Posted on November 29, 2010
The US hasn't licensed a new nuclear power plant in a quarter-century. Most people have forgotten the plants even exist – but they might be coming back. In the last couple of years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received more than twenty new plant applications.
Are we ready to go nuclear again?
The US has about 100 nuclear plants in operation today, generating around 20% of the nation's electricity. Most plants were built in the 1960s and 1970s, and will need to be replaced before too long. Far more plants have been built abroad, and many of them will need to be replaced too.
Replacing worn-out nuclear plants with new ones is very controversial, at least in the US. Our colleague, Michael Gerrard, will explore the controversy by hosting a debate on nuclear power at Columbia Law School on Monday, November 29th from 7 to 9 PM. The debate will be webcast live, and a video will be posted on the website of the Center for Climate Change Law. Contact Ashley Rossi at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
In the meantime, how can we learn what to believe — and what not to? Fortunately, in 2007 the Keystone Center conducted a "joint fact-finding" to identify facts upon which people with different policy goals could absolutely agree. The participants came from all over, ranging from utilities like Exelon and Entergy to environmental groups like Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They may continue to disagree on the values implicit in their various policy goals. But it turns out that they can agree on a foundation of facts.
For example, all agreed nuclear power is in fact a low-carbon energy source that can help fight climate change. They also agreed that the global nuclear industry would in fact need to embark on a massive construction program if nuclear power is to provide even 1 gigatonne of carbon reductions (equal to just one "wedge" from the famous Sokolow & Pacala climate stabilization wedges. Here's the specific factual finding:
"The NJFF participants agree that to build enough nuclear capacity to achieve the carbon reductions of a Pacala/Socolow wedge (1 GtC/year or 700 net GWe nuclear power; 1,070 total GWe) would require the industry to return immediately to the most rapid period of growth experienced in the past (1981-90) and sustain this rate of growth for 50 years."
On another point, the participants agreed that nuclear power probably would cost between 8 and 11 cents per kilowatt/hour (kW/h) delivered to the grid. This compares to current natural gas costs of about 5 to 6 cents per kW/h. (Wind power's costs fall somewhere in between.)
On the controversial topic of using new technologies to "reprocess" nuclear fuel, participants agreed it wasn’t likely to prove economically viable:
"No commercial reprocessing of nuclear fuel is currently undertaken in the U.S. The NJFF group agrees that while reprocessing of commercial spent fuel has been pursued for several decades in Europe, overall fuel cycle economics have not supported a change in the U.S. from a “once-through” fuel cycle. Furthermore, the long-term availability of uranium at reasonable cost suggests that reprocessing of spent fuel will not be cost-effective in the foreseeable future. A closed fuel cycle with any type of separations program will still require a geologic repository for long-term management of waste streams."
Agreement on all the true facts might make it easier to resolve the debate over nuclear power's role in our energy future. To learn more about them download the Keystone Center's executive summary or the report in full.
Posted on November 23, 2010
Earlier this month, the State of New Mexico adopted a rule designed to cap greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions in New Mexico and implement the State’s participation in a cap and trade market based on the design guidelines of the Western Climate Initiative (“WCI”). But it is too soon to tell how the New Mexico GHG rule will shake out. The future of cap and trade in New Mexico depends on many developments that range from the election of a new governor who will take office in January 2011, the fate of California’s cap and trade program, and the potential that the New Mexico GHG rulemaking will be appealed. An additional New Mexico only greenhouse gas cap and reduction proposal will also be considered by the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (“EIB”) in early December.
On November 2, 2010, after lengthy and contentious debate, EIB narrowly adopted the GHG rule that was proposed by the New Mexico Environment Department (“NMED”) last spring. The rule provides for a cap and trade program for certain GHG emissions in New Mexico that could start as early as 2012. The program would not be initiated without participation of other states with GHG emissions sufficient to provide a base of at least 100 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions. This requirement is designed to avoid the State’s implementing a trading program alone. For all practical purposes, because the trigger for implementation is a base of at least 100 million tons, the New Mexico cap and trade program will not be able to move forward without implementation of the California program. Of the 7 initial participating WCI states, only New Mexico and California are moving forward at this time to implement a cap and trade program.
The New Mexico GHG rule would apply to about 63 large industrial facilities that emit GHGs in the State. The affected facilities include primarily power plants and large oil and gas operations. After the rule becomes effective, the affected facilities would be required to reduce emissions by 2% annually until 2020 or be required to acquire offset credits for emissions from other jurisdictions or external trading programs. The State would initially provide allocations for baseline emissions for those currently existing regulated facilities without charge.
Also in November, the EIB adopted mandatory reporting and verification rules. The rules require sources emitting more than 10,000 metric tons of CO2e emissions to report emissions. Those sources with greater than 25,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions are required to obtain third-party verification of emissions. This rule is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2011, regardless of whether the cap and trade rule goes into effect. NMED estimates that 130 to 150 sources will be affected by the reporting rule.
Challenges to New Mexico’s GHG rule are likely. The margin of the EIB vote on the rule was narrow, four to three in favor. Moreover, on the day EIB adopted the rule, the New Mexico voters elected a new governor, Susanna Martinez. The Republican governor-elect’s campaign positions included opposition to WCI and the GHC initiatives of the current Democratic governor, Bill Richardson. It seems likely that the new GHC rule will not meet with favor in a Martinez administration. The change of administration is particularly important because to date, Governor Richardson’s support for New Mexico GHG initiatives has been critical to their adoption. New Mexico’s participation in WCI was initiated by Executive Order, and NMED’s efforts to implement the WCI cap and trade program in the state legislature have been unsuccessful.
In addition to the recently adopted GHC cap and trade and reporting and verification rules that were proposed by NMED, an additional petition by The New Energy Economy that would put a cap on GHG emissions in New Mexico is scheduled for decision by the EIB in early December. The New Energy Economy petition asks EIB to mandate that large facilities emitting greenhouse gases must reduce their emissions by 3% every year from 2010 levels, regardless of the development of a cap and trade market in the region. If adopted, the program would sunset in 2020, and also be suspended in any year that a source begins reducing GHG emissions pursuant to a multi-jurisdictional or national GHG reduction program.
The future will tell us which of the two votes taken on November 2 will prove most important. Some key opponents to the New Mexico GHC rule have expressed support for a federal cap and trade effort, but other very significant concerns remain, particularly regarding GHG proposals that are merely state or regional. In New Mexico, as in the rest of the country, the GHG trading market is far from open.
Posted on November 22, 2010
One of the most striking campaign ads to hit the air waves during the run-up to the recent mid-term elections was the "Dead Aim" ad aired by Joe Manchin, the Senator-elect from West Virginia. The ad featured Manchin walking through an open field with a rifle cradled in his arms. He stops, deliberately loads a single cartridge into the firing chamber of the rifle, takes aim at a distant target and fires. The camera then zooms in on the target of Manchin's single, clean shot: a fictitious Senate bill titled, "Cap and Trade." The ad ends with Manchin staring directly into the camera and promising that, "I will take dead aim at the Cap and Trade bill because it is bad for West Virginia."
In California voters were far more hospitable to climate change regulation in general and a cap-and-trade program in particular. Just days before California voters went to the polls to defeat a ballot initiative aimed at delaying implementation of California's landmark global warming law (AB 32), the California Air Resources Board (ARB) released for public comment proposed regulations to implement a state-wide cap-and-trade program. The cap-and-trade program would place an overall cap on the amount of GHG that can be emitted by all sources covered by the program. The ARB would then issue allowances equal to the cap to regulated sources. The cap would be gradually reduced between 2013 and 2020 to achieve the GHG gas emissions reduction target established by AB 32. Sources subject to the cap-and-trade program would have to reduce their GHG emissions to achieve their allocated emissions limits or use offset credits to satisfy a portion of their compliance obligations.
What was used for target practice in a Senate campaign in West Virginia is used in California as the key part of the strategy to reduce GHG emissions. Only time will tell whether it will be open season on cap-and-trade programs or whether such programs are the wave of the future.
Posted on November 22, 2010
Recent Supreme Court opinions interpreting Rule 12(b)(6) have been applied in an environmental context. A state agency cost recovery action was dismissed for failure to plead facts sufficient to show a plausible claim for relief, resulting in unnecessary additional litigation costs.
WhenBell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554 (2007) was decided, many lawyers lamented the loss of Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957) (in effect, if there is a claim somewhere within the four corners of a complaint, a motion to dismiss will be denied) as the governing case in Rule 12(b)(6) jurisprudence. Then Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (May 18, 2009) came down. The laments became cries for action to restore Conley legislatively, and, indeed, such legislation was introduced in the Congress by Senator Specter who was not returned to office. For now, Iqbal and Twombly remain the law.
For those few lawyers who may not be familiar with Twombly or Iqbal, both cases dealt with the sufficiency of allegations in a complaint to state a cause of action. Twombly dealt with parallel conduct in an antitrust setting that was consistent with lawful behavior but was alleged conclusorily to represent a conspiracy in restraint of trade. Without fact allegations to show why lawful parallel conduct was in fact unlawful anticompetitive behavior, the complaint did not survive. Iqbal dealt with claims against the Attorney General and the Director of the FBI for post-9/11 activities that restrained the liberty of the plaintiffs for a period of time. Other defendants remained in the case. The Supreme Court held that the complaint’s allegations against these two executives were not “plausible.” Hence, they were dismissed.
What is a “plausible” claim? The Supreme Court gave this answer in Iqbal: “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” This plausibility standard is not “akin to a probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than “a sheer possibility that the defendant has acted unlawfully.”
It has not taken long for Iqbal and Twombly to be applied in an environmental dispute. Just ask Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). On November 3, 2010, Magistrate Judge Lenihan in the Western District of Pennsylvania, citing this Supreme Court precedent and the Third Circuit’s interpretation of it in Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203 (3rd Cir. 2009), dismissed a CERCLA amended complaint with prejudice. The 2009 action involved $3.7 million in costs incurred in a landfill response action that was completed in 2004. The DEP characterized the excavation, drum and soil removal, and restoration work it conducted as a remedial action for which it had six years within which to file suit under CERCLA. Three defendants argued that the DEP had engaged in a removal action for which it had only three years from the conclusion of the removal action within which to bring suit. The magistrate judge agreed with the defendants and because suit was brought beyond three years, the case was dismissed. The magistrate accepted the factual averments in the amended complaint as true but disregarded the DEP’s “legal conclusions.” Because the actions described in the complaint were “the equivalent of a CERCLA removal action,” she held, the DEP had failed “to set forth sufficient factual matter to show a plausible claim for relief.”
The magistrate judge was persuaded by the administrative record that “repeatedly and consistently” characterized the DEP’s response action as “interim.” The DEP was not helped by its 2002 “Analysis of Alternatives” under Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act which stated that the interim response was warranted but that the response as then proposed “is not a final remedial response.” The magistrate judge rejected the DEP’s argument that a “prompt interim response” would be a removal action in CERCLA terms but that a “limited interim response” in fact was the same as a remedial action under CERCLA.
Under Conley, it is likely that the motion to dismiss would have been denied, discovery would have occurred, and the limitations question would have been decided under Rule 56’s summary judgment standards. Had the DEP filed suit before Twombly, it would have been able to so argue. Of course, if it had done that, it could have been within the three-year removal action window. Not having done so, it had to deal with Iqbal and Twombly’s preference for using the motion to dismiss as a way to address escalating discovery costs in federal court litigation where a claim is not “plausible.”
Posted on November 4, 2010
Last week, the City of Portland, Oregon (together with Multnomah County) released an updated Climate Action Plan. The Plan presents a number of aggressive goals and targets, with ultimate goals of GHG reductions of 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.
The details of the Plan are obviously only relevant to those in the Portland area, but for those anticipating what regulation might look like in California, Massachusetts, and other states that have enacted or will soon enacted some version of a Global Warming Solutions Act, the Plan provides a helpful catalogue of the types of changes that might be sought. Therefore, a quick summary of some of the 2030 goals seems warranted
Reduce energy use from existing buildings by 20%-25%
All new buildings – and homes -- should have zero net GHG emissions.
Reduce VMT by 30% from 2008 levels
Recover 90% of all waste generated
Reduce consumption of carbon-intensive foods
Expand “urban forest canopy” to cover one-third of Portland
Reduce emissions from City and County operations by 50% from 1990 levels
What’s my take? I have two immediate reactions. First, if any further evidence were needed that attaining significant GHG emission reductions is going to involve major social and economic changes, this is certainly it.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, this Plan, and others like it, have to constitute a heavy thumb on the side of the scale arguing for comprehensive federal legislation. In the past, I’ve argued that federal legislation would be preferable to a patchwork made up of EPA regulation under existing Clean Air Act authority, public nuisance litigation, and state and regional initiatives. To that list, we can now add comprehensive local regulation. I don’t mean to be too sanguine about the ability of federal legislation to harmonize this entire process; the existing bills would not preempt most state, regional, and local regulations (other than cap-and-trade programs). Nonetheless, delays in federal enactment can only contribute to the proliferation of state, regional, and local programs, some of which may be beneficial, but many of which will be inefficient, contradictory, or both.
Posted on November 3, 2010
Climate Change Update, and the Resurgence of Common Law Nuisance in Climate Change Cases
Michael B. Gerrard, Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia University Law School
Pamela M. Giblin, Baker Botts
R. Kinnan Goleman, KG Strategies
Moderator: Karen Crawford, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough
Posted on November 2, 2010