White House to focus on curbing methane emissions, financing clean power

Source: Katherine Ling, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The White House intends to act on solutions for combating methane emissions and promoting energy finance as part of its efforts on climate change and a comprehensive federal energy strategy, top officials in the Obama administration said today.
The Energy Department will convene a series of round-table discussions that will include industry, utilities and other stakeholders to help resolve the issue of methane emissions. It will be part of the agency’s “integrated” look at energy infrastructure under the Quadrennial Energy Review this year, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told reporters today at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy annual conference at the National Harbor Convention Center in suburban Washington, D.C.Moniz said through these events he hopes DOE will have some “ideas firmed up” on the issue by this summer.”We are not waiting until the end of the year to produce analyses that are relevant [for the QER] that could include the methane analysis, for example,” he said. Other recent infrastructure issues including transporting oil by rail and gas flaring will also be addressed, although those will come closer to the end of the year, Moniz said.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that has recently come to the fore as a problem surrounding natural gas and oil drilling, as the number of wells has dramatically risen in the United States with hydraulic fracturing. Colorado just became the first state to regulate methane, and U.S. EPA will soon issue a finalized rule that aims to give a more accurate picture of leakage at facilities that would take effect Jan. 1, 2015.

Moniz’s remarks to the media on methane emissions followed a public conversation on climate and energy issues he held at the conference with John Podesta, a senior counselor to President Obama and leader on the White House Climate Action Plan.

In wide-ranging remarks, Podesta praised the decision to focus the QER on infrastructure and outlined efforts around the Climate Action Plan, including more focus on infrastructure resilience in the face of droughts, storms and security threats, something of particular concern for Western governors who met with the White House yesterday.

Podesta also said there would soon be federal efforts to provide more tools to spur private-sector investment in clean energy, an element that was “kind of left out of the Climate Action Plan.”

“Without a lot more private capital investing in building out this newer, cleaner energy infrastructure and investment, particularly efficiency as well as clean energy deployment, I don’t think we are going to get far enough along,” he said.

Podesta said he is working on developing ideas with other federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to spur new partnerships and tools for the private sector “just to see more movement into the space.”

Boosting public-private partnerships and improving energy technology, along with EPA’s regulations on power plant emissions, are the immediate actions that the administration can take on climate change in lieu of any legislation, Podesta said, adding that the earliest he sees any climate change bill signed is 2017.

“This has to be a joint debate in the presidential campaign in 2016,” he said.

The issue is coming to a head, Podesta added, as the recent strange weather and dramatic storms are slowly changing the public opinion about climate change. But people still lack the sense of urgency and the need to invest now in order to mitigate the longer-term effects of climate change, he said.

“I think that people sense that something is awry,” he said. “The weird weather affects people’s mentality about this. … I think people are getting that there is something going on in the natural world. I think they do link that to climate change.”