California Dream 2.0

How Big Data Can Fight Climate Change in Los Angeles

Jorge-MadridYou may be wondering – as I was before we started a project with the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation over a year ago – “what the heck does Big Data have to do with climate change?”

To start, here’s a piece from Climate Central that exemplifies the new power of big data.

“Big Data allows you to say simple, clear things…to tell people about their climate locally in ways they can understand.”

Through taking information created all around us and applying thoughtful analysis, we can comprehend and unleash it to solve our greatest challenges. For EDF, that means partnering with the country’s top universities and most innovative companies to address the biggest challenge of our time – climate change.

Today we launch the newest version of the Los Angeles Solar & Efficiency Report (LASER), a data-driven mapping tool that can help stakeholders and local leaders understand climate and pollution risks in their own communities. Empowered by this information, they can seek out and maximize available resources to deploy clean energy, reduce climate pollution, and create tens of thousands of much-needed jobs.

A call to action

Last March President Obama announced the launch of his Climate Data Initiative, which put a spotlight on the need and potential to use knowledge-driven insights to help communities effectively mitigate, prepare, and adapt to climate change. This was followed by the United Nation’s Big Data Climate Challenge in May.

By releasing these maps today, we humbly join an international movement of individuals, public entities, and private companies who are maximizing the potential of shared information to inform, educate, and usher in a new wave of innovation and opportunity.

Speaking of opportunity, although Los Angeles is famous for its nearly year-round sunshine, it is leaving about 98 percent of its rooftop solar potential untapped. Achieving just ten percent of that would drive the creation of 47,000 solar installation jobs and could reduce carbon pollution by nearly 2.5 million tons annually. This is the equivalent of taking more than half a million cars off the road every year.

Heat capture LASER maps

Map from the LASER Atlas showing temperature rise projections in Los Angeles

New, low-carbon energy options are critical to reduce greenhouse gases and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We’re already experiencing impacts of a changing climate, and Los Angeles County is projected to get REALLY HOT in the coming decades. Using groundbreaking climate projections by Dr. Alex Hall and the UCLA Department of Atmospheric Oceanic Sciences, the LASER maps show that, by mid-century, Los Angeles’ urban core and downtown will experience three times as many extreme heat days (above 95 degrees Fahrenheit) as today, and the valleys and areas of high elevation will experience four times as many.

All air is not equal in L.A.

Half of California’s most vulnerable population lives in L.A. County, based on analysis from Environmental Protection Agency data and the CalEnviroScreen. That means there are 3.7 million people living in communities in L.A. County – 38 percent of the county –already over-burdened by harmful pollution and other risk factors that make them especially impacted by climate change. A majority of these vulnerable areas are home to low-income families and communities of color. As one of these maps demonstrates, there are polluting fossil fuel power plants right in the middle of many of these communities.

The most polluted areas in L.A. can grow thousands of clean energy jobs

There’s an overwhelming bright spot on the LASER maps. It turns out that some of the communities most vulnerable to air pollution and extreme heat impacts – like East Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley – also have some of the highest job creation potential through rooftop solar installation and energy efficiency, both of which also reduce climate and air pollution.

Fortunately, California is already planning to prioritize clean energy and other low-carbon investments in the state’s most vulnerable communities via proceeds from its successful cap-and-trade program. Just last month, California Governor Brown allocated $225 million specifically to disadvantaged communities, above the mandated 25 percent of program proceeds.

Data can overcome barriers

This set of visual tools can help overcome language, technical, and literacy barriers and bring all affected parties to the table to tackle difficult policy challenges. LASER maps serve as a valuable and empowering educational tool for communities facing increased risks as a direct result of climate change. Through increased understanding and openness, these maps can help create and advance a vision for a cleaner, healthier future for the region.

Information is power. It’s not just for the data crunchers, the politicians, or even the climate nerds; it’s for everyone and can start a conversation that everyone can access.

Posted in Cap and trade, Clean Energy, Climate, Engaging Latinos, Jobs | Leave a comment

A Major Step to Protect Californians from Gasoline Price Manipulation

Tim O'Connor, EDFYou can’t turn on a TV or radio in California these days without hearing the oil companies and their industry associations complaining that the state can’t afford to move to cleaner fuels and predicting that cutting pollution from the transportation sector will drive up gasoline prices.

What the oil industry’s $56 million political campaign, and even wider reaching ad campaign,  doesn’t say is that if gas prices do go up this year, it is likely to be the oil industry—not clean energy—that’s to blame.

Since 2005, the price of gas in California has fluctuated by an average of $1.16 per gallon, while diesel has fluctuated by $1.01. Year after year, prices at the pump shoot up – yielding significant additional profits for fuel suppliers – then casually drift down back to a point higher than where they started. The phenomenon is so well known, industry insiders call it rockets and feathers.

The oil companies say they don’t cause these fluctuations, but the problem is so severe that Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature just gave the California Energy Commission $342,000 to investigate and prevent gas price fixing and market manipulation by the industry.

Market domination can lead to price manipulation

Transportation fuel is a concentrated market where a handful of suppliers control a product everyone has to have. Small and large businesses, commuters, soccer moms, motorcycle clubs—pretty much everyone needs the gas and diesel supplied in California by just 22 companies, six of which (Chevron, Tesoro, BP, Phillips 66, Valero and Shell) control 90 percent of the total supply.

Since the early 2000’s, government officials have recognized that this concentrated, opaque market is a problem. As a 2004 report by then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer reported:

“Without changes in public policy that address market conditions, California will not rid itself of high gasoline prices. Policymakers must begin taking the steps necessary to increase competitiveness, supplies and fuel conservation…and to reduce California’s petroleum dependence through increased fuel economy and non-gasoline based technology.”

Eight years later, in 2012, U.S. senators from California, Washington and Oregon sent a letter  to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder requesting an investigation into oil company market manipulation and price fixing. Citing analysis produced by McCullough Research, the lawmakers observed that refinery shut down reports were inconsistent with production data. According to McCullough, price increases generated an estimated $25 million per day in windfall profits for the oil companies.

A promise made in 2013

In September 2013, the California state legislature took a stand against market manipulation by passing a landmark bill, SB 448. The bill provides resources and direction to the state’s Energy Commission to perform market analysis to identify the causes of gas and diesel price spikes and fluctuations.

By passing the bill, the legislature made California the first state to provide dedicated resources to look into gasoline price swings and protect California drivers. Governor Brown, recognizing that his state needed the capacity to deal with sudden price fluctuations, directed “the Commission to work with the Attorney General to evaluate market trends and ways to respond to price volatility.”

The answer: Fuel diversification and clean fuels policies

There are many reasons to support cleaner fuels. California still has the worst air quality in the nation, and spends over $30 billion per year on gas and diesel from imported oil. No wonder more than 70% of Californians support its clean fuel policies. Yet the oil companies, led by Chevron, Tesoro and Valero are doing everything they can to kill these measures – common sense solutions that clean up the air and accelerate home-grown alternative fuels that break our dependence on gasoline and diesel.

In early 2014, EDF teamed up with nation-leading economists who focus on fuel market dynamics to describe some of the benefits of California fuel policies, such as long term price reduction. In the analysis, we found that:

“By diversifying the state’s fuel mix with a portfolio of alternative and conventional fuels, California’s overall fuel price volatility and price levels (for all fuels in the portfolio) are likely to be reduced in the long run… By extension, policy changes that undermine or take away incentives to diversify the fuel mix are bad for California consumers, the economy, and the environment.”

As California implements its new state budget, hires new experts and uses its law enforcement tools to look into the true causes of market fluctuations, the benefits of California clean fuels policies will become even clearer. The recommendations made by Attorney General Lockyer ten years ago will finally be fulfilled and the oil industry’s blame game may even be shut down once and for all. Best of all, the popular new policies that will lead California to cleaner, cheaper fuel will be strengthened and preserved.

Posted in Cap and trade, Clean Energy, Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Low Carbon Fuel Standard, Transportation | Leave a comment

Does Big Oil Really Care About Vulnerable Communities?

Jorge-MadridThere they go again… with the same lament we always seem to hear from Big Oil lobbyists when it's time to protect public health:

Don't put environmental protections on fuels, because that "will hit low-income and middle-income families the hardest." In other words, if you make us clean up our act, then we'll be forced to raise gas prices, which hurts vulnerable people… You don't want to hurt them, do you?

Hmmm. Do oil companies really care about vulnerable populations like low income people and communities of color? Could it be that they are using these families as a smokescreen for killing environmental protections and protecting their profits? Let's look at the facts and see if we can cut through some of this smoke.

Oil companies are among the most profitable enterprises in the world — last year the "big five" made $93 billion in profits, or $177,000 per minute. Even in my home state of California, which is at the forefront of environmental protections, Chevron is still the largest company by revenue (take that Apple and Facebook!). Many polluters have been claiming for decades that clean air standards will "cause entire industries to collapse," but those dire predictions have never come true. The idea that we have to choose between environmental protection and economic growth has always been a false choice.

Who is really to blame for high gas prices — and who stands to profit from that sick feeling you get when you're fueling your car and the price shoots past $40… $50… $60? Turns out an average vehicle uses $22,000 in gas over its lifetime, $15,000 of which (68 percent) goes right to oil companies. Further, an additional 25 cents in the price per gallon of gas at the pump every three months equals an additional $5 billionin profits for the big five oil companies.

Source: flickr/Jason Holmberg, Richmond, CA

Wouldn't it be nice to have some say in the matter? Some consumer choice? Unfortunately, most of us drive gas-powered vehicles and don't have any choice when we fill up. Big Oil has us in its grip: we pay what they say. The only way to lower prices in the long run, and reduce our vulnerability to price spikes, is to diversify our fuels and vehicle mix — exactly what new clean fuels policies will do in California.

Low income people and communities of color spend a much higher than averageportion of their monthly income on fuel, and are indeed the most over-burdened by high gas prices and vulnerable to unexpected price spikes. "Cheap gas" however, will not reduce their vulnerability in the long run.

Then there are the social costs of dirty fuels — the ones Big Oil isn't paying but everyone else is. The public health costs of air pollution and climate change. The poor and communities of color are especially prone to these costs, including high rates of lung and heart disease. In California, Latinos and African Americans account for nearly 75 percent of residents in the most polluted ZIP Codes — despite comprising only 44 percent of the state's population. According to the Environmental Protection Agency:

"African American children in California are four times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma compared to white children… African American and Latino children living in urban areas are two to six times more likely to die from asthma than whites."

Case In Point: California's Fight for Clean Fuels

So let's lift the mask off the latest masquerade of compassion: a last-ditch effort now underway by some oil companies and their political allies in Sacramento to derail the most comprehensive clean fuel policies in the country. Ironically, the policies they're attacking — the state's cap-and-trade program (C&T), which will include transportation fuels starting next year, and California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) — are already in place and working. And guess which constituency they are using to cover their political tracks? Spoiler alert: it's vulnerable communities.

The dirty fuels in California's transportation sector are the leading cause of pollution in the state — responsible for nearly 70 percent of smog-forming gases and 40 percent of climate change pollution.

By transitioning the state's transportation system to cleaner fuels, the C&T and LCFS will result in a cumulative public benefit of $23.1 billion by 2025. The C&T and LCFS together are projected to prevent 600 heart attacks, 880 premature deaths, 38,000 asthma attacks, and almost 75,000 lost work days as well as reduce consumption of 21.4 billion gallons of gasoline and 11.8 billion gallons of diesel fuel by 2025, according to a new report by EDF and the American Lung Association.

California is making waves (again) by leading the country with the most comprehensive climate, clean air, and clean fuels policies. By transitioning to cleaner fuels and vehicles, everyone will be less vulnerable to spiking oil prices and dirty air.

By attempting to rain on California's clean parade, Big Oil is using the same dirty tricks they've used for decades, and spinning a false story to try and derail these policies.

It's time these companies stop pretending to be champions for vulnerable communities; their oil-soaked billions and clouds of pollution spewing into low-income communities of color tell the real story.

Instead, maybe they should actually join the race toward a clean, healthy economy. We could use their technological prowess to help us get where we need to go. If they ever did that, then they could claim to be standing up for vulnerable communities — and really mean it.

This post first appeared on Huffington Post 

Posted in Cap and trade, Clean Energy, Climate, Engaging Latinos, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Jobs, Transportation | Leave a comment

Mapping the California Companies Fueling a Cleaner Future

green roads mapClean energy and clean tech sound exciting, but most people don’t see these businesses as a major part of our economy, especially when traditional fossil fuels rule at the pump.

But thanks to policies like California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and cap and trade, more and more businesses are giving us options when we need to get from point A to point B, and they form an increasingly important source of economic growth in the state.  From cars running on used vegetable oil (biodiesel) to cars you can plug into your house, new and exciting innovations are fast coming to market.

The new interactive Green Roads Map that EDF created in partnership with CALSTART, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), and the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows that we have many emerging options for our cars and transportation fleets, and that clean transportation is a flourishing industry in California.

The Green Roads Map is more than just a collection of dots- the map presents an important picture of the investors, researchers, producers, and salespeople who are transforming our economy and transportation system today.

The companies listed on this map span four key sectors: energy efficiency & vehicles, fuels & infrastructure, education & consulting, and investment, showing just how diverse and expansive this industry is in the Golden State. From Electric Vehicles International based in Stockton to A-1 Alternative Fuels Systems based in Fresno, innovation in clean transportation is right in your backyard.

The interactive map allows any state legislator, business person, or interested California citizen to zoom in on their district or neighborhood and identify the clean energy businesses growing in their own communities.

For example, Californians living in the city of Stockton can use this tool to get information about green technology companies that are located right in their backyard, all of which are providing jobs and benefiting the local community. One of these companies is Community Fuels, a company working to make biodiesel a viable and scalable alternative to dirty fossil fuels through rigorous research and quality production. Alternatively, the residents of Foster City can discover that Motiv Power Systems is working to place clean and affordable electric school and shuttle buses on the roads.

Transportation is California’s biggest contributor to climate change and air pollution – the latter of which is a critical health problem for many of our communities. The good news is that this growing green transportation industry is incentivizing cleaner, more efficient transportation and helping to clear the air- a triple win for business, people, and our climate.

While opponents seeking to derail these policies ignore a thriving clean transportation sector built in-part on the expectation that these policies will continue, the Green Roads Map shows Californians why efforts to delay or revise cap and trade and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard undermine the burgeoning economic growth and compromise the health benefits that come along with these policies.

The 300 plus companies on the Green Roads Map are innovating and moving us forward to a clean and more independent energy future.

Check out our new interactive map and if you see a clean transportation company in your neighborhood missing, let us know.

Posted in Cap and trade, Clean Energy, Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Jobs, Low Carbon Fuel Standard, Transportation | Leave a comment

Methane emissions: the weak link in California’s climate plan

By Andy Wunder, Policy Intern, US Climate and Energy Program

Nearly seven years ago, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted a 5-year plan to reduce climate pollution in the state. In this 2008 Scoping Plan, measures were outlined reflecting the need to cut methane pollution from oil and gas operations. Though CARB has demonstrated commitment to addressing this urgent issue the need to take action as soon as possible is becoming increasingly clear.

Source: Wikipedia/Makaristos

The Value of Action

Addressing methane emissions is critical. Oil and natural gas production continues to expand rapidly in the United States – and with it the potential for climate-destabilizing methane emissions. Unburned natural gas is primarily methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests over the first twenty years after it is released into the atmosphere, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) in trapping heat at the Earth’s surface. Methane leaks across the entire natural gas supply chain–from extraction to distribution—and these leaks represent a significant threat to our climate.

New evidence — like that documented in a recent report by independent energy consulting firm ICF International—shows industry can eliminate 40 percent of methane leakage in the next five years by implementing existing technologies already on the market today. With more than 54,000 oil and gas wells to its name, this is extremely valuable in both an environmental and economic sense for California. In addition, companies won’t have to pay a hefty price for such methane reduction measures: they can do it for less than one penny per 1000 cubic feet of produced natural gas— or less than a penny spent for roughly every $4-5 earned. Reducing methane emissions not only has a climate benefit, it benefits industry and consumers by eliminating waste of a natural resource and by keeping a valuable commodity in the pipeline.

Moving Forward

In terms of next steps, California should continue its reputation as an environmental champion by following the lead of state and federal efforts to reduce methane emissions. States like Colorado, Wyoming and Ohio have all moved forward with new regulations to reduce harmful air emissions from the oil and gas industry. And, earlier this year, the White House released a national methane reduction strategy as part of the President’s Climate Action Plan. Further, the EPA is expected to make a decision later this year on whether to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

Like these other jurisdictions, CARB can and should be moving forward with deliberate speed to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. Furthermore, as shown by ICF and others, some commonsense approaches rise to the top:

1)      Eliminate wasteful, deliberate emissions: Methane is often purposefully vented or flared into the atmosphere during the completion of wells and at other points along the supply chain. These emissions are wasteful and unnecessary since existing technologies and practices are well developed to enable capturing of gas to be put to beneficial reuse. These “Green completions” technologies deliver returns to the industry’s bottom line and should be a leading practice for oil and gas well operators.

2)      Address fugitive emissions:  Unintentional leakage can occur from any one of the millions of pieces of equipment in California’s oil and gas fields – equipment that, if not properly inspected and maintained, can significantly reduce the climate benefit we stand to gain by switching from coal to natural gas. By requiring sensible and frequent leak detection and repair (LDAR) policies, California can ensure that the extraction, production and distribution of natural gas is done efficiently, with minimal waste and climate damage.

3)      Establish technology standards: Antiquated pumping, compression and engine technology cannot be maintained to a standard that prevents emissions or operates in the most efficient way possible. California should apply emissions and performance standards to individual equipment categories to guarantee that industry implements the most technologically relevant equipment that will drive efficiency and reduce waste.

The Time Is Now

Successfully meeting California’s immediate, near-term and long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals relies on having comprehensive policies for multi-pollutant action. With immediate CARB leadership on methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, the state can address a critical missing piece in its climate change mitigation strategy. Now is the time to take real action on methane pollution.

Posted in Climate | 1 Response, comments now closed

Supreme Court’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard decision: a victory for energy independence

By Erica Morehouse and Larissa Koehler

On this 4th of July week, a time of celebratory fireworks and barbeques, Americans commemorate our country’s hard-fought independence from colonial oppression. Americans are again working for greater independence, this time from fossil fuels that threaten our health, economic prosperity, and future. This week California won a pivotal legal challenge on this front.

Source: Flickr/johnkay

Source: Flickr/johnkay

Just three days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers were seeking to overturn the sound and well-reasoned decision from the 9th Circuit. The High Court’s refusal affirms the legality of a vital policy that decreases our reliance on foreign oil by promoting alternative sources of energy while reducing climate and air pollution from our vehicles.

Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Litigation, Low Carbon Fuel Standard | Comments closed

Methane leaks need to be a thing of the past, and Sacramento is taking a step in the right direction with SB 1371

California has more than 100,000 miles of often-aging natural gas transmission and distribution infrastructure.   Methane, the primary component of natural gas, when vented or allowed to leak into the air is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide at contributing to climate change over a 20-year timespan.  In addition, according to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, more than one-third of today’s human-caused global warming comes from short-lived climate pollutants that include methane. Taken together, this data shows how critically important it is to minimize natural gas leaks quickly.

Senate Bill (SB) 1371, authored by California State Senator Mark Leno, aims to cut methane pollution from California’s gas transmission and distribution system by requiring the Public Utilities Commission to get more aggressive in requiring utilities to find and fix natural gas leaks.  Yesterday, SB 1371 passed a critical vote in the State Assembly and is well on its way toward final passage later this summer. 

What does SB 1371 do?  Put simply, SB 1371 changes the way utilities respond to natural gas leaks.  Read More »

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The New Fall Crop for Rice Farmers: Carbon Offsets

rp_robert-200x300.jpgThis September, a new crop will be made available to rice producers: carbon offsets.

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) took another important step forward last week when it published the latest draft standard for the development of carbon offsets. The standard lays out the steps a producer needs to take in order to sell his new crop. Once it is approved, producers will be able grow and sell it as a new revenue stream.

So how does this work?

Rice fields are flooded as a part of growing this worldwide staple. It’s necessary for its growth. However, when water comes in contact with organic matter, the organic matter decomposes, generating methane – a strong greenhouse gas. By reducing the amount of methane generated through rice cultivation, a farmer can generate a carbon credit that can be sold to companies to offset their carbon emissions.

What are the practices that produce credits? Read More »

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California’s Cap and Trade a Versatile Tool for Environmental Policies

rp_erica-morehouse-287x377-228x3001.jpgGovernor Brown signed a budget last week that lays out for the first time how to invest the millions from California’s landmark cap-and-trade program ($734 million so far). California has shown another way that cap-and-trade is like the Swiss army knife of environmental policies: a versatile tool known for its usefulness and adaptability.

A Multi-faceted Investment Portfolio

California will invest $850 million over the next year to reduce dangerous climate pollution, a portfolio of investments that will benefit almost every part of California’s economy, going to low-carbon and public transportation, weatherization and energy efficient buildings, water efficiency, waste diversion, and natural resources like urban forests. Substantial investments, at least 25% of the total, will be directed to benefit disadvantaged communities most likely to be impacted first, and worst, by climate change.

Research has shown that the green economy is a solid investment since it already grows faster and is more resilient than traditional economic sectors (the San Joaquin Valley saw a 133% growth in employment in seven “green economy” sectors between 1995 and 2010). The budget also creates long-term guidelines for investing in the green economy as the stream of revenue grows in coming years.

Where the Revenue Comes From

California already limits, or “caps,” total carbon pollution from industries like cement manufacturers and food processors, as well as utility companies. Next year, the cap will expand to include transportation fuels and natural gas providers– two of the biggest polluting sectors in the state. The dollars California is investing are generated by holding these polluters accountable for their impact on the environment. Read More »

Posted in Auction revenue, Cap and trade, Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32 | 1 Response, comments now closed

To stay at the head of the class, California must focus on 2030 pollution goal

rp_erica-morehouse-287x377-228x3001.jpgTo be a class valedictorian, you can’t get an A on just one or two tests, or even in just the first quarter of a school year; being at the top means a concerted, continuous effort over the long-term.

For California to continue to be at the ‘head of the class’ on climate leadership, it must move forward on setting climate pollution reduction goals through 2030.

AB 32, the state’s landmark climate law, passed in 2006 and established a statewide emissions goal of reducing climate pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. California is well on the way to meeting that goal through a suite of policies, including cap and trade, which puts an absolute limit on this harmful pollution.

California was ahead of the curve, having passed a law in 2006 to stop unlimited climate pollution in the state. And since 2009 — spurred by AB 32 policies and a guarantee of reductions over a decade into the future — venture capital investments in California’s green sectors have grown by over 30 percent.

State legislators in California did not know what the energy landscape would look like in 2020 when they passed AB 32, but they set a goal and the state’s strong policies have helped to drive the growth of low-carbon energy sources around the country. For example, solar power generation in California has almost doubled in the last year, the cost of solar panel nationwide dropped 75% per watt from 2008-2011, and wind power generation has more than tripled in that time. Read More »

Posted in Cap and trade, Clean Energy, Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32 | Comments closed