Climate 411

EPA data emphasizes danger of Trump Administration’s “air toxics loophole”

Over the last few decades, EPA has issued numerous Clean Air Act protections to curb dangerous air pollution from large industrial sources. Now, however, a proposed Trump Administration loophole threatens to undermine that effort – and data released by EPA itself shows how this loophole might expose millions of Americans to a huge increase in toxic air pollution.

Possible increase in total air toxic emissions from a subset of facilities eligible to reclassify under the air toxics loophole, aggregated at state and city level. In many areas, this loophole could lead to a quadrupling of air toxics from these facilities. Graphic by EDF.

Last July, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed to create an air toxics loophole allowing large industrial facilities to increase their emissions of dangerous pollutants. When this proposed rule first emerged, EDF pointed out that EPA’s own data shows more than 3,900 large industrial facilities across the country are potentially eligible to take advantage of this loophole.

But additional data on just a subset of these facilities, released by EPA after the proposal came out, indicates that the proposal could lead to millions of pounds of additional toxic air pollution across 48 states – with many of these facilities located in areas where millions of Americans live and work.

The proposed air toxics loophole would undermine clean air safeguards for large industrial facilities across the country that are currently subject to stringent standards for the emission of mercury, benzene, and other hazardous air pollutants that may cause cancer and have other harmful health impacts. Under the proposal, many of these facilities would be eligible to “reclassify” themselves as smaller sources subject to weaker standards or no standards at all – and therefore could operate with weaker, or no, air pollution controls.

(The proposal would codify a four-page memo that Trump’s EPA issued in January 2018 – with no analysis of air pollution or health impacts. EDF, a coalition of environmental groups, and the State of California challenged that memo in court.  Although the D.C. Circuit rejected these challenges on procedural grounds, the court also found that the memo has no legal force or effect and cannot be relied upon by state permitting authorities or sources.)

In September, EDF and 34 public health, environmental justice, labor and environmental organizations submitted comments strongly opposing the proposed rule. EDF and four other environmental organizations also submitted detailed technical and legal comments emphasizing the danger the rule poses to public health.

Near the close of the comment period, EPA released additional data, including identifying information for specific facilities that could be eligible to reclassify under the proposed rule. EDF analyzed this additional data for clues about the devastating health and environmental impacts the air toxics loophole could have. In response to this additional data, EDF submitted supplemental comments to EPA.

Among other things, our analysis found:

  • EPA’s data covers more than 2,500 facilities that would be eligible to reclassify and increase their emission of dangerous pollutants. EPA identified more than 2,500 facilities that are currently subject to stringent Maximum Achievable Control Technology standards but under the loophole could avoid complying with those standards. This large number of facilities still represents only a subset of the nearly 4,000 facilities nationwide that EPA estimated would be potentially eligible to reclassify under the proposal.
  • A potential 480% increase in nationwide emissions of air toxics from these facilities. While it’s difficult to know if and by how much facilities would increase emissions if they were to take advantage of the proposed loophole, EDF estimates that total air toxics emissions could increase by about 49.2 million pounds per year if all the eligible facilities were to increase their emissions to the maximum extent permitted under the loophole. (The value was estimated by looking at the difference between current total air toxics emissions at these facilities and emissions if facilities increased total air toxics emissions to 75% of 25 tons per year – the threshold that would make these facilities major again – consistent with EPA’s approach.) Due to missing data for some of the facilities on the EPA list, however, this estimate is based on only 60% of the 2,500 facilities identified by EPA – so it could well underestimate the potential increase in emissions that would result from this proposal.

  • The proposed rule could expose millions of Americans in communities across the country to increases in toxic air pollution. Our analysis found facilities potentially eligible to use the loophole to increase their emissions of dangerous pollutants in 48 states. The greatest increases are concentrated in Texas, California, Michigan, and Louisiana. More than 3.7 million people live in the ten cities with the greatest possible increase in air toxics from this loophole.

After EPA issued the January 2018 memo that first opened the air toxics loophole, EDF issued a white paper finding that it could affect as many as 26 facilities in the Houston-Galveston region alone – and lead to hundreds of thousands of pounds of additional toxic pollution. Now, EPA’s own data reinforces the devastating impact of this loophole, from California to Michigan. EDF will continue to oppose this dangerous failure of EPA to uphold its responsibility to safeguard human health and the environment.

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During Black History Month, we celebrate 12 environmental leaders

Every day, African American civic leaders across the country are fighting for clean air, safe drinking water, a stable climate and a just world. In recognition of this year’s Black History Month, Environmental Defense Fund is honoring 12 individuals and celebrating their contributions.

The 12 leaders represent lawmakers and activists, professors and entrepreneurs, labor leaders and government officials. They join tens of thousands of others around the country and globe who are dedicated to improving the health of our families, the safety of our communities, and the stability of our climate. We invite you to join us and help lift up these important leaders during this month of celebration and reflection.

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2019: A Major Turning Point for Climate

After many years of inaction, 2019 marked a significant turning point in the global fight for climate action. Today’s youth captured our global attention and brought a renewed sense of urgency to the climate crisis, while businesses, local governments, and elected officials took major steps forward and set the tone for meaningful action in the future.

Businesses Take a Strong Stand Against Climate Change

Across the country, more than 10 major utility companies set goals to steeply reduce their carbon emissions—including Duke Energy, Xcel Energy, and DTE Energy who announced targets to achieve net-zero climate pollution by 2050. Joining these major utilities in a push for net-zero are other global business leaders like Danone, Mars, Unilever, and Nestle.

In the transportation sector, electric vehicles are increasing their market share and Ford Motor Company unveiled its plan to produce an electric battery powered SUV—called the Mustang Mach-E.

As the jobs in the coal industry shrunk again,  jobs in wind, solar, and  related clean energy industries grew strongly  in 2019. In fact, a recent study showed that the global race for clean job creation is off and running.

Congress Prioritizes Climate

After years of climate inaction on Capitol Hill, 2019 delivered fresh momentum for change.

Representative Donald McEachin (D-VA) sponsored the 100% Clean Economy Act, a bill that puts the U.S. on a path to achieving net-zero climate pollution by 2050. More than 160 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are co-sponsoring the legislation, marking the first time in a decade where nearly the entire House democratic caucus rallied behind an ambitious climate pollution target.

Congressional committees in both chambers of the Capitol held collectively more than 50 climate related hearings—led by the landmark Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in the House of Representatives. In the House, 2019 marked the year when climate hearings were back on the docket after a six year drought.

In the Senate, there was a much needed sign of bipartisanship. This fall Senators Mike Braun (R-IN) and Chris Coons (D-DE) launched the first-ever bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, which at the close of 2019 has 10 Senators.

Local and State Governments Lead the Charge to Action

While climate action received renewed attention in the nation’s Capital, the real action in 2019 was in city halls and statehouses across the country.

In response to the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, a coalition of states and local governments representing nearly 70% of U.S. GDP continued to sign on to “America’s Pledge” on climate.

At the city level, over 200 mayors from across the United States pledged their support to transition their municipalities to 100% clean

After Colorado and Washington signed major climate bills into law, Nevada, Oregon, and other states across the country also took major steps towards climate action in 2019.

Today, according to a November 2019 report, one-third of Americans (about 111 million and 34% of the population) lives in a community or state that has committed to or has already achieved 100% clean electricity.

A Renewed Priority for Change

Lawmakers’ renewed focus on climate action closely correlates with another major 2019 climate milestone: climate change (and action to address the problem) is now a top-tier issue for Americans.

Polling across the country shows that Americans across the political spectrum are rapidly acknowledging climate change is a crisis. In September, CNN became the first major news outlet to hold a Presidential forum specific to the issue.

Millions of people took to the streets this fall to participate in the world’s largest global climate change demonstration in history, and many youth have exclaimed that these protests are just the start.

Just how much has this grassroots action moved the needle? The Oxford Dictionary named “climate emergency” as the 2019 word of the year and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was named Time Magazine Person of the Year.

The Stage is Set for Climate Action

But with more extreme weather events, health risks, and economic hardships caused by climate change on the horizon, it is critically important that we hold public and private sector leaders accountable for more progress and measurable action in 2020.

In a matter of weeks the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is poised to release policy priorities recommendations and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has committed to bringing a major, bipartisan climate bill to the floor in 2020.

There’s no doubt 2019 marked a critical turning point in the climate change fight, but the stakes are raised as we head into 2020. For our children’s future, we must capitalize on this historic momentum for climate action, and push for binding commitments for a 100% clean economy by 2050.

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COP 25: The mess in Madrid – and how international carbon markets can still drive ambition despite it

Midnight COP 25 plenary on Dec. 14 in Madrid. UNclimatechange via Flickr.

At just before 2:00 pm Sunday afternoon in Madrid, at a sprawling conference center on the outskirts of the city, a new record was set — and not an enviable one. That’s when the gavel finally fell on COP 25 — the 25th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change — making it the longest COP in history, as it extended nearly 44 hours past its scheduled end.

Even with all that extra time, however, negotiators from 197 Parties were unable to reach agreement on virtually anything of real consequence, including one of the issues that topped the conference agenda: guidance for promoting the integrity of international carbon markets, in particular by ensuring consistent and robust accounting of emissions reductions transferred among countries.

While that failure is widely recognized, the outcome also offers three key implications for how markets can move forward.

  • First, negotiators came surprisingly close to a good deal. That provides a foundation for negotiators to build on next year – although it’s not at all clear that having failed two years in a row, the third time will be the charm.
  • Second, countries that are serious about markets don’t need to wait for the UN to provide guidance: they can and should move ahead to set their own rules.
  • Third, the failure to reach agreement puts the Kyoto Protocol’s offset program (known as the Clean Development Mechanism) on shaky legal ground – something that decision makers at the UN’s aviation agency, ICAO, should heed.

How markets can help drive ambition

Markets may seem like a surprising headline topic for an international climate negotiation. But they are a central, if underappreciated, tool to make faster, deeper cuts in climate pollution — which is desperately needed, given the growing gap between the world’s current emissions trajectory and where we must go to meet the Paris Agreement’s objective of limiting warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

The Paris Agreement expressly recognizes, in its Article 6, that carbon markets provide a critical tool to enhance ambition. Market-based international cooperation enables countries to do more together than they could on their own. Economic analysis by EDF shows that carbon markets could achieve nearly double the emissions reductions relative to current Paris Agreement commitments, at no extra cost. The current nationally determined commitments (NDCs) are nowhere near ambitious enough to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, and we need all the tools in the box to avoid climate catastrophe.

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COP 25: Carbon markets in the spotlight

Staff and volunteers welcomed at COP 25 in Madrid.
UNclimatechange via Flickr

International cooperation on carbon markets, covered in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, is at the top of the agenda for the COP 25 climate talks in Madrid this week. Since leaving the Article 6 section of the Paris Agreement without agreement at COP 24, negotiators have continued to work over the past year to garner support for a deal, before countries shift focus to preparing their critical next round of NDC pledges, due next year.

They will do this against a backdrop of political disruption, but continued determination to finalize the Paris Agreement’s operating instructions, known in the UN as the “rulebook”.

Civil unrest in Chile led that country’s president to take the unprecedented step of canceling the climate conference only five weeks before its scheduled start. Spain quickly stepped in the next day to offer to organize the negotiations, known as COP 25, in Madrid. The United States earlier this month officially began the process to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. All this is happening while the increasing impacts of climate change are being felt around the world; fires have ravaged Australia and California, while historic flooding is drowning Venice and dangerous pollution is choking Indian cities. And a new World Meteorological Organization report confirms that the atmospheric concentration of three key greenhouse gases – methane, CO2, and nitrous oxide – continues to rise.

Although the ultimate success of the Paris Agreement will be judged many years from now, how the rules on international carbon markets are decided in Madrid could make or break the ambition of the Paris Agreement.

That’s because international carbon market cooperation underpinned by strong accounting and transparency rules can help drive emissions down significantly: research shows that well-designed carbon markets could nearly double the ambition of current national climate pledges, at no extra cost.

However, weak rules for carbon trading between countries could fundamentally undermine the Paris Agreement. By allowing countries and the private sector to “count” carbon credits that don’t represent real emissions reductions, a bad set of rules on Article 6 could negate the climate ambition of current climate pledges.

What is a good Article 6 agreement?

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What You Need to Know About Article 6 of the Paris Agreement

This post was coauthored by Kelley Kizzier from EDF, Kelly Levin from World Resources Institute, and Mandy Rambharos, Article 6 negotiator, South Africa. It originally appeared on WRI’s blog

As delegates arrive in Madrid for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) this week, one issue is top-of-mind: finalizing the rules on how countries can reduce their emissions using international carbon markets, covered under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Article 6 is one of the least accessible and complex concepts of the global accord. This complexity was a major reason that Article 6 was not agreed to until the last morning of the Paris negotiations in 2015 and was left unresolved at the Katowice climate talks last year. Getting these rules right is critical for fighting climate change: depending on how they are structured, Article 6 could help the world avoid dangerous levels of global warming or let countries off the hook from making meaningful emissions cuts. The integrity of the Paris Agreement and countries’ climate commitments hang in the balance.

Here’s what you should know:

How do international carbon markets work?
International carbon markets work like this: Countries that struggle to meet their emissions-reduction targets under their national climate plans (known as “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs), or want to pursue less expensive emissions cuts, can purchase emissions reductions from other nations that have already cut their emissions more than the amount they had pledged, such as by transitioning to renewable energy. If the rules are structured appropriately, the result can be a win-win for everyone involved — both countries meet their climate commitments, the overachiever is financially rewarded for going above and beyond, finance is provided to the country generating the emissions reductions, and the world gets a step closer to avoiding catastrophic climate change.

What does the Paris Agreement say about carbon markets?
Article 6 has three operative paragraphs, two of which relate to carbon markets:

  • Article 6.2 provides an accounting framework for international cooperation, such as linking the emissions-trading schemes of two or more countries (for example, linking the European Union cap-and-trade program with emissions-reduction transfers from Switzerland). It also allows for the international transfer of carbon credits between countries.
  • Article 6.4 establishes a central UN mechanism to trade credits from emissions reductions generated through specific projects. For example, country A could pay for country B to build a wind farm instead of a coal plant. Emissions are reduced, country B benefits from the clean energy and country A gets credit for the reductions.
  • Article 6.8 establishes a work program for non-market approaches, such as applying taxes to discourage emissions. For this explainer, we will focus on the carbon markets elements of Article 6.

While Article 6 established these concepts in broad strokes and countries achieved some progress on defining the rules over the years, their final shape remains yet to be agreed. Finalizing these rules is a key agenda item for COP25.

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