Wolf Carbon plans to rework a permit application in Illinois.Fill out the form to read the full article.
A fuel cell developer aiming to build North America’s first “green” hydrogen supply network is running into financial troubles and facing skepticism from Wall Street analysts, dealing a setback to a technology at the center of the Biden administration’s efforts to decarbonize the economy.
Plug Power has invested hundreds of millions in its production capabilities, striving to open multiple green hydrogen plants so it can make 500 tons of liquid fuel a day by the end of 2025. A front-runner in the emerging industry, Plug Power is a corporate sponsor of five of seven hydrogen hubs selected by the Department of Energy for funding last month with $7 billion from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.
But the company alarmed investors earlier this month by suggesting it could run out of cash over the next year after “unprecedented supply challenges” that have caused deployment delays.
“There is no assurance that our hydrogen production will scale at the rate we anticipate or that we will complete hydrogen production plants on schedule,” Plug Power said in a Nov. 9 regulatory filing. “There is a substantial doubt that we will have sufficient capital to fund our operations through the next twelve months.”
Known as a “going concern” disclosure, such warnings don’t always spell the end for a company, but they can hint at an impending bankruptcy of default. After the filing, the company’s share value tanked more than 40 percent, and several Wall Street banks have since downgraded its stock.
Yet Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh brushed off the Wall Street reaction as “overstated” and called the challenges part of the learning curve built into all pioneering endeavors. The language in its warning was based on “a very technical accounting rule,” he said in an interview this month after the filing.
“I have zero debt, and I could go out today and raise capital, which would resolve any of those issues,” Marsh told E&E News. “Two months from now — when you got the first [plant] of its kind running at this size; it’s producing hydrogen — everybody is going to sit back and forget the challenges along the way.”
Frank Wolak, CEO of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, echoed that view, saying “at some point, everybody’s got to be a first mover.”
“Because Plug is at the forefront of this, it’s much more visible that they’re trying to move quickly, and they’re seeing the first situation of supply and other constraints,” he said.
Plug’s production push
Green hydrogen is not yet widely available in the U.S. or profitable, although the Biden administration is looking to the fuel to help the U.S. economy reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Marsh has projected that his firm is on the verge of breaking even after years of heavy losses.
The company is expanding into different parts of the hydrogen supply chain. That involves selling fuel cells for various applications, supplying hydrogen to customers and manufacturing equipment like electrolyzers, which are used to make hydrogen from renewable electricity.
Currently, Plug Power sources hydrogen from industrial gas companies but sells it at a loss to honor fixed-price contracts with customers, according to analysts. In 2021, the company moved to boost its financials by announcing its own network of production plants to make green hydrogen at one-third the cost of its purchases.
If it reaches 500 tons of green hydrogen daily by 2025, the company claims it will save 4.3 million metric tons of carbon emissions. But scaling up swiftly has proven difficult.
“They were committing to supply hydrogen to their customers,” said Citi analyst Vikram Bagri, who was once bullish on Plug Power but downgraded its outlook Thursday. “They grew that side of the business pretty rapidly without growing the in-house production of hydrogen in lockstep.”
During its third-quarter earnings call, Marsh said the company is fighting severe shortages for the fuel, as some suppliers’ plants — including Plug Power’s own in Tennessee — closed for repairs. At times, prices for hydrogen at California fueling stations have surged to over $30 per kilogram, about twice the normal rate.
“I can’t argue with the fact that demand is outstripping supply,” Marsh said in the interview. “There’s only about eight or nine really large-scale liquid hydrogen plants in the U.S., and to predict that a third of them would be down just isn’t really a realistic model.”
Plug Power has also hit delays in building its hydrogen plants, a development that Bagri called a “double whammy.” The furthest along is in Georgia and will make 15 tons of fuel a day, before upgrading to 30 tons a day. Marsh said that facility will start operating this December — though analysts point out it had been scheduled for last year and the timeline was pushed back repeatedly.
“If Georgia would have been open three months earlier, I wouldn’t have had the problems, even with all the problems that were going on with my suppliers’ plants,” Marsh said.
The delays have been costly. The budget for constructing the Georgia plant has nearly doubled since initially announced, noted Morgan Stanley analysts in a research note this month. The cost spikes are on top of cash Plug Power is burning as it struggles to generate its own green hydrogen and continues buying from third-party suppliers to meet customer contracts.
The company had set a highly ambitious timeline for the plant, aiming to complete it in under a year — about half the time as typical construction of a production facility.
Bagri said the credibility of the company is “now somewhat in question” after the missed timelines.
Marsh attributed the delays to extreme heat during the summer, a shortage of available labor and technical issues.
“What’s a shame is the success in getting it done in 18 months will get lost because people wonder why it didn’t get done in nine,” the CEO said. “The first-of-its-kind of any product always takes longer.”
The path forward
The next couple of months are crucial for Plug Power to chart a path forward and overcome its liquidity challenges, analysts say.
“If they deliver on Georgia, they have a shot at reaching breakeven gross margins by the middle of next year or late next year, and that establishes the company as a real contender and a real player in the hydrogen industry,” said Bagri. “Georgia remains the key for everything.”
But other analysts warn that even if the Georgia facility starts up next month, Plug Power still needs an extra 50 tons per day from independent gas companies to meet the needs of its fuel cell customers.
The company’s Tennessee plant — which produces green hydrogen and shut down this summer to clean up contamination — is expected to come back into service this December and will help in reaching the 50 tons. Similar plants are under construction in Louisiana, Texas and New York and slated to make a combined 134 tons of hydrogen daily.
“To fully shift to its own green hydrogen supply, [Plug Power] needs to complete the construction of its Texas and New York facilities,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in the research note, suggesting the two plants will require $500 million and will “likely not be fully operational before 2025.”
Plug Power is in the running to receive a $1.5 billion loan from the Department of Energy, according to the company. The loan will be “important” to support the New York build-out, according to Marsh, who said the plant there could experience “months delays, not long-term delays.” Without the DOE loan, he said, he “won’t spend more money in New York” at this time.
Before the end of the year, the Treasury Department plans to release guidance for companies wishing to claim a tax credit outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act. The credit is for up to $3 per kilogram for low-carbon hydrogen production, and upcoming rules around how projects can qualify have been the subject of a heated debate.
Once the guidance drops, Marsh said, “you’re going to see an acceleration of plants being built.” His company has been an advocate in lobbying the Biden administration to consider a wider definition of “clean” hydrogen — a view that is not shared by many environmentalists who are concerned that the fuel may not be low-carbon without stringent standards, such as those requiring that hydrogen producers source clean electricity within the same region they operate.
As for DOE’s hydrogen hubs, Marsh said its projects for them have “not seen a pushback yet” from the recent financial challenges, but he argued that if the Treasury implements strict regional requirements, “you’ll never get the hubs off the ground.”
Reporter Corbin Hiar contributed.
The account that pays for rebuilding after hurricanes and wildfires could go dry in August. Fill out the form to read the full article.
The election of Javier Milei raises fears that South America’s second-largest economy will develop forests and halt climate action. Fill out the form to read the full article.
President Joe Biden pledged to use “all available tools” to rein in methane when he was elected three years ago.
Now his promise is coming due.
Federal agencies are poised to release a battery of rules in the coming months that crack down on the oil and gas sector for releasing the potent greenhouse gas. That includes regulations for leaky pipelines; energy production on public and private lands; and infrastructure related to processing, transporting and storing natural gas. Even liquefied natural gas terminals and offshore petroleum production facilities, which aren’t covered by EPA’s coming methane rules, could find themselves paying for excessive leaks beginning in 2025.
That’s on top of other methane efforts. The Energy and State departments are creating guidelines to distinguish relatively climate-friendly fuel producers and exporters from their more high-emitting competitors. And the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal procurement agencies are readying rules that would require publicly traded companies and government contractorsto report on direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, from their supply chains.
Curbing the gas responsible for almost a third of today’s global warming could contribute to Biden’s climate legacy. And it might also buy the world valuable time to solve the more intractable problem of phasing out carbon emissions.
“There’s a recognition that cutting methane is one of the fastest, best ways to reduce pollution that’s contributing to climate change,” said Paul Billings, national senior vice president for public policy at the American Lung Association. “The technology is available, and it’s highly cost-effective.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Methane traps more than 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide on a 20-year time scale. But it exits the atmosphere and stops contributing to warming after about 12 years, compared with centuries for CO2. And it comes from much fewer sources.
A report by the International Energy Agency last month showed that it would be impossible to prevent temperatures from surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius without rapidly reducing methane leaks from fossil fuel production and use.
“Reducing methane emissions today can generate near-immediate climate benefits, providing room for the longer-term transition to a clean energy economy,” the White House noted in a November 2021 methane road map.
Hana Vizcarra, a senior climate attorney with Earthjustice, said it makes sense that the Biden administration is going all-in on methane. It comes after the Obama administration laid the groundwork for methane regulation, and as corporations maintained momentum through the presidency of Donald Trump with a steady stream of voluntary commitments.
“In some ways, it’s an easy place to start because there's a lot of information and a lot of support for action,” Vizcarra said.
Arvind Ravikumar, co-director of the Energy Emissions Modeling and Data Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, said the rise of advanced methane monitoring attracted policymakers’ attention.
“The thing that is catalyzing all of this is that the technology and innovation have advanced so rapidly in the past decade or so that it is now very cheap to monitor and measure methane emissions from oil and gas applications,” he said, noting that the Environmental Defense Fund and other groups plan to launch a satellite next year to track methane and release the data publicly.
"Emissions data is now going to be democratized as never before,” said Ravikumar. That is driving discussions about how the market can differentiate between fuels with relatively lower or higher supply-chain emissions, he said.
The White House is currently reviewing EPA’s final rule to limit emissions from new and existing oil and gas production, processing, transport, and storage facilities. The measure builds on an Obama-era new source standard that the Trump EPA scrapped in favor of laxer rules covering fewer sources.
The Senate voted in June 2021 to reinstate the Obama standard. But the Biden rules would greatly expand coverage with guidelines for infrastructure built before 2015.
The methane rule would be the first important Biden climate regulation to become final. That's expected to happen next week on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates — likely at the Dec. 2 methane summit the U.S. will host with China and the UAE.
EPA will follow it with final climate rules for power plants and vehicles in the coming months. The administration is under pressure to print its final rules in the Federal Register in early 2024 to prevent a potential Republican president and Congress from using a Congressional Review Act resolution to undo them in 2025.
Also, the Bureau of Land Management is working on a rule to curb gas leakage from production on federal lands; the move would replace an Obama-era standard that was scrapped by the Trump administration. The BLM rule was projected to be final in September but has yet to enter White House review.
Other facets of Biden’s methane strategy are the product of recent legislation.
The Department of Transportation is crafting a rule for pipeline leak detection and repair under 2020 legislation. That’s also in extra innings — the administration's regulatory agenda indicated it would be final in July.
And EPA is writing regulations prescribed by the Inflation Reduction Act and its myriad methane-control incentives and the excess emissions fee. The draft rule for the methane fee entered White House review in September.
The Inflation Reduction Act ordered EPA to overhaul its time-worn guidelines for how oil and gas companies estimate and report methane from their operations after a decade of research showed emissions were being undercounted. One recent report by energy nonprofit RMI found that gas has higher life-cycle climate emissions than coal when leak rates are fully considered.
EPA released its proposal in July, and it’s due to be final early next year. The methane fees will be based on those new reporting methodologies.
The Treasury Department’s upcoming guidelines for how “green” hydrogen will qualify for a generous Inflation Reduction Act tax credit will also grapple with upstream leak rates from gas used in its production. Treasury missed the climate law's August deadline but is expected to issue the guidance by the end of the year.
And the Energy and State departments are working with the European Union — the world's largest gas importer — and with other countries on international standards that will give low-methane gas preferential access to the EU market. The U.S., the European Commission and others launched a working group last week to build a shared framework to measure and report greenhouse gas emissions from gas.
The EU also last week finalized the bloc's first standards for fossil fuels methane that include import requirements.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and China agreed last week to include methane reduction in all future climate commitments made under the Paris Agreement. It came after China unveiled a long-awaited methane plan earlier this month that would strengthen procedures for tracking, reporting and verifying leakage from oil, gas and coal production.
Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund, said the wave of U.S. regulations would pave the way for more global progress on methane abatement.
“Strong standards from the United States are a very important signal,” he said. “They help set the realm of the possible for the rest of the world.”
The U.S. oil and gas industry has come around to supporting EPA methane regulation in recent years. But petroleum trade groups are eyeing the influx of domestic and international methane policies with trepidation.
A coalition spearheaded by the American Petroleum Institute told EPA last month in public comments that it should work with other federal agencies to “harmonize” methane policies.
Dustin Meyer, API’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs, in an email to E&E News called it “critical that policymakers coordinate these complex rulemakings to ensure regulatory incoherence doesn’t stand in the way” of energy supply.
Reporter Heather Richards contributed.
EPA has opened up its largest funding source yet to back relief for long-forgotten communities struggling with pollution in a move sure to attract scrutiny from Republican lawmakers while President Joe Biden embarks on his reelection bid.
The Biden administration announced Tuesday roughly $2 billion for projects in underserved areas across the country to build clean energy and address climate change. EPA’s Community Change Grants, drawing on funding from the president’s trademark climate law, will be awarded over the next year.
GOP members on Capitol Hill have focused on the agency’s environmental justice work, threatening to gut the agency’s related programs. Yet Biden will want to deliver on his support of low-income and minority communities, a key plank of his 2024 campaign for the White House.
On a call with reporters Tuesday, EPA Administrator Michael Regan described the available funding as “the single largest investment in environmental justice history.”
“Thanks to President Biden, we now have a real opportunity to ensure this funding reaches those who need it the most,” Regan said.
John Podesta, the White House senior adviser for clean energy innovation and implementation, said on Tuesday’s press call that “underserved communities often face multiple challenges.”
He described families dealing with lead-contaminated water or lacking air conditioning and tree cover during climate-fueled heat waves.
The federal government has dealt with those problems individually, Podesta said, but the new EPA grants are “game-changing” and “ask organizations to identify big challenges in their communities, develop solutions that work locally, and implement them in a durable and effective way.”
The grants are part of Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, delivering 100 percent of their benefits to disadvantaged communities. The program also includes $200 million for technical assistance to applicants, so those most in need will have access to federal resources.
Organizations that are eligible for the grants are two community-based nonprofit groups partnering together or a community-based group working with a tribe, a local government or an institution of higher education.
The grants will back work in a number of areas, including resiliency and mitigation of climate change for those dealing with urban heat islands and wildfires; community monitoring and remediation of air, water and waste pollution; support of low- and zero-emission technology and infrastructure; and training the next workforce in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
EPA’s Office of Environmental and External Civil Rights, which Regan stood up last year, will administer the grants through a notice of funding opportunity. That will be open for the following year, closing November 2024, while the agency reviews grant applications on a rolling basis.
The grants will be on two tracks. Track I will award about $1.96 billion to 150 projects at $10 million to $20 million each while Track II will award around $40 million to 20 projects at $1 million to $3 million each.
EPA has also targeted five areas for investments: tribes in Alaska, tribes elsewhere, territories, unincorporated communities in small and rural places, and communities on the U.S. southern border.
EPA’s environmental justice office will hold informational webinars on the grants while the funding opportunity is open. Its first one is scheduled for Dec. 7.
Earlier this year, EPA sent out a request for information to the public, consulted with its National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and hosted webinars seeking public input on how to design the grants.
In addition, Regan said feedback he received during his “Journey to Justice” tours of marginalized communities have helped shape the program.
“Let me be clear. EPA is listening,” Regan said. “We’re listening and learning from the people we serve, and we’re building innovative programs that reflect the needs of these communities.”
Resources under threat
EPA’s environmental justice office is responsible for $3 billion in funding for grants from the Inflation Reduction Act, which will back this program. The agency has already begun to distribute those funds, including announcing last month it had awarded $128 million in grants to state, local and tribal governments as well as nonprofit groups.
Yet that support is now under threat. The House Republican appropriations bill that funds EPA would rescind $1.4 billion of the climate law’s support for environmental justice grants.
The House passed that bill earlier this month. Biden has threatened to veto the legislation, and Senate Democrats are not likely to let such budget cuts go through.
That impasse will come to a head when Congress acts on long-term funding for EPA and other agencies after a stopgap spending measure runs out next year.
Regan said Biden worked with Congress to get funding for environmental justice in the IRA. That law passed in August last year before GOP lawmakers took charge of the House with the midterm elections.
“For far too long, too many communities have been left out,” Regan said. “I have no doubt that the president and Senate members and House members will be as diligent fighting to keep these resources as they were fighting for these resources.”
A record-long vacancy atop the United States’ pipeline agency is raising concerns about the safety and oversight of infrastructure carrying carbon dioxide and natural gas at a time when the Biden administration is pushing to cut emissions.
The White House has gone nearly three years without nominating someone to lead the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Tristan Brown has been running PHMSA since February 2021, but only as the acting or deputy administrator.
The leadership at the top of the agency could influence the content and pace of several rules that could determine the safety and operations of pipelines affecting everything from gas supplies to carbon capture in the Midwest. They include a proposed leak detection and repair rule that aims to reduce emissions of methane and other gases from natural gas pipelines as well as a plan to enhance existing safety requirements for carbon dioxide pipelines. Some agency observers — and Biden administration critics — said they’re disappointed the White House hasn’t put forward a nominee to head the agency.
“Politics is perception, and what does this say about the administration’s view of safety?” said Drue Pearce, director of government affairs at the law firm Holland & Hart and a former deputy administrator at PHMSA under the Trump administration.
The White House did not address why President Joe Biden hasn’t nominated someone for the post when asked by E&E News for comments.
PHMSA said in a statement that Brown, the agency’s current top official, can carry out all duties “lawfully vested” in the administrator and that the agency has been “one of the most productive” in history in advancing safety requirements. PHMSA is part of the Department of Transportation.
The agency crafts and enforces regulations for 3.3 million miles of pipelines and shipments of hazardous materials. PHMSA’s pipeline safety program also has not been reauthorized by Congress. The current authorization ran out Sept. 30. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released draft legislation in July for reauthorization. In September, Democrats called it “partisan draft legislation.”
PHSMA said in a statement that pipeline safety activities are funded by “multi-year appropriations” and are ongoing.
“This includes PHMSA’s pipeline safety inspectors and emergency response staff,” PHMSA said. “The agency has been working closely and on a bipartisan basis with Congress to provide technical assistance to Congress’ reauthorization proposals—and will continue to do so to support the reauthorization process.”
Pearce said she’s disappointed the White House has not nominated someone to lead the agency.
It’s “extremely important that the pipeline safety program be reauthorized and….we don’t even have a nominee, much less have an actual confirmed administrator to go before Congress,” Pearce said in a recent interview.
Under former President Donald Trump, the Senate confirmed Howard “Skip” Elliott to head PHMSA in October 2017 — less than a year into the administration. He served until January 2021, which was the last time there was a confirmed leader of the agency.
The Obama administration had both confirmed and acting PHMSA administrators, including Cynthia Quarterman, approved by the Senate in November 2009; Timothy Butters, who became PHMSA’s acting administrator in October 2014; and Marie Therese Dominguez, approved by the Senate in August 2015.
Eyes on CO2
The absence of a Senate-confirmed administrator is occurring as developers are aiming to build thousands of miles of carbon dioxide pipelines across the Midwest and Great Plains — buoyed by the Biden administration’s support of carbon management technologies. The agency is planning to release a proposed rule on CO2 pipelines that aims to address issues discovered when investigating a February 2020 CO2 pipeline failure near Satartia, Miss., as well as “other gaps and concerns” raised by agency staff, the public and others, according to a spokesperson.
PHMSA initiated the rulemaking process in 2022. Opponents of CO2 pipelines repeatedly reference the Mississippi rupture as an example of what could happen, while proponents assert the roughly 5,300 miles of CO2 pipelines in the United States has a solid track record.
A draft of the CO2 rule isn’t expected until January 2024, according to a chart of agency rules.
Jim Walsh, policy director of the anti-fossil-fuel advocacy group Food & Water Watch, said the lack of White House movement on a PHMSA administrator “speaks volumes” about the priority that Biden puts on pipeline safety generally. Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act signed by Biden expanded incentives like the federal 45Q tax credit tied to storing and using captured carbon.
“His administration has prioritized handing out billions of dollars in subsidies for the carbon capture and hydrogen industry that will largely benefit the fossil fuel industry, but has spent very little time prioritizing the actual safety and health concerns that come along with this industry,” Walsh said.
For developers looking to claim 45Q, the Inflation Reduction Act extended the deadline for projects to begin construction and boosted the credit’s value.
Pipelines carrying CO2 are essential to accelerating the deployment of carbon capture and carbon removal projects, as they connect facilities to storage sites. Some CO2 pipeline projects have stumbled recently and existing proposals are opposed by a smattering of groups — including some who have called for a moratorium on new CO2 pipelines until PHMSA has finalized its rule.
The changes to 45Q have helped to make the economics of developing a carbon capture project more attractive. The number of permit applications submitted to EPA for a Class VI well — used to inject CO2 into deep rock formations — has ballooned over the last year.
Amid a drive to construct more pipelines to transport CO2 and hydrogen, critics and supporters said it’s important for senior political leadership to be in place as regulations get developed.
Jeremy Harrell, chief strategy officer at ClearPath, a conservative clean energy group, disagreed with calls for a freeze on new CO2 pipelines. He also said some components of the federal government aren’t syncing up with others.
While the Department of Energy is investing billions in carbon management and hydrogen, he said, EPA has faced criticism for how long it takes to process Class VI permits or delegate that authority to states.
A failure to nominate someone to be PHMSA administrator risks being an instance of one component of the federal government not moving as efficiently or quickly as needed to support broader Biden administration policies, according to Harrell.
“I think we can say from the last two and a half years that this administration has a little bit of a tortured position on pipelines as a whole,” he said.
Pearce, the former PHMSA official in the Trump administration, it could become less likely for a PHMSA nominee to be announced as the 2024 presidential election approaches.
Nick Loris, vice president of public policy at conservative think tank C3 Solutions, pushed back on the idea that no nominee for PHMSA administrator means the Biden administration is taking a lax approach to pipeline safety.
“With strong regulations on the books, a deputy administrator, associate administrators, and what appears to be a pretty full staff, the agency has the resources necessary to protect public health and safety,” Loris said in an email.
PHMSA said in a statement that Brown will continue to serve in the deputy administrator post if the White House doesn’t make a nomination.
PHMSA also said it has “advanced a slew of major safety rulemakings” under current leadership, “including expanding the amount of pipe under the agency’s safety authority by more than 10%,” created new safety requirements for different types of pipelines and led “the development, congressional negotiations, and implementation of the agency’s first ever infrastructure grant program.”
ClearPath’s Harrell said PHMSA needs someone who “has expertise in this space and is ready to take on these challenges that could be instrumental in building out CO2 and hydrogen pipeline infrastructure … and natural gas pipeline infrastructure in this country.”
Industry groups, including the Association of American Railroads and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), emphasized the importance of having confirmed leadership at federal agencies.
“As an association, we always value having our regulators be fully staffed,” said Amy Andryszak, CEO of INGAA, which represents interstate natural gas transmission pipeline companies in the United States and Canada.
Andryszak said that PHSMA has still been active, noting the agency released a proposed rulemaking in May that aims to reduce leaks of methane from new and existing gas pipelines.
“I will note that our members have continued to engage directly with PHMSA, both with deputy administrator Brown and other members of the PHMSA staff,” Andryszak said.
Some INGAA members have also met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, which “I would take as an indication that the administration is still prioritizing pipeline safety,” she added.
Andryszak and others said they’re not sure why the president hasn’t selected a nominee.
“The decisions and nomination priorities are the Administration’s sole responsibility and purview,” said Jessica Kahanek, a spokesperson for the Association of American Railroads, in an email. David Lewis, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University whose research includes executive branch politics, said presidents can sometimes prefer acting or deputy officials.
“The president probably feels comfortable with the policy views and expertise of the deputy administrator and so feels less need to prioritize this nomination,” Lewis said in an email.
Not a priority?
Bill Caram, executive director of the group Pipeline Safety Trust — a pipeline safety advocacy group — said Brown has done a “fantastic job” guiding PHMSA. The agency has released some strong rules and both investigation reports and public engagement has improved under his leadership, Caram said.
Like Andryszak at the gas association, Caram noted PHMSA’s notice of proposed rulemaking for leak detection and repair.
“I think that is a strong proposed rule, and a lot of that comes from the administration and Tristan prioritizing methane’s role in safety and climate,” Caram said in an interview.
Still, if the Biden administration did pick a nominee for PHMSA’s top job, that would signal the agency is a higher priority, he said. Having a lack of leadership at the top limits the amount of work those officials are able to take on, including defending rules from litigation.
“Whether it’s true or not, it appears that this agency is not a priority to the administration, even though it’s named in the methane action plan and is such an important agency to the safety of our communities living near pipelines,” Caram said.
Caram was referencing a November 2021 plan released by the Biden administration.
PHMSA said the agency’s work has “continued in an exemplary manner to the credit of the dedicated PHMSA staff across the country.”
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill also have lamented the lack of a nominee for PHMSA administrator, while other observers said the person named should be supportive of energy.
Having no nominee from the White House “jeopardizes our nation’s 3.3 million miles of pipelines and hinders our ability to get essential energy resources to communities across the country,” said Sean Kelly, a spokesperson for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in an email.
A spokesperson for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), ranking member on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said regulators at PHMSA have been used to “attack” U.S. energy, pointing to a rule that suspended the transport of liquefied natural gas by rail.
In a statement, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) described vacancies as a “burden” but said he’s been encouraged by the work of existing leadership at the pipeline safety agency.
“Regardless of who is in charge, I am going to work to make sure PHMSA protects public safety and the environment — and Congress needs to give PHMSA the tools to do that in the upcoming PHMSA reauthorization,” Markey said in a statement.
America is cutting carbon again.
U.S. emissions are on track to fall by as much as 3 percent in 2023, according to a pair of recent analyses — reversing two years of flat or increasing output of planet-warming pollution.
The projected drop is particularly notable as it comes during a year when the U.S. economy is set to expand by almost 2.5 percent — a sign that emissions are decoupling from economic growth. It also represents one of the largest annual emission declines of the last decade.
Even so, the United States has considerable work to do to meet its commitments under the Paris climate accord, which calls for a 50 percent reduction in emissions by the end of the decade. Meeting that goal would require the United States to cut emissions by roughly 6 percent a year through 2030.
“We are seeing consistent emission decreases at the scale of the entire country, but not at the pace that we need,” said Chris Field, who leads the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.
Two analyses show American emissions falling in 2023.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates U.S. energy-related emissions will fall 3 percent, driven by lower coal consumption. Energy accounts for about 80 percent of total emissions, and total U.S. emissions were down 2.5 percent through the first three quarters of the year, according to Carbon Monitor, an academic emissions tracker.
The decrease represents a resumption of the steady emission declines the United States recorded over the 15 years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic. Emissions have been on a roller coaster ever since, plunging during the lockdowns of 2020, rebounding partially in 2021 and plateauing last year.
Part of this year’s decrease is a product of the weather. Natural gas demand for heating fell due to a mild winter. But the biggest single driver behind falling carbon dioxide emissions is plummeting coal demand.
Power plants, which account for 90 percent of coal consumption, are on track to burn 384 million tons this year, the lowest level since 1973. Coal generated 580 terawatt-hours of electricity through the end of October, down 19 percent compared with the same period in 2022, preliminary EIA data shows. Coal is expected to fall to 16 percent of electricity production this year.
Much of the gap has been filled by natural gas, which is up 8 percent over 2022 levels and is on track to account for 42 percent of power generation. Wind and solar production, by contrast, is essentially flat with combined output of 474 TWh. EIA thinks renewable generation, including hydro, will account for 22 percent of power generation in 2023.
“We’re not shifting to zero carbon, we’re shifting to half as much carbon. It is not a sustainable thing to shift from coal to gas,” said Drew Shindell, a professor of earth science at Duke University. “We’re going to run out of coal, which is a great thing, but it will plateau. I think we, along with most of the rest of the world, are simply not on course.”
Steady declines in coal use have powered American emission reductions in recent years. The United States averaged emission reductions of about 1 percent between 2012 and 2021, according to the most recent EPA data. Yet the United States would need to cut emissions by about 6 percent annually to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement, which calls for cutting emissions 50-52 percent of 2005 levels by the end of 2030.
Analysts expect most of the emission reductions this decade to come from the power sector. But it’s unclear if the United States can accelerate the renewable development needed to supercharge emission reductions.
Higher interest rates and supply chain bottlenecks are making it more expensive to build new projects. Grid operators are laboring to make their way through applications from wind and solar developers to connect their projects to the bulk power system. Transmission constraints and lengthy permitting timelines have further delayed new projects from coming online.
Wind development in particular has stalled, hampered by lengthy permitting timelines and transmission constraints. New onshore installations are on pace to hit 8.3 gigawatts this year, down from more than 14 GW recorded in 2020 and 2021, respectively. But EIA projects new installations will fall to less than 5 GW in 2024 and 2025.
“How fast can you get off coal with wind and solar, with some gas as backup, is the name of the game in the power sector,” said Arne Olson, an energy analyst at the consulting firm E3. Yet many developers have struggled to finish projects, he said — underscoring the difficulty of reaching the country’s climate goals.
Olson called the country’s climate goals a “stretch” but added, “We should do as much as we can, as fast as we can. It’s not either-or. It’s how much warming is there going to be? The more you can do, the more it’s going to help.”
The good news for U.S. climate efforts is that this year’s reductions are largely independent of the Inflation Reduction Act, the sweeping law passed by Congress last year that provides $369 billion in clean energy spending. Utilities and renewable developers plan years in advance, meaning coal plant retirements and renewable facility openings in 2023 likely came before the IRA’s passage.
Still, the IRA will be important to help counteract higher financing costs, and will aid in the adoption of technologies that include electric vehicles, heat pumps, hydrogen and advanced nuclear, analysts said.
“You wouldn’t expect the IRA moving mountains in its full first year after passage,” said Ben King, an analyst who tracks U.S. emissions at the Rhodium Group, an economic consulting firm. “So it is encouraging that emissions are moving in the right direction.”
Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady who died Sunday at the age of 96, will be buried next week at the national park in Georgia that bears her husband’s name.
The National Park Service said some areas of the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park in the small town of Plains, Georgia, may be closed in the days leading up to the burial.
NPS said Carter will be buried in a plot located at the family home, which is closed to the public but part of the park. The Carters were married for 77 years.
Jill Stuckey, a longtime friend of the Carters and the park’s superintendent, described the former first lady as “a devoted supporter of the park” who regularly attended events and forums and worked with NPS staff to both develop and grow the park, even helping plan exhibits that were unveiled in 2020.
Park officials said Carter liked to participate in the local Presidents Day observance and the town’s fall peanut festival, where she handed out certificates to schoolchildren. The Carters were also known to surprise visitors by greeting them at the Plains High School Visitor Center or other locations in the park.
Stuckey said the park’s employees were mourning Carter’s death.
“Rosalynn Carter was a staunch supporter of national parks, both as first lady and as a private citizen. … I and the entire staff of Jimmy Carter National Historical Park are deeply saddened by Mrs. Carter’s passing, but we celebrate her life and legacy and will continue to inspire and educate present and future generations by telling the stories of her life and impact on the global community,” Stuckey said.
The Carter Center released a three-day schedule of events to celebrate Rosalynn Carter’s life that will include a repose service at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta next Monday.
Her funeral will take place Nov. 29 at 11 a.m. at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, where Jimmy Carter taught Sunday school for years before giving it up in 2019.
After the funeral, the casket will be transferred to a hearse and taken to the Carter residence for a private interment.
The Carter Center said the public will be welcome to line the family motorcade route as it winds its way through part of the park, from the church to the residence.
The park, created by Congress in 1987, includes the Carter residence, Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home, the high school that both Carters attended and the railroad depot that served as the headquarters for Carter’s winning presidential campaign in 1976.
The park service and the town’s 700-plus residents have also been preparing for the death of Jimmy Carter, who turned 99 last month and is now the nation’s longest-living president.
Carter, who served one term as the nation’s 39th president from 1977 to 1981, has been undergoing hospice care since February after deciding that he would forgo any additional medical treatment for cancer.