Climate 411

EPA’s State-by-State Carbon Limits Indicate Smart Policy, Not Arbitrary Rulemaking

By Kate Zerrenner

EDF_FB_renewableEnergy_solar (1)In June, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced – for the first time ever – standards to limit carbon emissions from U.S. power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Currently power plants emit 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, but under the proposed Clean Power Plan, the U.S. power sector will cut carbon pollution by 30 percent below 2005 levels.

Since this announcement, the usual suspects have attacked the CPP, calling its proposed state-by-state reduction standards arbitrary. Their claims couldn’t be further from reality. When EPA asked states for feedback on how to best craft this standard, states asked for two things: individual standards and flexibility. And that’s what they got. Anyone familiar with the proposed standards will know they are based on a consistent and objective methodology that takes into account each state’s unique energy portfolio and emissions, as well as built with maximum flexibility in mind.

At first glance, the climate-change-denying crowd dismissed the standards as arbitrary, because the limits vary from state to state. For example, Washington needs to reduce its emissions rate by 72 percent by 2030, while Kentucky only needs to cut its emissions rate by 18 percent over the same period. Texas lies somewhere in the middle with a 39 percent reduction required. So what gives?

How did EPA get those numbers?

Let’s unpack the methods that went into EPA’s carbon pollution limits. EPA’s vision for the plan was to give the states complete ownership and flexibility in reducing overall carbon emissions. EPA decided on a simple greenhouse gas performance metric for each state:

Total power plant emissions in one year ÷ Total electricity generation in one year
= Emissions reduction rate

The states have complete control and flexibility over how to meet the emissions reduction rate.

To figure out each state’s potential to reduce emissions, EPA analyzed the practical and affordable strategies that states and utilities are already using to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, such as energy efficiency, improving power plant operations, and using more renewable energy. By analyzing state-specific data, EPA calculated practical targets for each state. Their analysis formally considers four “building blocks” for cleaner power:

  1. Improving the efficiency of existing power plants,
  2. Increasing use of the most efficient natural gas plants,
  3. Using more renewable energy, and
  4. Expanding demand-side energy efficiency—the same low-hanging fruit for which experts have been advocating for years.

States are already on their way

If we look at each state’s proposed reductions individually, it’s clear that EPA’s limits will not crash the economy or tear down the power sector. In fact, in many states it will not be difficult to meet EPA’s limits ahead of schedule.

Washington, with its seemingly onerous 72 percent reduction mandate, had already ordered its largest coal plant to shut down by 2025. Closing that coal plant alone will reduce the state’s emissions by 70 percent, because much of Washington’s electricity comes from hydro power. And Kentucky leaders have already devised a strategy to meet the state’s 18 percent reduction goal.

In Texas – my home state – we’re well on our way to meeting the 39 percent reduction standard set by EPA by simply amplifying current trends, namely relying on more West Texas wind, widening the use of efficient natural gas electricity, and taking advantage of the state’s solar potential. Now Texas leaders should craft the best framework for the state – one that has the potential to bring in billions of dollars directly to our state economy, create more homegrown jobs, and lower Texans’ electricity bills. If state leaders make another “principled stance” against the EPA, like they did with the greenhouse gas permits, we can only expect for Texas to fall behind other states as they race toward the trillion dollar clean energy economy. Come January, EDF urges the Legislature to take the bull by the horns and show the nation how Texas will continue to be a leader in energy.

It’s clear that EPA’s limits were developed with a specific and pragmatic methodology. Variation in reduction goals from one state to another reflects variation in the circumstances of individual states, which EPA wisely took into account. Those who condemn the rules as arbitrary are ignoring the actual basis for the rule.

This post first appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy | 1 Response, comments now closed

5 Undeniable Truths about the Clean Power Plan

Do you get a sense of déjà vu when you hear the fossil fuel industry arguments against the Environmental Protection Agency’s new climate change plan? You’re not imagining things – we’ve heard these many, many times before.

The EPA recently held public hearings around the country to solicit comments on its new proposal to put reasonable, nationwide limits on climate pollution from power plants.

The plan is moderate, flexible, and paves the way for considerable economic gains, but the substance hardly mattered for some die-hard opponents: The fossil fuel industry allies trotted out the same talking points about the supposed costs of action and American indifference to clean air policies that they always do.

Tellingly, industry lobbyists and their friends in Congress couldn’t even be bothered to wait and see what the rule said before blasting it with wildly inaccurate claims about the cost of implementation.

Fossil fuel industry allies have clung to these false arguments for decades, so it’s little wonder misinformation continues to swirl around these rules and the clean energy debate at large.

Here are the real facts about five issues opponents raised about the Clean Power Plan:

1. Renewable energy is taking hold.

Opponents of clean air regulations are keen to convince the public that affordable, renewable energy is a pipe dream. But the truth is renewable energy has never been more efficient, it’s never been less expensive, and it’s taking root all over the country.

Take a look at solar power: According to the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association, the cost of solar power plummeted 60 percent between the first quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2013. The long-term picture is just as impressive: In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost about 1 percent of what they did 35 years earlier.

And solar isn’t the only renewable that’s catching on. Wind energy accounted for one-third of new power capacity over the last five years, an amount that could double in the years to come.

Texas, the nation’s top wind producing state, saw wind energy generation grow a whopping 13 percent in 2013. Last year, 60 percent of wind projects in the entire United States were in Texas.

2. Americans support limits on greenhouse gas emissions. 

Industry lobbyists often suggest that Americans cringe at any and all attempts to curb the pollution that causes global warming, but that argument is flat-out false. Recent polling shows that's clearly not the case.

A recent study by Yale found that 64 percent of Americanssupport strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing power plants.

3. The power plant rules will be efficient and affordable. 

As I wrote earlier, the fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress were eager to say the proposed rules will cost vast sums of money that will trickle down to consumers and destroy jobs in the process. The Washington Post Fact-Checker thoroughly debunked those claims, and it is not the first time industry has been caught red-handed.

Time and again, the cost of implementing any rules related to the Clean Air Act are five to 10 times less than the industry initially estimates they will be.

4. Power companies already have tools to implement pollution limits.

The Clean Power Plan is part of President Obama’s broader plan to reduce nationwide carbon dioxide emissions. He has set as a goal to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020 nationwide, using 2005 as the baseline. Industry opponents claim the emission reduction goal is unrealistic, but there's evidence to the contrary.

Xcel Energy, one of the country’s largest electricity and natural gas providers, has already reduced emissions 20 percent since 2005. The company is on pace to decrease emissions by 31 percent in 2020.

5. States can handle implementation better than you may think. 

Yet another common complaint from industry is these meaningful clean air regulations are too big and unwieldy for states to implement. Don’t tell that to California, which last year implemented a world-class climate law that has led to substantive greenhouse gas reductions and economic growth.

And the nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiativeare already reaching stellar results.

Industry allies are actually half-right about one thing, though: The Clean Power Plan is indeed a huge deal. It may very well serve as a turning point for the United States and the world in our effort to reduce greenhouse gasses, while pointing the economy toward revitalization through clean energy.

The sooner opponents stop circulating myths to the contrary, the sooner everyone can reap those benefits.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, Policy | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Why Support the Clean Power Plan? Testimony from the EPA Hearings

By Dan Upham

Across the country this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held public hearings to solicit comments about its Clean Power Plan, which will put the first-ever national limits on the amount of climate pollution that can be emitted by power plants. EDF’s president, a senior attorney, and a clean energy specialist were among the hundreds of Americans who testified in support of the Plan. As these selections from EDF staff testimonies illustrate, the Plan offers moderate, flexible, and necessary measures to address climate change at the federal and state levels.

It’s necessary: The climate is changing across the U.S.

Image of the DC rally outside the EPA hearings. Source: Heather Shelby

“The stakes are high in Colorado as hotter temperatures, reduced winter snowpacks, and more frequent droughts are expected to decrease Colorado River streamflows.

Our treasured Rocky Mountain ecosystems are especially susceptible to climate change impacts, and high elevations have already experienced temperature increases at rates three times the global average.

Increased warming, drought, and insect outbreaks have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems throughout the West.” – Graham McCahan, a senior attorney with EDF’s U.S. Climate and Air legal team.

“The Southeast is the region expected to be the most affected by increasing temperatures. Extremely hot days – 95°F or above – could cause a decrease in labor productivity by 3.2% in the construction, mining, utilities, transportation, and agricultural sectors. Extreme heat also is projected to cause 11,000 to 36,000 more deaths each year.” – Greg Andeck, EDF’s North Carolina senior manager, Clean Energy.

“The bottom line is that we cannot continue down the path of unlimited pollution.” – Fred Krupp, EDF’s president.

It’s flexible: It can work well in different states

“Strong carbon pollution standards are consistent with a strong clean energy economy in Colorado.

Solar and wind resources are cheaper than ever before. In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost approximately one percent of what they did 35 years ago, and the cost of solar panels fell by 60 percent from 2011 to 2013. This past May, Xcel Energy [a Colorado utility] announced that it is now acquiring renewable energy at prices that out-compete fossil fuels.” – Graham McCahan

“The plan would allow North Carolina to get credit for steps it already has taken to grow clean energy and invest in energy efficiency. Here are some examples:

  • North Carolina’s solar industry is now ranked 4th in the country in installed solar capacity, thanks to policies that make it easier for investors to finance projects.
  • North Carolina has more than 1,000 clean energy and energy efficiency companies that can help the state meet the Clean Power Plan.

North Carolina demonstrates how a state can move to a clean energy economy in a thoughtful, measured and cost-effective manner.” – Greg Andeck

It’s moderate (and affordable): The cost of inaction is high

“We know that transition to clean energy is not only possible, it’s affordable. In fact, every time EPA has used the Clean Air Act to limit air pollution, it has ended up boosting our economy. Overall, the benefits have outweighed the costs by thirty to one. And every past rule has saved lives – tens of thousands of them.

Hiding from challenges is not what Americans do. And it is certainly the wrong path for us and the generations to come.” – Fred Krupp

It’s imperative: Millions stand to benefit  

“For the millions of kids who will have fewer asthma attacks in the future.

For the workers who will find jobs in new and growing industries.

For the rate payers, who will see their electricity bills go down.

For all of those who will be protected from the most damaging impacts of climate change.

And for our children and grandchildren, who will know that our generation cared enough to leave them a safer, healthier world.” – Fred Krupp

This post first appeared on EDF Voices

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Health, Jobs, Policy | 1 Response, comments now closed

Americans Have Caught the Fever

This is an amazing, exciting time. I, like so many millions of Americans, have been completely swept up in the groundswell of exhilarating national pride peaking just as we are about to celebrate our 238th anniversary as an independent nation.It’s time to wave that flag high and proud!

Flickr/Little Baby G

Flickr/Little Baby G

Americans have caught on to a movement that most of the rest of the world has long embraced. From Germany to England, France to Mexico, Brazil to South Korea, it unites so much of the world in a common purpose, a shared sense of hope and global cooperation. And over these last few weeks, I have rejoiced as Americans have caught the fever.

No, I’m not referring to the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament – though that has been a real treat to watch. And hats off to the inspiring performance of the Stars and Stripes squad in Brazil. What an amazing effort against Belgium. As a parent of a young soccer player, I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Actually, I’m talking about the overwhelming support Americans are showing for real climate action since the EPA announced its landmark Clean Power Plan to slash carbon pollution from America’s power plants.

And how inspiring it is. We Americans have been debating national climate policy since I was in high school in the first Bush administration. Here we are (gulp) a quarter century later, and we now have a proposal to — for the first time ever — limit dangerous climate pollution from America’s fossil fuel-fired power plants, the largest source of climate pollution in the U.S.

Can you imagine that we have spent all this time with NO NATIONAL LIMITS on climate pollution from power plants? Frankly, it’s shocking.

We’ve spent years debating a national cap and trade bill, a carbon tax, and a wide range of renewable energy standards to drive down America’s dependence on fossil fuels. And, we’ve made some progress.

But, all along, our fossil fuel-fired power plants were left unchecked, allowed to spew carbon dioxide into our atmosphere with no national limits.

That’s why the EPA Clean Power Plan is so essential and it’s why every American who cares about clean energy and a safer climate future should take action and support strong limits.

When the EPA announced its proposal a month ago, it was supposed to be divisive. It was supposed to ignite a furor of debate. The vaunted Big Carbon PR machine was supposed to be geared up and ready to grind the proposal to a pulp.

But, something funny happened on the way to cleaner energy. In the weeks since the EPA announced its pollution reduction plan, there has been a profound and perplexing lack of coherent or competent response from the richly financed corporate public relations industry. Yes, the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, the National Mining Association, and others are using this as a wedge issue to ramp up political pressure.

But, these squawking voices have been countered by former Republican EPA Administrators and former Republican Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who have stepped up in recent weeks to support climate action. Even some utility companies have warmed to the proposal.

Overall, public support has been overwhelmingly positive. Washington Post poll last month found that as many as 70 percent of all Americans support carbon pollution limits for power plants — including 63 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Independents.

Let’s be very clear about this. There are precious few political issues these days that garner 70 percent support – across all political lines. That’s important. And it is heartwarming evidence that America is ready to act on climate.

So, on this Independence Day, I’m planning to celebrate our great country by watching some World Cup soccer, enjoying the day off with my family, and rejoicing in the hope and opportunity we have as a country to unleash our clean energy future.

Go, go USA. I believe that we will act!

Posted in Clean Power Plan, News, Policy, What Others are Saying | Comments closed

Supreme Court Reaffirms EPA’s Bedrock Legal Authority to Cut Carbon Pollution from Power Plants

Source: Openclipart

The United States Supreme Court issued a long-awaited decision in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (No. 12-1146) this week, resolving the last of many multi-year legal challenges to EPA’s first generation of climate protections under the Clean Air Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-to-2 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permissibly read the Clean Air Act to require large new or modified industrial pollution sources to deploy modern pollution controls for greenhouse gases. Thus, new and rebuilt large emitters of other regulated pollutants such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen subject to the Clean Air Act’s pre-construction review permit program must use the “best available control technology” to control climate pollution.

This is now the third decision in which the Court has affirmed the application of the Clean Air Act to climate pollution.

A 5-to-4 majority of the court also held that EPA must narrow its permit program to avoid applying the permitting program to many smaller sources that EPA itself had taken steps to exclude from regulation.

The UARG case emphatically puts an end to the misplaced claims by some who question EPA’s bedrock authority to address the deleterious carbon pollution from power plants and other industrial sources under section 111 and the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit program of the Clean Air Act. The central question in the UARG case was not whether EPA must address climate-destabilizing pollution from power plants and other industrial sources, but rather how EPA should carry out these essential clean air protections.

When it took up the UARG case, the Supreme Court decided not to review EPA’s rigorous, science-based determination in 2009 that six greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations — the legal foundation for addressing climate pollution under the Clean Air Act. The Court similarly declined to review EPA’s landmark rules in 2010 setting the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger vehicles (the Clean Car Standards). The Supreme Court’s review of UARG was focused exclusively on EPA’s interpretation of the PSD permitting program. Nothing about the Supreme Court’s final decision in UARG affects the Clean Car Standards or the science-based finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare and therefore must be addressed under the Clean Air Act. And in UARG, seven justices of the Court agreed with EPA that large industrial sources that are already required to obtain PSD permits due to their emissions of other regulated pollutants must limit their greenhouse gas emissions with “best available control technology.”

The UARG case also reinforces EPA’s clear legal authority to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s fossil fuel-fired power plants, which emit nearly forty percent of the United States’ carbon dioxide and are currently subject to no national limits on carbon pollution. As described in detail on our earlier blogs, EPA has proposed long-overdue and much-needed rules under section 111 of the Clean Air Act that would, for the first time, require new power plants to use advanced technologies available for carbon reduction — and would reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 through available cost-effective solutions. Together, these rules would cut carbon pollution from our nation’s largest source, achieve significant reductions in other harmful pollutants that are emitted together with carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants, and spur complementary action in other countries.

The Supreme Court has affirmed time and again EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution, and it further reiterated this precedent in UARG:

  • Seven years ago in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court held that “greenhouse gases fit well within the Act’s capacious definition of ‘air pollutant,’” and are therefore clearly within EPA’s authority to regulate under the Clean Air Act. 549 U.S. 497, 532 (2007). In UARG, the Court rejected requests by some of the parties to overturn this fundamental holding.
  • Four years later in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court explicitly acknowledged EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants, holding that it was “plain” that section 111 of the Clean Air Act “speaks directly to emissions of carbon dioxide from the defendants’ plants.” 131 S. Ct. 2527, 2537 (2011)
  • During the February 24, 2014 oral argument in UARG, industry attorney Peter Keisler conceded, in response to questioning from Justice Ginsburg, that EPA has clear authority to address climate pollution from power plants under section 111.  The Court specifically acknowledged and reiterated this holding in UARG noting that the section 111 is “not at issue here” and that “no party in American Electric Power argued [section 111] was ill suited to accommodating greenhouse gases.”

It is always an important occasion when the Supreme Court weighs in on legal issues affecting the Clean Air Act. It’s especially important when the Court is addressing the climate pollution that presents a clear and present danger to the health of our communities and families and to our prosperity.

Posted in Climate Change Legislation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy | Comments closed

"Risky Business" stands out in growing sea of climate reports

Receding beach on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Source: FEMA/Tim Burkitt

(This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices)

This blog post was co-authored by Jonathan Camuzeaux.

Put Republican Hank Paulson, Independent Mike Bloomberg, and Democrat Tom Steyer together, and out comes one of the more unusual – and unusually impactful – climate reports.

This year alone has seen a couple of IPCC tomes, an entry by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment.

The latest, Risky Business, stands apart for a number of reasons, and it’s timely with the nation debating proposed, first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from nearly 500 power plants.

Tri-partisan coalition tackles climate change

The report is significant, first, because we have a tri-partisan group spanning George W. Bush’s treasury secretary Paulson, former mayor of New York Bloomberg, and environmentalist investor Steyer – all joining forces to get a message through.

That list of names alone should make one sit up and listen.

Last time a similar coalition came together was in the dog days of 2009, when Senators Lindsay Graham, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry were drafting the to-date last viable (and ultimately unsuccessful) Senate climate bill.

Global warming is hitting home

Next, Risky Business is important because it shows how climate change is hitting home. No real surprise there for anyone paying attention to globally rising temperatures, but the full report goes into much more granular details than most, focusing on impacts at county, state and regional levels.

Risky Business employs the latest econometric techniques to come up with numbers that should surprise even the most hardened climate hawks and wake up those still untouched by reality. Crop yield losses, for example, could go as high as 50 to 70 percent (!) in some Midwestern and Southern states, absent agricultural adaptation.

The report is also replete with references to heat strokes, sky-rocketing electricity demand for air conditioning, and major losses from damages to properties up and down our ever-receding coast lines.

Not precisely uplifting material, yet this report does a better job than most in laying it all out.

Financial markets can teach us a climate lesson

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Risky Business gets the framing exactly right: Climate change is replete with deep-seated risks and uncertainties.

In spite of all that we know about the science, there’s lots more that we don’t. And none of that means that climate change isn’t bad. As the report makes clear, what we don’t know could potentially be much worse.

Climate change, in the end, is all about risk management.

Few are better equipped to face up to that reality than the trio spearheading the effort; Paulson, Bloomberg and Steyer have made their careers (and fortunes) in the financial sector. In fact, as United States Treasury secretary between 2006 and 2009, Paulson was perhaps closest of anyone to the latest, global example of what happens when risks get ignored.

We cannot – must not – ignore risk when it comes to something as global as global warming. After all, for climate, much like for financial markets, it’s not over ‘til the fat tail zings.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Cars and Pollution, Economics, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, News, Policy | 1 Response, comments now closed

Defenders of dirty power plants use doublespeak to shape debate

Under the proposed Clean Power Plan, plants must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

(This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices)

As we’ve noted before, few opponents of the federal Clean Power Plan want to stand up and say they favor unlimited carbon pollution. So they’re apt to frame their arguments in more clever ways.

Under the proposed Clean Power Plan, plants must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Sometimes their approach is to use misleading statistics – like when they talk about the cost of moving to clean energy without mentioning the much larger benefits of doing so.

Or they’ll use an appealing bit of logic, which sounds right until it’s exposed to the way the world really works.

It takes more than one EPA rule

One of those seemingly-logical attacks is the complaint that the plan the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rolled out June 2 won’t solve climate change.

A CATO Institute blog says, “EPA’s Regulations Will Not Mitigate Climate Change.” At first glance, that seems like a step forward from the crazier objections – for instance, that climate change doesn’t exist.

But it’s really just a new strategy aimed at the same goal, like a lawyer who failed to impress the jury with an insanity defense and is now piecing together a fake alibi.

Your suspicions should be raised immediately when coal conglomerates complain that an EPA rule does “little” to solve an environmental problem, which on the surface sounds like a worthy objection. Why should the United States take this step to end unlimited pollution from power plants, they ask, when it won’t resolve the problem we are facing?

The complaint rests on the idea that the pollution reductions from U.S. power plants will not cut enough emissions to stop global warming. And that’s true.

It’s like telling Ike to call off D-Day because the landing alone wouldn’t defeat the Germans.

Even though power plant emissions are the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States – as of 2011, our utilities put out more of this pollution than the entire economies of every foreign country but China – they’re only a portion of total global output. So this plan does not, on its own, solve climate change.

But this argument is sort of like telling Ike to call off D-Day because the landing alone wouldn’t defeat the Germans.

Or it’s like telling a person with multiple risk factors for heart disease to keep smoking, because quitting won’t prevent an attack on its own. The reality is that in solving big problems, a major first step is always necessary and it's always insufficient.

The most important truth – in fact, the very reason some in industry are scrambling for arguments to oppose this new rule – is that the Clean Power Plan is a turning point in our environmental and economic history.

A historic step

For the first time, we’ll cut carbon emissions from their largest source, and begin to drive greater investment in abundant, affordable clean energy.

It will also have a big impact around the world. Addressing a major global problem in the 21st Century requires America to lead by example.

By making a substantial cut in our largest source of carbon emissions, we will not only cut billions of tons of pollution, we will enable a much bigger step forward internationally.

Let’s face it: Most of those in the fossil fuel industry who argue that the Clean Power Plan doesn’t cut enough pollution are really just trying to make sure we don't cut any pollution at all.

They know that if they’re able to intimidate the Congress into blocking these rules, it would make it substantially less likely that the U.S. and the rest of the world will move forward to a cleaner future.

But there’s an easy test to tell if someone offering this complaint is sincere: If they’re making suggestions to further strengthen the final rule, then they’re actually interested in a solution.

If not, they’re just trying to keep America living in the past.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Setting the Facts Straight | Comments closed

Supreme Court Decision Leaves Greenhouse Gas Permit Requirements for Large Industrial Polluters in Place

(This post was written by EDF Senior Attorneys Pamela Campos and Peter Zalzal)

Source: Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This morning the Supreme Court issued a 7-to-2 decision confirming that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may continue to require large industrial sources of climate pollution to use the best available control technology when building or rebuilding plants.  A 5-to-4 majority also determined that such pre-construction permits would not be required for the many smaller sources that EPA had concluded would pose significant administrative problems.

Today’s decision is good news for all of us exposed to the health and climate impacts of new industrial plants. It also leaves the vast majority of already-issued greenhouse gas permits untouched.

While there are a handful of permits potentially impacted by today’s decision, an EPA database shows that the vast majority of permits issued between 2011 and 2013 cover both greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

A separate EPA update from March 2014 shows that the large majority of permits issued are for exactly the type of plants Congress, and the Supreme Court, had in mind – large industrial sources such as power plants, oil and gas-related plants, chemical plants, and cement plants.

By design, EPA’s tailoring rule applied only to the largest sources of air pollution. For the first six months of implementation, the rule explicitly applied only to sources emitting large amounts of both greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. In the last 3 years, permits have been required only for the largest sources of greenhouse gas pollutants – the types of sources that also emit large amounts of non-greenhouse gas pollutants. (See slides 26 and 27 of this EPA presentation)

Since 2011, more than 160 new and modified large industrial sources have incorporated the best available technologies for limiting greenhouse gases.

As a result, we have new and updated power plants in California that have improved efficiency by up to 88 percent, gas plants in Maryland that are using high-efficiency combined cycle turbines that reduce facility costs, and cement kilns that have cut greenhouse gas pollution by 40 percent while reducing energy costs. (See pages 38 and 39 of this legal brief filed by the states)

Today’s decision means that the Clean Air Act will continue to play a role in advancing use of efficient, cost-effective technologies that cut both global and local air pollution from large polluters. And that’s good news for all of us.

Posted in EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy | Comments closed

The Clean Power Plan: Protecting Health and the Climate While Ensuring Electric Reliability

(This post is by EDF Associate Vice President for Clean Energy Cheryl Roberto, with EDF Senior Director of Clean Energy Collaboration Diane Munns and legal fellow Peter Heisler)

Source: Chris J Dixon via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new Clean Power Plan will empower states to design customized, cost-effective programs to reduce climate-destabilizing pollution while ensuring continued electric system reliability.

States will be able to deploy flexible compliance mechanisms such as:

  • renewable energy
  • demand-side energy efficiency
  • shifts in utilization away from higher-emitting and towards lower-emitting generation sources
  • measures at specific plants to secure reductions in carbon pollution

And states will be able to do all of this while designing their compliance plans to make sure that generation resources are fully sufficient to ensure reliability.

The “bottom line,” according to Analysis Group, is that “there is no reasonable basis to anticipate that EPA’s guidance, the states’ [plans] and the electric industry’s compliance with them will create reliability problems for the power system.”  On the contrary, “[t]o date, implementation of new environmental rules has not produced reliability problems”—despite industry’s history of crying wolf.

Case in point: before Congress enacted the Acid Rain Program in 1990, electricity producers warned that it could “increase the cost, risk the reliability of electric service, [and] disrupt the long-range planning of utilities.”  Yet they quickly found solutions that reduced pollution more than required, and at much lower cost than expected — taking advantage of the program’s flexible trading system to maximize the results of conventional pollution controls.

With the Clean Power Plan, states would not only be able to implement market-based mechanisms, but also to deploy cost-effective solutions like energy efficiency, renewable energy, and shifts in utilization to lower-emitting plants.

Yet electricity producers are at it again.

American Electric Power (AEP) CEO Nick Akins recently said that a shortage of natural gas and above-average levels of coal generation during this winter’s polar vortex should raise a “red flag” about limits on carbon pollution from power plants. (See SNL Energy, April 7, 2014)  But this is in fact a red herring.

Here are some key facts about the 2014 cold weather event referred to as the polar vortex:

  • In the PJM Interconnection, unexpected outages at coal-fired power plants with operational problems were more to blame for the scarcity of power than outages of gas plants or a shortage of natural gas.
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency are key resources during periods of high demand. ISO New England said that renewable energy was an “important part of our energy mix” during the polar vortex, and that distributed generation resources “performed well and were a valuable part of maintaining reliability during the winter season.”

And new studies demonstrate that incorporating renewable energy and energy efficiency into the electric system to reduce carbon pollution is consistent with maintaining reliability.

For example, PJM’s Renewable Integration Study found that the system can accommodate up to 30 percent wind and solar generation without significant issues.

The real threat to reliability is inaction. The Third National Climate Assessment predicts significant impacts on energy supply and use if we do not curb carbon emissions. Year-round net electricity use will increase due to burgeoning peak loads in the summer, water scarcity will hamper various kinds of generation, and sea level rise and extreme storm surge events will inundate coastal power plants and energy infrastructure.

The choice is clear.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan will protect public health and reduce dangerous carbon emissions. Through the Carbon Pollution Standards for new and existing power plants, we can achieve significant reductions in climate-destabilizing emissions while sustaining access to affordable, dependable electricity.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy | 1 Response, comments now closed

America's coal-producing states weigh their options

A coal train rolls through a town in West Virginia, which produces more coal than any other state except for Wyoming.

Nobody was surprised to hear political foes of President Obama and leaders from several coal-dependent states blast EPA’s proposal to limit carbon pollution from America’s power plants.

The Clean Power Plan, released June 2, represents a big change in the way America will generate and use energy in the coming decades. We understand: Big changes are scary.

So it’s interesting to ponder which political leaders in states dependent on coal-fired power will, in the end, seize this historic opportunity.

Who will use the flexible policy tools offered in the Clean Power Plan to diversify their energy economies and unleash innovation to help their states grow? Who will show political courage?

Clean(-er) power for Texas

Just imagine if a state like Texas, my home state, used the plan to fully leverage its robust natural gas, wind and solar resources. It would be a game changer.

Texas power plants, and the state as a whole, continue to lead the nation in carbon dioxide emissions.

Texas also leads the nation in producing more than 12,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy. That’s impressive.

According to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, however, this represents less than 1 percent of Texas' onshore wind potential.

What’s more, Texas is at the top in solar potential, yet solar energy in Texas lags far behind wind at 213 MW of installed capacity. This spells tremendous opportunity.

So does Texas’ natural gas industry, which may be the biggest winner under EPA’s plan. The American Natural Gas Association predicts the new emission standards will increase natural gas demand by 45 percent – much of which will be produced by Texas with little impact to electricity prices.

In fact, the flexibility of EPA’s proposed plan offers Texas and other states dozens of ways to comply while improving public health and the state economy.

West Virginia: Rich in energy

Take West Virginia, where king coal has reigned for decades. It's among several coal-producing states that got a break by the Clean Power Plan.

West Virginia only needs to cut emissions from power plants by 20 percent by 2030, when the overall target for all 491 plants nationwide is 30 percent, and some states face cuts of 40 percent or more.

This has not kept West Virginia from threatening to sue the EPA over the rules, even as several of the state’s utilities said they’re already well on their way to meeting EPA’s rules.

But amid such noise there’s also optimism. The West Virginia University College of Law has already teamed up with a consulting firm to analyze EPA’s plan and to develop strategies some West Virginians hope will help the state transition to a cleaner future.

“West Virginia has an abundance of energy resources – including coal, natural gas, biomass, wind, solar and energy efficiency,” noted James Van Nostrand, director of the university’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development.

Finding the right mix, he said, will be the main challenge.

Meanwhile, other states enjoy a head start thanks to politically courageous decisions taken years ago. Colorado, a purple state and the seventh largest coal-producer in the country, is one such state.

Colorado blasts ahead

Voters in the Rocky Mountain State approved a renewable energy standard a decade ago and in 2010, the legislature adopted the “Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act.” It requires utility companies to get 20 percent of their energy from cleaner sources by 2020, speeding up the retirement of aging coal-fired plants.

Then in late 2013, Colorado became the first state in the nation to propose new methane limits for its oil and gas operations.

By reining in this highly potent greenhouse gas, and thanks to the steps it took over the past decade, Colorado may already be ahead of the curve when it comes to meeting EPA’s proposed standards.

And what does all this energy progress cost? According to one Colorado utility, Xcel Energy, the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act will cost the company $1 billion, with an annual rate impact of only about 2 percent over the next decade.

Yet the benefits to Coloradans are significant: $590 million in averted health costs and 1,500 construction jobs.

My guess is that not even in states such as Texas or West Virginia will they be able to deny for long the billions in cost-savings, millions in health benefits, and hundreds of new jobs that the Clean Power Plan promises.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy | 2 Responses, comments now closed
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