US 2013 Budget and the Environment

The President has just sent his proposal for the 2013 Budget to Congress. The US Government fiscal year begins on October 1st and with 2012 being an election year there is a good chance that the Budget will be approved by Congress before the end of the summer. Two reasons for GallonDaily’s Canadian readers to be interested in the US Budget:

  • to compare and contrast with the Canadian government’s budget; and
  • to get early notice of potential business opportunities in US environmental projects.

Some of the highlights of the President’s Budget proposal for the Environmental Protection Agency include:

  • only a 1.2% decrease in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, with the decrease coming from revolving funds for state water projects and from Superfund
  • increased support to States for air and water quality programs delegated from the federal government
  • funding to establish electronic reporting for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and for increasing the number and frequency of inspections at high risk oil and chemical facilities.
  • funding to stimulate economic growth in local communities with abandoned industrial properties by integrating sustainable development with environmental remediation activities for the restoration of these areas.
  • continued efforts to restore significant ecosystems such as the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, California Bay-Delta, Everglades, and the Gulf Coast, helping to promote their ecological sustainability and resilience.

In addition, the President included in his announcement a call for Congress to enact greenhouse gas legislation. The Administration continues to support greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the U.S. in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

Under the heading Investing in Our Future the President sets the following Budget goals:

  • Double the share of electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.
  • Put one million advanced technology vehicles on the road by 2015.
  • Save manufacturers money by improving energy efficiency.
  • Reduce buildings’ energy use by 20 percent by 2020.
  • Pursue responsible oil and gas production.

Full details are available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Overview

Coal tar asphalt sealants may be bad actors

Research recently published by the United States Geological Survey points to coal tar asphalt sealants as a major source of human carcinogens in the environment, potentially greater than annual polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons  emissions from vehicles.

The researchers state that children living in apartments adjacent to parking lots with coal-tar-based sealcoat likely receive more than twice as much polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from incidental ingestion of house dust than from their diet, previously thought to be a significant pathway for exposure to PAHs. PAH ingestion by children in those settings was estimated to be 14 times higher than by children in apartments adjacent to unsealed parking lots. The coated pavement areas continue to release PAHs for years after the coating was applied. Other exposure routes may include via applicators of coal-tar sealants and through those that work in close proximity to coated parking areas and bring surface dust into buildings and homes via their clothing. The research also documents transfer of PAHs from coated pavement areas through runoff into surface waters.

PAHs are designated as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

In a typical industry association response the Executive Director of the US Pavement Coatings Technology Council is quoted in the media as stating “It appears they have some other agenda here, which is to ban coal tar-based pavement sealants.”

Companies that use coal tar based sealants to maintain parking lots and roadways are advised that public criticism of their release of human carcinogens into the environment may be imminent. Government regulation of coal tar based asphalt sealants is likely several years away.

For details of the studies visit http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3101

Quebec poll on climate change

The people of Province of Quebec are almost certainly the leader in Canada when it comes to support for action on climate change. A recent Leger poll gives some insight into the opinions of Quebecers:

  • 92% see industrial activities as very important or rather important for climate change in Quebec compared to 86% seeing the car and 84% seeing truck transport of goods as similarly important;
  • 86% see climate change as causing more periods of thawing in winter;
  • 80% support Quebec being a leader in the battle against climate change in North America;
  • 88% see renewable energy as an important component of the battle against climate change;
  • 75% see industry as a most important actor in addressing climate change, 75% ascribe the same to the federal government, 67% to the provincial government, 60% to citizens, and 52% to municipalities; and
  • 83% support taxes on the heaviest consuming vehicles.

Lots more very interesting data in the poll, conducted by Leger Marketing for le Regroupement national des conseils régionaux de l’environnement du Québec and available only in French at http://www.rncreq.org/images/UserFiles/files/RNCREQ_Sondage-Changementsclimatiques_2012.pdf

Canada – China Trade & Environment Agreements

Full texts of all the agreements signed by Canada and China during this week’s Prime Minister’s visit have not yet been released but some details are available on the PM’s website. Although announced as trade agreements, there are few trade agreements these days which are devoid of environmental implications, either positive or negative. This week’s agreements are no exception.

One of the key agencies involved in facilitating bilateral Canada-China projects is the little known International Science and Technology Partnerships Program, an initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade overseen by the Minister of International Trade. During the China visit the PM announced the following ISTPP project approvals in the environmental technology sector:

  • A Wind Energy Seawater Desalination System with Wenvor Technologies Inc. as the Canadian business partner.
  • A Condensing Technology for Recovery and Utilization of Waste Heat from Reheating Furnace Emissions in the Petrochemical Industry with Thermal Energy International Inc. as the Canadian business partner.
  • Nanowire-Based Next Generation Solar Cells with Cleanfield Energy as the Canadian business partner.
  • A Real-Time Multi-Sensor Tracking Device for operation on any platform and in any environment with Trusted Positioning Inc. as the Canadian business partner.
  • A Blue-Green Algae Blooms Warning System with Noetix Research as the Canadian business partner.
  • Research and Commercialization of the Next Generation Core Technologies for Online Spatial Data Maintenance with MRF Geosystems as the Canadian business partner.

In addition, the PM announced two new calls for proposals, to be launched in spring 2012, focusing on the development of innovations with high commercial potential in the areas of human vaccines and clean automotive transportation. Total funding for these two initiatives will be $18 million.

The PM also announced a Canada-China Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Energy Cooperation. The MOU is said to set a foundation for strategic and technical cooperation, including joint research projects, exchange of expertise and facilitation of workshops, and promotion of cooperation between energy companies in both countries. The agreement also provides a vehicle for liaison with provinces and territories, industrial, academic, professional and other organizations.

Another five-year MOU on Sustainable Development of Natural Resources is reportedly expected to generate new and improved scientific knowledge and technologies, help address a number of environmental issues and enable trade and investment opportunities for both Canadian and Chinese industries. It will apparently promote cooperation between Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the areas of clean energy, earth sciences and mineral resources. It provides a platform to promote Canadian expertise, technologies and services. The benefits of increased cooperation are stated to include: new technologies for Canadian resource firms; advancing Canada’s research priorities; addressing policy challenges to resource development, such as emissions, reduced environmental impact and natural hazards; and opportunities for Canadian suppliers of equipment and services.

Details of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, which was also concluded during the PM’s visit, have not been released as yet. Following other recent international investment agreement negotiations, there may be environmental aspects to this agreement.

Further details of the outcomes of Prime Minister Harper’s trip to China are available at http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media.asp?category=1&pageId=26&featureId=6 Some of the press releases used as sources for this article are presented as links from other press releases and are not presented as direct links from this site.

Planning for a rising sea level

The State of Louisiana has published a set of reports containing a methodology for predicting sea level rise that could be very useful to coastal landowners and municipal planners in Canada and around the world. Though focusing on the State’s Gulf Coast the reports explore the known science of rising sea levels and explains how global and local factors must be taken into account in determination of areas that can expect to be inundated.

The report recommends that land use planners should assume a one metre rise in mean global sea level by 2100, with the possibility that the rise will be as much as 1.5 metres or as little as 0.5 metres over 1980’s levels. Local factors may further modulate these projections.

Canada has prepared similar sea level rise projections, for example from Natural Resources Canada, but in virtually every case the Canadian projections are predicated on climate change. One of the most unique features of the Louisiana report is that there is very little mention of climate change and the report notes that measured sea level rise is actually at the high end of or exceeding IPCC predictions. Support for the science of climate change is low in Louisiana.

Coastal sensitivity to sea level rise in Canada is discussed and mapped at http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/earth-sciences/geography-boundary/coastal-research/sea-level/7132

The Louisiana  technical reports are available at http://coastal.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=pagebuilder&tmp=home&pid=240

Water scarcity requires a new paradigm

According to a recently released report from Deloitte Global Services Limited, the future is not bright when it comes to availability of fresh water around the world, in both developing and developed countries.

Among the 19 conclusions of the report:

  • On a global level we have a finite resource for which demand will soon outstrip supply. If we do not address these issues by creating frameworks at a global level and take action locally, there is the increasing threat of conflict as competition for water sources intensifies.
  • Although the problems are global, the solutions are all local. Therefore governments, businesses, NGOs and the public all need to work together to ensure safe and clean water supplies.
  • In many countries, pricing systems must be rethought: pricing should reflect the issue of growing demand and diminishing supplies. Higher water prices should also encourage water conservation and efficiency programmes in agriculture, industry and in homes.
  • While water may be a free resource in the environment, its extraction, treatment for drinking, distribution, collection, and re-treatment for discharge is very capital and operationally intensive, and the costs must be recovered from somewhere.
  • While price increases are difficult political decisions, providing more information and educating the public about why higher prices are necessary will be key both for utilities and customers.
  • An integrated approach to solving key issues between the water and energy sectors may lead to lower carbon emissions while at the same time benefiting ecosystems.
  • The water sector could benefit enormously from closer collaboration with technology providers to achieve sustainable water and effective water usage.
  • The private sector is expected to take a more active role in the global water industry, not only in terms of managing assets on behalf of the state, but also in owning and financing the assets.
  • Given that it is our most precious resource, we expect to see more initiatives to trade water and rights to water based on market dynamics. These could include setting up local markets, selling abstraction licences or more radical steps such as long-term water trade agreements.
  • Efforts to demonstrate water stewardship will be a key theme for utilities and water users in coming years.

The full report is available at https://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-Global/Local%20Assets/Documents/Energy_Resources/dttl_er_WaterTight2012.pdf

Insurance industry climate risk disclosure

The state Commissioners of Insurance in California, Washington State, and New York have announced that they will require insurance companies operating in those states to disclose their assessment of climate risk and the steps they are taking to ensure coverage for such risk.

According to sources quoted by the California Department of Insurance,  2011 set a record for catastrophe losses for insurers. A significant portion of those losses were due to severe storms and flooding. Crop insurers paid out a record amount in claims on U.S. crop damage. The California press release quotes Andrew Logan, insurance program director at Ceres, an investor group that has been active in pushing for stronger climate disclosure by the industry, as stating “Climate change will have major implications for the insurance industry, yet few insurance companies are identifying their potential exposure and strategies for dealing with it.”

More details are available at http://www.insurance.ca.gov/0400-news/0100-press-releases/2012/release009-12.cfm

Commercial tidal power comes to US at last

Recently the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a pilot commercial tidal power license to Verdant Power Ltd. for the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project in New York City’s East River. This project, which has already completed a demonstration phase, looks set to be the first-ever commercial tidal power project in the United States. The project will consist of 30 underwater turbines producing 1 MW of tidal power.

Despite decades of trials, tidal power has been an elusive goal for many developers in maritime nations, including Canada. The most common problem has probably been underestimation of the power of the oceans. Many turbines of a multitude of designs have been wrecked by the power of open ocean waves. The second biggest problem appears to have been that development and commercialization of  wave power systems is much more capital intensive than many developers realize, with the result that they have run out of money before the design and commercialization stages have been completed.

Verdant Power is a small privately held company which appears to be focusing on protected tidal sites, though it also has a run of river project in the St. Lawrence River near Cornwall, and which could have access to adequate capital to achieve its goals (though GallonDaily has no independently verified information to confirm this).

Information about the New York City East River tidal power project is at http://www.ferc.gov/media/news-releases/2012/2012-1/01-23-12.asp and at http://verdantpower.com/what-initiative/

Information about the St. Lawrence River project between the US and Canada is at http://verdantpower.com/what-core/

Walmart: huge jump in green power use rankings

According to the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency Green Power Partnership, 28% of the total power used by Walmart Stores in the US comes from green (renewable, including solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, biomass, and low-impact hydroelectric sources) power sources. Ranked by total green power use, this has moved Walmart from twelfth place in the 2011 rankings (for 2010 usage), with 263,533,433kWh of green power usage, to 3rd place in the recently released rankings, with 872,382,088kWh of green power usage in 2011.

In the 2012 rankings (2011 usage) the top ten companies in the National Top 50 in green power usage are Intel Corporation, Kohl’s Department Stores, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. / California and Texas Facilities, Whole Foods Market, Johnson & Johnson, City of Houston, TX, Starbucks, City of Austin, TX, Staples, and Hilton Worldwide. US EPA publishes this data to encourage procurement of electricity from green sources.

GallonDaily suggests to US EPA that ranking by total green energy use is a poor indicator as it does not encourage energy conservation. Our suggestion is that the rankings should be presented only by percentage of electricity used that is obtained from renewable sources, thereby giving small and medium sized electricity users the chance to win some recognition and not serving as an inhibitor of energy conservation. Expect us to provide some more analysis in this direction in the next issue of Gallon Environment Letter.

The US EPA Green Power Partnership National Top 50 for 2011 is available at http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/toplists/top50.htm

Green venture capital remaining firm in US

US venture capital investment in clean technology companies maintained a level of $4.9 billion in 2011, down 4.5% over 2010 but up 29% from 2009, according to a study released this week by Ernst & Young LLP. The energy sector led with almost 31% of the investments, industry products and services received 20%, energy storage received 19%, and the energy efficiency sector received 13% of investments.

57% of the total cleantech venture capital investment took place in California.

Details of the Ernst and Young LLP study, based on data from Dow Jones VentureSource, can be found at http://www.ey.com/US/en/Newsroom/News-releases/2011-US-venture-capital-investment-in-cleantech