Coeur Alaska, Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council et al

Posted on June 24, 2009 by Theodore garrett

On June 22, 2009, the Supreme Court held 6-3 that the Corps, rather than EPA, has authority to permit the discharge of a rock and water mixture called “slurry” from a mine froth flotation process to a nearby lake, reversing the Ninth Circuit’s decision that the proposed discharge would violate the EPA’s performance standard and §306(e) of the Clean Water Act.  Coeur Alaska, Inc. v.. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council et al., __U.S.__ (No.  No. 07–984, June 22, 2009).  Section §402(a) of the Clean Water Act forbids the EPA to issue permits for fill materials falling under the Corps’ §404 authority. Because §404(a) empowers the Corps to “issue permits . . . for the discharge of . . . fill material,” and the agencies’ joint regulation defines “fill material” to include “slurry . . . or similar mining-related materials” having the “effect of . . . [c]hanging the bottom elevation” of water, 40 C.F.R. §232.2, Justice Kennedy's opinion for Court states, the slurry Coeur Alaska wishes to discharge into the lake falls within the Corps’ §404 permitting authority.  The Clean Water Act is ambiguous on the question whether §306 applies to discharges of fill material regulated under §404, however EPA’s internal “Regas Memorandum” states that the performance standard applies only to the discharge of water from the lake into the downstream creek, and not to the initial discharge of slurry into the lake.  The dissent , written by Justice Ginsburg, takes the view that a discharge covered by a performance standard must be authorized, if at all, by EPA.

BIOFUELS AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Posted on June 23, 2009 by Christopher Davis

Biofuels are the subject of much recent interest and investment, as indicated by a recent Wall Street Journal article on biomass fueled power plants. Given the increasing scrutiny that is being given to “green” marketing claims by the Federal Trade Commission and various citizen groups (and the potential for SEC scrutiny of similar claims in public offering prospectuses), care should be taken to analyze and document the basis for any claims of carbon neutrality or other environmental benefits associated with particular biofuels.  

 Advantages cited by biofuel proponents include reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as compared to fossil fuels, energy security, benefits from domestic production and green job creation. Downsides of biofuels production can include displacement of food crops and increased food prices, deforestation and conversion of grasslands to crop lands, GHG emissions associated with growing and converting biofuels, and other environmental impacts such as nutrient runoff and water consumption.
 

 

While all biofuels are renewable energy sources, this category includes a variety of liquid and solid fuels with a variety of sources and uses. For example, power plants can utilize biomass, generally in the form of wood or municipal solid waste. In the transportation arena, fuel can be made from corn and cellulose-based ethanol, or oils from soybeans, palm oil or animal wastes that can be used directly or chemically processed into biodiesel. Additional types of biofuels include syngas and algae-derived fuels. 

Numerous “clean tech” companies as well as established energy multinationals have invested in biofuels production. Examples include Mascoma Corporation and Verenium Corporation (cellulosic ethanol), Changing World Technologies (biodiesel from animal waste), GreenFuel Technologies (algae-based fuel) and Biogas Energy and Harvest Power (methane from agricultural wastes). Large energy and waste management companies are also investing heavily in biofuels, including Covanta (biomass-fired power plants), BP, Chevron, and Shell Oil (bio-ethanol and biodiesel), and Waste Management (landfill gas). The market for biofuels is sensitive to oil prices and demand for transportation fuels, as evidenced by recent bankruptcies and economic distress in the corn-based ethanol industry.

Biofuels are supported by a variety of federal and state mandates, subsidies and tax credits. For example, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 established a renewable fuel standard, and this standard was increased by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Further, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 provides financial assistance to biorefineries, funding for advanced biofuels and biomass research, biomass crop assistance, and tax credits for cellulosic ethanol production, among other measures. In addition, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides for loan guarantees, tax credits, and Department of Energy research related to biofuels and biomass energy.   Ethanol proponents are pressing Congress to further increase the mandate for ethanol use in transportation fuels, but many groups are simultaneously opposing such an increase.

Biofuels are often claimed to be “carbon neutral” (i.e., producing no net GHG emissions), because the plants from which they are derived only emit the same amount of carbon they would have released if they naturally died and decomposed, as compared to fossil fuels that release carbon stored in the earth’s crust that would not have been emitted. But not all biofuels are equal and generic claims of carbon neutrality need further scrutiny. 

Recently, a number of studies have attempted to assess the lifecycle GHG emissions of various biofuels. For example, several studies, including a leading study by the University of Minnesota and a California study performed in association with its low-carbon fuel standard, have concluded that corn-based ethanol may result in minimal net GHG emission reductions or even net GHG increases. This conclusion has been supported by scientists from The Nature Conservancy in a study published in Science that examines the GHG emissions and other environmental impacts of land use changes involved in the production of various biofuels. They conclude that there are significant differences in the “carbon footprint” of different biofuels based on how and where the underlying crops are grown.    In its recent proposed regulations for the National Renewable Fuel Standard, EPA has proposed to require evaluation of GHG emissions over the full lifecycle of various biofuels and to establish life cycle GHG emission reduction thresholds as compared to a lifecycle emissions analysis of baseline petroleum fuels – a requirement that is opposed by corn-based ethanol proponents.

It is clear that advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol and some types of biodiesel, hold great promise to reduce GHG emissions from transportation and other fuel uses. Such biofuels are clearly part of the solution in mitigating climate change and developing a sustainable energy economy, but careful scrutiny is needed to ensure that the full life cycle GHG emissions and other environmental impacts of biofuels are considered by policymakers and investors.

Posted by Christopher P. Davis, Goodwin Procter LLP

BIOFUELS AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Posted on June 23, 2009 by Christopher Davis

Biofuels are the subject of much recent interest and investment, as indicated by a recent Wall Street Journal article on biomass fueled power plants. Given the increasing scrutiny that is being given to “green” marketing claims by the Federal Trade Commission and various citizen groups (and the potential for SEC scrutiny of similar claims in public offering prospectuses), care should be taken to analyze and document the basis for any claims of carbon neutrality or other environmental benefits associated with particular biofuels.  

 Advantages cited by biofuel proponents include reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as compared to fossil fuels, energy security, benefits from domestic production and green job creation. Downsides of biofuels production can include displacement of food crops and increased food prices, deforestation and conversion of grasslands to crop lands, GHG emissions associated with growing and converting biofuels, and other environmental impacts such as nutrient runoff and water consumption.
 

 

While all biofuels are renewable energy sources, this category includes a variety of liquid and solid fuels with a variety of sources and uses. For example, power plants can utilize biomass, generally in the form of wood or municipal solid waste. In the transportation arena, fuel can be made from corn and cellulose-based ethanol, or oils from soybeans, palm oil or animal wastes that can be used directly or chemically processed into biodiesel. Additional types of biofuels include syngas and algae-derived fuels. 

Numerous “clean tech” companies as well as established energy multinationals have invested in biofuels production. Examples include Mascoma Corporation and Verenium Corporation (cellulosic ethanol), Changing World Technologies (biodiesel from animal waste), GreenFuel Technologies (algae-based fuel) and Biogas Energy and Harvest Power (methane from agricultural wastes). Large energy and waste management companies are also investing heavily in biofuels, including Covanta (biomass-fired power plants), BP, Chevron, and Shell Oil (bio-ethanol and biodiesel), and Waste Management (landfill gas). The market for biofuels is sensitive to oil prices and demand for transportation fuels, as evidenced by recent bankruptcies and economic distress in the corn-based ethanol industry.

Biofuels are supported by a variety of federal and state mandates, subsidies and tax credits. For example, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 established a renewable fuel standard, and this standard was increased by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Further, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 provides financial assistance to biorefineries, funding for advanced biofuels and biomass research, biomass crop assistance, and tax credits for cellulosic ethanol production, among other measures. In addition, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides for loan guarantees, tax credits, and Department of Energy research related to biofuels and biomass energy.   Ethanol proponents are pressing Congress to further increase the mandate for ethanol use in transportation fuels, but many groups are simultaneously opposing such an increase.

Biofuels are often claimed to be “carbon neutral” (i.e., producing no net GHG emissions), because the plants from which they are derived only emit the same amount of carbon they would have released if they naturally died and decomposed, as compared to fossil fuels that release carbon stored in the earth’s crust that would not have been emitted. But not all biofuels are equal and generic claims of carbon neutrality need further scrutiny. 

Recently, a number of studies have attempted to assess the lifecycle GHG emissions of various biofuels. For example, several studies, including a leading study by the University of Minnesota and a California study performed in association with its low-carbon fuel standard, have concluded that corn-based ethanol may result in minimal net GHG emission reductions or even net GHG increases. This conclusion has been supported by scientists from The Nature Conservancy in a study published in Science that examines the GHG emissions and other environmental impacts of land use changes involved in the production of various biofuels. They conclude that there are significant differences in the “carbon footprint” of different biofuels based on how and where the underlying crops are grown.    In its recent proposed regulations for the National Renewable Fuel Standard, EPA has proposed to require evaluation of GHG emissions over the full lifecycle of various biofuels and to establish life cycle GHG emission reduction thresholds as compared to a lifecycle emissions analysis of baseline petroleum fuels – a requirement that is opposed by corn-based ethanol proponents.

It is clear that advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol and some types of biodiesel, hold great promise to reduce GHG emissions from transportation and other fuel uses. Such biofuels are clearly part of the solution in mitigating climate change and developing a sustainable energy economy, but careful scrutiny is needed to ensure that the full life cycle GHG emissions and other environmental impacts of biofuels are considered by policymakers and investors.

Posted by Christopher P. Davis, Goodwin Procter LLP

Interior Secretary Salazar Demonstrates True Commitment to Renewable Energy

Posted on June 15, 2009 by Linda Bullen

On May 2, 2009, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ken Salazar held a public meeting just outside Las Vegas, in the Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, to announce the opening of four new BLM offices to handle renewable energy permitting. The offices will be located in Nevada, Arizona, California and Wyoming, and have been designed to address the backlog of pending renewable energy project applications. The DOI estimates that 200 solar applications and over 25 wind projects are pending with the BLM in the western states.

 

            I was one of the 25 or so attendees lucky enough to have the honor and privilege to be invited to a meeting with Secretary Salazar prior to the public meeting where this announcement was made. This earlier meeting was attended by developers of solar, wind and geothermal projects and others in the renewable energy industry. I was impressed by Secretary Salazar’s level of knowledge about both renewable projects and the BLM permitting process, as demonstrated by his comments and questions. Secretary Salazar also announced that $305 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act(ARRA) monies will be used for BLM projects to restore landscapes, spur renewable energy development on public lands, and create jobs. I left the meeting with confidence in the Secretary’s commitment to renewable energy and to the implementation of changes, policies and programs that will convert renewable energy from a noble goal to a reality.

 

Linda M. Bullen

Interior Secretary Salazar Demonstrates True Commitment to Renewable Energy

Posted on June 15, 2009 by Linda Bullen

On May 2, 2009, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ken Salazar held a public meeting just outside Las Vegas, in the Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, to announce the opening of four new BLM offices to handle renewable energy permitting. The offices will be located in Nevada, Arizona, California and Wyoming, and have been designed to address the backlog of pending renewable energy project applications. The DOI estimates that 200 solar applications and over 25 wind projects are pending with the BLM in the western states.

 

            I was one of the 25 or so attendees lucky enough to have the honor and privilege to be invited to a meeting with Secretary Salazar prior to the public meeting where this announcement was made. This earlier meeting was attended by developers of solar, wind and geothermal projects and others in the renewable energy industry. I was impressed by Secretary Salazar’s level of knowledge about both renewable projects and the BLM permitting process, as demonstrated by his comments and questions. Secretary Salazar also announced that $305 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act(ARRA) monies will be used for BLM projects to restore landscapes, spur renewable energy development on public lands, and create jobs. I left the meeting with confidence in the Secretary’s commitment to renewable energy and to the implementation of changes, policies and programs that will convert renewable energy from a noble goal to a reality.

 

Linda M. Bullen

National Advanced Conference on Natural Resource Damages Litigation

Posted on June 11, 2009 by Rachael Bunday

Dear Friends:


On behalf of Richard Curley (Golden, CO) and myself, I am writing to extend a personal invitation to attend the July 9 & 10 Santa Fe, New Mexico “National Advanced Conference on Natural Resource Damages Litigation.”  The course will be held at the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe.

The course features national leaders in environmental litigation including:

  •  

      ·       Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Cruden (Washington, DC)
      ·       US Department of Interior attorney John Carlucci (Washington, DC)
      ·       Colorado Senior Assistant Attorney General Vicky Peters (Denver, CO)
      ·       Massachusetts NRD Director Dale Young (Boston, MA)
      ·       Exxon Mobil Chief Attorney Robert Johnson (Houston, TX)
      ·       BP Senior Attorney Jean Martin (Houston, TX)
      ·       Nationally renowned plaintiffs’ environmental attorneys Allan Kanner
      (New Orleans, LA) and John Dema (St. Croix, VI)
      ·       Environmental toxicologist Ken Jenkins (Petaluma, CA)
      ·       Environmental economists William Desvousges (Raleigh, NC) and
      Robert Unsworth (Cambridge, MA)

As well as widely respected environmental attorneys:

  •  

      ·       Brian Cleary (Hayden, ID)
      ·       Donald Fowler (Washington, DC)
      ·       Ira Gottlieb (Newark, NJ)
      ·       Brian Israel (Washington, DC)
      ·       Angus Macbeth (Washington, DC)
      ·       Bradley Marten (Seattle, WA)
      ·       Deborah Tellier (San Francisco, CA)
      ·       Michael Thorp (Seattle, WA)

The course agenda is packed with vital information of high value to any attorney who is, or may someday be, involved in the expanding world of NRD litigation.  Attendees will also get a chance to meet and interact with this extraordinary faculty in a selective and intimate environment, including a catered, cost-free reception on the evening of July 9.

Please take a moment to review the brochure from program sponsor Law Seminars International (see http://www.lawseminars.com/detail.php?SeminarCode=09NRDNM).  If, as I hope, you are able to join us, please take advantage of the $150 discount offered to friends and clients of Farella Braun + Martel LLP.  To do so, please mention the “FBM Discount” in the comments box of the registration page or when registering by phone at (800) 854-8009.

This is an exciting opportunity to see this august assemblage of environmental experts at one national program.  The atmosphere of Santa Fe is an added bonus.  We hope to see you there.

With best regards,
James A. Bruen

Derivatives Trading in Climate Change Legislation

Posted on June 2, 2009 by Stephen M. Bruckner

ACES & Eights? Swaps and Other Derivatives in Climate Change Legislation

 

By

 

Stephen M. Bruckner

 

            On May 21, 2009, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy & Security Act (ACES), by a 33-25 vote. As the Committee touts its efforts on the much-examined markup of H.R. 2454 (aka, “Waxman-Markey discussion draft”), coalitions from each side of the ideological spectrum assail the legislation as toothless and watered-down, or a disaster for the American economy.  The bill has a long way to go, including review by other House committees and, of course, the Senate, so it may be premature for Committee Chairman Henry Waxman to bestow the mantle of “decisive and historic action.

Buried within ACES’ cap-and-trade emissions plan are a series of provisions that detail how big banks, hedge funds, and traders can use complex securities and derivatives to profit from the new carbon allowance market.  We all watched aghast as “credit default swaps” and similar financial alchemy led to the melt down of Wall Street and the credit markets. Do these types of investments have a proper role in climate change and energy legislation?  In a bill that already has plenty of political and policy hurdles, why add financial regulation?

Title III, Subtitle D of ACES, entitled “Carbon Market Assurance”, amends the Federal Power Act to create a financial instrument known as a “regulated allowance derivative”, which can include a “swap agreement”, and directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to establish regulations for these financial vehicles.  Title III, Subtitle E of ACES, entitled "Additional Market Assurance", addresses transactions in derivatives involving energy commodities such as coal, gasoline, and natural gas. These provisions open the door for financial institutions to partake in the new market created by ACES’ emission allowances.  It allows companies, funds, and traders to purchase and trade emission allowances, and to devise complex derivative instruments to sell and trade, picking up commissions and charging fees along the way.  As a result, the theoretical value of the allowances and their derivatives will be determined, in large part, by the manipulation and speculation of financial parties with little or no concern for carbon emission standards or federal climate policy beyond immediate monetary gain. 

Simply put, the emerging market for new carbon allowances created by the bill could be (at best) undermined or (at worst) commandeered by financial contrivances that are already partially responsible for the nation’s current financial instability.  The fundamental value of the new cap-and-trade 'products' will necessarily fluctuate as the emissions market adjusts and stabilizes.  If big banks and hedge funds can use puts, swaps, options and other speculative instruments, which the federal government has yet to capably regulate, the stability of emissions allowances and carbon trading could be placed at risk.  The chaos visited upon the economy at large by these and other financial instruments should cause hesitation and serious consideration as to whether they belong in Congress' first attempt at comprehensive climate change legislation. 

Derivatives Trading in Climate Change Legislation

Posted on June 2, 2009 by Stephen M. Bruckner

ACES & Eights? Swaps and Other Derivatives in Climate Change Legislation

 

By

 

Stephen M. Bruckner

 

            On May 21, 2009, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy & Security Act (ACES), by a 33-25 vote. As the Committee touts its efforts on the much-examined markup of H.R. 2454 (aka, “Waxman-Markey discussion draft”), coalitions from each side of the ideological spectrum assail the legislation as toothless and watered-down, or a disaster for the American economy.  The bill has a long way to go, including review by other House committees and, of course, the Senate, so it may be premature for Committee Chairman Henry Waxman to bestow the mantle of “decisive and historic action.

Buried within ACES’ cap-and-trade emissions plan are a series of provisions that detail how big banks, hedge funds, and traders can use complex securities and derivatives to profit from the new carbon allowance market.  We all watched aghast as “credit default swaps” and similar financial alchemy led to the melt down of Wall Street and the credit markets. Do these types of investments have a proper role in climate change and energy legislation?  In a bill that already has plenty of political and policy hurdles, why add financial regulation?

Title III, Subtitle D of ACES, entitled “Carbon Market Assurance”, amends the Federal Power Act to create a financial instrument known as a “regulated allowance derivative”, which can include a “swap agreement”, and directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to establish regulations for these financial vehicles.  Title III, Subtitle E of ACES, entitled "Additional Market Assurance", addresses transactions in derivatives involving energy commodities such as coal, gasoline, and natural gas. These provisions open the door for financial institutions to partake in the new market created by ACES’ emission allowances.  It allows companies, funds, and traders to purchase and trade emission allowances, and to devise complex derivative instruments to sell and trade, picking up commissions and charging fees along the way.  As a result, the theoretical value of the allowances and their derivatives will be determined, in large part, by the manipulation and speculation of financial parties with little or no concern for carbon emission standards or federal climate policy beyond immediate monetary gain. 

Simply put, the emerging market for new carbon allowances created by the bill could be (at best) undermined or (at worst) commandeered by financial contrivances that are already partially responsible for the nation’s current financial instability.  The fundamental value of the new cap-and-trade 'products' will necessarily fluctuate as the emissions market adjusts and stabilizes.  If big banks and hedge funds can use puts, swaps, options and other speculative instruments, which the federal government has yet to capably regulate, the stability of emissions allowances and carbon trading could be placed at risk.  The chaos visited upon the economy at large by these and other financial instruments should cause hesitation and serious consideration as to whether they belong in Congress' first attempt at comprehensive climate change legislation.