Marcellus Shale Report Released by Pennsylvania

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell.

As mentioned in our earlier blog post, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission issued their written report today. The 137 page document identifies the numerous recommendations including enacting an impact fee, increasing setbacks from public water sources, increasing fines for environmental violations and minimizing disruption to surface area in state forest lands. A copy of the full report can be found at this link.

New Federal Interim Rule Requires Changes To Bring About More Green Contracting

This post was written by Lorraine Campos and Amy Koch.

Coming soon: Most of the U.S. government's future acquisitions will have to be green and environmentally sustainable. In this Reed Smith alert, we discuss a recently issued interim rule (PDF) that would require federal agencies to conduct their environmental, transportation, and energy-related activities in an environmentally, economically, integrated, efficient, and sustainable manner. The interim rule would seek to lower greenhouse gas emissions from sources owned or controlled by federal agencies and otherwise promote the creation of a "clean energy economy." In addition, the interim rule would require federal agencies to leverage agency acquisitions to foster markets for sustainable technologies, materials, products, and services by ensuring that 95 percent of new contract actions, including task and delivery orders, for products and services are energy-efficient, water-efficient, biobased, environmentally preferable, non-ozone depleting, contain recycled content, or are non-toxic or less-toxic alternatives. Federal agencies are also required to implement high-performance sustainable building design, construction, renovation, repair, commissioning, operation and maintenance, management, and deconstruction practices. On May 31, 2011, the U.S. Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration issued this interim rule amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) by implementing Executive Orders 13514 and 13423.

The interim rule (PDF) should further open up opportunities for contractors with sustainable technologies, materials, products, and services to sell to federal agencies. Contractors with strong views on these FAR changes should prepare comments and submit them prior to August 1, 2011, to ensure that their views are considered. Reed Smith attorneys, including the authors of this post and more detailed alert, are tracking changes to the FAR as they evolve.

In Case You Missed It, Here Are Slides and Audio from Reed Smith's June 16 Climate Change Event

This post was written by David Wagner.

Last week, we discussed recent international and U.S. developments related to greenhouse gas regulation, and here are the slides and audio from the event. In particular, we addressed:

  • How the uncertain future of the Kyoto Protocol and the Clean Development Mechanism affect U.S. business (You can also find details on this issue here)
  • What your business needs to know for compliance and planning related to step 2 of USEPA's greenhouse gas Tailoring Rule
  • Implications of the court's "cap and trade" ruling in Association of Irritated Residents v. California Air Resources Board
  • Developments in state courts including upcoming decisions on insurers' obligation to defend and/or indemnify covered insureds for public nuisance, and other types of claims based on third-party allegations of damages from climate change
     

$25 million in Funding Available for U.S. Companies and Organizations Under New U.S.-India Clean Energy Program

This post was written by David Wagner.

On May 16, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it will commit $25 million over the next five years to support the U.S.-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center (JCERDC). This fall, DOE intends to begin awarding the funding to U.S. companies and other organizations involved in: (1) building energy efficiency (2) second generation biofuels, and (3) solar energy research and development. Together the United States and India intend to invest $100 million in public and private funds in JCERDC consortia. Click here for Reed Smith's summary of the program and possible opportunities.

 

New Pennsylvania Law Establishes Spacing Requirements Between Natural Gas "Well Clusters" and Workable Coal Seams

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

On May 13, 2011, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed Senate Bill 265 into legislation. SB 265 sets a minimum distance between natural gas "well clusters" (defined as the area within a well pad holding horizontal wells and comprising an area of no more than 5,000 square feet) overlying workable coal seams, and provides for coordination of gas well drilling and coal mining. Under the new legislation, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will issue no new permits for any well unless that well's cluster is at least 2,000 feet from the nearest well cluster or the operator of the well and owner of any workable coal seams underlying the proposed well provide written consent to spacing of less than 2,000 feet. In addition, no permits will be issued for wells located less than 1,000 feet from any other wells (excluding injection wells not penetrating workable coal seams, plugged wells, nonproducing wells drilled prior to November 30, 1955, or storage wells). The bill also requires well operators intending to drill in any operating coal mine to attach the written consent of the mine operator to permit applications.

New Federal Energy Subcommittee to Review Fracking; Group Includes Former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Chief Kathleen McGinty

This post was written by Jennifer Smokelin.

Following through on President Obama’s request to look at shale gas drilling safety, Steven Chu, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy Secretary, expanded a panel of experts and ordered recommendations. After the Secretary’s Energy Advisory Board created a three-member Natural Gas Subcommittee in January, it expanded to seven members last week. It was also given the mandate to make recommendations within 90 days about how to make drilling safer, particularly hydraulic fracturing. Within six months, the group is to offer advice to other agencies on how they could better protect the environment from shale gas drilling. The four new members are former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection chief Kathleen McGinty, Stephen Holditch, chairman of the Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University, Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp, and Stanford University geophysics professor Mark Zoback.

It's Official: the Environmental Law Resource is a Top 50 Environmental Law Blog

This post was written by David Wagner.

We’re in – LexisNexis has selected Reed Smith's Environmental Law Resource blog as one of the Top 50 Environmental Law & Climate Change Blogs for 2011. We were recognized as "preeminent thought leaders in the blogosphere" who "offer some of the best writing out there." LexisNexis found that our blog contains "a wealth of information for all segments of the environmental law and climate change industry, and includes timely news items, expert analysis, practice tips, frequent postings and helpful links to other sites and sources."

The 50 honorees were grouped into 10 categories and our blog was one of just 4 blogs honored under the "Litigation" category.

We’re thrilled and certainly appreciate the recognition. Even more importantly, we appreciate your interest in our blog.

Second of Three Teleseminars on Marcellus Shale Clean Air Permits Examined Greenhouse Gas Issues

This post was written by David Wagner.

This week, Reed Smith teamed up with AECOM to present its second seminar on clean air permit issues related to oil and gas development in the Marcellus Shale. At the event, we discussed greenhouse gas (GHG) emission sources, GHG reporting requirements, the federal Tailoring Rule (including Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Title V issues), New Source Performance Standards, and single stationary source determinations for the oil and gas industry. If you missed it, here are the slides and audio. The event featured Jennifer Smokelin and David Wagner of Reed Smith and Tom Bianca of AECOM.

At the first teleseminar, we discussed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) air permitting process, focusing on the general permits applicable to oil and gas activities (GP-5, GP-9, GP-11), requests for determinations, and the permit exemption list, as well as DEP’s proposals to narrow the oil and gas permit exemption list and modify GP-5. Check back for details on the remaining teleseminar that will address aggregation issues.

Proposed Federal Legislation Would Incentivize Carbon Capture and Storage

This post was written by David Wagner.

On March 31, 2011, a bill (S. 699) was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would authorize the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to enter into cooperative agreements to provide financial and technical assistance to as many as 10 large-scale (1 million tons of injected carbon dioxide or more) carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects at industrial sources. Along with three co-sponsors, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced the bi-partisan bill and it was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. This is the first step in the legislative process and it’s likely that the next step will be a public hearing on the proposal.

The proposed bill provides liability protection and federal indemnification for the CCS demonstration projects. Under the bill, DOE is authorized to indemnify projects up to $10 billion for personal, property and environmental damages that might be above what is covered by insurance or other financial assurance measures. Upon receiving the closure certificate for the injection site, the site may be turned over to the federal government for long-term site management and ownership. The proposed bill also outlines criteria for site closure certification and includes provisions for siting the demonstration projects on public land. In addition, it would establish and fund a CCS training program for state regulators.

By the way, this new proposed legislation (S. 699) is extremely similar to a 2009 bill (S. 1013) that was reported out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources but died on the Senate floor as part of a larger energy legislative package that same year.

Uncle Sam Wants Your Input on a Clean Energy Standard

This post was written by David Wagner.

Last week Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) released a white paper soliciting input on a clean energy standard (“CES”) from a broad range of interested parties. The white paper lays out some of the key questions and potential design elements of a CES and seeks responses to six general policy questions that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is considering in the development of a CES program. This effort builds on the 2011 State of the Union address in which President Obama urged lawmakers to establish a CES with a goal of 80 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from “clean” sources by 2035. The President emphasized that a CES would recognize electricity from not only renewable energy sources but also nuclear, coal with carbon capture and storage technology and natural gas.

Your response to the white paper is due by April 11, 2011.

Another Severance Tax Bill Related to Marcellus Shale is Proposed in Pennsylvania

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

The Marcellus Shale legislative season remains in full bloom as another severance tax bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly this week. Senate Bill 905 proposes a 2% tax on the gross value of natural gas at the wellhead where the amount produced is between 60,000 to 150,000 cubic feet/day (cf/d). For wells that have been in production longer than three years, the tax rate would increase to 5%. As with House Bill 833, SB 905 provides for "stripper wells" (those wells producing less than 60,000 cf/d) to be exempted from the tax unless certain exceptions apply. SB 905 also provides for the establishment of a Natural Gas Severance Tax Fund, which would be distributed at the county and municipality level to preserve and improve local water supplies, maintain and improve wastewater systems, and for other purposes related to "the health, welfare and safety consequences of severing natural gas in municipalities within the county."

Your Invitation to an April 12 Teleseminar on Marcellus Shale and Greenhouse Gas Reporting

This post was written by David Wagner.

Please join us for the second of three teleseminars on air quality issues affecting oil and gas development in Marcellus Shale On Tuesday, April 12, 2011 from 12 p.m. - 1 p.m., Reed Smith and AECOM will discuss the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s issues related to greenhouse gases in the Marcellus Shale. In particular, we will cover (1) sources of greenhouse gases, (2) reporting, and (3) Title V implications. This event will feature Jennifer Smokelin and David Wagner of Reed Smith and Tom Bianca of AECOM. To participate, please contact Sandy Petrakis by April 11.

Implementation of California's Global Warming Solutions Act Hits a Setback

This post was Eric McLaughlin and John Lynn Smith.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) hit a road block on the way to implementing a key element of its plan to reduce global warming when a California court found that the agency’s adoption of the plan violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), creating uncertainty for the regulated community whose operations are subject to the cap-and-trade program central to that plan.

At issue is CARB’s implementation of its Scoping Plan, the key document that specifies the various greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction measures to achieve the goals of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, commonly known as AB 32. A ruling by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith, finalized on March 18, 2011 (Ruling), granted a Petition for Writ of Mandate challenging the Scoping Plan, primarily due to the agency’s failure to adequately consider alternatives to its adopted cap-and-trade program.

While the Ruling is a significant impediment to the GHG reduction measures in CARB’s Scoping Plan and AB 32 as a whole, it is a temporary one that is unlikely to threaten the long-term implementation of those measures. The Ruling does, however, require CARB to analyze the impacts of alternatives to the Scoping Plan’s cap-and-trade program, and to provide that analysis to the public, in order for the Scoping Plan to move forward. In the interim, the Ruling creates uncertainty for those members of the regulated community whose operations are subject to the first round of the cap-and-trade program, which is scheduled to take effect in January 2012.
 

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Slides and Audio for Reed Smith's 1st Quarter Climate Change Report

This post was written by David Wagner .

As always, we covered the latest in greenhouse gas regulation in our quarterly teleseminar and here are the audio and slides from yesterday’s event. We discussed:

  • Possible delays in the implementation of the Tailoring Rule (Larry Demase)
  • GHG permitting and biomass: EPA's permitting deferral and its affect on industries that use biomass (Jennifer Smokelin)
  • Congressional efforts to develop a Clean Energy Standard (David Wagner)
  • Developments in a recent California court decision addressing what additional work the California Air Resources Board must perform prior to implementing AB32 (Todd Maiden)

Notes from the USEPA's Science Advisory Board Panel for the Review of Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

Reed Smith, represented by Nicolle Bagnell, attended the Science Advisory Board Panel's public meeting on March 7, 2011 in Washington D.C. The purpose of the panel, comprised of a distinguished group of 22 professors and practitioners ranging in expertise from public health, hydrogeology, water quality engineering and environmental justice, is to provide an independent review of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA's) proposed Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan for scientific soundness of the draft plan. The panel was selected from nominations made in response to a request in the Federal Register last July. In addition to the Panel's review, USEPA received over 300 sets of public comments on the draft plan. There were also twelve speakers who provided 5-minute commentaries either in person or by phone and roughly 50 members of the public who attended the meetings.

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Testing for Radioactivity of Pennsylvania River Water Downstream of Marcellus Water Treatment Plants Shows Water Is Safe

This post was written by Jennifer Smokelin.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) yesterday announced results of in-stream water quality monitoring for radioactive material in seven of the Commonwealth’s rivers. Seven river testing stations – which monitor “raw water” in the river before it enters public water suppliers’ intakes where the water receives further treatment – that were evaluated are Monongahela at Charleroi in Washington County, South Fork Ten Mile Creek in Greene County, Conemaugh in Indiana County, Allegheny at Kennerdell in Venango County, Beaver in Beaver County, Tioga in Tioga County, and the West Branch of the Susquehanna in Lycoming County. All seven samples showed levels at or below the normal naturally occurring background levels of radioactivity.

According to the Associated Press, a review of state records shows most of the gas-drilling wastewater that was treated and discharged by sewage plants in the second half of 2010 found its way into eight (8) waterways, seven of which were tested (above) by DEP. The eighth waterway, Blacklick Creek in southwestern Pennsylvania - is a tributary of the Conemaugh, one of the 7 tested locations. The tests were conducted in November and December of 2010 at stations downstream of wastewater treatment plants that accept flowback and production water from Marcellus Shale drilling. DEP said that these sampling stations were installed last fall specifically to monitor stream quality for potential impacts of Marcellus development.

Proposed Pennsylvania Bill Would Result in Lease Expiration as to Land Not Being Used for Oil or Gas Production

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

In addition to a number of other Marcellus Shale-related bills introduced in the Pennsylvania House and Senate over the past few months, Senate Bill 722 was also laid on the table last week. The bill proposes to amend the Oil and Gas Act in order to spell out exactly what would happen to leased land that neither contains a well nor is included in a production unit. The bill is, in effect, a statutory version of a Pugh Clause commonly found in oil and gas leases. According to the language of the bill, any land covered by a lease, but not included in the unit, would be released.

Marcellus Shale-related Bills Introduced in Pennsylvania in 2011

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

Several new Marcellus Shale-related bills have been introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives since the start of 2011. House Bill 833, first introduced on March 1, 2011 and known as the Natural Gas Severance Tax Act, proposes to impose a tax on natural gas extraction of 30 cents per 1,000 cubic feet. The bill also provides an exemption for wells with low production rates (less than 60,000 cubic feet/day) known as "stripper wells" to incentivize operators' continued use of those wells in lieu of drilling new wells. House Bill 33, which was introduced on February 9, 2011 and shares many of the same legislative sponsors as H.B. 833, proposes a tax of 5% on all gas extracted plus an additional 4.6 cents per 1,000 cubic feet. This tax rate is the same as that proposed under Senate Bill 352, which was introduced on February 1, 2011. House Bill 234, introduced on January 26, 2011, would provide for further reporting requirements for operators producing gas from "unconventional shale formations" (including the Marcellus, Burket, Utica, Mandata, and Rhinestreet Shale formations, etc.). House Bill 232, also introduced on January 26, 2011, provides for additional restrictions on well locations and permits, as well as wastewater disposal requirements and a cumulative impacts study.

In addition to the introduction of new bills, several new regulations addressing well casing requirements, which the Pennsylvania General Assembly approved in the fall of 2010, went into effect in early February upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. We previewed these requirements in November 2010.

In Pennsylvania, the Corbett Administration Rescinds Another Marcellus-Related Policy and Takes Unusual Action to Re-Open Public Comment

This post was written by Jennifer Smokelin.

Here’s another change in environmental policy related to Marcellus Shale by the new Pennsylvania Governor. On February 26, 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) published a notice rescinding the Interim Guidance for Performing Single Stationary Source Determinations for the Oil and Gas Industries (initially published in December 2010). They also announced the intent to re-open the public comment period on the proposed Air Quality Permit Exemptions Policy and Proposed Revisions to the General Plan Approval and/or General Operating Permit for Nonroad Engines (found here).

In its notice, DEP indicated that it is appropriate to seek a comprehensive public comment period on all three of these topics together to guide the Department on what, if any, guidance or action might be taken on any one or more of them. Further, DEP acknowledged outright that there are a number of potentially interrelated air quality topics regarding gas exploration and extraction activities within the Marcellus Shale which should be considered together, that is: (1) performing single stationary source determinations; (2) General Plan Approval and/or General Operating Permit BAQ-GPA/GP-11; and (3) the list of air quality plan approval and operating permit exemptions which were topics covered in the actions noted previously. With regard to the exemption list, DEP is particularly interested in comments related to Exemption B.38 on oil and gas exploration and production facilities and operations. Public comments will be accepted until May 26, 2011.

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Reed Smith's (Free) Quarterly Climate Change Teleseminar is March 16

This post was written by David Wagner.

We’re celebrating one year’s worth of climate change teleseminars with, you guessed it, another climate change teleseminar. Please join us on Wednesday, March 16 from Noon to 1 p.m. (EDT) for the First Quarterly Report on Climate Change in 2011. In this one-hour teleseminar, Larry Demase, Jennifer Smokelin, Todd Maiden and Dave Wagner will provide a regulatory update on significant international, national and state issues concerning climate change and the future of GHG regulation. In particular, the topics are:

  • A delay in the implementation of the Tailoring Rule? An exemption for GHG permit applications in process prior to January 2, 2011?
  • GHG permitting and biomass: EPA's permitting deferral and its affect on industries that use biomass.
  • Congressional efforts to develop a Clean Energy Standard that would require electric utilities to generate electricity from "clean" energy sources, including nuclear, coal with carbon capture and storage, and natural gas.
  • Developments in a recent California court decision addressing what additional work the California Air Resources Board must perform prior to implementing AB32.

If you would like to attend, please email Sandy Petrakis.

The Environmental Law Resource Nominated for LexisNexis Top 50 Environmental Law Blogs

This post was written by David Wagner.

It's really nice to be recognized. In fact, we're thrilled that LexisNexis has nominated Reed Smith's Environmental Law Resource as one of the Top 50 Environmental Law & Climate Change Blogs for 2011. Even better, they grouped the 50 nominees into 11 categories and our blog was one of just 7 blogs nominated under the "Litigation" category. LexisNexis selected the nominees based on "timely topics, quality writing, frequent posts and that certain something 'extra' that keeps a web audience coming back for more."

We certainly appreciate your interest in our blog and, if you want to support our nomination, LexisNexis is inviting comments.

 

Pennsylvania Rescinds EIS Policy for Well Operators Seeking to Drill on State Land

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

Last week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett rescinded a policy that required well operators who wanted to drill for natural gas in state park and forest land to obtain an environmental impact assessment statement from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) before applying for a drilling permit. The 4-month old policy, which former Governor Rendell imposed in October 2010, provided for increased cooperation among the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the DCNR, and well operators in addressing drilling permit applications. The policy was applicable in situations where the state owned the surface rights to the land, but the subsurface mineral rights were privately held. According to former DCNR Secretary, John Quigley, the policy was a "common-sense approach to mitigating or avoiding any environmental, recreational and aesthetic impacts from the well drilling." The Corbett administration, however, has described the newly-rescinded policy as "unnecessary and redundant" as operators are already required to mitigate environmental damage and are held to responsible drilling practices by the DCNR and DEP.

Some commentators have viewed the rescission as Governor Corbett's first step towards fulfilling his promise to lift Pennsylvania's current moratorium, also imposed by Rendell in October, on new leasing of state forest lands for natural gas drilling where the state does own the mineral rights.

 

New ASTM Standard for Measuring Energy Performance in Commercial Buildings

This post was written by Lou Naugle and David Wagner.

With an increasing number of local and state governments adopting regulations that require reporting on building energy usage, ASTM International just made things easier by releasing a standard for collecting, compiling, and analyzing energy use in commercial buildings. The standard, which is a set of guidelines called the Standard Practice for Building Energy Performance Assessment for a Building Involved in a Real Estate Transaction (E2797-11), has a variety of uses. It can be used to develop data to assess building energy performance as part of a commercial real estate transaction, comply with regulatory reporting requirements, or develop plans for improving a commercial building’s energy efficiency improvements. You can purchase this new standard from ASTM here.

How Buyers, Owners and Lenders May Use the ASTM Standard

Keep in mind that, although it is not a certification or benchmarking tool, the standard is designed to be used in connection with programs such as LEED and Energy Star. The data collected under the standard offers more detail than an Energy Star rating and, unlike LEED certification, can be used to assess energy use within the time constraints of a real estate transaction.

With commercial building buyers and tenants using energy efficiency and related green building criteria as a key element of determining a site to purchase or lease, look for building owners to use the standard to reduce energy usage, and, in turn, improve a building’s score in required reports, increase its value, make it more attractive to potential buyers or tenants, or receive an energy efficiency loan. Lenders also may analyze the data to identify where a building could improve its energy efficiency before offering loans for retrofits.

The First of Three Teleseminars on Air Quality Issues Affecting Oil & Gas Development in Marcellus Shale

This post was written by David Wagner.

Reed Smith has teamed up with AECOM to present three teleseminars on air quality issues affecting oil and gas development in the Marcellus Shale. At the first teleseminar on February 11, 2011, we discussed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) air permitting process, focusing on the general permits applicable to oil and gas activities (GP-5, GP-9, GP-11), requests for determinations (RFDs) and the permit exemption list, as well as DEP’s proposals to narrow the oil and gas permit exemption list and modify GP-5. Click here for the teleseminar’s audio recording and here for the handout. The event featured Larry Demase and Jennifer Smokelin of Reed Smith and Tom Bianca of AECOM.

Check back for details on the remaining two teleseminars that will address greenhouse gases and aggregation.

Will a Clean Energy Standard "Win the Future"?

This post was written by Todd Maiden, Jennifer Smokelin and David Wagner.

In the 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama urged lawmakers to establish a clean energy standard (CES) with a goal of 80 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from “clean” sources by 2035. The President emphasized that a CES would recognize electricity from not only renewable energy sources but also nuclear, coal with carbon capture and storage technology and natural gas. Calling the clean energy push “our generation’s Sputnik moment,” the President’s speech framed a clean energy standard in the larger context of improving the United States’ competitiveness in the global economy.

With this announcement, it’s fair to say we’ve officially shifted the federal political climate change discussion from cap and trade to the creation of a clean energy standard. Putting aside a comparison of the two approaches, here are a few things to know and watch for in the upcoming debate on a clean energy standard.

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Pennsylvania DEP Study Finds No Negative Impacts to Air Quality Related to Marcellus Shale Operations

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

Yesterday the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released the results of its short-term study of potential negative impacts to air quality resulting from Marcellus Shale natural gas operations in Northeastern Pennsylvania. According to the DEP, the results from the study indicated no emissions levels of any compounds that would trigger cause for concern over air-related health issues associated with drilling activities in the region. To collect samples for the study, the DEP conducted air monitoring surveys over a period of four weeks at various drilling sites in Susquehanna County, including an operating gas well, compressor stations, and a well site currently being fracked, as well as in Loyalsock State Forest in Sullivan County. The survey was aimed at monitoring for volatile organic compounds generally associated with petroleum products, such as benzene and xylene, along with other pollutants. Although the sampling did detect emissions of various natural gas constituents and related compounds (ethane, methane, carbon monoxide, etc.), none of the emissions were at concentrations that would rise to the level of constituting a health concern.

California Review Panel Determines that Carbon Capture and Storage Could Help Reduce State GHG Emissions

This post was written by Todd Maiden and  David Wagner.

As we mentioned in a recent blog post, carbon capture and storage momentum continues to build. Last week, California’s Carbon Capture and Storage Review Panel released its findings and recommendations for resolving legal, regulatory and financial issues that currently impede the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the state. Among the key findings are:

  • There is a public benefit from long-term geologic storage of carbon dioxide as a strategy for reducing GHG emissions to the atmosphere.
  • Technology exists that can safely and effectively capture, transport and storage CO2 from power plants and other large industrial facilities.
  • There is a need for clear rules under AB32 regarding the treatment of CO2 emissions reductions from CCS projects.
  • There is a need for clear, efficient, and consistent regulatory requirements and authority for permitting all phases of CCS projects in California, including CO2 capture, transport, and storage.

Among others, the CCS Review Panel recommends that the state:

  • Recognize CO2 emission reductions achieved through CCS satisfy California’s requirements for GHG emission reductions under AB32.
  • Designate specific state regulatory agencies as the lead agencies for different aspects and activities related to CCS.
  • Consider legislation establishing an industry-funded trust fund to manage and be responsible for geologic site operations in the post-closure phase.
  • Declare that the surface owner is the owner of the subsurface “pore space” needed to store CO2.

 

11 Climate Change Issues in 2011

This post was written by Jennifer Smokelin and  David Wagner .

As we look forward to 2011, the Environmental Team at Reed Smith will be on top of a range of environmental issues, but offers the following analysis of what we view, in no particular order, to be 11 key climate change or greenhouse gas-related issues likely to affect you and your business in 2011 – call it “11 Climate Change Issues for ’11.” This post focuses on regulatory and transactional issues and we will analyze the outcomes of GHG-related court challenges as they unfold. Please return to blog regularly for updates and analysis on these and many other issues.

The 11 climate change issues are listed below.

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Settlement between Pennsylvania and Cabot to Resolve Drinking Water Problems Linked to Gas Migration

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

After announcing in October that Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation would be held responsible for the cost of a 5.5-mile, $11.8 million water line construction project to provide residents of Dimock with quality drinking water, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has now reached a $4.1 million settlement with Cabot.  According to DEP, Cabot's natural gas drilling activities in Susquehannah County are believed to be the source of gas migration and water contamination problems affecting Dimock residents' water wells, which the DEP began investigating in January 2009. The terms of the settlement agreement will require Cabot to reimburse DEP with $500,000 for the cost of investigating the gas migration, as well as to enable all 19 of the affected families to resolve their water-related issues based on their particular circumstances (with a minimum payment of $50,000), including offering, installing, and paying for whole-house gas mitigation water treatment systems.
 

 

Know When to Hold (Sequester) 'Em: Is USEPA Giving Away Its Hand Regarding CCS?

This post was written by Jennifer Smokelin.

From the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA’s) BACT guidance to recent rules finalized by USEPA, all signs appear a “go” for USEPA to give the nod to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as a control technology of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the future. In the second “niche” article on the blog, this post takes a look at USEPA’s references in the BACT guidance to carbon sequestration and asks whether this portends CCS being listed in USEPA’s central data base of air pollution technology information known as the RACT/BACT/LAER Clearinghouse in the near future. At this point, the answer is definitely possibly.

Prior to the release of the BACT guidance, industry groups had worried that USEPA would require facilities to use costly CCS technology to trap carbon dioxide and store it underground, but the guidance does not go that far.

The guidance states that: “[w]hile CCS is a promising technology, EPA does not believe that at this time CCS will be a technically feasible [best available control technology, or BACT] option in certain cases.”" It adds that ”[a] permitting authority may conclude that CCS is not applicable to a particular source, and consequently not technically feasible, even if the type of equipment needed to accomplish the compression, capture, and storage of GHGs are determined to be generally available from commercial vendors.” The BACT Guidance also states that “there may be cases at present where the economics of CCS are more favorable (for example, where the captured CO2 could be readily sold for enhanced oil recovery)….

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Stronger Gas Well Construction Standards are One Step Closer in Pennsylvania

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

On November 18, 2010, the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) voted unanimously in favor of imposing more stringent standards on construction of natural gas wells. Some of the key features of the proposed regulations include a provision requiring operators to implement a pressure barrier plan to minimize well control events, a provision requiring operators to condition the wellbore to ensure an adequate bond between the cement, casing and the formation, a requirement for the use of centralizers to ensure casings are properly positioned in the wellbore, and a provision improving the quality of the cement placed in the casing to protect fresh groundwater. In drafting the regulations, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection relied on input and comments from the public solicited as part of a series of public meetings held by the Environmental Quality Board this summer. The new gas well regulations have already been approved by the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy committees, and must now go before the Office of the Attorney General for final review and approval.

International Energy Agency (With Help from Reed Smith) Publishes Legal Framework for Carbon Capture and Storage

This post was written by David Wagner.

Earlier this month, the International Energy Agency released the Carbon Capture and Storage Model Regulatory Framework. Reed Smith environmental attorneys Dave Wagner, Jennifer Smokelin, Steve Nolan and Ariel Nieland were core contributors to the development and drafting of the Model Regulatory Framework. The Model Framework aims to assist national and regional development of regulatory frameworks for carbon capture and storage (CCS) by harnessing the regulatory work of early-movers such as Australia, Europe and the United States. Building on the progress to date, the Model Framework proposes key principles for addressing a broad range of regulatory issues associated with capturing, transporting and storing carbon dioxide.

Significant analysis by the International Energy Agency indicates that CCS will play a vital role in worldwide, least-cost efforts to limit global warming, contributing around one-fifth of required emissions reductions in 2050. For CCS to reach this potential, rapid deployment of CCS technology is necessary. The International Energy Agency estimates that about 100 CCS projects must be implemented by 2020 and over 3,000 by 2050. Such rapid deployment raises many regulatory issues that must be considered before this scale of deployment can occur.
 

Altogether, 29 critical regulatory issues for CCS are addressed in the Model Framework, which provides an explanation of each issue and examples of how the issue has been addressed in existing legislation. The Model Framework also provides model legislative text for countries to consult in developing their own national carbon capture and storage regulatory framework. It is also structured to provide guidance to authorities around the world, operating in diverse legal and regulatory environments and with varying levels of existing legislation. Obviously, if you have an interest or want further information, you can contact us for some "inside" perspective.

Proposed Bill Would Provide Tax Credit for Creating a Marcellus Shale Job in Pennsylvania

This post was written by Dan Dixon.

In an effort to maximize local economic growth related to Marcellus Shale, last week 18 senators from the Pennsylvania State Senate introduced a new bill titled the "Marcellus Shale Job Creation Tax Credit" that, if enacted, would provide a "tax credit" of $2,500 per new job created for a Pennsylvania resident. As introduced, the bill requires that the jobs created must pay 350% of the Federal Minimum wage, include benefits, and be "family sustaining." A company taking the credit must express intent to maintain operations in Pennsylvania for a period of five years (after its certified to receive the credits). Preference will be given to companies employing residents who meet certain classifications (terminated due to plant closure, geographically difficult to employ, etc.).

Under the current version of the proposed legislation, the Department of Revenue would be permitted to award over $24M in total tax credits per year. These credits could be applied to a company's Pennsylvania income or franchise tax (up to 100% of the liability). Importantly, the credits could be transferred to an affiliated entity and applied to the affiliates Pennsylvania income or franchise tax liability. We will provide additional posts as this legislation progresses through the Senate and House.

To Address Drinking Water Problems Caused by Gas Migration, Pennsylvania Decides to Act Now and Recover Costs Later

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

On October 19, 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued an open letter to all Susquehanna County citizens who have been affected by issues related to the apparent migration of natural gas from neighboring Marcellus Shale well sites into water supplies. In the letter, Secretary John Hanger states that the DEP has determined, based on "overwhelming evidence," that Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation is responsible for various instances of drinking water contamination in Dimock, PA. He also states that because Cabot has denied responsibility for the contamination and refused to "fix the problem," an agency called PENNVEST will provide the estimated $11.8 million in funds necessary to construct a water line from the Pennsylvania American Water Company treatment plant in Lake Montrose to Dimock residents so that they will have adequate water service in the interim. The state will then pursue recovery of the cost of the project directly from Cabot. Hanger notes that all residents along Route 29 will have the option to connect to the water line and that the construction project will not result in an increase in local taxes.

One Step Closer to a Marcellus Shale Gas Severance Tax in Pennsylvania

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

Last night, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted 104-94 in favor of passing Senate Bill 1155, the state's first natural gas severance tax. Currently, Pennsylvania is the only Marcellus Shale state that does not impose a tax on natural gas production. The proposed tax, which is likely to be scaled back once it goes before the Senate for a vote, would also be one of the highest of its kind in the nation, at 39 cents per 1,000 cubic feet (Mcf) of natural gas. A similar severance tax currently in place in West Virginia, 5% of the value of the gas plus 4.7 cents per Mcf, is more akin to the rate favored by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Although many opponents are concerned that the tax would kill job growth and stifle what has been seen as "one of the few bright spots in Pennsylvania's economy," supporters of the tax contend that it would enable the state to put environmental safeguards in place, while compensating Pennsylvania citizens for the use of their state's natural resources.
 

New Analysis of Potential Jobs and State Revenue Following a Pennsylvania Severance Tax on Natural Gas Extraction

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

A recent report from researchers at the Pennsylvania State University indicates that, athough a state severance tax on natural gas extraction would have negative economic consequences on gas production companies, the overall benefit of state and local spending of revenue from the tax could increase population in the state by 1,300 people, add 1,400 new workers, and boost business sales by $80 million as well as personal income by $20 million. Pennsylvania state lawmakers are currently considering approval of a severance tax provision in time for the October 1, 2010 deadline mandated as part of the Pennsylvania General Assembly's passage of the state budget earlier this summer. Pennsylvania remains the only major natural gas-producing state without a severance tax. Governor Rendell and supporters of the tax hope that revenue generated from the tax can be used to help fund local government and environmental initiatives.

USEPA Requests Information on Fracking Fluid Constituents

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("USEPA") announced yesterday that it sent voluntary information requests to nine companies in the oil and gas industry requesting information regarding hydraulic fracturing. Specifically, USEPA stated that it is "seeking information on the chemical composition of fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing process, data on the impacts of the chemicals on human health and the environment, standard operating procedures at their hydraulic fracturing sites and the locations of sites where fracturing has been conducted." USEPA indicated that it is seeking data as part of a broad scientific study, which Congress in 2009 directed the Agency to conduct to determine whether hydraulic fracturing has an impact on drinking water and public health. Responses to these requests have been requested within 30 days and USEPA has asked the nine recipients of the requests to inform them within 7 days if they do not plan to provide all of the requested information.

 

New Marcellus Shale Laws in Pennsylvania Would Impact Subsurface Property Rights and Pooling

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

Two new Marcellus Shale laws are currently in the works in Pennsylvania. The first, known as the Mineral Rights Act (House Bill No. 1436), which passed "first consideration" muster in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives earlier this summer, provides for the reassignment of abandoned mineral rights on privately owned lands. According to State Representative Jesse White (D-46), one of the bill's proponents, the law would promote Marcellus Shale activity in the state by providing procedural guidelines for resolving legal disputes over title to subsurface property.  Any mineral interests that have not been utilized, transferred, sold, leased or mortgaged for a period of ten years would be subject to a claim by the surface owner to have the property declared abandoned. The rightful owners of any mineral interest deemed abandoned would then have three years to file a claim of interest to preserve their rights for an additional ten years, after which time the mineral rights would be declared abandoned if left unused.  The goal of the proposed bill is to fill in gaps in ownership of subsurface mineral rights while ensuring that the rights of current mineral owners are protected.

The second Marcellus Shale-related law, for which House Representatives Gergely (D-35) and Everett (R-84) are currently seeking co-sponsorship, is entitled the "Conservation Pooling Act." This legislation seeks to enhance conservation efforts while simultaneously protecting landowners impacted by natural gas drilling. Some of the most important features of the law include limiting the number of well pads allowed to be constructed on drilling units, enhancing royalty owners' ability to maximize the economic benefit of their Marcellus Shale leases, and providing for no surface trespass rules and fair compensation for non-mineral interest owners who are pooled into a unit.
 

Climate Change Legislation is Dead. Long Live Climate Change Regulation!

This post was written by Larry Demase, Jennifer Smokelin and David Wagner.

Although an energy bill is now on the Senate floor, it is limited to energy conservation and issues related to the oil spill. It does not include a price on carbon in the form of cap and trade for any sector, and we are unlikely to see comprehensive climate legislation in September or later this year. So now what? Congressional failure to act now or later in 2010 means that, on the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("USEPA") will step in and use its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases ("GHGs") from the utility, transportation and industrial sectors, and there is a small possibility that such regulation by USEPA will include a cap-and-trade program. To be sure, USEPA has already taken several steps to regulate GHGs. 

The following post discusses what will likely come out of Congress and USEPA's ongoing efforts to enact measures that regulate GHGs.

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Stakeholders Speak Out to USEPA on Hydraulic Fracturing

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

Reed Smith joined an audience of 1,200 attendees at last night's "Opportunity for Stakeholder Input on Criteria for Selecting Case Studies for Consideration in USEPA's Hydraulic Fracturing Research Study" meeting in Southpointe, PA, just outside of Pittsburgh. The standing-room only event marked the largest turnout yet in this series of public hearings sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Approximately 600 people attended the first hearing in Fort Worth, Texas on July 8, while nearly 350 attended in Denver, CO on July 13. The last hearing in the series of four will take place in Binghamton, NY on August 12.

USEPA has explained that the purpose of the hearings is to solicit input from community and industry stakeholders on the design of USEPA's upcoming study of the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing ("hydro-fracking")­—which involves pumping large volumes of water mixed with frac fluid and sand into geologic formations to extract natural gas—on groundwater and drinking water. To facilitate this goal, USEPA welcomed members of the community to register for two-minute slots of speaking time during which they could address their thoughts on the scope and design of the study, as well as on the potential costs and benefits posed by Marcellus Shale natural gas production in Pennsylvania.

It became clear from the comments of the 130 or so speakers that public concern over the potential adverse environmental and health impacts of hydro-fracking has reached fever pitch. Some concerned community members advocated for a moratorium to be placed on all Pennsylvania natural gas drilling, similar to the one currently in effect in New York state, until USEPA completes its hydro-fracking study (expected sometime in late 2012). Industry supporters expressed fears that over-regulation could chill the significant increases in job opportunities and government revenue expected in Pennsylvania as a result of Marcellus Shale natural gas development and production.

According to USEPA, the study is scheduled to begin in early 2011, with preliminary study results expected in 2012. In addition to conducting the series of four public hearings, USEPA is also soliciting comments from the public via email at hydraulic.fracturing@epa.gov on the following inquiries: (1) where should USEPA prioritize its efforts?; (2) where are gaps in current knowledge?; (3) is there data and information already in existence that USEPA should be aware of?; and (4) are there potential candidate sites or case studies that would be useful for the study?

Pennsylvania Regulators Amend Public Meeting Schedule for Proposed Regulations for Casing and Cementing Wells

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

On July 21, 2010, Pennsylvania's Environmental Quality Board (EQB) amended the public meeting schedule for proposed regulations that aim to improve the safety of state oil and gas wells and protect the state’s water resources from contamination. According to the EQB's press release, the public meeting schedule is as follows:

  • July 21, 2010 - 7:00 p.m. - Lycoming College, Helm Science Center Bldg., Rm G-11, 700 College Place, Williamsport
  • July 22, 2010 - 7:00 p.m. - DEP Northwest Regional Office, 1st Floor Conference Rm, 230 Chestnut Street, Meadville
  • July 22, 2010 - 7:00 p.m. - DEP Southwest Regional Office, Waterfront Conf. Rm A & B, 400 Waterfront Dr., Pittsburgh
  • July 26, 2010 - 7:00 p.m. - DEP Southwest Regional Office, Waterfront Conf. Rm A & B, 400 Waterfront Dr., Pittsburgh

Pennsylvania Proposes Oil & Gas Well Casing and Cementing Rules

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

On July 10, 2010, the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (EQB) published its proposed rulemaking measures to update existing state requirements for drilling, casing, cementing, testing, monitoring and plugging of oil and gas wells. The proposed rulemaking, originally adopted by the EQB in May, is now open for public comment until August 9, 2010. Once the period for public comment is over, the proposal will go before the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission for review and final publication.

According to the EQB, a large portion of the updates contained in the proposal are already employed as part of best management practices among operators. However, the new regulations are said to further decrease any risk of gas migration from well sites to neighboring water supplies. The proposed rulemaking was prompted, in part, by public concern over the potential impact that the increasing number of Marcellus Shale wells could have on groundwater and drinking water supplies. Although the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's review of current well site construction and operation practices revealed that "many, if not all, Marcellus well operators met or exceeded the current well casing and cementing regulations[,] . . . the current regulations were not specific enough" in detailing guidelines for proper well construction or requirements for operators to respond to complaints over gas migration. The current updates would provide for more specificity in these areas, as well as establish a requirement that well operators conduct quarterly inspections of the structural integrity of all wells in operation. 

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Follow-up on Reed Smith's Quarterly Climate Change Report

This post was written by David Wagner.

If you missed Reed Smith's Quarterly Report on Climate Change, feel free to listen to an audio recording of the event. In addition, the slideshow presentation is available here. The report covered a lot of information and featured:

  • A status report on Congressional action on comprehensive climate regulation;
  • A summary of issues regarding the GHG cap-and-trade scheme under AB 32 in California;
  • An overview of the legal issues related to carbon capture and storage; and
  • A discussion of offset projects in the United States.

 

Pennsylvania PUC Issues Proposed Rulemaking on Pipeline Safety

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission issued a proposed rulemaking today that adopts applicable federal regulations and brings its safety regulations in line with the Federal Pipeline Safety Program. The proposed amendment will increase the PUC's enforcement and safety capabilities in regulating hazardous materials and liquid fuels. Public comments will be accepted for 30 days after publication of the proposed changes in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

 

Canada to Develop Carbon Capture and Storage Standard

This post was written by David Wagner.

Seeking to gain public and regulator confidence in carbon capture and storage (CCS), in late June two Canadian standards organizations announced plans to develop the first industry-wide standard for the underground storage of captured carbon emissions. CSA Standards, a certification firm, and the International Performance Assessment Centre for Geologic Storage of Carbon Dioxide will work together to develop a CCS standard. The two groups said that the completed standard with technical and safety guidelines will be submitted to the Standards Council of Canada for recognition, and would be the world's first formally recognized CCS standard for underground storage. CSA Standards said that it hoped the new standard would also be used as the basis for an international standard endorsed through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

CCS technology can reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and carbon emission-intensive industries, and a formally recognized national or international standard will work to improve public confidence in the safety of the long term storage of carbon dioxide. In particular, a carbon dioxide storage standard would help to ensure risks are identified and then addressed. A standard should also remain flexible to address site-specific characteristics and improvements, especially given that technical CCS expertise is still evolving.

Pennsylvania Gets Tough on Trucks Hauling Waste Water from Drilling Operations

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

According to a press release this week by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the "Pennsylvania State Police placed 250 commercial vehicles out of service" earlier this month as part of an effort to enforce various environmental and traffic safety laws in areas that have seen an increase in heavy truck traffic as a result of Marcellus Shale drilling operations. Of the 1,137 trucks inspected, waste water trucks received the highest proportion of citations and written warnings. Commissioner Frank E. Pawlowski explained in a June 23 announcement that because hydro-fracking requires substantial volumes of water to be delivered to and from well sites, the number of waste water trucks, in particular, on Pennsylvania roads has increased significantly.

 

USEPA to Host Public Meetings on Hydraulic Fracturing and its Potential Impact on Drinking Water

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

Starting in July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) will begin holding a series of public information meetings to discuss a newly proposed study of the potential adverse effects of hydro-fracking on drinking water, including one scheduled at the Hilton Garden Hotel in Southpointe, Pennsylvania on July 22 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Other meetings are in Fort Worth, Texas on July 8; Denver, Colorado on July 13; and Binghamton, New York on August 12. The purpose of the meetings is to provide the public with information about the study itself, which is still in its initial planning stages, as well as to solicit comments on its design and scope. According to USEPA, "[n]atural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future and hydraulic fracturing is one way of accessing this vital resource." However, due to the "serious concerns" that have been raised about the possible impact of hydro-fracking on human health and the environment, the relationship between the fracking technique, which involves the pumping of frac fluid (water and chemicals) and sand into shale formations to create fractures through which natural gas can flow to production wells, and its effects on water supplies needs to be better understood.

 

USEPA Proposal Would Require a Clean Water Act Permit for Certain Pesticide Applications

This post was written by David Wagner.

For the application of pesticides, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is taking a new position – it now aims to bring pesticide applicators under the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) permitting program. Earlier this month, USEPA released a draft CWA National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) pesticide general permit for point source discharges from the application of pesticides to waters of the United States. Under the Bush Administration, USEPA had issued a rule stating that these Clean Water Act permits were not required for applications of pesticides to U.S. waters. An appeals court decision vacated the rule in April 2009 and triggered the development of this proposal.

USEPA estimates that the court’s decision will require approximately 365,000 pesticide applicators nationwide, including farmers, land managers and other entities, to obtain NPDES permits by April 2011. The draft pesticide general permit covers applicators of biological pesticides and chemical pesticides that leave a residue in four categories of pesticide uses:

  • Mosquito and other flying insect pest control
  • Aquatic weed and algae control
  • Aquatic nuisance animal control
  • Forest canopy pest control
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U.S. Department of Energy Seeks Comment on Environmental Impact of Carbon Capture Projects in Texas and West Virginia

This post was written by David Wagner.

Indicating growing federal interest in carbon capture and storage, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking public comment on proposals to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants in Texas and West Virginia. In a June 2 notice, DOE announced that it intends to prepare an environmental impact statement on a plan to provide about $350 million for the Texas Clean Energy Project, a proposed combined power and chemical plant near Odessa, Texas, through the Clean Coal Power Initiative. The environmental impact statements will help the Department determine whether to provide funding for the project.

According to a another notice published on June 7, DOE intends to produce an environmental impact statement on a plan to provide up to $334 million for a West Virginia plant, about half of the total cost. The West Virginia project involves fitting the existing Mountaineer coal-fired power plant, operated by American Electric Power near New Haven, with carbon dioxide capture and storage. As with the proposed Texas project, the Department would provide funding for the project through the Clean Coal Power Initiative, a program to provide partial financing for new technologies that can help utilities reduce their emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and greenhouse gases from power plants.

Information on public meetings and comment submission deadlines is available in the notices.

Government Assessment Underscores Pennsylvania's Carbon Dioxide Storage Potential and the Need for Substantive Legal Changes

This post was written by David Wagner.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) recently posted two reports concluding that, with substantive changes to laws governing subsurface ownership rights and long-term liability issues, Pennsylvania’s geology could store carbon dioxide in a cost-competitive and manageable way. The reports also concluded that another key step is to identify specific storage areas.

A carbon capture and storage (CCS) network would collect carbon dioxide from coal-fired electricity generating plants and other industrial sources, compress it into a liquid, and then transport it through pipelines deep underground where it would be injected into the rock formations or other suitable geologic features.

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Wyoming Passes Landmark Mandatory Disclosure Rules for Fracking Chemicals

This post was written by Ariel Nieland.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted unanimously yesterday to pass two new regulations that require energy companies to disclose all chemicals used in the fracking process as well as to identify all groundwater sources and state-licensed wells in proximity to well heads. One of the major industry concerns over such disclosure requirements is the protection of trade secrets, i.e. what chemicals comprise each company's frac fluid and in what proportion. To address this concern, the regulations impose confidentiality requirements on state regulators in possession of proprietary information. The disclosure requirement is the first of its kind in the nation; however, other states, including Pennsylvania have proposed similar regulations.

 

U.S. Department of Energy Announces Grants for Solar, Marine and Hydrokinetic Technologies

This post was written by Christopher Risetto, Henry King and Robert Helland.

In May, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the availability of more than $171 million in grants, cooperative agreements, and technology-investment agreements "to expand and accelerate the development, commercialization, and use of solar and water power technologies throughout the United States". This funding continues a strong emphasis in the DOE, since the passage of the Recovery Act, on projects that promote alternative energy development, sustainability, and green jobs. The goal is to further the development of "evolving technologies," i.e., those that are not existing commercial technologies. In this Client Alert, Reed Smith provides key details behind the two major initiatives included within these announcements, particularly what information is necessary to complete a competitive application.

If Congressional Climate and Energy Legislation Fails to Pass in the U.S., What Happens?

This post was written by Phil Lookadoo and Jennifer Smokelin.

The future of greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation in the United States, as well as the future mix of electric power generation sources, is linked to the fate of climate and energy legislation in Congress. With all eyes on the Senate recently released Kerry-Leiberman comprehensive climate and energy legislation and what by most accounts is its slim chances for passage, let’s consider the possibility that Congress will fail to pass climate or energy legislation.

If that is the case, this does not mean no regulation of greenhouse gases and no energy reform. It simply moves the discussion to another government branch, namely, the Executive Branch, and in particular the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In other words, if Congressional climate and energy legislation fails to pass, executive branch initiatives gain in importance, and these initiatives will proceed apace regardless of Congressional inaction.

A Shift to USEPA Regulation of GHGs

USEPA can be expected to move forward with regard to regulating GHGs from stationary sources. On December 7, 2009, in compliance with the US Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), USEPA issued its Endangerment Finding, opening the door to USEPA regulation of GHGs under the existing Clean Air Act (CAA). Although the Endangerment Finding is currently being challenged in the Federal Circuit, challenges to the Endangerment Finding will not likely impede further EPA action to regulate GHGs under the CAA. However, challenges to these USEPA further actions are likely.

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Stricter Wastewater Regulations Advance in Pennsylvania

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board approved two regulations this week to address concerns over the potential for Marcellus Shale fracking operations to lead to groundwater and drinking water contamination. The first measure aims to limit the amount of "total dissolved solid," a measure of combined chemical substances dissolved in water, allowed to reenter streams and other bodies of water by requiring operators to treat all "frac water" containing over a certain amount of the pollutant before releasing it. The second measure would impose a requirement on all new Marcellus Shale developments to have 150-foot "buffer zones" separating them from high-quality streams. These new measures are now en route to the environmental committees of the Pennsylvania House and Senate for further review. The Independent Regulatory Review Commission, along with environmental and gas industry officials will also have an opportunity to provide comments.

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Decides Foundation Case in favor of DEP and Natural Gas Producer

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell.

In a unanimous opinion authored by President Judge Leadbetter, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the Environmental Hearing Board's opinion last week in Foundation Coal Resources Corp. v. DEP, No. 619 C.D. 2009, ---A.2d --- (Pa. Commw. April 27, 2010), in a case involving objections filed by a coal owner to an oil and gas producer's natural gas well permit application. The Board had held that the coal company, Foundation, did not have standing to bring an objection under Section 202 of the Oil and Gas Act, which allows owners of "projected and platted but not yet operating" coal mines to object to the proposed location of a producer's well. The Commonwealth Court agreed that where a coal company owned the mine, but where the mine was not "projected and platted" it did not have standing to to make such an objection.

Foundation also challenged the Department of Environmental Protection's decision to issue permits to the gas producer without imposing five "special conditions" that the coal company had proposed. The Board had previously determined that the conditions were beyond the scope of the Department's authority to impose where they tried "to rewrite the Oil and Gas Act under the guise of necessary special conditions to ensure safety..." EHB's Adjudication at 54. The Commonwealth Court agreed, finding that while the Department has the authority to impose conditions "where it has been shown to be necessary for the safe operation of a particular mine, it has no obligation to do so where such necessity has not been shown."

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to Meet with Drilling Companies to Discuss Gas Migration from Wells

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

According to an announcement this week by John Hanger, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the DEP plans to hold a meeting on May 13, 2010 with oil and gas companies who have drilling permits in the Marcellus Shale to discuss preventive measures for protecting against gas migration from wells. The DEP is concerned that gas migration from wells can lead to groundwater and drinking water contamination. In addition to facilitating discussion about the issue among the various stakeholders, Mr. Hanger stated that the DEP is also proposing an increase in oversight, as well as "tougher regulations to meet the growing demand and new drilling technologies including improving well construction standards to protect from gas migration.”

 

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Warns of Water Pollution Threat from Dissolved Chemicals

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

In a statement released yesterday, John Hanger, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, championed the proposal of new rules aimed at keeping Pennsylvania streams, drinking water, and rivers free from a pollutant known as "total dissolved solid" (TDS), which is a measure of chemical substances dissolved in water. In addition to natural gas drilling, sources of TDS include abandoned mine drainage, agricultural runoff, and discharges from industrial or sewage treatment plants. Mr. Hanger's hope is to establish the necessary regulations now that will prevent TDS from becoming a source of contamination later. In the press release, Mr. Hanger focused on the high TDS concentrations related to natural gas drilling, stating that “Marcellus drilling is growing rapidly and our rules must be strengthened now to prevent our waterways from being seriously harmed in the future.”

In Pennsylvania, Proposed Regulation to Require Public Disclosure of Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

During a Marcellus Shale public forum meeting held last week near Scranton, Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) proposed a new regulation to be added to the most recent draft of proposed legislation regulating well construction. Under the proposed regulation, gas drilling companies would have to provide information about chemical usage on a well-by-well basis. This new proposal would require each company, upon completion of well construction, to disclose in a report a list containing all the names and total volume of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process. The new proposal will be presented at a Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board meeting for discussion on May 19, 2010. Scott Perry, director of DEP's Bureau of Oil and Gas Management, explained that this proposed regulation was drafted in response to a growing desire by the public for increased transparency with respect to well site development.

Pennsylvania DEP Provides Some Details on Marcellus Shale Regulatory Requirements

This post was written by Ariel Nieland.

On March 31, 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held a Marcellus Shale regulatory requirements training seminar in Harrisburg, PA, and Reed Smith was there. The general message of the DEP seemed to be that conscientious well site planning and operation at the outset on the part of operators will be met with a willingness on the part of regulatory authorities to promote development and production of the resource.

The seminar covered a range of environmental topics associated with Marcellus Shale development. The segment on protecting streams and wetlands addressed the general permitting requirements for well sites located within 100 feet of streams, springs, or other bodies of water. The next segment, covering spill reporting requirements, underscored the importance of establishing a "Preparedness, Prevention and Contingency" plan, a requirement for well operators under the Clean Streams Law, that sets forth guidelines for waste disposal and emergency response measures. The session on water management plans provided an overview of the requirements for identifying water sources -- including public water supplies, surface or groundwater, wastewater, and frac flowback -- to be used in Marcellus Shale development as well as best management practices for water use. The seminar next focused on dam safety permit requirements for centralized impoundment areas in Marcellus Shale gas well sites, including the best management practices for the construction of impoundment areas, use of synthetic liners, and impoundment site management. The segment on chemical analysis of residual waste addressed submission requirements for identifying specific chemicals contained in well site waste (including flowback water, brines, muds, and cuttings), the reporting, monitoring, and recordkeeping requirements for that residual waste, and waste transportation guidelines. Finally, the session on erosion and sediment control provided an overview of best management practices for constructing site access roadways, waterbars, sediment barriers and channels, and culverts in order to meet the DEP's general permitting requirements.

The program was an abridged version of a two-day comprehensive training program on Marcellus Shale regulatory requirements offered at Pennsylania State University in January 2010.

Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Update: New Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements

This post was written by Ariel Nieland.

On March 22, 2010, Governor Rendell signed Senate Bill 297 into law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This bill, originally proposed by Senator Yaw in February of 2009, provides for increased record-keeping and reporting requirements including requiring Marcellus Shale well operators to submit annual and semi-annual reports specifying, among other things, "the amount of production on the most well-specific basis available" and the status of each well. The bill also requires the DEP to post Marcellus Shale well data online. This new requirement will significantly impact the availability of natural gas producers' production information, which was previously kept confidential for five years.
 

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Holds In Favor of Gas Industry in Minimum Royalty Act Litigation

This post was written by Kevin Abbott and Nicolle Snyder Bagnell.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a much-anticipated opinion interpreting Pennsylvania's Minimum Royalty Act, 58 P.S. 33, today, holding that royalties should be calculated "at the wellhead, as provided by the net-back method in the Lease…" The case, as well as 70 others filed in Pennsylvania, were brought by lessors unhappy with their leases because the recent interest in natural gas in the Marcellus Shale resulted in some of their neighbors getting better lease terms. The Plaintiffs argued that the Act requires a guaranteed minimum royalty on the gross proceeds of the sale of the natural gas and, as a result, any contractual agreement to share in post-production costs necessarily reduces the royalty that the lessor receives. They sought an interpretation of the Act which would result in the invalidation of tens of thousands of leases entered into since 1979. Such a result would have crippled the revival of the natural gas exploration industry in the Commonwealth. The defendants and the industry argued that the plain language of the Act does not prohibit lessors and lessees from agreeing to share in post-production costs. The sole purpose of the Act, as evidenced by its companion provision in 58 P.S. § 34, was to prohibit lessees from paying a flat rate for production -- a common practice prior to the Act’s passage in 1979 -- and to instead require a minimum royalty of one-eighth of the gas produced. The Court's opinion today resolves that issue squarely in favor of the oil and gas industry. Not only did the Court decline to invalidate the leases at issue, but also determined that post production expenses could be permissibly deducted under the Act.

Kevin Abbott and Nicolle Bagnell of Reed Smith represented the Industry Amicus, the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association, the Independent Oil and Gas Association and Chesapeake Appalachia LLC.

USEPA to Focus on Impacts from Hydraulic Fracturing in Marcellus and other Shales

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) officially announced its plans today to initiate a study of hydraulic fracturing and its potential impact on water quality and public health. USEPA is re-allocating $1.9 million for this comprehensive study in 2010 and seeks additional funding for 2011. Hydraulic fracturing has gained the attention of Congress this year in large part due to the increased scrutiny of its use in the development of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and other Appalachian states. USEPA is still in the early stages of designing the study and is seeking input from its Science Advisory Board. Click here for more information.

Triggered by Marcellus Shale Demand, Pennsylvania Plans to Open a New Oil and Gas Management Office

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Secretary John Hanger announced today that the Department plans to open a new office of its Oil and Gas Management division in Scranton, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. Although the exact location has not yet been decided, the purpose of the office will be to decrease travel time and locate regulators closer to the oil and gas wells they regulate, particularly the new Marcellus Shale wells planned in that part of the state. You can find the Department's press release here.

More from the Marcellus Shale: West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection Finalizes Guidelines for Fracking

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell.

On January 8, 2010, West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) finalized its industry guidance for oil and gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. The guidance focuses on large water volume fracture treatments and addresses the use and disposal of frac fluids. As discussed in the guidance, horizontal drilling, coupled with large volume hydraulic fracture treatments, is becoming a common exploration technique. Large amounts of water mixed with sand and other additives are pumped into the shale formation under high pressure to fracture the rock around the well to create a permeability conduit to the well bore. Water used in the hydraulic fracturing process, often referred to as “frac fluid,” must be processed in one of three ways. It can be injected in permitted disposal wells, treated to remove generated pollutants then disposed of properly, or reused.


The WVDEP also added a "Well Work Permit Application Addendum" as part of its natural gas drilling permit application requirements.

USEPA Establishes an "Eyes on Drilling" Tipline

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell.

Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) launched its new "Eyes on Drilling" tipline. The toll free number and email address were created by USEPA to help address growing public concern about oil and natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. In particular, they are asking citizens to report illegal disposal of wastes or other suspicious activity related to oil and gas drilling. Information about the tipline, as well as what the agency is asking citizens to include in their report, can be found here.

Pennsylvania's Proposed Drilling Regulations for Oil and Gas Wells Now Available for Public Comment

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell.

Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has just made available its proposed draft regulations for public comment. Comments must be received by the DEP by March 2, 2010. A copy of the regulations can be found here.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to Hire 68 New Oil and Gas Regulators

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell.

In a move described as an "Aggressive Action to Protect Public, Environment as Marcellus Drilling Operations Expands," Pennsylvania's Governor Ed Rendell directed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") to hire 68 new staff members today to work on natural gas well inspections and related oil and gas regulation. The additions will be made despite a moratorium on hiring at the DEP and will be funded entirely from the higher permit fees instituted last year for oil and gas drilling permits. In addition, Rendell commented on the DEP's proposed amendments to the current oil and gas regulations, which will be available for public comment beginning tomorrow, January 29, 2010, saying that the new regulations will:

  • Require the casings of Marcellus Shale and other high-pressure wells to be tested and constructed with specific, oilfield-grade cement;
  • Clarify the drilling industry’s responsibility to restore or replace water supplies affected by drilling;
  • Establish procedures for operators to identify and correct gas migration problems without waiting for direction from DEP;
  • Require drilling operators to notify DEP and local emergency responders immediately of gas migration problems;
  • Require well operators to inspect every existing well quarterly to ensure each well is structurally sound, and report the results of those inspections to DEP annually; and
  • Require well operators to notify DEP immediately if problems such as over-pressurized wells and defective casings are found during inspections.

 

Climate Change Regulation After Copenhagen: Now What? For Starters, Consider Turning Your GHG Emission Reductions into an Asset

This post was written by Larrry Demase, Jennifer Smokelin, Todd Maiden and David Wagner.

In this client update, Reed Smith attorneys (including COP15 delegates Larry Demase and Jennifer Smokelin) reflect on what transpired in Copenhagen and offer some advice regarding what regulated entities should do next.

Among other issues, the update discusses how to position your GHG-intensive business to minimize compliance costs in a carbon-constrained economy. It also addresses how to position your GHG emission reduction credits to serve as an asset. For example, regulated entities should make sure they have documented and verified all of the GHG credits to which they are entitled. One group of potential GHG credits that comes to mind after the economic downturn last year are credits available as a result of reduced GHG emissions. Consider: Have your facilities reduced GHG emissions in the past year, because of plant idling or reduced production capacity? Have you reduced your carbon footprint measurably and permanently? Or are you beginning to reduce your GHG emissions to improve efficiency? If so, some of these reductions in GHG emissions may be eligible for credits. These credits, which must be properly documented and verified, could potentially be sold or traded on various mandatory and voluntary markets (EU-ETS and/or the Chicago Climate Exchange, for example), or banked for compliance with the inevitable domestic cap-and-trade program.

In short, there may be opportunity here. Reed Smith can work with you to determine which GHG reductions at your facilities are eligible for credits, and help plan how to maximize the potential opportunities, or even how to profit from these credits.

The Copenhagen Accord and COP-15: Brokenhagen or Some Version of Hopenhagen?

This post was written by Larry Demase and Jennifer Smokelin.

As they return from two weeks at the COP in Copenhagen, Reed Smith lawyers Lawrence Demase and Jennifer Smokelin reflect on what transpired and offer some advice regarding what to look for in the future:

The Copenhagen Accord, negotiated by only five countries and outside of the UN process, lays out the high-level agreements in principle of the largest emitters that are not party to the Kyoto Protocol: China, the United States, and India. The most significant outcome is the agreement with regard to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction by non-Kyoto parties, particularly China and the United States. With China's use of oil increasing at an incredible rate, even modest commitments (like a decrease in GHG intensity), could be a significant undertaking. The impact of the Copenhagen Accord may be felt more in the price of oil than in the reduction of emissions of GHG.

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Day 12: Report from Reed Smith Delegates in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

This post was written by Larry Demase.

Just like our Day 1 report from Copenhagen, we are back to a bunch of “C” words. This time they include: commitments, cost, China, closed door meetings, and, of course, confusion. We will certainly post a COP-15 recap and try to explain “what it all means.”

As of this 22:00 GMT posting, it is being reported that “developed and developing countries have now agreed to listing their national actions and commitments, a finance mechanism, to set a mitigation target of 2 degrees Celsius and to provide information on the implementation of their actions through national communications, with provisions for international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines.”

It remains to be seen how this agreement compares to the last (and fourth) draft of the “Copenhagen Accord”. The fourth draft had called for global GHG emissions to be cut by 50% from 1990 levels by 2050, with Annex I Parties (industrialized nations except the United States) committing to reductions of 80% by the same time. Other nations would “implement mitigation actions”, in the form of national action plans, that would be updated every two years. The fourth draft also acknowledged the scientific view that nations need to keep emissions below a level that stops the global average temperature exceeding a 2 degrees Celsius increase above pre-industrialized levels.

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Day 11: Report from Reed Smith Delegates in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

This post was written by Larry Demase.

Prior to being replaced, Connie Hedegaard analogized the last minute nature of the COP to procrastinating elementary school students, stating, “It’s just like schoolchildren. If they have a very long deadline to deliver an exercise they will wait for the last moment…. It’s basically as simple as that.” With one full day left, COP-15 is in countdown mode and we’ll see if the parties finish their homework on time.

Underscoring the urgency, political heavyweights are here and making the rounds, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, and Senator John Kerry. In a plenary session, Prime Minister Brown stated that there was no insurmountable obstacle to an agreement in Copenhagen which could be turned into a binding treaty in 6-12 months. He called for (a) long term goal of 2 degree temperature increase; (b) immediate (ok, year 2012) aid of $10 billion to developing countries; (c) $100 billion in long term financing to developing countries; and (d) a commitment by all countries to reduce emissions to a degree consistent with their “highest ambition”.

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Day 10: Report from Reed Smith Delegates in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

This post was written by Larry Demase.

In addition to the official proceedings, much of the activity at and around the COP centers on what is not said or said unofficially or (hearsay notwithstanding) just heard from other delegates. For example:

  • At a side event this morning hosted by the International Energy Agency, the Swedish Deputy Prime Minister, who was the keynote speaker, did not discuss the resignation of Connie Hedegaard, the Danish chairwoman in charge of COP-15. Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the Danish Prime Minister took over for her purportedly because he was not happy with pace of negotiations. That is in contrast with the official statement that the takeover was planned. Regardless, there is buzz among delegates that the Danish Prime Minister is trying to politically hijack the conference.
  • A Japanese negotiator lamented that he stayed up all night to negotiate and was depressed over prospects – although he said he thought there was still a chance for a political agreement. 
  • The European Union wants a reduction based on 1.5 degree (C) in temperature but there has been significant discussion among delegates that this level of reduction is unworkable.

Scuttlebutt, protests and general chaos aside, where does that leave us? For the next two days, the COP is left to focus on the deadlock in the negotiations over payment to the developing countries and the level of emission target reductions. 

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Day 9: Report from Reed Smith Delegates in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

This post was written by Larry Demase.

It’s time to add a corollary to our earlier statement that it’s not just what you know and who you know but what you are called. Our corollary is that it’s also what kind of credentials you have.  The Bella Centre was a mob scene this morning and it turned away thousands of registrants. Still, for the 20,000 registrants who didn’t get in, it’s hard to say what they missed. 

The high level negotiations between countries have reached a critical point with various alliances being formed on a number of issues. Nonetheless, the possibility of a broad based agreement may be fading. Of course, things may change but the Kyoto Protocol parties (along with the United States) are likely to leave with an agreement to finish their work either at a June meeting or at the next annual U.N. conference in late 2010 in Mexico City.  

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Day 8: Report from Reed Smith Delegates in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

This post was written by Larry Demase.

After a relatively quiet weekend (in which we took a two-day blogging break), tempers flared as today was a day of protest at the COP.

First, observer-delegate protests. Protestors - including a group of activists dressed as polar bears urging the talks to “save the humans” - inside the Bella Center delayed registration and attendance: five thousand delegate hopefuls were queued up outside the Bella Center trying to get in at 2 p.m., most having waited in the weather since 7:30 a.m. this morning.

Then, party-delegate protests. For five hours today (Monday), just four days before world leaders are due to forge a deal in Copenhagen, African countries backed by 135 developing countries including China and India staged a boycott of negotiations claiming rich nations are trying to avoid new, legally binding promises by ditching the Kyoto Protocol; the boycott ended when rich nations assured the Africans they were willing to discuss Kyoto commitments However, precious time was lost – in a week where there was already no time to spare (see blog posts from last week re key negotiators’ lament for “more time”).

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Day 5: Report from Reed Smith Delegates in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

This post was written by Jennifer Smokelin.

Overtaking the position from American golf star Tiger Woods, “Copenhagen” (as in COP-15) is now the number one search query on the world’s leading internet search engine Google, according to Treehugger.com.  And the numbers continue to add up: 113 heads of state are scheduled to arrive next week, the most at any Conference of the Parties (COP).  There have been over 35,000 registrants for an event center that can only hold 15,000. By comparison, Kyoto, where the Protocol was agreed to, had 11,000 registrants. Now, in a move never seen before at a COP, the UNFCCC has resorted to implementing a secondary badge system to restrict access, mostly for non-governmental organizations, next week.  That certainly underscores the unprecedented convergence of public opinion and politics on this issue.

But will the COP be successful? That depends, of course, on how you define success. Todd Stern, the top US climate negotiator said “absolutely I think there is a deal to be done here”. But what are the terms? Let’s consider an easier question: are the negotiators making progress? At the early morning plenary COP/MOP (Meeting of the Parties), chairs of the key working groups KP and LCA put forth drafts that seemed at least to Executive Secretariat of the UNFCCC Yvo de Boer to set forth the beginnings of a framework for meaningful action.   Some experts state that the negotiations are precisely where they need to be before heads of state step in: all issues open but the choices sharpened. But Mr. de Boer admitted that now, going in to the weekend (not waiting until midweek), was the time to focus on the “big picture” items, e.g., whether the world should seek to keep global temperatures from rising beyond a ceiling of either 2.7 or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels and what countries should commit to with regard to short term and long term financial aid. On the latter issue, the European Union stepped up and pledged $3 billion in climate aid to poor countries. Let’s see the United States match that.

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Day 4: Report from Reed Smith Delegates in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

This post Is written by Jennifer Smokelin.

It’s Day 4 of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and there is still some confusion among non-governmental groups (NGOs) – and let’s hope not among the Parties – as to the differing responsibilities of the two working groups at the COP: the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Climate Convention (AWG-LCA) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) [see Day 2 post for details]. 

At today’s AWG-KP civil society briefing, a question from the floor asked how the AWG-KP working group was progressing with regard to the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) and certain financing issues.  After consultation with the KP committee chairs on the dais, Chair John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) carefully explained that the question from the floor got it wrong:  this was the briefing for the “good guys” - you know, the ones who have already made commitments - and that questions regarding NAMAs and financing were being discussed by the AWG-LCA (by implication, the not so good guys).  Care to take a guess where the United States falls? 

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Day 3: Report from Reed Smith Delegates in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

This post is written by Jennifer Smokelin.

As I think back on last evening’s buzz and today’s speeches, including remarks by USEPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at the Conference of the Parties (COP), the loud speaker system at the nearby United States’ pavilion blares an old Marvin Gaye song: “it takes two, baby. Me and you, just takes two.”  And one wonders whether the US delegation has resorted to delivering a subliminal musical message to industrialized countries (Annex I parties) and developing countries (Annex II parties) when it comes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions. 

Last evening and into today, much of the buzz at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen focused on a “Danish Text” for a political agreement on climate change. It’s been criticized as favoring industrialized countries by seeking to preserve their economic dominance. Another text believed to be drafted by China favored, not surprisingly, developing countries. The Chinese text, for example, made no mention of specific commitments by developing countries. Also weighing in today was Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate negotiator. He emphasized that any international climate change agreement must include commitments from developing, especially fast-growing, countries such as China. This takes us back to what we mentioned in our Day 1 posting, namely, that the four issues capturing the most attention in Copenhagen center on industrialized targets, commitments to and by developing countries, financing and the legal shape of the agreement.   So to address climate change in a meaningful way, just sing along: “To make a dream come true, it just takes two.”

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Day 2: Report from Reed Smith Delegates in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

This post was written by Jennifer Smokelin.

Here in Copenhagen, it’s not just what you know and who you know but what you are called. In addition to the government negotiating teams, the delegates are categorized by acronyms: BINGOs, RINGOs, ENGOs, YUNGOs, and several others. As delegates for the Environmental Markets Association, my colleague Larry Demase and I are BINGOs: Business and Industry Non-Governmental Organizations. (RINGOs are Research-oriented and Independent NGO, ENGOs are Environmental NGOs and YOUNGOs are Youth NGOs). In addition to observing the negotiations, these additional groups organize side events and daily briefings with negotiators to ensure that all key issues are considered and addressed in the climate negotiations.

And to follow the climate negotiations, there are a few more acronyms to learn. In 2007, the Conference of the Parties adopted the Bali Action Plan and Bali Roadmap. The key negotiating groups under the Bali Action Plan and Roadmap are the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Climate Convention (AWG-LCA) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP). The names for both groups are fairly self-explanatory. The AWG-LCA focuses on long-term cooperation including mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology/capacity-building. The AWG-KP focuses on emission reductions by Annex I countries (i.e., developed countries) beyond 2012. The road for both of these groups is supposed to end with reports for the larger Conference of the Parties (COP-15) to consider in Copenhagen at the end of this week.

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Day 1: Report from Reed Smith Delegates in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference

This post was written by Jennifer Smokelin.

As you know, the United Nations climate conference began today in Copenhagen, Denmark. And Reed Smith is here. Actually it’s the 15th conference of its kind and it is properly known as Conference of the Parties or COP-15 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). COP-15 may not yield a new global climate treaty with every minor detail in place. But hopefully it will close with agreements on four political essentials, thereby creating some clarity the world – not least the financially struck business world – needs. Stay tuned to this site to find out, day by day, how close the parties some on these issues.

Four issues to follow are:

  1. How much are industrialized countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases? 
  2. How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions? 
  3. How is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their  emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed?
  4. How is that money going to be managed?

As crowds of people arrive in Copenhagen, and amid an assortment of climate-related side events such as Hopenhagen Live, COP-15 opened today. Speakers focused on a lot of “C” words: how the conference marks the culmination of a two-year negotiating process to enhance international climate change cooperation, how countries and the negotiations must be constructive, and how there was hope for consensus. 

Much of the news for the day, it seems, was back in the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) announced its final endangerment finding that concludes greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare. The finding does not include any proposed regulations, but it will pave the way for several pending EPA rules. For example, USEPA will be able to finalize draft regulations to impose the first-ever federal tailpipe standards for greenhouse gases and to require the largest industrial sources to install the best available control technology to curb their emissions. EPA is expected to finalize both of those rules by March 2010.

The determination is expected to add to the Obama administration’s bargaining power in the absence of comprehensive U.S. energy and climate legislation. Also, President Obama shifted his visit to the Copenhagen talks from this week to the last day, indicating an increase in the administration’s commitment to, and hopes for, a successful outcome. The President also indicated that there appears to be an emerging consensus for developed nations to mobilize $10 billion a year by 2012 to support climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries.

USEPA Publishes Final Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule

This post was written by David Wagner.

The final rule implementing USEPA's Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program was published in the Federal Register on October 30, 2009, and the rule will become effective on December 29, 2009.  For more information and an analysis of the rule, please review our earlier posting.

Pennsylvania DEP Fines Company for September Spills at Marcellus Drill Site

This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Stephanie Hadgkiss.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has fined Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation $56,650 following three spills which occurred over the course of one week at Cabot's Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling sites in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. The fine was assessed as for violations of the Clean Streams law, Solid Waste Management Act and the Oil and Gas Act.

In addition to the fine, from September 24 to October 16, the DEP imposed a three-week halt of hydraulic fracturing performed by Cabot in Susquehanna County. Hydraulic fracturing is a drilling technique being used to maximize natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale. A mixture of water, sand and other substances (sometimes referred to as "frac fluid") is forced into tiny fractures in underground shale rock layers at high pressure in order to release trapped natural gas.

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USEPA Finalizes First Nationwide Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Requirements

This post was written by Rose Standifer and Jennifer Smokelin.

Mandatory reporting of greenhouse gases (GHG) is now required nationwide. On Tuesday, September 22, 2009, the U.S. Environmental Project Agency (EPA) issued its Final Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Rule. The final rule requires mandatory reporting of GHG from most large GHG emissions sources in the United States. The stated purpose of the rule is to collect accurate and timely emissions data to inform future policy decisions. Reporting requirements begin on January 1, 2010. Initial reports, covering emissions during 2010, are due on March 31, 2011.

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Why UK Businesses Cannot Ignore the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC)

This post was written by Indeg Kerr, Siobhan Hayes and Tim Foster.

UK businesses need to know their carbon footprint because in 2010 the Carbon Reduction Commitment Order will apply. Since our CRC posting in December 2008, draft regulations have been published and are now subject to public consultation. This remains a scheme where businesses using a substantial amount of energy will have to report on their energy consumption, buy carbon allowances based on projected carbon emissions for each scheme year then surrender them at the end of each year when energy use is known. A league table will be published by the Environment Agency (EA) who will administer the scheme showing the relative energy efficiency of all those in the program. The best performing businesses will receive a refund of some of the costs of the allowances plus a bonus but the worst performing businesses will pay a penalty.

Some industries are high intensity energy users and already have to comply with the EU’s Emissions Trading System. The CRC scheme will capture lower intensity energy users who used a significant amount of electricity in 2008 and may include large offices, chains of retail outlets, hotels, banks, chains of restaurants as well as industry.
This posting outlines the types of business that may need to comply with the CRC scheme, the basic requirements of the program, some cost issues, and next steps to consider.
 

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Marcellus Shale: Severance Tax Update in Pennsylvania

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell and Stephanie Hadgkiss.

Facing a projected budget deficit of $2.3 billion, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has proposed a "severance" tax on gas extracted from the Marcellus shale formation, the proceeds of which would go to the General Fund in order to offset revenue shortfalls in the state's budget. This proposal was reported in the Feb. 20, 2009 edition of the Oil and Gas Journal.

According to the article, Governor Rendell proposes to tax producers in the state 5% at the wellhead, plus 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet of production --an approach identical to that of West Virginia. The tax would be paid monthly to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue beginning Oct. 1, 2009 and has been projected to raise an estimated $1.82 billion over five years.

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In the US, the End of Mountaintop Mining?

This post was written by Mark Mustian. 

Mountain-top mining has probably generated more controversy in the United States than any other current resource extraction process, and recent USEPA activities have significantly increased attention to the process. Before discussing the regulatory developments, some background information may be helpful. Mountain-top mining is utilized to remove low-sulfur coal from the tops of mountains in the Appalachian region. The mining company timbers the mountain-top and removes the topsoil. The company then uses explosives to remove the overburden rock to expose the coal seams. The overburden is typically pushed into a nearby valley, creating a valley fill. The coal is excavated and washed (creating a significant amount of coal slurry waste), and the top of the mountain is reclaimed and revegetated. The process results in permanent changes to the topography and permanent impacts to the regions streams and water quality.

Mountain-top mining is allowed under section 515(c)(1) of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). However, in order to deposit the overburden into the valley, and the valley watershed, the mining company must obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). A permit is required under section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in order to discharge dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States. The permit is issued by the USACE using the guidelines developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Under Section 404(c) of the CWA, the EPA has the authority to deny a permit for the discharge of dredged or fill material if it determines that "that the discharge of such materials into such area will have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas."

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Increased Drilling Fees for Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale

This post was written by Nicolle Snyder Bagnell.

Pennsylvania's Environmental Quality Board, a 20 member board which includes representatives from 11 state agencies, 5 members from the Citizens Advisory Council, and 4 members from the Pennsylvania Senate and House and is chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), voted last month to increase permit fees for oil and gas wells. The new fees increase the base cost for a Marcellus Shale drilling permit from $100 to $900 for wells up to 1,500 feet deep plus a fee of $100 for every additional 500 feet beyond the initial 1500 feet, resulting in potential permit fees of thousands of dollars per well. The fee increases must still be approved by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the State Attorney General. If approved, the new permit fees will likely be applied beginning in March or April of 2009 and would be the first increase in oil and gas well permit fees in Pennsylvania in 25 years.
 

As discussed in the DEP's fact sheet, the Marcellus Shale is a rock formation in Pennsylvania and parts of New York and West Virginia that may hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Recent advances in drilling technology and rising natural gas prices have led to new interest in this previously untapped formation.
 

California Air Resources Board Approves Climate Change Scoping Plan: Energy Efficiency

This post was written by Sara Mo.

The approved Scoping Plan includes measures that expand and strengthen existing energy efficiency programs as well as building and appliance standards. 

The plan establishes new targets for statewide annual energy demand reductions of 32,000 gigawatt hours and 800 million therms from businesses. In addition, the plan sets forth the following energy efficiency strategies:

  • Cross-cutting Strategy for Buildings– Construction of “Zero Net Energy” buildings that regulate building energy use over the course of a typical year by reserving surplus energy to a grid and drawing from the grid when additional energy is needed;
  • Codes and Standards Strategies– More stringent building codes and appliance efficiency standards; broader standards for new types of appliances and for water efficiency; improved compliance and enforcement of existing standards; voluntary efficiency and green building targets beyond mandatory codes;
  • Strategies for Existing Buildings – Voluntary and mandatory whole-building retrofits for existing buildings; innovative financing to overcome first-cost and split incentives for energy efficiency on site, renewables and high efficiency distributed generation;
  • Existing and Improved Utility Programs – More aggressive utility programs to achieve long-term savings; and
  • Other Needed Strategies – Water system and water use efficiency and conservation measures; local government programs that lead by example and tap into local authority over planning, development, and code compliance; additional industrial and agricultural efficiency incentives; providing real time energy information technologies to help consumers conserve and optimize energy performance.

The Scoping Plan also promotes the use of solar water heating systems and builds on existing legislation, such as the Solar Water and Efficiency Act of 2007, which authorized a ten-year, $250 million incentive program for solar water heaters with a goal of promoting installation of 200,000 systems in California by 2017. In addition, the plan recommends developing combined heat and power systems rather than building new power plants or replacing existing ones.

The Scoping Plan accounts for other innovative approaches that may be used to motivate private investment in efficiency improvements. For example the cap and trade program [link to Cap and Trade], will provide incentives to pursue projects to reduce GHG emissions, such as the bundling of energy efficiency improvements for small businesses. California will also pursue comparable investment in energy efficiency from all retail providers of electricity in California, including both investor-owned and publicly owned utilities.

Click here to return to Scoping Plan overview.

New York Governor Approves Two Green Building Laws For Residential And State Structures

This post was written by Eric M. McLaughlin and Keisha M. Williams.

In late September, New York became the latest state to give the green light to “green building,” after Gov. David Paterson signed two bills introducing green building performance standards for construction and renovation of New York state government buildings, and a Grants Program for green residential builds. The new laws aim to encourage and incentivize the construction of energy-efficient, sustainable buildings, using recyclable and environmentally friendly materials, and are in line with the governor’s “15 x 15” plan to reduce energy use by 15 percent of expected levels by 2015. New York’s new laws highlight the fact that buildings account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and more than 70 percent of its electricity consumption, and that these impacts can be reduced by regulations governing design and construction.

The State Green Building Construction Act (A. 2005) (State Building Act) will require all new state-owned buildings, and substantial renovations of existing state-owned buildings, to comply with green construction principles set forth in standards to be developed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). State agencies will also be required to prepare annual building performance reports containing information on their green credentials, including energy consumption, waste reduction, and how indoor air quality compares with set benchmarks. The State Building Act takes effect 180 days after signature, on or about March 25, 2009.

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Congress Enacts Five-Year Extension of Tax Incentives for Green Buildings

This post was written by Ruth N. Holzman, James R. Eskilson, Todd O. Maiden, Eric M. McLaughlin, and Jennifer Smokelin.

There’s good news for commercial building owners who have wanted to “go green,” but have been waiting to see whether the tax incentives for green buildings, set to expire at the end of 2008, would be extended. The historic financial rescue bill (H.R. 1424), signed by President Bush on Friday, Oct. 3, 2008, also included the Tax Extenders and Alternative Minimum Tax Relief Act of 2008 (“TEAMTRA”). Among the tax-extenders in TEAMTRA was a five-year extension of the tax incentives for “green” commercial buildings.

Internal Revenue Code Section 179D gives owners of commercial real property a tax break by allowing them to deduct the cost of certain energy-efficient property. It applies to both new construction and to retrofits of existing construction. Prior to TEAMTRA, this tax break only applied to property placed in service on or prior to Dec. 31, 2008. With the extension of this provision to Dec. 31, 2013, property owners now have sufficient time to design, construct and complete projects that will qualify for this tax break. Although numerous bills had been introduced in Congress that would have raised the amount deductible under Section 179D, TEAMTRA did not contain any increase in this amount. The deduction is still limited to the product of $1.80 multiplied by the square footage of the building.

For a brief overview of the Section 179D deduction for “green” buildings, see “New Tax Incentives for ‘Green’ Buildings Have Owners Seeing Green,” in The Critical Path, Fall 2006; for a more detailed discussion, see "New Tax Incentives for 'Green' Buildings Have Owners Seeing Green," in the ABA's The Construction Lawyer, Summer 2007.

California PUC and Energy Commission Release Joint Proposed Opinion on Strategies for Reducing GHG Emissions

This post was written by Todd O. Maiden and Rose L. Standifer.

On Sept. 12, 2008, the California Public Utilities Commission ("CPUC") and the California Energy Commission ("CEC") released their joint proposed opinion on strategies to help reduce greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions and meet the goals of AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The Proposed Final Opinion on Greenhouse Gas Regulatory Strategies, prepared jointly by CPUC President Michael Peevey, and CEC Chairman Jackalyne Pfannenstiel and CEC Commissioner Jeffrey Byron, provides recommendations, and outlines a variety of options for the California Air Resources Board ("CARB") to consider in deciding how to design a program to achieve the GHG emission targets in the electricity sector. After public comments, the full CPUC and the full CEC will individually consider adopting the finalized opinion at their respective meetings Oct. 16, 2008.

An "Interim Opinion," adopted in March 2008 by the two Commissions, recommended aggressive regulatory measures that maximize energy efficiency and expand renewable energy development beyond the 20 percent goal, and consideration of a multi-sector cap-and-trade program to capture additional cost-effective reductions of GHG emissions. The Interim Opinion also recommended that the "deliverers" of electricity to the California grid would be responsible for complying with the AB 32 regulations.

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California Adopts New Green Building Code Impacting Developers, Lenders and Tenants

This post was written by James R. Eskilson, Ruth N. Holzman, Todd O. Maiden, and Simon Adams.
 

On July 17, 2008, California adopted a new California Green Building Standards Code that will change future construction standards and costs, and affect all new construction. The code, adopted by the California Building Standards Commission, is the first of its kind on a national level and has been marketed as setting an international precedent for resource preservation and combating global warming. 

The California Green Building Standards Code will affect planning and design of new construction projects; energy efficiency of new construction projects; water efficiency and conservation; material conservation and resource efficiency; and environmental air quality. The goal of the new standards is to reduce energy use by at least 15 percent. They will also reduce the use of toxic substances in new construction projects. These new standards will further California’s goals of reducing greenhouse gases, by 2020, to a level that will be 20 percent below those measured in 2005. Another beneficial result of the new standards is a 50 percent reduction in waste streams from construction sites. 

Beyond water and energy efficiency, compliance with the code will require developers to meet new standards regarding the use of eco-friendly flooring, carpeting, ceiling panels and insulation, among other things. The code also sets new standards for dual plumbing systems, for potable and recyclable water, and for the diversion of construction waste to landfills. While initial construction costs may be higher, supporters of the new code argue that the long-term operation and use of buildings meeting this new standard will result in cost savings. This will require additional due diligence on the part of investors and lenders regarding understanding cost-benefit analysis and predicting returns on investments.

Developers are already lobbying to receive greenhouse gas emission reduction credits for their investment in buildings with lower carbon footprints. How such emission reductions will be calculated and how associated emission reduction credits may be allocated, if at all, may dramatically impact the cost benefit analyses of all parties associated with the construction, lending, and long-term use of affected properties.

Compliance with the new building code is currently voluntary, but will become mandatory in 2010. To encourage developers to follow the new green standards during this period of voluntary compliance, California is looking at potential incentive programs, including tax breaks. 

Some of the federal income tax incentives for installing energy-efficient improvements in buildings expired at the end of 2007, and many more will expire after 2008 if Congress does not act to extend them. Although the House passed a bill this spring that would have extended these tax breaks for as long as five years, the Senate failed to vote on any “tax extender” bill before it recessed July 31. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged that the Senate will work to pass an energy and “tax extenders” bill in September. We will continue to follow this issue and keep you updated.

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