Author Archives: Tim O'Connor

Another Dishonest Attack on California’s Landmark Climate Law

rp_Tim-Oconnor-picture-228x300.jpgJust over two years ago, the California Manufacturers and Technology Association (CMTA) hired Andrew Chang and Company, LLC, a Sacramento-based economics consulting firm, to produce a report titled “The Fiscal and Economic Impact of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.”  Though one might hope a report of this nature would deliver honest analytics and academic rigor, EDF economists found it to be an all-out attack on California’s AB32 law, thinly disguised as a credible analysis, and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of basic economic principles, misguided modeling assumptions, faulty calculations, and a willful disregard for the potential benefits of environmental regulation.

Fast forward to September 2014, and now the California Drivers Alliance, an organization organized and funded by a collection of oil producers known as the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), has taken a deceitful page out of CMTA’s playbook. This time though, the deceptive report comes from Andrew Chang’s former business partner, Justin L. Adams, now at Encina Advisors. The report – “Placing Fuels Under the Cap: The Economic Impact to California” – again concludes AB32 will be destructive to the economy, while ignoring the wage gains many Californians will receive from higher-paying jobs in California’s emerging clean energy economy.

While there are more holes in this latest report than in a block of Swiss cheese, here are three of the biggest ones: Read More »

Posted in Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Transportation Diversification is Key to Fixing California’s Gas Price and Pollution Woes

This summer I had the unique opportunity to drive with members of the California state legislature through their districts in Los Angeles and the Central Valley. In addition to brown lawns, hazy air, and intense heat, we were reminded of California’s persistently high gas prices on filling station signs at nearly every major intersection.

Fuel hoses from a gas station. Source: Flickr/Boegh

Fuel hoses from a gas station. Source: Flickr/Boegh

As we drove through many neighborhoods struggling to pull themselves up economically, the need for solutions was clear. Since lower-income households pay the same amount per gallon as people in more affluent neighborhoods, low-income households tend to devote a greater percentage of their monthly income toward fuel purchases. Furthermore, since new and more efficient cars are usually more expensive, low-income households tend to drive older, less efficient vehicles that use more gas and release more pollution. So, while families across California are cutting back on things like watering their lawns, they are forced to spend a lot of these savings filling up their cars, while also breathing some of the most polluted air in the nation.

Fortunately, there is a solution at California’s fingertips that will tackle the issues of gas prices and pollution at the same time: transportation diversification. This simply means providing all Californians with choices on how to get where they need to go. These choices can take the form of alternatives to gas and diesel, alternatives to inefficient vehicles, and alternatives to cars all together. By providing these choices, consumers can pick what works for them – allowing the entire transportation system to better meet people’s unique needs and budgets. Read More »

Posted in Cap and trade, Clean Energy, Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Low Carbon Fuel Standard, Transportation| 2 Responses, comments now closed

EPA Refinery Standards and California Carbon Limits Can Solve the Puzzle of Refinery Pollution

By Tim O’Connor with Larissa Koehler and Jorge Madrid

EPA recently proposed a final pollution reduction rule for refineries that will help cut toxic air emissions and improve monitoring at the nation’s largest industrial facilities. This new rule is an important complement to the state level carbon and air pollution limits we have in California, and together will make our state cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous.

Source: flickr/Jason Holmberg, Richmond, CA

Any doctor will tell you that to fight the toughest diseases you often need a combination of treatment options. The clean air laws we have in California are an indispensable part of the cure for our air pollution problems. But to be fully effective, they need complementary policies from Washington.

Central to the challenge is the fact that large refineries are all too often found in disadvantaged communities – and release greenhouse gases, carcinogens, neurotoxins, and hazardous metals. Even though our state has been regulating refineries for decades, millions of Californians are still exposed to dirty, dangerous air. The puzzle of how to protect our communities is still missing pieces.

What is needed is direct federal attention to oil refineries. With an EPA standard that is based on the most up-to-date pollution control technology and a new health impact analysis, we can cut pollution and ensure the communities living next to refineries have healthier air and more information about what they're breathing. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate| 1 Response, comments now closed

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. Read More »

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

The United States Supreme Court Hears the Other Side of the Story on California’s Cleaner Fuels Policy

rp_OCONNOR-PHOTO-MAY-20121-200x300.jpgYesterday, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Conservation Law Foundation filed a brief in opposition to March 2014 petitions for Supreme Court review in American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Association v. Corey and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union v. Corey, cases in which oil and ethanol companies attack the constitutionality of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).

The LCFS, adopted under California’s trail blazing Global Warming Solutions Act, is a central contributor in the effort to move the transportation system away from the current paradigm of unsustainable global warming pollution, foreign energy dependence, and community-choking air pollution. The LCFS works by putting market incentives in place that encourage the production and use of low carbon fuels that were not prevalent when the program went into effect.  It is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from California’s use of transportation fuels by 16 million metric tons per year by 2020.

As we have explained in prior posts here and here about this important case, the challengers in the litigation have argued that the LCFS discriminates against ethanol and oil coming from outside of California and that it attempts to regulate actions occurring outside the state in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Dormant Commerce Clause. A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected these arguments in September 2013. In their March 2014 petitions, the industry challengers seek Supreme Court review of the appeals court’s decision. The Supreme Court’s decision on whether to take the case could come as early as late June. Read More »

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

New Study: California Climate Law Cuts Billions in Health, Pollution Costs

rp_OCONNOR-PHOTO-MAY-20121-200x300.jpgCalifornia drivers don’t have much choice when it comes to what fuel they fill their cars with, or how dirty it is. As recently as five years ago, nearly 97 percent of the energy used for transportation in the Golden State came from gas and diesel – over half of which was made from imported oil.

This basic lack of consumer choice means that California drivers like myself are stuck with a high-priced product that is made from dirty crude and controlled by a few major multinational oil companies.

What’s more, our transportation system has a direct effect on our health – in addition to contributing to climate change and energy insecurity.

And it’s not a pretty picture.

A study just out from the Environmental Defense Fund and the American Lung Association, with modeling by Tetra Tech, finds that the negative impacts of California’s transportation system cost us a staggering $25 billion per year. It also shows that the benefits of policies aimed at supporting the use of cleaner fuels can significantly reduce such costs.

25 million drivers, worst air pollution in the U.S.

I’m probably similar to many other drivers around here. Last year I drove some 15,000 miles, paying about $2,400 for gas – a sizeable portion of my disposable income. This gas is always more expensive in the summer than in winter, and it won’t matter if I fill up my car at the Shell station on the corner or from Chevron at the freeway on-ramp.

My 15,000 miles of driving last year released about 5 tons of greenhouse gas pollution and other air contaminants. When combined with the pollution released from California’s other 25 million drivers, I have, unfortunately, helped give California the nation’s worst air pollution.

Not only is our state home to the top five most polluted cities in the United States, but countless Californians suffer from lung and heart problems, and even risk early death, from pollution-related health impacts cause by transportation. Read More »

Posted in Cap and trade, Clean Energy, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Low Carbon Fuel Standard, Transportation| Comments closed

Turning Lemons into Lemonade: How Two Companies are Turning Your Trash into Low Carbon Fuel

ca_innov_series_icon_283x204By Tim O’Connor and Chloe Looker

EDF’s Innovators Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goal of AB 32. Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technology and ideas.

Modern society makes a lot of garbage. The decomposition of organic material from garbage in landfills releases methane gas, a potent global warming pollutant.

At the same time, the modern transportation system is powered mostly by fossil fuels and also releases global warming and toxic air pollution. Today, two companies are turning rotting lemons (garbage) into lemonade (low carbon fuels for cars and trucks), and are showing that AB 32 creates a powerful incentive for new ideas and innovations.

Although the ultimate solution to the problem of waste generation and pollution from landfills must include reduction of waste going into the landfills, the fact of the matter is landfills aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Read More »

Posted in California Innovators Series, Clean Energy, Climate| 1 Response, comments now closed

Some Records Are Not Meant to Be Broken

Source: Drought Monitor

By Tim O’Connor and Katie Hsia-Kiung

2013 was a record-breaking year in many respects. Peyton Manning broke the record for the most touchdowns and passing yards thrown in a single NFL season. At age 19, Ryan Campbell became the youngest person to circumnavigate the world, and at age 80, Yuichiro Miura was the oldest to climb Mount Everest.

While many of the records broken last year demonstrated remarkable human stamina, determination, and grit, there were other “accomplishments” that shouldn’t be received so warmly.

Sacramento, for example, experienced the driest year since they began measuring rainfall in 1878.  Conditions are so dry that some cities in the Central Valley are already imposing water rationing orders and more are expected to follow. According to the U.S. Drought Monitoring System, approximately 85% of the state is suffering from severe drought, and the snow pack is so meager in some places, there is simply no snow to measure.

Across California, temperatures on Christmas Day set new heat records, reaching 15 degrees above average in some areas.  These unseasonably high temperatures followed a record-breaking cold snap just a few weeks earlier, begging the question of whether Santa left sweaters or T-shirts under the tree.

These extreme weather records are not just unique to California. This past December, New York City, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City all broke previous high temperature records– which has now been followed by extreme cold and snow storms across the eastern half of the U.S.

One question on the minds of many is what is causing this extreme weather, and whether man-made climate change is the culprit.  The response lies in science. That is, while it is difficult to attribute individual weather events to climate change, the continued rise in record-breaking events is just what has been predicted and statistically too significant to ignore.

Ironically, unlike records from sports or other human feats, it takes drive and determination to avoid breaking climate change records. Scientific experts across the world agree that after over a century of increasing fossil fuel combustion, the planet is on a path towards more frequent extreme weather events, and we must cut climate pollution to stop this from happening.  This will require investment in low-carbon solutions like clean energy, clean fuels, and efficiency.

Similar to how taking steroids out of baseball brought the sport back to its rightful state, cutting climate pollution through efforts like California’s Global Warming Law, AB 32, will bring the atmosphere back towards greater stability.  Though the state can’t solve climate change alone, AB 32 is a huge step in the right direction, one which is leading other jurisdictions to take action.

Like home runs and touchdowns, droughts and snowstorms will always be a part of the environment we experience, we just don’t need any extra ones. As climate pollution is reduced, and with it the human caused impacts of climate change, we’ll see lot fewer records being broken every year, letting communities – and statisticians everywhere – live a little better.

Posted in Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32| Comments closed

California’s Innovation Story: Real People, Real Solutions

EDF’s Innovator Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goals of AB 32.  Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technologies and ideas.  

Time and again, the people of California have affirmed  that pursuing policies to cut climate pollution is critically important for the health of current and future generations.  At the same time, history has shown it to be much harder to implement environmental policies if there is a perception that economic health will suffer.  The ultimate goal is well-designed public policy that delivers environmental, health and economic benefits together.

In 2006, the state legislature took the environmental and economic paradigm to heart when it passed California’s global warming law, AB 32, creating a fundamental promise that cutting pollution and growing the Golden State’s prosperity will go hand in hand.  Today, California business and community leaders are proving that promise to be a reality – and new stories are regularly emerging to show it.  Our new AB 32 Innovator Series will work to capture these stories, bringing the companies – and people behind them – into light.

One of the reasons AB 32 has succeeded has been its ability to use market-based programs to cut pollution, allowing for both environmental and economic progress.  Economic, government and academic experts have long suggested that well-designed market-based programs are the best tools for achieving pollution reductions because they inspire businesses to identify and apply new and innovative solutions.  These solutions are often cheaper and faster at cutting pollution than prior methods, resulting in reduced compliance costs and rapid pollution declines.

For example, in a 2012 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, it said this about a market mechanism used in AB 32 (cap and trade):

“Facilitating innovation in “clean” technologies may be the key to achieving climate change stabilization without dampening economic productivity…CTPs [cap and trade programs] have several attributes that support clean technology innovation.”

For a concrete example of the possibility that innovation provides, think back to the acid rain problem of the 1990’s.  Sulfur pollution was spewing from major coal-fired power plants across the U.S., degrading forests, lakes and architectural landmarks at a threatening rate.

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted a cap-and-trade regulation to help solve the problem, most experts thought installing expensive scrubbers and equipment upgrades across the U.S. was the solution.  As a result, power companies across the U.S. predicted runaway costs and facility closures.   However, when faced with the opportunity of a market-based solution and its inherent signal to innovate, a simple low-cost solution was developed by these same companies: find lower-sulfur coal and bring it to the power plants by train, rather than using high-sulfur coal located closer by.

Through this simple innovation, compliance costs were 80–90% cheaper than initially estimated.

Unfortunately, most economic models and regulatory implementation scenarios are ill-equipped at predicting innovation because it tends to happen in ways people don’t expect.  If it was easy to predict how and when ground-breaking ideas occur, they would have already been applied.   As the acid rain example shows, innovation can, and does, take many forms. Accordingly, by documenting the development and implementation of innovative solutions as they emerge, the true potential of policies like AB 32 can be realized. This is the essence of our new California Innovators Series.

In California, AB 32 is helping to develop groundbreaking solutions, proving that the state’s climate policy mission of protecting the economy and the planet can be realized.  EDF’s Innovator Series will recognize several of these bold solutions throughout the year in an effort to distinguish the companies positively impacting California’s landscape and inspiring future innovators to come.

Please note, EDF has a standing corporate donation policy and we accept no funding from companies or organizations featured in this series.  Furthermore, the EDF California Innovators Series is in no way an official endorsement of the people or organizations featured, or their business models and practices.

Posted in California Innovators Series, Clean Energy, General, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Jobs| Comments closed

From the ozone to your refrigerator, putting the chill on climate change

oconnor_tim_287x377(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Back in the 1980s, an international alarm was sounded when a growing hole in the Earth’s ozone layer was discovered over the Antarctic. This phenomenon was caused, scientists said, by the presence of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) like the gases used in air conditioners, refrigerators and elsewhere.

There were predictions, if the ozone hole were to spread, of massive crop failures, an explosion in skin cancer rates, and mass extinction of species. Concern over the problem became so widespread that it even became the subject of a skit on “Saturday Night Live.”

Ultimately, however, the world community acted: In 1987 theMontreal Protocol was signed  by 46 nations, mandating a global phase out of ODS. Since then, scientists have shown that the production phase out of ODS has helped to shrink the hole in the ozone layer, while at the same time helping slow climate change.

Replacing chemicals that are 10,000 times more potent than CO2 as accelerants of climate change with ones that are a few thousand times stronger is no solution. ODS substitutes still make their way into the atmosphere when refrigerators are recycled and air conditioners leak. Furthermore, as globalization and economic growth makes refrigeration increasingly available in the developing world, the climate change problem associated with growing use of ODS substitutes is getting worse.

Studies have revealed that cooling systems in places like grocery stores and office buildings in Southern California regularly leak 15% to 30% of their refrigerant per year. That means that, worldwide, millions of tons of climate change pollution is being released every year.

NASA Goddard Photo and Video/flickr

There are simple fixes to this leakage problem. In California, for example, equipment inspection and leakage standards have been adopted as part of the state’s global warming law (AB 32). This has resulted in reduced ODS substitute losses into the air and savings for businesses that otherwise would have to buy recharge chemicals. In addition,companies are popping up to help manage refrigeration use, and some equipment operators are demonstrably leaking less.

In June 2013,President Obama and President Xi of China agreed to work together to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a key ODS substitute gas. This a pact that has the potential to reduce about 90 gigatons of CO2equivalent by 2050 (that’s equal to roughly two years’ worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions).

The U.S.-China pact could point the way toward a national and international policy on ODS substitutes. In the face of the growing urgency over climate change, we need a comprehensive solution to this problem.

Posted in Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Offsets| Comments closed