Climate 411

Clearing the air: Why we need strong smog standards

Smog over Dallas Skyline. Source: WikiCommons

This week and next, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding hearings across the country on the proposed updates to our national smog (ground-level ozone) standards from their current level of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 65 to 70 ppb. Exacerbated by the combustion of fossil-fuel power plants and car exhaust, ground-level ozone is the single most widespread air pollutant in the United States and is linked to severe respiratory health outcomes. Ozone poses a great threat to public health across America.

What is the issue?

Smog is a dangerous air pollutant that is linked to premature deaths, asthma attacks, and other serious heart and lung diseases. It is estimated that more than 140 million people live in areas with unhealthy levels of smog pollution. The very air we breathe is putting us at risk for adverse health outcomes such as premature deaths, increased asthma attacks and other severe respiratory illnesses, as well as increased hospital visits.

Does the proposal go far enough?

While EDF supports EPA’s proposal to strengthen these critical health protections, we believe that going even further, to 60 ppb, would provide the strongest protections for Americans and would be in line with what leading medical associations like the American Lung Association recommend.

Can this be achieved?

America has decades of experience innovating and cost-effectively cleaning up the air – and we can do so again to reduce smog pollution. From the Tier 3 tailpipe standards to the proposed Clean Power Plan, which would set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, the air across the country is becoming cleaner, showing us that we can have healthy air and a strong economy.  In some American cities, we estimate that ozone is already declining each year thanks to important air regulations such as the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, but there is still work to do.

What can you do?

Voice your support for strong clean air standards! A strong smog standard will help ensure Americans know whether the air they are breathing is safe, and will drive much-needed pollution reductions. Our communities, our families, and our children are counting on EPA’s leadership in setting a strong ground-level ozone standard.

This post was adapted from an earlier post on EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matters blog

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Health, Policy| Leave a comment

New study: America’s biggest carbon market delivers for economy and climate

Source: Flickr/Chris Goldberg

Would you believe there's a state that cut pollution and cleaned up its air, while creating jobs and sustaining economic growth?

And where economic incentives, rather than costly regulations, are stimulating innovation and investment?

California passed the earliest, most comprehensive law to set a cap on carbon pollution, along with numerous other complementary policies to help the state transition to a low-carbon, clean-energy economy.

The results are now coming in and the present – and future – looks bright.

Two years after it was fully implemented, California's cap-and-trade program is thriving, a new report [PDF] from Environmental Defense Fund shows.

The program is now ramping up as the state economy is growing, paving the way for California to pass even stronger climate policies. Perhaps most important, it's laying the groundwork for other states and nations to move forward with similar steps.

The four top findings from our report:

1. California’s cap is driving down greenhouse gas pollution while allowing the economy to grow. 

The state has been able to grow its economy significantly while keeping greenhouse gas pollution from rising, too.

Emissions capped under the program decreased by almost 4 percent during the first year of the program. What’s more, California’s ambitious climate change and clean energy policies have created a thriving economy that is growing faster than the overall national economy and attracting considerable amounts of investment.

Since 2006, California has received more clean-tech venture capital investment than all other states combined and leads the rest of the nation in clean-tech patent registration.

2. California has built a robust carbon market that is getting progressively stronger.

Companies can purchase allowances through quarterly auctions or on the secondary market. The results of nine successful auctions to date reflect a healthy level of interest for carbon allowances and confidence among companies in the long-term health of the program.

In addition, California successfully linked its program with Quebec’s over the past year, proving that motivated governments can work effectively together and do more in partnership than they can alone.

This outcome may inspire similar linkages around the world.

3. Companies are taking the program seriously.

Every single company regulated by California’s carbon cap acquired enough allowances to meet their first compliance deadline.

This proves, in a strong way, that companies are incorporating the price on carbon into their business models and actively planning how they will comply with the regulation.

4. Success begets confidence and commitment in climate policies.

During the 2013-2014 California legislative session, several bills designed to strengthen the cap-and-trade program passed, while measures that would have harmed or derailed the program all failed to move forward.

Gov. Jerry Brown and other state government leaders have called for more ambitious goals to be set beyond the current 2020 goal.

California’s success creates momentum for national and global climate action, offering lessons and insights to other states and nations all over the world that are weighing similar actions to help avert the worst effects of climate change.

In fact, cities, states, and regions are at the front lines of developing effective solutions chart the path for climate progress on a much bigger scale.

Cap-and-trade is not the only answer to climate change.

But the results from California’s program show that with a long-term vision and strong leadership – along with effective collaboration between government, businesses and communities, stakeholders –  it’s one of the strongest answers we’ve got.

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices.

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments closed

Court Hears Arguments on Fuel Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Standards for Big Freight Trucks

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. heard oral arguments today in challenges seeking to overturn historic, first-generation standards to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from large trucks and buses.

The standards were finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2011.

The standards apply to vehicles manufactured between 2014 and 2018. They are based on commonsense, highly cost-effective technologies that will make our nation’s fleet of large trucks and buses more efficient — reducing harmful climate-destabilizing pollution, limiting our dependence on foreign oil, and saving money for both truckers (in the form of lower fuel costs) and consumers (in the form of lower shipping costs).

EPA estimates that, over the lifetime of vehicles sold between 2014 and 2018, the standards will:

  • Reduce climate pollution by more than 270 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent
  • Reduce oil consumption by more than 530 million barrels
  • Result in net savings of up to $73,000 in avoided fuel costs over the lifetime of a new long-haul truck.

These cross-cutting benefits engendered broad-based support for the standards, including support from our nation’s truck and engine manufacturers, from states, and from public health and environmental groups.

In response to the President’s announcement of these first generation standards in 2010, many of these organizations sent letters of support. Here are just a few examples:

Cummins Inc. recognizes the benefits for the country of a National Program to address greenhouse gases (OHOs) and fuel efficiency from medium and heavy-duty trucks and buses. Cummins fully supports the adoption of such a National Program and welcomes this opportunity to be a partner in helping to advance that goal.

[Daimler] is committed to working with EPA and NHTSA, the states, and other interested parties to help address three of the most pressing issues facing the U.S. today and into the future: greenhouse gas reductions, fuel efficiency improvements, and increased energy security.

As 2015 begins, these clean air measures are now in their second year of effectiveness, and they are driving technological innovations that are cleaning the air and helping American truck manufacturers to thrive.

Through October of 2014, sales of fuel efficient trucks were 20 percent higher than their 2013 levels. 2015 is projected to be even stronger, with forecasts suggesting it will be the third strongest year ever for truck sales.

Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, put it succinctly:

[T]hese standards “are very good examples of regulations that work well.”

None of these truck and engine manufacturers were in court today challenging the first generation truck standards, which are based on rigorous technical information and firmly grounded in the law. The standards are a testament to the fact that collaboration among truck manufacturers, states, and other interested parties can reduce pollution, enhance our nation’s energy security, and save truckers and consumers money.

That is very good news, because President Obama recently announced that EPA and NHTSA will issue second-generation greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for large trucks.

Many of the same companies that stood with the President in announcing a blueprint to develop the second phase standards also collaborated on the first generation clean trucks standards. Among those supporting the President’s announcement of second phase standards included the nation’s major manufacturers and fleets such as Conway, Cummins, Eaton, Wabash National, Waste Management and the American Trucking Association.

When our nation stands together, we can forge big gains in strengthening our economy and protecting our environment.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Partners for Change| Comments closed

The Clean Power Plan Wins Support from Millions of Americans, and a Broad Array of Diverse Groups

Americans rally for the Clean Power Plan

Americans rally for the Clean Power Plan

January is a time for New Year’s resolutions, hot chocolate and the tantalizing possibility of snow days.

For me, it’s also a time when I reflect on what the past year has meant for me, my family, and our world.

Right now, I’m focusing on climate change through these three interwoven lenses. Fortunately, this year I have a lot of significant and positive steps to reflect on.

Here’s the one I’m thinking about the most: the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan will set the nation’s first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants. It’s one of the biggest steps we’ve ever taken to address the pollution that harms our climate.

EDF strongly supports the Clean Power Plan, of course, but we’re certainly not alone.

These urgently needed standards have already won broad support from the faith community, moms, health and medical associations, businesses, power companies, Latino groups, states, and others – as well as from EDF and other environmental groups.

And more than three and a half million Americans sent comments in support of the Clean Power Plan to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Here are just a few quotes highlighting the Clean Power Plan’s support among diverse groups, and demonstrating the broad support about the need to protect our climate:

Climate change poses grave threats to public health. To protect our communities and the public, the United States must significantly reduce carbon pollution from the largest source, which are existing power plants. Our organizations support EPA’s overall approach with the Clean Power Plan, but urge EPA to strengthen the final plan to provide greater protection to public health.

  • Comment Letter from medical and public health associations: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society, Center for Climate Change and Health, Health Care Climate Council, Health Care Without Harm, Public Health Institute, and Trust for America’s Health

We applaud EPA for proposing a rule that will place the United States on a path to achieving meaningful reductions in carbon pollution, although we recognize that greater overall reductions will be necessary to meet the challenge of climate change. Our states are already demonstrating that significant, cost-effective reductions can be achieved from the power sector through the “system” EPA identifies as the basis for its proposed emission guideline. We therefore support EPA’s general approach to setting the emission guideline.

  • Joint Comments of state environmental agency leaders, energy agency leaders, public utilities commissioners from 14 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New York, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington

We support the proposed rule’s overall objective of achieving meaningful emission reductions from existing power plants and encouraging investment in a clean energy future, and these technical comments are offered for the purpose of constructively supporting that objective. We agree with EPA that meaningful emission reductions can be achieved from the electric sector while maintaining electric system reliability.

 We strongly support EPA in moving forward with the proposed Clean Power Plan in the strongest form possible. We know that communities of color and low-income communities, including the Latino community, are frequently among those most negatively impacted by carbon pollution. Whether it is exposure to health damaging copollutants associated with carbon emissions or the present and worsening effects of climate change, these impacts are both direct and indirect and they threaten the social and economic order of overexposed and overburdened communities.

As businesses concerned about the immediate and long-term implications of climate change, we, the undersigned, strongly support the principles behind the draft Carbon Pollution Standard for existing power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for existing power plants represents a critical step in moving our country towards a clean energy economy…Our support is firmly grounded in economic reality. We know that tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century and we applaud the EPA for taking steps to help the country seize that opportunity.

  • Letter signed by 223 companies, BICEP, CERES, CDP, and The Climate Group. Companies signing the letter include Unilever, Kellogg Company, Solar City, and SunPower

EPA's efforts to limit dangerous carbon pollution from power plants will protect public health, fight climate change, and help our economy by sparking innovation in clean energy technologies. Our communities, our families and our children are counting on your leadership. Please enact strong limits on carbon pollution from America's existing power plants.

And, while delivering more than 10,000 comments in support of the Clean Power Plan, The Reverend Sally Bingham, founder and president of Interfaith Power and Light said:

[W]e urge the EPA to move forward with the proposed standards for existing power plants so that we can reduce carbon pollution as quickly as possible to address climate change, protect human health, and care for all of Creation.

It has been a great privilege to work on the Clean Power Plan at EDF during the past year. That’s one of the things I’m reflecting on personally.

It’s true that climate change is an immense issue with far-reaching impacts. But the immensity of the challenge has united an extraordinary number of Americans, and moved a wide range of diverse groups to take action — and that is something we can all celebrate this New Year.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments closed

Lima climate talks showcase another path to global climate action: through states, provinces and cities

Kevin de Leon Peru COP
California state Senate President Kevin de León arrives at the conference center for the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru. Image used with permission from Senator de León.

The chattering classes of the climate policy world are abuzz with their customary post-mortems following the latest breathless two-week session of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change 20th Conference of Parties (also known simply as COP 20), held in Lima, Peru.

Consensus is forming around a “slightly better than nothing” assessment of the Lima Call for Climate Action, which was adopted in the wee hours of Sunday amidst the usual skirmishes over money, monitoring, and mandates.

Lima clarified some of the expected content of the national pledges (“Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” INDCs in COP shorthand) to be presented by all countries next year.

Notwithstanding the softness engendered by the word “intended,” at least we aren’t firmly stuck in the “old world order” where only developed countries are taking on mitigation actions.

Subnational cooperation and pathways to climate progress outside UN process

While nations squabbled about intentions, another story was playing out on the sidelines of the COP, showcasing real, groundbreaking and consequential progress at the subnational level – within states, provinces, and cities.

After spending the vast majority of my time in Lima with innovative and dynamic subnational leaders, I came away with an unbridled sense of optimism and renewed hope that there are pathways to climate progress, even if many of them go around rather than through the formal UN process.

California, laboratory of climate change solutions

California delegation to COP 20
California's delegation to the Lima climate negotiations. Image used with permission from Senator de León.

California has long been a laboratory of climate change solutions and will be expanding its cap-and-trade program to cover transportation fuels in two short weeks.

Meetings with the California contingent are always a sought-after ticket at the COPs, and California delegates are always eager to learn from and trade ideas with their counterparts around the world.

California’s low-carbon leadership was amplified in Lima by Senate President Kevin de León, who regaled delegates with his always charismatic case for the connection between climate action, jobs, and economic growth, pointing to California’s cap-and-trade system as an example of how California can "lead the world and show other nations the way to de-carbonize their economies."

A very encouraging trend is the evolution of subnational cooperation from platitudes to concrete plans.

Partnership between California and China

I moderated a panel highlighting the collaboration between California and China, a partnership that involves a substantive, two-way exchange of ideas and expertise on issues such as emissions trading, clean vehicles, sustainable infrastructure, and technology deployment.

In less than two years, cities and provinces in China have developed pilot cap-and-trade programs that are paving the way for a future national emissions trading system in China. California has a lot to learn from the Chinese experience, and Chinese leaders studied the design of California’s system as the pilots were being developed.

Cooperation among North American states and provinces

Subnational partnerships in North America are taking off, in part because of the lack of action at the national level, particularly in the U.S. and Canada.

California and Quebec recently completed a successful joint allowance auction, the final step in fully linking the two jurisdictions’ cap-and-trade systems.

In Lima, the top environmental officials from California, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec issued a joint statement resolving to “work together towards mid-term greenhouse gas reduction goals,” a key step towards locking in long-term action and unleashing innovation in low-carbon technologies.

California Governor Jerry Brown announced his support for a 2030 GHG target at the UN Climate Summit in September, and legislation has been introduced in California that would establish a 2050 mandate and require interim targets in 2030 and 2040.

Commitments from subnational governments

While countries are submitting their INDCs, subnational governments are also putting their commitments to paper.

An important initiative called The Compact of States and Regions, launched at the UN Climate Summit by The Climate Group, will aggregate and evaluate the commitments being taken by subnational governments around the world.

States, provinces, and cities are not waiting for the UN or their national governments to act.

Meanwhile, Governor Brown’s indefatigable policy czar Ken Alex is spearheading a “subnational INDC process,” wherein subnational leaders around the world will be invited to sign an agreement, to be unveiled over the next year, committing to reducing their emissions at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, or to cutting their per capita emissions to below two tons.

Thankfully, states, provinces, and cities are not waiting for the UN or their national governments to act. There is a lot to be optimistic about, and subnational and subnational governments are showing leadership and forging ahead in what could be seen as a friendly competition to develop and implement the boldest and most successful climate change initiatives.

These leaders are restless, motivated, and they realize that the future of people and the planet are at stake. As my friend Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, said time and again in Lima: “We’re going to do this.”

This post originally appeared on our EDF Talks Global Climate Blog.

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, International, News, Policy| Comments closed

Illinois Legislators Pledge Support for EPA’s Proposed Carbon Regulations

By Dick Munson, Director, Midwest Clean Energy, Environmental Defense Fund

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sorts through the more than 1.6 million comments received on its proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP), one group is stepping out to pledge its support of the landmark proposal. 53 Illinois legislators recently signed a letter urging the EPA to finalize the plan, which will set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants for the first time ever.

Power plants currently account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution and Illinois’s proposed target would result in a 33 percent reduction in the state’s carbon output by 2030. Fortunately, due to impressive state efforts to invest in clean energy over the past few years, Illinois is well-positioned to meet the challenge.

CPP is an economic opportunity

The Illinois legislators argue the CPP will help the state “achieve even greater cuts in our emissions, health benefits for all our citizens, and will spur further growth in our state’s economy.” The CPP will further the state’s transition to a clean energy economy by attracting investment in innovation, creating more jobs, and keeping electricity prices affordable.

Illinois is already home to nearly 100,000 clean energy jobs, and that number is expected to grow nine percent this year. To put that into perspective, the clean energy sector is roughly equal to the size of the state’s real estate and accounting industries combined.

Furthermore, the state’s energy efficiency standard, established in 2008, has already saved consumers nearly a billion dollars.

Illinois supports the EPA, clean energy

These members of the General Assembly said the EPA has both the clear authority as well as the responsibility to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Unlike some states that have reacted to the plan with the-sky-is-falling predictions, Illinois state leaders “pledge to work with both U.S. EPA and Illinois EPA to ensure we have a strong plan that works for Illinois to reduce carbon emissions.”

This kind of support is a clear choice for Illinoisans; clean energy is popular in the Land of Lincoln. Hart Research found a whopping majority of Illinois voters – 71 percent – support EPA enforcing new limits on carbon pollution. A separate poll by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3), and Public Opinion Strategies found remarkable support for investing in clean energy: 95 percent for energy efficiency, 88 percent for wind energy, and 80 percent for solar energy.

To thank the legislators for their leadership, a coalition of environmental groups produced a short video featuring Tony Award-winning director, Anna D. Shapiro:

EPA’s final rule is expected by June 2015, after which each state must develop an implementation plan to reduce carbon pollution and meet its target. EDF looks forward to continuing its work with legislators and regulators on the development of an effective plan that builds on Illinois’ already substantial clean energy progress.

This post originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy| Comments closed
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