There is no better example of New York State’s utter disregard of pragmatic environmental policy than the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) denial of water quality permits for the construction of a 7.8 mile natural gas pipeline to the CPV Valley Energy Center which is under construction and expected to be completed in early 2018. On October 16, 2017 the DEC filed a formal challenge to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) decision that DEC waived its jurisdiction under the federal Clean Water Act for the Millennium Pipeline Company’s proposed Valley Lateral project.
Before proceeding a disclaimer. Before retirement from the electric generating industry, I was actively analyzing air quality regulations that could affect company operations. I am convinced that evidence-based environmental decision making is necessary to maintain New York’s electrical system infrastructure and that is the reason I maintain this blog. Sadly, motivated reasoning where the conclusions are based on emotions or preconceptions and the evidence used only reflects that belief while anything else is ignored appears to be the rationale for much of current New York environmental and energy policy. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.
According to the DEC website for the project the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has conditionally denied water quality permits for Millennium’s proposed Valley Lateral pipeline project. The conditional denial is based in part on the inadequacy of the environmental review conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which failed to account for downstream greenhouse gas emissions.” DEC goes on to say: “DEC subjects all applications for environmental permits to an extensive and transparent review process that encourages public input at every step, and DEC’s determination included consideration of nearly 6,000 public comments. DEC will continue to thoroughly evaluate all applications to ensure they do not adversely impact the environment.”
The DEC description of the project notes:
Construction of a new 7.8 mile, 16-inch diameter natural gas pipeline lateral extending from Millennium’s existing main line pipeline north to the new 650 megawatt natural gas powered Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) Valley Energy Center. The proposed pipeline lateral is located in the Towns of Wawayanda and Minisink in Orange County, New York. The project would provide approximately 130 million cubic feet per day of natural gas to the CPV Valley Energy Center.
The pipeline lateral would be installed via horizontal directional drill (HDD) below two Class C(t) streams (Rutgers Creek) and seven federally regulated streams (no impacts). Additionally, the pipeline lateral would be installed via open trench within three federally regulated streams resulting in a temporary disturbance to the bed and banks of the streams for a total of approximately 16 linear feet.
Three state regulated Freshwater Wetlands (MD-23, MD-26 and MD-29) would be crossed via trenchless methods (no impacts). A total of 1.35 acres of federally regulated wetlands would be temporarily impacted by the construction of the pipeline lateral and 0.34 acres of federally regulated wetlands would be permanently impacted by the operation of the pipeline lateral.
From the water quality standpoint the permanent wetland impact of the pipeline is equivalent to a plot of land 120 feet by 120 feet. That is not the reason used to deny the water permit. Instead they claim the downstream impact of the natural gas emissions have to be considered. So what are those impacts?
DEC notes that the pipeline would provide approximately 130 million cubic feet per day of natural gas to the CPV Valley Energy Center where it will be burned to produce power. To be conservative assume that the pipeline provides 260 million cubic feet per day or 94,965 million cubic feet per year. Using EPA emission factors that would result in annual emissions of 5,169,853 metric tons of CO2 per year.
I assume that the downstream impact of interest is the predicted temperature impact on global warming. For the CPV Valley Energy Center that can be estimated by adapting estimates in Analysis of US and State-By-State Carbon Dioxide Emissions (For 2010) and Potential “Savings” in Future Global Temperature and Global Sea Level Rise from a Complete Cessation of All CO2 Emissions by Paul Knappenberger. These climate change calculations are based on Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change reports using the MAGICC climate model simulator (MAGICC: Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse-gas Induced Climate Change). MAGICC was developed by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research under funding by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other organizations. MAGICC is itself a collection of simple gas-cycle, climate, and ice-melt models that is designed to emulate the output of complex climate models. MAGICC produces projections of the global average temperature and sea level change under user configurable emissions scenarios and model parameters. There are many parameters that can be altered when running MAGICC, including the climate sensitivity (how much warming the model produces from a doubling of CO2 concentration) and the size of the effect produced by aerosols. In all cases, the MAGICC default settings were used (for example, a climate sensitivity of 3.0°C), which represent the middle-of-the-road estimates for these parameter values.
In order to calculate the temperature impact of the 5,169,853 metric tons emissions from CPV Valley Energy Center the parameters estimated when the US observed 2010 CO2 emissions were simply scaled by 167.1 million metric tons divided by 5,631.3 million metric tons as shown in Table 1 CPV Valley Energy Center Impact on Global Warming. The results indicate that the project will increase global warming 0.00008 Deg. C by 2050.
DEC claims to “thoroughly evaluate all applications to ensure they do not adversely impact the environment”. In order to determine the impact on the environment we should consider the predicted temperature impact relative to the environment.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Requirements and Standards for NWS Climate Observations states that: “The observer will round the entered data to whole units Fahrenheit”. The nearest whole degree Fahrenheit (0.55°C) is over 7,000 times greater than the projected change in temperature so the impact will not be observed by the NOAA monitoring system.
Another way to relate to the savings is to compare those temperatures differences to climatological variation. Table 2 CPV Valley Energy Center Temperature Impact Relative to Middletown NY Climate compares the projected temperature impacts to the average temperature climatology of Middletown, NY near where the project is located. The annual temperature range for the maximum daily average high and the minimum daily low in Middletown is 65.8 F degrees which is 863,000 times greater than the temperature difference that would result from the potential emissions. The annual temperature range for the average daily high and the average daily low in Middletown is 19.7 F degrees which is 258,000 times greater than the temperature difference that would result from the potential emissions. There is a range in temperature every day and the maximum, minimum, and average hourly maximum and minimum difference ranges are listed. The lowest ratio is for the minimum difference between the observed maximum and minimum temperatures and that is over 178,000 times greater than the temperature difference that would result from the potential emissions.
Unfortunately those numbers still don’t completely reflect the absurdity of claiming that this facility will have an adverse impact on the environment due to downstream impacts of its emissions. A more relatable context would be to consider them in relation to typical changes in temperature with elevation and latitude. Generally, temperature decreases three degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 foot increase in elevation above sea level. The temperature increase projected for the potential emissions is equivalent to a 3/8” drop in elevation. The general rule is that temperature changes three degrees Fahrenheit for every 300 mile change in latitude at an elevation of sea level. The temperature increase projected for the potential emissions is equivalent to going south 40 feet.
Clearly the technical evidence is that these changes are insignificant so no environmental impacts associated with global warming could possibly be affected with these emissions. Any rational pragmatic environmental policy would weigh the benefits of this project against these insignificant impacts and approve the permits without delay.