Climate 411

Why Latinos are disproportionately affected by asthma — and what we can do

(This post first appeared on EDF Voices. Para leer en Español haga clic aquí)

This post was co-authored by Rachel Shaffer  and Declan Kingland, National Health Programs Coordinator for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

Today in the United States, Latinos are three times more likely to die from asthma than other racial or ethnic groups. Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino whites, and nearly 1 in 10 Latino children under the age of 18 suffer from this chronic respiratory illness. Addressing the dangerous indoor and outdoor air pollution that is linked to asthma is critical for the health of Latino communities – and for all Americans.

Socioeconomics

Latinos are one of the poorest demographics in the United States, with roughly 1 in 4 Latinos living under the poverty level. Many Latinos also face challenges due to limited English-language proficiency, and in some cases, low levels of education. These issues can lead Latinos, particularly new immigrants, to low-paying jobs, often in the fields of agriculture, construction, and service.

Too often, these jobs expose workers to serious respiratory hazards from both indoor and outdoor air pollution, yet they frequently provide no healthcare benefits. For example, the toxic chemical formaldehyde, which is linked to asthma, can be found in glues, insulation, and wood products to which construction workers are disproportionately exposed. Asthma-related toxics can also be found in paints, cleaning products, carpets, and foam cushions.

Housing

Low-paying jobs held by Latinos lead to low-income families, and these families can be at even greater risk for asthma if their housing is substandard or if their home is located near major roadways, factories, or power plants, which produce air pollutants that can exacerbate asthma. People with asthma are especially sensitive to the pollutants released from cars, buses, heavy machinery, factories, and power plants, including particulate matter (soot), ground-level ozone (smog), carbon monoxide, and more.

Nearly 1 in 2 Latinos in the U.S. live in counties that frequently violate ground-level ozone standards.  Latinos are also 165% more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of particulate matter pollution than non-Latino whites, and nearly 2 in 5 Latinos lives within 30 miles of a power plant. Asthma triggers can also be found inside the home – from ethanolamines found in cleaning products, to bisphenol-A (BPA), a toxic chemical found in plastic products and food can linings.  Some asthma-linked toxic chemicals are even found in personal creams and lotions.

Healthcare

Statistics show that Latinos face disproportionate exposures to asthma-exacerbating indoor and outdoor air pollution. At the same time, Latinos face added challenges when seeking adequate healthcare. This is due in part to the language, educational, and economic barriers mentioned previously, which can limit access to or awareness of available health care resources that may be available. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 Latinos lacks health insurance.

These barriers to health care access can have significant consequences:

  • Compared to non-Latino whites, Latinos with asthma are less likely to be prescribed appropriate asthma medications and less likely to have access to asthma specialists.
  • Latinos who have an asthma emergency that sends them to the ER or hospital are also less likely to receive follow-up care or an asthma action plan.

Combined, these serious issues can make an otherwise manageable disease life-threatening.

What we can do

While these challenges are daunting, we have an opportunity to address part of the problem by demanding that our leaders take action to reduce asthma hazards – for Latinos, and for the nation as a whole. This is why EDF and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) have come together this year to help raise awareness among and empower Latinos in the U.S. to better combat this often preventable illness by strengthening the air pollution and chemicals laws that protect us.

We at EDF and at LULAC encourage you to ask your Congressman to:

Nationwide, Latinos are among the 25 million people – including 7 million children – affected by asthma.  We can help address the immediate problem through other avenues – like improving health care coverage or worker protections.  But ultimately, we need to address the root of the problem. We need to get rid of the air pollution and toxins that are linked to asthma.  All of us, including our Latino communities, should act now to get rid of the underlying causes of the disease. Until we do, we are all at risk.

Posted in Health, Partners for Change | 2 Responses

When it comes to carbon, pay now or pay more later

(This post originally appeared on ensia.com

Economics is largely just organized common sense, and it doesn’t get much more common sense than benefit-cost analysis. Want to decide whether to buy that apple, make that investment or pass that clean air rule? Tally up the benefits. Tally up the costs. If benefits outweigh costs, do it.

Although in many ways climate change is a problem in its own league, the same principles apply. Secretary of State John Kerry recently said, “The costs of inaction are catastrophic,” and they most likely would be. While climate change ought to be a risk management problem — an existential risk management problem on a planetary scale — that realization alone may not always be good enough. Despite the inherent risks and uncertainties, sometimes we need a specific number that we can plug into a benefit-cost analysis.

The U.S. government makes lots of regulatory decisions that have important implications for the climate. Any benefit-cost analysis of these decisions ought to include their climate impact. If a particular decision will lead to more greenhouse gas emissions — building the Keystone XL pipeline, for example — that figure ought to go on the cost side of the ledger. If the decision will lead to fewer greenhouse gas emissions — such as carbon pollution standards for power plants — that figure adds to the benefits side.

Such benefit-cost analyses require a dollar figure for the social cost of carbon pollution. The best we currently have is around $40 for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted, calculated by averaging results from the three of the most prominent and well-established climate-economic models. Uncertainties around the $40 value notwithstanding, putting in $0 is not an option. That, sadly, is what some with clear stakes in the outcome are arguing, however weak the ground they stand on.

In fact, $40 is very likely on the low end of the true cost of CO2. By definition, it only includes what is known and currently quantifiable. It doesn’t include many things we know are linked to a changing climate that aren’t so easily quantified, such as respiratory illness from increased ozone pollution, the costs of oceans turning ever more acidic and impacts on labor productivity from extreme heat. If these were factored in, the $40 figure would certainly be higher.

And the list of what’s missing in the current calculation goes on, as a recent commentary in Nature points out. For example, the models used to calculate the $40 figure are based on costs associated with higher average temperatures rather than costs of increased weather extremes. Taking extreme events seriously in the social cost calculation would increase the $40 figure further still.

We know climate change is and will be costly. How costly exactly is up for discussion, but it’s clear that we should at the very least use the $40 per ton figure in any benefit-cost analysis that involves climate impacts. That’s common sense, too.

Posted in Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy | 1 Response

Top takeaways from the latest IPCC report

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Yesterday, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its last report in a three-part series that makes up the fifth assessment report (AR5) on the latest data and research on climate change. The reports have been issued approximately every five years since 1990.

This latest round of reports began in September 2013 with anupdate on the latest science behind climate change (known as Working Group I). Last month, the second report was released and discussed climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability already observed and projected in the future (known as Working Group II).

The new report released yesterday (known as Working Group III) discusses actions to limit the magnitude and rate of climate change, termed mitigation. Over 400 experts from over 50 countries were involved in the development of the report, which was accepted by representatives from 195 nations.

Here are 5 key findings from the new lPCC report:

1. Global emissions of heat-trapping gases from human activities have continued to rise. Emissions are dominated by carbon dioxide (mainly from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes), which account for 78% of total greenhouse gas emissions from 1970 to 2010 (when other gas emissions are weighted to incorporate warming capability relative to CO2). Greenhouse gas emissions have grown more rapidly between 2000 and 2010 than in previous decades despite a recent push to limit emissions; economic and population growth are driving these increases and continue to outgrow emission savings from energy improvements.

2. Action to limit the magnitude and rate of climate change is needed immediately. Climate conditions are changing rapidly as shown in Working Group I, and the impacts to society and ecosystems are unequivocal, consequential, and increasing as shown in Working Group II. Scenarios to limit warming to 2ºC (3.6ºF) relative to preindustrial levels require drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century through large-scale changes in energy systems and land-use practices. The longer we delay action, the more expensive it will be.

3. It is key to reduce energy demand, deploy low-carbon technologies, and better conserve and manage forestry and agriculture. There is a range of technological and behavioral options for sustainable climate actions; nearly one thousand scenarios were analyzed in the report.

  • Near-term reductions in energy demand through efficiency enhancements in transport, buildings, and industry sectors are cost-effective, provide flexibility for decarbonizing in the energy supply sector, reduce risks in energy supply, and prevent future lock-in to carbon-intensive infrastructures.
  • Behavioral and lifestyle changes—such as lower energy use in households, buying longer-lasting products, changing dietary habits, and reducing food waste—can considerably lower greenhouse gas emissions alongside technological and structural changes. Further development and implementation of low-carbon energy and/or carbon removal technologies is important.
  • Renewable energy technologies—such as wind, hydro, and solar power—have finally achieved a level of maturity to enable large-scale deployment. However, steep challenges exist, including varying costs, regional circumstances, and the existing background energy system.
  • The best climate actions for forestry include afforestation, sustainable forest management, and reducing deforestation. For agriculture, best practices include cropland and grazing land management, and restoration of organic soil. Sustainable agriculture practices can also promote resilience to climate change impacts.

4. Effective actions will only be achieved by international cooperation. Climate change is a global problem because most heat-trapping gases accumulate over time and mix globally. Therefore, emissions by an individual, community, company, or country, affect the globe. The number of institutions for international cooperation is increasing, and sharing knowledge and technologies with other nations speeds up finding solutions. The issue is complicated by the fact that different countries’ past and future contributions to atmospheric greenhouse gas levels are different, as is their capacities to implement actions to limit climate change and build resilience.

5. Co-benefits strengthen the basis for undertaking climate action. Measures to limit energy demand (efficiency, conservation, and behavioral changes) and renewable alternatives can reduce the risk of energy supply, improve public health and the environment by limiting pollution, induce local and sectoral employment gains, support good business practices, improve security of energy supply at the national level, and eradicate poverty. Adverse side effects, such as reduced revenue from coal and oil exporters, can be to a certain extent avoided by the development of carbon capture and storage technologies.

The IPCC will conclude the AR5 in October 2014 with a final report that summarizes the three-part series, recapping the major findings of the physical science of climate change, its effects on society and ecosystems, and actions to avert catastrophic climate change.

There are many ways YOU can help promote climate actions, such as supporting the U.S. to continue its emission-reducing efforts like the EPA’s power plant standards.

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, International, News, Policy, Science | 1 Response

Toxic mercury pollution limits survive major court challenge

(This post was co-authored by Pamela Campos, Attorney, and Mandy Warner, Climate & Air Policy Specialist)

Some environmental threats are hard to explain. Toxic mercury is not. A dangerous neurotoxin that threatens young children, developing babies, and others, almost everyone reacts viscerally at the idea of ingesting it. And the scientific evidence endorses that instinctive response.

That’s why today’s decision by a federal court to uphold the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics rule is cause for celebration. For decades, power plants have been spewing out mercury. It ends up in our lakes and rivers, in fish, and ultimately in our bodies. It’s been closing favorite fishing holes and, more ominously, delaying mental development for our children. Even spiders in the Sonoran desert and trout in Colorado’s highest mountain lakes are affected.

When the EPA finally issued rules under the Clean Air Act to limit mercury pollution, the owners of the dirtiest power plants sued to stop it. Just like with every other major air pollution rule, they claimed it would be unaffordable, ignoring clear evidence that clean air protections are consistently shown to have public health benefits that far exceed the pollution control costs.

So this morning’s decision is a big deal for protecting our health. The court was sweeping in its denial of industry challenges, confirming that EPA’s technical and legal judgment was sound.

While some power companies are investing in lawyers and lobbyists to obstruct these vital health protections, other power companies are investing in clean air solutions. The reality on the ground shows that many power companies are already complying with the rule. Compliance costs fall as new standards are implemented. The health benefits of preventing exposure to toxic pollution are lifelong.

While some opponents claimed it would not be possible to install controls before the rule took effect, but as of the end of 2012, the Energy Information Administration recently reported that 70% of coal-fired capacity already meets the *standards.

Power companies such as American Electric Power, Southern Company and First Energy that fought EPA’s clean air protections claimed the costs would be too high to make pollution reductions. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the final Mercury and Air Toxics Standards on December 21, 2011 at Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. Within months of EPA’s announcement, these same power companies were adjusting their cost estimates downward and touting to investors that the compliance costs with the historic Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were plummeting:

  • On July 20, 2012 American Electric Power CEO Nicholas Akins confirmed that the company’s projected costs have come down nearly 25% from what AEP originally projected. He added, “[W]e expect it to continue to be refined as we go forward”. In other words, costs will come down even further. (Nicholas Akins, American Electric Power Co., Inc. Q2 2012 Earnings Call transcript, July 20, 2012).
  • On May 15, 2012 Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning stated that the amount the company projects for compliance costs “could be $0.5 billion to $1 billion less, because of the new flexibility that [the company has] found in the final rules of the MATS regulation.” (Thomas Fanning, CEO of Southern Company, Deutsche Bank Clean Tech, Utilities and Power Conference, May 15, 2012).
  • On August 8, 2012, First Energy CEO Anthony Alexander stated, "[W]e have significantly reduced our projected capital investment related to MATS compliance." (Anthony Alexander, Q2 2012 Earnings Call (transcript) August 8, 2012).

We examined this again and companies like AEP and FirstEnergy continue to lower compliance cost estimates downward from the claims they asserted during the mercury and air toxics rulemaking with AEP lowering its costs estimates by half and FirstEnergy lowering cost estimates by nearly 70 percent.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards provide crucial emission reductions of toxic pollutants including mercury, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, and chromium from the single largest source of toxic air pollution in the U.S. – coal-fired power plants. These standards will save thousands of lives every year, prevent heart attacks and asthma attacks, and help protect the hundreds of thousands of babies born in America every year who are exposed to unsafe levels of mercury in the womb. While the costs of compliance have plummeted from the public debate during the development of the standards, these vital health protections for our communities and families are enduring.

The court’s decision today demonstrates that EPA’s rule was carefully developed, and we can all rest more easily tonight knowing that we breathe cleaner air.

*Energy Information Administration, http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=15611

Posted in Policy | 1 Response, comments now closed

What the growing Latino community can do for climate politics

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices. Para leer in Espanol haga clic aquí)

In 2012 Latinos made up 1 in 10 voters and helped decide the Presidential election with record-setting voter margins. Last month in California, the most populous state in the nation, the Hispanic population surpassed that of non-Hispanic whites. The only other state to reach this benchmark is New Mexico, where the Latino population is almost 10% larger than that of non-Hispanic whites.

As the Latino population continues to grow across the country, so does its influence in key political arenas. In battleground states like Florida, Colorado, and Nevada, Latinos accounted for 17, 14, and 18 percent of voters in 2012, respectively, an increase from previous elections. The trend has reignited a lively discussion about the influence of the American Latino community, the “sleeping giant” of American politics.

There’s also a lesser-known political trend that is emerging among the country’s youngest and fastest-growing demographic: the demand among Latinos for action to address climate change. In a new national poll released last month by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Latino Decisions:

  • 9 out of 10 Latino voters “want the government to take action against the dangers of global warming and climate change”
  • 8 in 10 Latinos want the President to curb the carbon pollution that causes climate change
  • 86% of Latinos support limits on carbon pollution from power plants

How is this demographic shift significant to environmental advocacy?

The implications of this demographic moving so clearly in favor of pro-environmental policies is significant. For one, environmental policy issues are likely to fast become determining issues for Latino voters on both sides of the aisle. According to Latino Decisions, a leader in Latino political opinion research, the only other policy issue that has received such high levels of support is immigration reform, an issue in the lead among the most significant deciding issues for Latino voters across the political spectrum.

This demographic shift is also significant as the impacts of climate change become more severe. In recent months, key electoral states with large Latino populations have felt the devastating effects of climate change, from the unprecedented flooding in Colorado to California’s historic drought. With 50,000 Latinos turning 18 every month, a solid stance on environmental policy may fast become a make or break issue for elected officials in these states and at the national level.

Combined, these trends paint a clear picture, one of a Latino population that disproportionately supports action on climate change and that is increasingly influential in key political states.

Environmentalists, take note: this is a major opportunityfor the environmental movement to move forward policy that has stalled in the past. Equally as urgent, it is a tremendous opportunity to elevate the voices of Latinos, among other communities of color, disproportionately affected by environmental issues. A few examples:

  • It’s a chance to build support for green jobs initiatives, many of which will be undertaken by Latinos and Latinas
  • It’s a call to arms to better address the environmental health impacts that disproportionately affect Latino communities

Perhaps most important, it’s an open door to create more space for diversity in a movement that needs broader support to succeed, and one that will be more effective by better engaging underrepresented communities. How well we do this will be a measure of how quickly and how equitably we hope to meaningfully address climate change, the defining issue of our time.

Posted in News | 1 Response, comments now closed

IPCC: Cutting pollution isn't enough – we need smart adaptation, too

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Rebecca Shaw is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a lead author on Chapter 16, “Adaptation, Opportunities, Constraints and Limits,” of Working Group 2, Fifth Assessment Report. She is also a contributing author for the chapter, “Terrestrial Ecosystems and Inland Waters Systems,” and an author on the technical summary.

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 2014 report on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation.

There are three top take-a-ways from the report:

  1. The documented impacts of climate change are widespread, unequivocal and consequential across the planet for both people and nature
  2. Confronting climate change is now an issue of managing risks, and those risks are greater if we continue to pollute the atmosphere.
  3. To protect ourselves from the impacts of climate change that can’t be avoided, we must make smart adaptation investments in our cities, working lands and ecosystems now. These investments will increase resilience in the face of climate change and lead to a more vibrant and secure world.

The report contains extensive documentation on the impacts the warming atmosphere is already having on agriculture, coastal communities, terrestrial and marine plants and animals, and fresh water availability. Impacts from recent extreme climatic events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and wildfires demonstrate the significant vulnerability of some ecosystems and humans systems. Poor and impoverished communities will be most vulnerable, as will species lacking the robust ability to adapt to climate change.

And the science clearly shows that rates of annual crop yield increases are slowing. Climate change acts as an anchor on production – a heavy weight that will grow heavier each year climate change proceeds unchecked and unmitigated.

As climate change impacts increase, so does the need for getting smart about cutting carbon pollution. It is equally urgent that we super charge efforts to manage the risks associated with the impacts we cannot avoid. It’s not a choice between mitigation and adaptation anymore – we need both, fast. Without action, the magnitude and rates of climate change will lead to high risk of abrupt and irreversible change in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. And it will pose major challenges to cities, farms and infrastructure.

Yet, there is some hope. And this is where the new report departs from the 2007 IPCC report. We found that individuals, communities, businesses and governments around the world are innovating adaptation actions, plans and policies.

Here at EDF, we’re investing in transformational adaptation projects that will ensure that people and nature will be more resilient in the face of climate change:

  • In the Mississippi River Delta we are harnessing the river’s natural processes to rebuild coastal wetlands to protect coastal communities from sea level rise and extreme weather.
  • In the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin, we’ve helped to develop water-sharing agreements that can be replicated in other water-stressed regions.
  • Across the Western U.S., we are implementing habitat-exchange programs that will dynamically protect threatened wildlife populations for the long-term, even as their ranges shift.
  • And in the Midwest, we’re working with farmers to decrease greenhouse gas pollution caused by overuse of fertilizer on crops.

These examples are demonstrating that as long as smart investments in adaptation measures are taken in concert with substantial cuts in carbon pollution, we have an opportunity to decrease our vulnerability to climate change and to build a more vibrant and secure world for all.

Posted in News, Science | 2 Responses, comments now closed

6 key insights from the latest IPCC climate report

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Since 1990, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a series of reports that assess the latest data and research on climate change.

The reports are issued approximately every five years. In September 2013, the IPCC issued its newest round of reports by sharing the latest science, concluding with more confidence than ever that humans are responsible and that weather will likely get even more extreme, along with many other key findings.

The newest report, released today, looks at impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Next month comes the thirdreport in the 3-part series that makes up the IPCC’s 5thAssessment Report (IPCC AR5); it focuses on mitigation—that is, actions to limit the magnitude and rate of climate change.

Over 600 scientists and experts from at least 70 countries were involved in writing this latest installment of the IPCC AR5, which is referred to as Working Group II. Representatives from 195 nations had to approve of the Summary for Policymakers document line-by-line.

The report’s content focuses on three topics:

  • Impacts: effects of climate change on people, society, and ecosystems
  • Adaptation: actions to limit our risks to climate change
  • Vulnerability: the susceptibility of the human and natural worlds to climate change

Here are six key findings from the new IPCC report:

1.       Climate change is now everywhere. Impacts have been found on every continent and across all oceans. Both human and natural systems are experiencing the far-reaching and ever-growing effects: water resources are shrinking; terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species have changed their ways of life; major crop yields have decreased; and heat-related deaths have risen.

2.       Humans and ecosystems are both vulnerable. Climate events such as heat waves, droughts, floods, and wildfires alter ecosystems; disrupt food production and water supply; damage infrastructure and settlements; cause sickness and mortality; and adversely affect mental health and human livelihood. However, people who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally, or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable.

3.       Food security, water resources, human health, ecosystems, and the economy are all at stake. While the degree of risks varies based on climatic and non-climatic factors, scientists are confident that human and natural systems are threatened with continued warming. ‘Runaway’ warming (a global temperature increase of 4˚C (7.2˚F) above preindustrial levels—we are currently at 0.86˚C (1.5˚F)) could make normal activities like growing food or working outdoors impossible in many regions.

4.       Many global risks of climate change are concentrated in urban areas. Heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, and water scarcity pose risks in urban areas for people, assets, economies, and ecosystems.

5.       Building resilience is critical to limiting risks… Even the most rigorous mitigation tactics still won’t eliminate some additional warming. The upshot: there are countless opportunities for local, state, and national governments to plan and implement adaptation efforts, and also opportunities for public and private engagements. The down side: several barriers to adaptation still exist (such as legal and financial constraints), and if heat-trapping gas emissions remain unabated and the Earth warms by 4˚C (7.2˚F), the impacts may grow larger than our capacity to adapt.

6.       …but cutting heat-trapping gas emissions is essential. Delaying mitigation actions will likely reduce options for climate-resilient pathways, and make them much less affordable. Fortunately, we can solve two problems at once; examples of actions that build resilience and cut gas emissions include: improved energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources; reduced energy and water consumption in urban areas through greening cities and recycling water; sustainable agriculture and forestry; and protection of ecosystems for carbon storage and other ecosystem services.

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Science | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Energy Efficiency and Carbon Pollution Standards: Double Dividends for Climate and Consumers

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has embarked on a vital effort — accompanied by extensive outreach to states, power companies, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders, including you — to establish the nation’s first limits on carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

EPA was directed to take this critical step for public health and the environment in the President’s Climate Action Plan that was released last summer. Protective and well-designed Carbon Pollution Standards will provide important benefits for all Americans.

Fossil fuel-fired power plants emit 40 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution, as well as significant amounts of mercury, acid gases, and pollutants that contribute to smog and particulates.

That’s why it is critical to get these rules right, and to mobilize common sense solutions proven in red and blue states alike in reducing carbon pollution from the power sector.

Of all the available ways to reduce carbon pollution, one of the most cost-effective and time-tested approaches is to reduce demand for fossil fuel electricity through end-use energy efficiency (EE).

EE measures encompass countless improvements, large and small, in the ways we use electricity in our offices, factories, and homes. All of those improvements can add up to big savings, not only in our monthly energy bills but in the total amount of fossil generation needed to power our society.

Dozens of states and power companies are already investing heavily in EE, and have built up decades of experience in measuring and verifying the many benefits it can yield for consumers and for the environment.

Incredible Potential to Cut Emissions and Save Money by Reducing Wasted Electricity

States and power companies around the country have been implementing EE programs for decades, and have increased their efforts in recent years as experience with the benefits of EE has grown.

26 states in diverse regions of the country, from Arizona and Colorado in the Southwest to industrial Midwest states like Ohio and Illinois, now have “energy efficiency resource standards” or similar policies that require utilities to achieve a certain amount of energy savings each year.

State spending on EE programs increased by 28 percent between 2010 and 2012.

As EE policies and investments have grown, so have energy savings.

In 2011, state EE programs saved a total of 22.9 million megawatt-hours — roughly equivalent to the entire annual output of seven 500 megawatt coal-fired power plants.

These savings increased 22 percent since 2010 and, importantly, count only those savings achieved in the first year these EE measures are in place.

Because most EE measures continue to yield energy savings years or even decades after they are installed, the cumulative savings from these state EE programs are much larger.

A recent study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found that EE programs and policies are a key reason why residential and commercial electricity demand has remained stable since 2007.

As impressive as these developments are, they only scratch the surface of what could be achieved if we were to fully unlock the potential for EE to save energy and reduce emissions.

An exhaustive 2009 analysis by McKinsey & Company, for example, found that rigorous investment in cost-effective EE could reduce the country’s total energy consumption by 23 percent in 2020.

Energy savings on this scale would yield massive emission reductions — about 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxidein 2020 alone (more than 30 percent of power sector emissions today) – and at a cost per kilowatt-hour saved that is about 85 percent less than the average retail price of electricity.

The report also estimated that realizing these energy savings would create about 600,000 to 900,000 jobs through 2020.

Other national and regional studies have similarly found that EE represents a tremendous “win-win” opportunity for our climate, for families and consumers, and for the economy as a whole.

In 2012, for example, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) issued a report focusing on the potential benefits of scaling-up EE programs in six Southwestern states (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming).

Based on the track record of “best practice” EE programs around the country, SWEEP found that these six states could reduce their electricity demand in 2020 by more than 20 percent while achieving net benefits of about $20 billion – amounting to $2,650 for every household in the region (largely in the form of lower energy bills).

Investments in EE at this scale would also create about 30,000 additional jobs in the region by 2020, and increase wages and salaries by more than $1 billion.

At the same time, these EE measures would reduce carbon pollution by more than 30 million metric tons in 2020, (a 16% reduction relative to expected emissions in 2020), while also reducing thousands of tons of pollutants that contribute to smog, acid rain, and harmful particulate pollution.

EE and the Carbon Pollution Standards

If you’ve read my colleague Megan Ceronsky’s earlier blog, you’ve already heard about section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.

That section provides bedrock authority for EPA to issue Carbon Pollution Standards for existing power plants.  It also provides a broad, flexible framework for states and companies to deploy EE and other flexible approaches to reducing carbon pollution from the power sector.

Under section 111(d), EPA and the states will work together to reduce emissions from existing power plants.  EPA will issue “emission guidelines” that identify the “best system of emission reduction” for carbon pollution from existing power plants and the emission reductions achievable using that system.  The states then have the responsibility to develop plans that implement standards consistent with those guidelines.

Just a few weeks ago, Kate Konschnik, Policy Director of the Environmental Law Program at Harvard Law School, released a report that makes a strong legal case for considering EE as part of the “best system of emission reduction” that underpins EPA’s emission guidelines.

As Konschnik argues, the Clean Air Act grants EPA broad authority to consider flexible measures such as EE as a part of the best system of emission reduction for carbon pollution:

[B]ecause it is adequately demonstrated and cost-effective, imposes minimal environmental costs, and reduces overall energy requirements.

Moreover, as Konschnik points out, methods for quantifying and verifying EE-related energy savings and emission reductions are well-developed.

Over the last two decades, at least 35 states and two regional transmission organizations have adopted protocols for measuring and verifying energy savings from EE projects. These savings are now widely used as the basis for critical regulatory proceedings and market functions, including establishing utility rates, compensating EE in regional capacity markets, and carrying out long-term regional resource planning.

In addition, EPA has already allowed several states to credit emission reductions resulting from EE and renewable energy towards compliance with national air quality standards. EPA has also issued detailed guidance to the states on analytical approaches and tools that could be used for future programs.

Ensuring Smooth Implementation of EE in the Carbon Pollution Standards

Under traditional emissions trading programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) or California’s cap-and-trade system, the emission reduction benefits of EE are readily observed as emissions from power plants drop.

Under these programs, no separate system for tracking emission reductions from EE is necessary.  As a recent report by RGGI confirms, these programs are also funding significant investments in EE programs that have already helped 815,000 families.

However, some states may choose to directly incentivize EE through policies that credit individual projects and programs for their impacts on energy savings and emissions.

For this reason, EDF has worked with experts in the field to study how measurement and verification for such EE crediting systems could work in a way that is environmentally rigorous and administratively streamlined, and that builds on extensive state and regional experience with existing EE programs.

We recently submitted a report to EPA, developed by the Analysis Group, that lays out one possible framework for ensuring both desirable outcomes:

  • Rigorous measurement and verification of EE projects, and
  • Consistent methods for determining emission reductions that are attributable to EE projects

This framework recognizes the diverse approaches to measurement and verification of EE that are in use around the country. But in developing this framework, we were also struck by the significant progress that a number of organizations have made in developing best practices and consensus protocols for evaluating EE projects.

One example is the Department of Energy’s Uniform Methods Project (UMP), which has organized a multi-stakeholder process to develop rigorous yet streamlined measurement and verification protocols for different types of EE projects.

To date, UMP has released protocols addressing seven major EE project types and five “cross-cutting” evaluation issues. Eight more protocols are expected to be finalized in the coming months.

Other notable efforts to develop and encourage best practices in the field include:

EE: Ready for Prime Time

EE represents a historic opportunity to achieve extensive reductions in emissions of carbon pollution and other power sector pollutants that directly harm public health and the environment.

In many cases, EE measures will actually save families and businesses money over time and help strengthen the economy.

Decades of state and utility experience in designing and implementing EE programs have demonstrated that the benefits of EE are real, and that the policies and tools needed to incentivize EE and measure its effects are available.

EPA should fully mobilize the potential of EE by exercising its authority to consider EE in the design of the Carbon Pollution Standards, and by providing guidance to the states to facilitate the inclusion of EE in state plans implementing those standards.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Policy | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Cleaner Cars Trifecta: Benefits for Health, Businesses, and the Environment

A set of national clean car standards that have long been debated are, finally, a reality.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced those standards, commonly known as Tier 3, today.

The terrific news is that these rigorous tailpipe and cleaner fuel standards will deliver vital and swift health benefits for our communities and families.

Tier 3 is indeed a win-win-win for public health and the environment, the economy, and businesses.

EPA’s Tier 3 standards will provide benefits from day one by reducing dangerous pollutants in fuel.

They’ll cut even more vehicle and fuel emissions when the standards take full effect in 2017 – including reducing the levels of nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds, air toxics, and fine particulate matter – better known as soot.

The health benefits at stake are so high that almost 500 health and medical professionals recently wrote to President Obama, urging prompt finalization of Tier 3 standards:

“Unhealthy air imposes the risk of serious health impacts on millions of Americans. We see those impacts on our patients’ health, in public health, and in our research.”

By 2030, the emission reductions from the tightened fuel and vehicle standards will prevent:

  • Up to 2,000 premature deaths
  • 2,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits
  • 19,000 asthma attacks
  • 30,000 upper and lower respiratory symptoms in children
  • 1.4 million lost school days, work days and days of minor-restricted activities

The monetized net benefits of the avoided health impacts are as much as $19 billion every year.

And we get all of this for the cost of well under a penny per gallon of gas.

It comes as no surprise then that the Tier 3 standards enjoy broad support among diverse stakeholders including car companies, manufacturers, environmental justice groups, health groups and medical professionals, labor, blue and red states, environmental groups, faith groups, and advocates for consumers.

Utah has had to confront its growing air pollution problem, and its leaders have expressed support for the Tier 3 standards and improving air quality. Republican Governor Gary Herbert reiterated Utah’s commitment in his January 29th State of the State address:

“…We will accelerate the transition to cleaner Tier 3 gasoline and the next generation of lower-emission vehicles. Because nearly 60 percent of our pollution during inversions comes from tailpipes, and the technology already exists to do something about it, there is absolutely no reason to wait. By taking initiative, we ensure these cleaner gasolines and lower-emission vehicles, which burn 80 percent cleaner than current models, are made available in Utah as soon as possible.” 

In addition to the public health benefits of the cleaner fuel and vehicles, Tier 3 standards will help many domestic businesses.

Emissions control technology makers will see growing business from implementation of the standards. Tier 3 will also help the auto industry meet greenhouse gas emission and fuel economy standards, and deliver its “cleaner vehicles” promise to America.

Many individual oil refiners have stated that Tier 3 will not materially impact their business. In fact, refiners in California are already producing ultra-low sulfur fuel.

In the fuel clean-up process at oil refineries, Tier 3 standards could create nearly 25,000 jobs in construction, as oil refineries modernize their facilities. The standards could also create more than 5,000 permanent operations jobs.

For every dollar invested in meeting the Tier standards we will receive up to 13 dollars in benefits.

This is a significant victory for cleaner air, and it would not have been possible without the tremendous efforts of the more than 47,000 of you who wrote to EPA in support of Tier 3!

I now have another favor to ask of you — please send a thank you note to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and her team at EPA for their diligence in getting these life-saving standards across the finish line.

And my immeasurable thanks to all of you for your efforts in the fight for cleaner, safer air!

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Health, Policy | Comments closed

The Supreme Court and Climate Pollution: What is – and is not — at stake

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case challenging EPA’s interpretation that the Clean Air Act permit program requiring new and rebuilt industrial sources to deploy leading pollution control technology for each pollutant subject to regulation under the Act applies to greenhouse gases, just as these requirements have limited other airborne contaminants for over three decades.

The case is Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (No. 12-1146)

What’s at stake: Innovation in Addressing Climate Pollution and Clearing the Air about Climate Obstructionism

This case is remarkable for what is not at stake, as well as for what is.

While the Supreme Court is considering only a single legal question of the numerous issues that were raised, this case has important implications.

Exempting climate pollution from these specific provisions of the Clean Air Act would harm innovation, because they were carefully designed by Congress to spur the development of new pollution prevention and control techniques for industrial sources. Putting a stop to these legislatively-crafted incentives to innovation in precisely the area where we so urgently need innovation – in addressing climate-destabilizing pollution — would be a damaging loss and risks “locking in” new high emitting and long lived industrial infrastructure. Such an exemption for climate pollution is patently contrary to Congress’s specific command, in the statutory provisions at issue here, that these innovation-spurring requirements apply to “each pollutant subject to regulation under the Act”.

Climate obstructionists will undoubtedly twist the meaning of the case to suggest broader implications, despite the court's decision to review only one narrow question. While the Administration is judiciously carrying out its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act to address climate pollution – in accordance with the authority that was twice affirmed by the United States Supreme Court — climate obstructionists will use this case to sow havoc and attack the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Indeed, these forces have already attacked EPA by unsuccessfully litigating virtually every aspect of EPA’s first generation climate protections in court over a span of many years. Unfortunately, they will continue to attack EPA in the public square invoking the polarizing rhetoric that most Americans associate with divisive Beltway politics – not real world solutions.

What is not at stake in this case is the EPA’s determination that six greenhouse gases –carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride –endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations. This is the bedrock for EPA’s manifest authority to adopt climate protections for cleaner cars and cleaner freight trucks, for reducing the potent methane leaked and vented from oil and gas development activities in the same way that Colorado has adopted methane emissions standards, and for cutting the massive carbon pollution from power plants — the nation’s single largest source of carbon pollution and one of the largest in the world.

The history behind the case

For the past four years, big polluters and litigants such as the Attorney General of Texas have been suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over all aspects of EPA’s climate protections for America – including the science-based endangerment finding, and the historic Clean Cars Standards that are saving Americans money at the gas pump while strengthening our nation’s energy security and reducing pollution. By contrast, the U.S. Automakers have consistently supported the clean car standards.

These dozens of lawsuits were considered together by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – which upheld EPA’s climate protections and rejected the legal challenges. In 2012, a three Judge panel of that court held that EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act was “unambiguously correct.” Then-Chief Judge David Sentelle, appointed to the Court by President Ronald Regan, was a member of the three Judge panel that unanimously affirmed EPA’s action.

Opponents filed numerous petitions seeking review by the Supreme Court, which refused to entertain most of their challenges.

Instead, the Court granted review of a single question – whether, under the terms of the Clean Air Act, EPA’s regulation of climate pollution from cars triggered the requirement for pre-construction permits limiting the climate pollution discharged by large, new and rebuilt industrial sources of that pollution in the same way these requirements have applied to other air pollutants from these sources for over 35 years.

Bottom line

We need all available safeguards under the Clean Air Act to address the urgent challenge of climate change – including the advanced pollution control measures required as an essential protection in construction permits for large industrial sources. These measures are vital if we hope to minimize industrial climate pollution.

Further, one of the principal legal theories being advanced by petitioners would have adverse consequences for EPA’s long-standing interpretation of the law – spanning the Presidencies of Ronald Regan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush – that has expansively applied the protections of the Clean Air Act’s pre-construction review permit program to all regulated air pollutants. This line of attack, designed to narrow the air pollutants subject to these limits, would call into question the application of the program to pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide, fluorides and sulfuric acid mist.

Finally, we need to tell the truth to the public, to policymakers and to the highest Court in the land that EPA is judiciously carrying out its responsibilities under the nation’s clean air laws to protect human health and the environment from climate pollution. We must take a stand against the sharply polarizing rhetorical excess leveled at EPA. For the real world solutions that have won far reaching support, look no further than the cleaner cars on the road today that are strengthening our energy security, saving families hard earned money at the gas pump, and cutting carbon pollution.

This is why EDF will be at the Supreme Court today.

Editor’s Note: Environmental Defense Fund is a party to the case before the Supreme Court and participated in the presentation of oral arguments when the case was before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  A coalition of states and NGO allies are also vigorously defending these clean air protections against legal attack — including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the city of New York.

Posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy | 1 Response, comments now closed
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