Thursday, December 31, 2015

California's Aliso Canyon Disaster and Regulating Methane Leaks

The big news from California regards a massive leak from Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon storage well. The leak, which has been ongoing since October 23, is accounting for roughly a quarter of California's methane emissions.

This is bad news for numerous reasons: Methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its heat-trapping effect over a 100-year period (and 75 times as potent over 20 years). Unburned hydrocarbons are also a noxious pollutant in their own right, causing respiratory distress, headaches and other health problems.

Worse yet, is that that SoCal Gas has proven unable to plug the leak and expect that it will continue until the spring of 2016.

What's perhaps the most infuriating for me is that this sort of leak doesn't appear to be covered by the state's Cap-and trade apparatus designed to limit emissions, since methane leaks from wells do not need to be reported as emissions under state law.  That's too bad, because as EEnews  notes, the leak is the equivalent to about three percent of the state's TOTAL annual greenhouse gas emissions.

If the leak had been covered under the California Air Resources Board's last auction (which calculates methane's impact at 20 times the, SoCal Gas would have needed to purchase SoCal Gas approximately 1.67 million permits at $12.73 per ton of CO2 equivalent to cover the amount of methane leaked at the time writing this. That's $21.3 million. Of course, applicable environmental damage and public health fines, compensation for victims, as well as medium-sized terms in state minimum-security prisons for relevant SoCal Gas executives would be layered on top of that. 

I'm not holding my breath -- though California is much more diligent about these sorts of things than my current residence of Texas.

The good news is that the state has been thinking very concretely about these sorts of emissions and I would imagine they likely will be deploying regulations and countermeasures on leaks in the near future. Colorado was the first state to regulate well and pipeline leaks in 2014.  The federal government is finalizing regulations (though these will certainly be challenged in court) as well. However, the federal regulations apply to new pipelines and wells and not existing ones.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Expanding the Umbrella: Medicaid Expansion 2015 Review and New Year's Preview

With 2016 right around the corner, and several new governors moving into office, it's as good of time as any to take stock of where the Medicaid expansion has gone and the prospects for progress in the new year.  Despite massive Democratic setbacks at the state level in the 2014 midterm elections, Medicaid expansion fared reasonably well in 2015, and 2016 posts several opportunities for new states to expand as well, as well as one at risk of backsliding.

First, we visit the ghosts of Medicaid expansion past:

As Chart I shows,  the ACA Medicaid expansion has proceeded at a similar overall pace to the original Medicaid take-up in the late 1960s, though the holdouts to Obamacare are likely to offer stiffer resistance than the late adopters of the initial program.

Democratic defeats in the 2014 elections likely prevented expansions in Maine and possibly Florida, and may have influenced resistance to expansion plans in several other states, including Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming. However, Four new states joined the expansion -- Indiana, Pennsylvania, Alaska, and Montana -- which increases the number of states fully expanding Medicaid from 26 to 30. 

Head below the fold for state-by-state analysis and a peak at 2016.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

End-of-Year judicial confirmation update

On the judicial appointment front, there was good news and bad news before Congress skipped town last week. 

The good news was that the Senate confirmed two of President Barack Obama's long-pending judicial nominations.

The bad news was that the two were for the D.C. Superior Court, the local trial court for the nation's capital and not one with federal jurisdiction.

Overall, 2015 proceeded about as poorly on the judicial confirmation front as possible without a complete blockade of Obama appointees. The Senate only got around to confirming 10 District Court judges and only one Circuit Court Nominee. 

Compare that record with the 12 circuit court and 76 District Court Appointees confirmed in 2014 with a Democratic-controlled Senate and no filibuster for lower-court appointees.

And we won't even talk about the Court of Federal Claims appointees lying fallow.

Yes, elections matter, why do you ask?

Obama has compounded this problem by not nominating any more circuit court judges (though he has continued to nominate considerable numbers of district court judges). Granted, this is something of a chicken-and-egg problem, as McConnell has hinted the Senate wouldn't confirm any new circuit judge appointments anyway. However, it would still be nice to try -- especially given two long-standing openings on the Fifth Circuit, currently controlled 10-5 by GOP appointees and having a median justice somewhere to the right of Atilla the Hun, especially on reproductive rights.

Mitch McConnell has agreed to schedule final votes for four more district court judges by President's Day and Luis Felipe Restrepo on January 11.

It ain't much, but it is a start.