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US court blocks key pollution change

The US Supreme Court has blocked a key government attempt to limit pollution from the country’s power plants.

In a 5-4 split, the court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency failed to factor in the full financial cost to industry of the changes.

The government introduced new rules to restrict emissions of toxins, including mercury, three years ago.

But several US states and companies challenged the changes, and the issue now returns to the US Court of Appeals.

The government has made several attempts to strengthen the Clean Air Act, but the court said this latest move must include costs as well as health risks.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing on behalf of the majority, said the EPA “must consider cost – including, most importantly, cost of compliance – before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary”.

The new rules began to take effect in April. The EPA said it was disappointed by the court’s decision, but added that many companies have already invested in upgrading operations so that they complied with the latest provision.


The court challenge was brought by industry groups and 21 Republican-led states. The objectors had argued that the cost of installing equipment to remove pollutants would have cost the power industry up to $9.6bn (£6.1bn) a year.

About 600 power plants are affected, most of which burn coal, with many in the South and upper Midwest. Among companies opposing the rule was Peabody Energy, the largest coal producer.

The EPA had argued that the benefits would have been much greater – between $37bn and $90bn annually – due to the prevention of thousands of deaths, illnesses and lost days off work.

Vickie Paton, general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund, which backed the Obama administration, said the EPA should be able to address the concerns raised by the court because it has “already analysed the economics showing that the health benefits for our nation far outweigh the costs.”

Chance to lead on energy cuts

The government has unveiled a fresh energy-saving blueprint ahead of a UN conference on climate change in November aimed at a new global treaty on emission reductions. It goes some way towards greening Hong Kong’s image in international environmental protection forums. The target envisages a cut in what is known as energy intensity – the amount needed to produce one unit of gross domestic product – by 40 per cent of the 2005 level by 2025. This is more demanding than a target adopted at an Apec regional forum of 45 per cent by 2035. In terms of the actual amount of energy used, it could cut total electricity consumption by 6 per cent compared with 2012, equal to reducing carbon emissions by about 2,340 kilotonnes.

The initiative is welcome and will boost the government’s environmental credentials. Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing described it as ambitious, although critics argue that the old target was not so demanding because it allowed for energy growth amid an expanding economy.

While welcoming the government’s new plan green groups have criticised the lack of both innovation and concrete incentives for the private sector. That said, the government has introduced a basket of support measures including extending product coverage under the mandatory energy-efficiency labelling scheme, further reducing energy consumption in government buildings, offering incentives to the private sector to build more green buildings and involving the Green Building Council in retrofitting existing buildings, which account for 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Given growing public awareness of the climate-change issue, officials may be counting on a positive response to a new campaign to encourage people to save energy on a daily basis. The initiative is timely, as we enter the season when air-conditioners begin to contribute heavily to energy waste. The government must try to build on last year’s achievement of support from 130 shopping malls, 1,000 offices, 142 housing estates and 80 residential blocks for a campaign to keep indoor air-conditioning at optimal levels for both comfort and economy.

Demand for energy rises with economic growth, including housing programmes and infrastructure projects. This only makes conservation more important. It is a chance for Hong Kong to take the lead and confound the sceptics.

Source URL (modified on May 21st 2015, 3:25am):

UN climate chief says there is “no space” for new coal

AcidNews June 2015

On 7 May Christina Figueres, the UN climate chief, met with representatives from seven Australian governments to encourage the states and territories to assist the federal government to help deliver a strong global deal at the UN COP21 negotiations in Paris at the end of the year.

She told them that there is “no space” for new coal development and highlighted the benefits of ambitious clean energy.

Asked about the country’s reported lack of enthusiasm for ambitious carbon emissions reductions, Figueres said: “like the oceans, there are ebbs and flows about everything.

We welcome that the federal government is turning in its national target by July and I’m confident it will encompass what the states and territories are doing,” she said. “I’m confident we will be pleasantly surprised.”

Australia’s federal government has begun consulting over emission reduction targets beyond 2020, which will be the main focus of the COP21 climate meeting.

Source: Climate Action/ UNEP press release 7 May 2015

The true costs of our electricity

Way Kuo says our calculation of the least costly way to generate electricity will be skewed, as long as the environmental harm of the use of fossil fuels is not properly accounted for

Smog is a major problem facing Beijing and many other places on earth today. It is also a reminder that environmental pollution has reached a critical point in human history.

The recent documentary Under the Dome, an in-depth report on environmental problems in China by Chai Jing , has triggered a heated debate over the credibility of its sources. But the debate has sidestepped one of the critical issues facing humanity: greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the environment and the sustainability of earth.

Energy is a necessity in modern life. Our dependence on electricity has left noticeable carbon footprints on nature. Of the broad spectrum of energies, fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil) are still the major energy sources for electricity generation, accounting for 67 per cent of world electricity production as of 2012, in spite of pledges by governments around the world to increase the use of renewable green energies. The rest comes from cleaner energies like hydroelectric (17 per cent) and nuclear (11 per cent).

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, approximately 37 per cent of total carbon dioxide emissions are from electricity production, especially from burning coal. The level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is building up and that build-up is accelerating as electricity demand is expected to increase by 43 per cent over the next 20 years.

Nuclear energy, in comparison, ranks among the lowest of any electricity generation methods in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and is comparable, on a life cycle basis, to wind, hydropower and biomass energy. It emits one-fifteenth and one-thirtieth as much greenhouse gas as natural gas and coal respectively.

And yet, nuclear energy has been a controversial topic ever since its adoption for commercial use. There are as many opinions about this problem as there are experts. While it is praised as one of the possible solutions to the energy shortage, it is condemned by others as “an unbearable inheritance” for future generations. The nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011 brought the safety concerns sharply into the public eye again.

People are haunted by the fear of nuclear disasters when, in reality, nuclear energy has a strong safety record. Nuclear power plants achieve a high degree of safety by using what is called the “defence-in-depth” approach with multiple physical barriers built into their operation. These physical barriers prevent operational disturbances or human failures and errors, which have been found to be the cause of 80 to 90 per cent of mishaps. Even the Fukushima nuclear accident, triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake and catastrophic 14-metre-high tsunami, has been defined as “a profoundly man-made disaster”.

According to a report published in the March 2013 issue of Environment Science & Technology by scientists from Nasa, nuclear power has made greater contributions to the welfare of humankind than all other energies in use. The report pointed out that, even taking into account the serious consequences of the three biggest nuclear disasters in history, the benefits derived from the use of nuclear power between 1971 and 2009 have helped to prevent 1.8 million deaths resulting from causes related to the use of fossil fuels, especially coal.

Also, according to a December 2013 Lancet article by Chen Zhu, China’s former minister of health, and his colleagues, air pollution causes 350,000 to 500,000 premature deaths on the mainland each year. The main polluters are industry, coal and vehicles. This is believed to be a conservative estimate, and provides further evidence that carbon dioxide reduction is a necessity.

At present, nuclear power plays a significant part in a spectrum of energies in producing base-load power (a dependable source that can meet minimum demand) and this will continue for the foreseeable future. The other energy sources used for base-load power are fossil fuels.

In the past, increased use of nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels has contributed to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, it will be devastating to continue the use of fossil fuels for base-load power instead of cleaner energies.

People demand nuclear safety, and yet tend to turn a blind eye to the adverse environmental impact of fossil fuels and the millions of deaths caused by coal mining. With modern technology and increases in oil prices, non-traditional fossil fuels such as oil sands in Canada, pre-salt deposits in Brazil and shale oil in the US have been discovered in abundance since the beginning of this century. Yet the development of this new generation of fossil fuels will do nothing to reduce water and air pollution but in fact will create more severe pollution than traditional oil because of the extraction methods.

There is no free electricity. Given that different energies involve different levels of risk and environmental pollution, we should adopt a rational and scientific approach to policymaking. The cost of using electricity must take into account the economy, the costs of electricity generation, transmission and transformation, the sustainable well-being of the environment, safety, reliability, and other social and psychological factors.

Consumers could choose what combination of various sources of electricity they are willing to accept and then be charged in accordance with the declared percentage, the amount of the electricity consumed, the production cost and the cost of the risk.

We cannot afford to continue to overlook the phenomenon of global warming. The true cost of electricity should be shared by everyone.

Professor Way Kuo is president of City University of Hong Kong and a member of the US National Academy of Engineering. This article is based on a recent talk delivered by the author at Peking University

Source URL (modified on Apr 1st 2015, 4:58pm):

SCMP: Hong Kong plans to get mainland electricity without counting cost in carbon emissions

by Cheung Chi-fai and Ernest Kao of the SCMP:

As the city ponders drawing a third of its electricity from the mainland power grid, it also plans to disassociate itself from the resulting carbon emissions, environmental authorities say.

Carbon emissions related to the imported electricity would be left out of the city’s emissions count, the Environmental Protection Department said yesterday. It is unclear if that is common practice when transferring energy across borders.

The shift of responsibility should help the city achieve runaway success in its carbon reduction targets, set at 50 to 60 per cent below the 2005 emissions level. Frances Yeung Hoi-shan, from Friends of the Earth, said environmental officials were “playing tricks” in seeking to meet the targets.

Dr Luk Bing-lam, chairman of the Nuclear Society and a member of the Environment Bureau’s energy advisory committee, added: “This is self-defeating. The whole thing is about reducing emissions, but it turns out that the emissions will be ‘shifted’ to the mainland.”

All the electricity the city now gets from across the border is nuclear energy.

Under fuel-mix proposals for 2023, mainland company China Southern Power Grid may export up to 15 billion kilowatt-hours a year to Hong Kong – an option that Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing has claimed can help the city outperform its targets.

That same amount of energy can be generated locally by coal- or gas-fired plants, but Wong said the city would then be able to meet only basic benchmarks.

The fuel mix of China Southern is one-third hydro power, 6 per cent nuclear energy and more than 60 per cent coal and natural gas.

Clean Air Network chief executive Kwong Sum-yin said sourcing more energy from the firm’s Guangdong plant was not necessarily a greener way, as more than half of its supply came from coal. Kwong feared greater energy demands imposed on the province would in turn spawn more coal-fired plants.

Luk urged the government to clarify why it believed nuclear energy was a costly option.

World Green Organisation chief executive Dr William Yu Yuen-ping said that if the city decided to obtain electricity substantially from the mainland, it should pay attention to storing enough back-up power in case the supply was disrupted.

20 Mar 2014

Hong Kong Emission Inventory 2014

Download (PDF, 761KB)

SCMP Letters: HK biofuels company makes case for biofuels advantage

Anthony Dixon, CEO of ASB Biodiesel, writes in to SCMP to counter the lack of consideration given to biodiesel by Hong Kong official officials:

There are some encouraging signs that the government is beginning to recognise our local waste-to-biodiesel industry as an excellent already-working model of what it hopes to achieve more broadly for recycling and food waste in Hong Kong.

But I must disagree with the Environmental Protection Department’s ongoing assertion that the introduction of biodiesel will have little impact on roadside emissions (“Biodiesel maker pushes product use in market”, October 28). Surely, given the World Health Organisation’s recent pronouncement that air pollution is a leading cause of cancer, no government can afford to ignore any positive incremental impact.


Difficulties of establishing biofuels exposes poor thinking of HK policymakers

In 2011, Eric Ng of the SCMP wrote an article about a biofuels plant in Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate that had to suspend construction, likely due to a lack of funding. At the same time, the article shed light on the difficulties faced by current biofuels producers in Hong Kong: stiff competition on the waste oil market, import levies for feedstocks, lack of mandatory legislation to promote biofuels use, and so on.

One of the main advantages of using biofuels is that it achieves more than some 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union has already mandated a policy of fuel blending: at least 5.75 per cent of all fuel sold has to be biofuel, with the percentage to increase further in the future, and other countries in Asia also have policies encouraging biofuel consumption. Hong Kong lags behind in such initiatives, and it is not difficulty to see why: Eric Ng, in a recent update on the issue, reports official Mok Wai-chuen of the Environmental Protection Department as saying in 2007 that “biodiesel did little to improve roadside air quality”, backed up by 2002 reports from the US National Biodiesel Board and the US Environmental Protection Agency that “suggested the use of biodiesel would result in a relatively modest reduction in roadside emissions”. The irrelevance of such an analysis – blending 5% biofuel into Euro V standard diesel containing 0.001% sulphur could never have meant reducing roadside pollutants – escapes officials; much of the roadside pollutants are carried by prevailing winds from shipping lanes and industries across the border.

If public policy on biofuels is to be decided on this factor alone, then the real benefits of biofuel would be ignored: once the biofuel industry is established, it can process the city’s waste and convert it to fuel; as mentioned before, biofuels hugely reduce greenhouse gas emissions; more importantly, by helping biofuel operations purchase waste cooking oil, the practice of smuggling waste cooking oil across the border to be converted into ‘gutter oil’ and re-used as cooking oil can be stemmed – which would happen to be quite the moral thing to do, given that such usage of recycled oil is carcinogenic and harmful to human health when ingested.

Click here to read the coverage from SCMP:

Beijing to switch from coal to natural gas for power; hopes to improve air quality and quiet civil unrest

In recent years, China’s major cities have been regularly hit with smog, severely impacting air quality and the health of its citizens. With Beijing the hardest hit of all cities, the city is now set to replace its coal-fired power plants with new ones that use natural gas. From SCMP/Reuters (Beijing):

China will replace four coal-burning heating plants in the capital Beijing with natural gas fired ones by the end of next year as it steps up efforts to clean up pollution, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

The report, citing the city’s Municipal Commission of Development and Reform, said the four plants and some 40 other related projects would cost around 48 billion yuan (HK$60.1 billion) and cut sulphur dioxide emissions by 10,000 tonnes. It did not detail the related projects.

The plan is the latest step by authorities to deal with a persistent smog crisis in China’s big cities that is fuelling public anger. The capital has been shrouded in thick hazardous smog for several days during the ongoing seven-day national holiday.

China has been under pressure to tackle air pollution to douse potential unrest as an increasingly affluent urban populace turns against a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has besmirched much of China’s air, water and soil.

Last month the government announced plans to slash coal consumption and close polluting mills, factories and smelters, though experts said implementing the targets would be a major challenge.

The new plants will replace four coal-fired ones that provide heating for homes in the city’s central urban area as well as generating electricity, Xinhua said.

The four burned 9.2 million tonnes of coal in 2012, or 40 percent of the 23 million tonnes the city consumed in the year, it added.

5 Oct 2013

The project was initially met with objections, since natural gas would be much more expensive to source in coal-rich China. The city is expecting huge financial losses if heat and electricity generated from natural gas plants are charged at current rates. But with pictures of smog-filled Beijing splashing international front pages, as well as increasing unrest over pollution in general, it seems that high-ranking government officials stepped in to ensure the project will go through as proposed. (A more in-depth story on this is available on

A coal-fired power plant in Zhejiang, China. Switching to natural gas may be a luxury only Beijing can afford. (China Guodian Corporation)

No mention is made, though, of other sources of pollution, such as vehicle emissions. Once a city of bicycles, Beijing is now home to more than 5.2million motor vehicles and a road network endemic with chronic jams, making a major contribution to the city’s air pollutants. More work would be needed if the city is serious about improving its air quality.

Gasification CO2 emissions are carbon neutral

Biomass is a form of stored solar energy – containing both water and carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere and converted through photosynthesis.  When the energy stored in biomass is converted to heat or fuels through gasification, the carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere.  An amazing advantage of this process is that its net carbon balance is almost zero!

Biomass fuels minimize green house gas emissions, whereas natural gas emits 10 times the carbon dioxide that biomass does and coal produces twice as much as natural gas!

Biomass provides a unique recycling opportunity for many waste streams.  The following materials can be converted into energy:

  • Wood and paper industry by-products
  • Agricultural residues after harvest (e.g., corn stover)
  • Manure
  • MSW


CO2 as a Carbon Neutral Fuel Source via Enhanced Biomass Gasification

Heidi C. Butterman and Marco J. Castaldi *

Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering (HKSM) Columbia University, 500 West 120th Street, 927 S.W. Mudd, New York, N.Y. 10027

From: Tech

Sent: 13 February, 2013 01:54

To: ‘James Middleton’

Subject: RE: CTAlettPanelEAFeb2013

Just for your information, the McCusker article is a nice overview, but one mistake he makes is comparing the volume of CO2 produced by incineration processes with gasification processes. The mistake is that he treats the CO2 produced from each as equal, which is not the case.  CO2 emissions from coal are new volumes to be added to the atmosphere, whereas those from the gasification plant are recycled CO2 emissions. For this reason, CO2 from a gasification plant are considered to be carbon neutral.  Regarding our work with British Airways in the UK, it should be noted that BA is so pleased with our work that it has asked Solena to build three more biofuels plants—two in Spain and one more in the UK.

Best regards,


Garbage in – Power out