended by media from across the globe.

    About 100 police took part in searches Wednesday at Audi’s Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm sites as well as seven other locations across Germany, including the brand’s office in Wolfsburg, where Volkswagen has its headquarters. The probe is focused on potential consumer fraud related to Audi’s role in developing tainted 3-liter diesel engines sold in the U.S., with officials seeking information on individuals involved, the Munich prosecutors office said Wednesday. Audi said it was cooperating fully with authorities.

    VW hired Jones Day right after revealing in September 2015 that some lines of diesel engines were rigged to cheat on emissions tests. The law firm was assigned to conduct an independent probe into the roots of the biggest scandal in the manufacturer’s history and determine who was responsible for it. Jones Day has reported the findings to the U.S. Department of Justice and VW’s supervisory board. The information was the basis for a settlement VW reached with U.S. authorities in January.

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    EPA’s justice work helps many groups, says ex-official. Trump’s cuts will scrap that.

    By Nikhil Swaminathan on Mar 15, 2017

    When reports detailed the Trump administration’s planned budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency leaked earlier this month, it seemed like Mustafa Ali was a marked man.

    Ali, an agency vet who helped lead the EPA’s environmental justice efforts for 24 years, oversaw an office that was going to lose close to 80 percent of its funding under Trump’s plan. That proposal sent a clear signal that the Trump White House wasn’t all that interested in helping vulnerable communities living amid environmental contamination.

    Within a week of the budget leak, new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had a three-page resignation letter from Ali on his desk. It was gracious in tone, encouraging Pruitt to seize his “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring people together,” and beseeched him to protect initiatives like the Collaborative Problem-Solving Model and Environmental Justice Small Grants Program that had helped more than 1,400 communities, according to Ali.

    Neither Pruitt nor anyone else in the Trump administration has acknowledged his letter, says Ali. Since then, he’s taken a new role at the non-profit Hip Hop Caucus, where he’ll continue to work on environmental and economic justice, as well as voting rights, aiming to “move vulnerable communities from surviving to thriving.”

    Ali spoke to Grist about the struggle for environmental justice and the effect that the Trump administration’s proposed cuts would have on veterans and young people. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

    Q. The EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice was created during President George H.W. Bush’s administration, and you worked at the agency through three other administrations after that. During that time, did you feel like there was always progress?

    A. Yes, I did. Of course some administrations are a bit more wedded to the issue, but there was always at least incremental progress, moving toward improving the public health and the environment for communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous populations.

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