Climate 411

Momentum for climate action on Capitol Hill launches bipartisan Senate innovation package

Local officials, lawmakers, and business leaders across the country are coalescing around initiatives to put the United States on a path to a 100% clean economy by 2050.

To achieve this ambitious objective and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must ensure that no more climate pollution is produced than can be removed from the atmosphere across our economy.

While there are different paths to achieve a 100% clean economy, we know we can’t be successful on the timeline science demands without a comprehensive limit and price on carbon emissions, accelerated deployment of existing clean energy technologies and rapid advancement in technology innovation. Together, this will spur a transition from a fossil fuel based economy to one driven by clean, affordable, reliable energy sources.

This transformation will affect every sector of our economy. But it can’t happen on its own, and it certainly won’t take place overnight, which is why we need lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to make progress whenever the opportunity arises.

Fortunately, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), leaders of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recognize the important role innovation will play in a 100% clean future and have developed a major legislative package that includes dozens of provisions supporting new and expanded investment in research, development and demonstration for a wide range of low-carbon energy technologies. 

While this bipartisan package provides much-needed resources for an array of emerging low-carbon technologies, it could be improved by more balance in its funding levels. The current bill greatly increases funding to research and develop advanced nuclear and carbon capture, two technologies with potentially long timelines and limits to where they can be deployed to achieve significant emissions reductions, while keeping funding for renewables relatively flat.

Notable clean energy bills in this package include:

  • The BEST Act, which will authorize critical resources and require demonstration projects to advance energy storage technology.
  • The Clean Industrial Technology Act, which will reorient the U.S. Department of Energy research, design, and development towards decarbonization through the creation of competitive grants, cooperative agreements, technical assistance, and demonstration projects. This bill has already passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a bipartisan basis.
  • The Grid Modernization Act, which will establish a research, design and development program to increase energy storage and ensure the energy grid can meet the demands of a 100% clean future. This bipartisan bill has also already passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

While no bill is perfect, this package takes some valuable steps forward to help drive down the costs, and accelerate the deployment of clean energy technologies — and importantly, it has the bipartisan support needed to pass both the House and Senate.

By demonstrating the strength of cooperation across the ideological spectrum, this package can help spur more bipartisan momentum towards a durable solution to the climate crisis. It is encouraging to see lawmakers from both parties roll up their sleeves and work together to unlock innovation and accelerate key solutions that are needed to address climate change.

Authorizing new resources to fight climate change is an important first step towards a comprehensive federal strategy that puts the United States on the path to a 100% clean economy, but support for innovation alone is not sufficient to address the climate crisis. 

We need a comprehensive climate solution to solve this crisis. Until then, we shouldn’t ignore important progress along the way. This package of bills that will spur innovation is a welcome step forward and an important component of a 100% clean future.

The Senate is expected to vote on this Energy Innovation package in the coming days.

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed

Oregon Governor Kate Brown and House Speaker Tina Kotek show real leadership amid scorched Earth tactics in Salem

Co-authored by Pam Kiely and Erica Morehouse

Two disturbing national trends – scorched-earth politics and a failure to act boldly on the climate crisis – came together in Oregon last week. For the fifth time in less than a year, legislators opposed to the majority party’s agenda fled instead of fulfilling their core responsibility as elected officials: to represent their constituents by casting votes in the legislative process.

From North Carolina to Wisconsin to Washington DC, we’ve seen increasingly reckless behavior to block the will of the voters on a range of issues. In Oregon, with the anti-climate lawmakers gone, House Speaker Tina Kotek ended the legislative session, acknowledging that there was no time left to adequately consider more than one hundred pieces of legislation that were hanging in the balance. She rejected a radical proposal to allow a small minority of legislators to dictate what would be considered by the chamber.

Into that policy void, Oregon Governor Kate Brown committed to using the tools available to her to deliver the outcome demanded by the people of Oregon: meaningful action on climate that cuts pollution consistent with scientific recommendations. Brown appears poised to use this moment to drive investment and innovation in clean technology, boost the state’s economic competitiveness and improve public health outcomes

What happened?

Almost two weeks ago, 11 Senators and 21 Representatives walked out on their jobs, not only preventing climate action supported by a significant majority of Oregonians but also halting the basic functioning of government, including the passage of a budget to allow the state to operate. The walkout meant both houses of the Legislature were denied “quorum,” a Constitutional requirement that two-thirds of all members be present to hold a vote.

These members left a full two weeks before the Constitutional end of session, refusing to return to their taxpayer-funded jobs, halting the functioning of the legislature on myriad critical issues including measures to prepare the state for earthquakes and the coronavirus, and then at the 11th hour “offered” to come back for 12 hours to vote for bills of their choosing, effectively proposing a true tyranny of the minority. President of the Senate Courtney and Speaker Kotek took the only path available to them by closing the session.

Oregonians overwhelmingly support strong action to protect the health and economic future of their state from climate change. Even more interesting, the legislation has garnered broad support, from an impressively diverse array of stakeholders from utilities to labor, farmers and farmworkers alike.

Legislative leaders had secured all of the votes needed for passage in the House and the Senate. This is not the first time that an obstructionist minority has refused to do their jobs in order to block legislative action on the climate. Over the three years that they have been delaying, denying, and obstructing, Oregon could have made real progress slashing climate pollution and investing in clean energy solutions across the state, helping to lead the nation in solving the climate crisis and growing good jobs from Pendleton to Klamath Falls .

What’s next?

Governor Brown has two main options for the immediate action on climate Oregon needs.  Pursuing both, tirelessly, will be critical not just in order to secure critical cuts in carbon pollution, but also to restoring a functioning democratic order. First, she can call a special session of the Legislature to conclude all of the state’s unfinished business—and continue to work with House and Senate leaders to ensure that whenever the legislature does meet again, the agenda is not dictated by a small minority threatening to hijack the process. Since walkout members just ignored a subpoena to return to the House and answer questions, it is not clear this will be immediately effective—but it will be absolutely essential in the long run to not legitimize these obstructionist tactics.

Second, Governor Brown can also tap into the robust existing authority of the Department of Environmental Quality, tasking them to develop regulations that will deliver reductions in line with what the science tells us is necessary, and engage other state agencies to develop complementary policies that will enable Oregon to get on a path to achieving a 100% clean economy by mid-century.

Oregon, like almost every other state, has strong clean air laws already on the books that direct state environmental regulators to protect residents from harmful air pollution, which includes greenhouse gases. These existing authorities are powerful, and the DEQ has a well-stocked toolbox to develop a regulatory proposal that secures the reductions that would have been required by HB2020 (2019) and SB 1530 (2020) using time-tested regulatory tools.

Governor Brown last week explained her thinking on these two options with a clear commitment to take action, saying:

“I have always been clear that a legislative solution was my preferred path to tackle the impacts of climate change for the resources it would bring to our rural communities and the flexibility it would provide for our businesses. However, I will not back down. In the coming days, I will be taking executive action to lower our greenhouse gas emissions.

I am open to calling a special session if we can ensure it will benefit Oregonians. However, until legislative leaders bring me a plan for a functioning session I’m not going to waste taxpayer dollars on calling them back to the State Capitol.”

What will success look like in Oregon?

Governor Brown is a consistent and stalwart supporter of climate action in Oregon: she understands that what is needed in Oregon and across the country is to turn climate commitments into concrete action, locking in the policies that will guarantee the reductions we need. She and her administration can draw from years of extensive public engagement that carefully balanced the interests, and won the support of, business owners, labor groups, farmers, outdoorsmen and women, consumer advocates, Tribes, and community leaders.

In evaluating the executive action that Governor Brown has promised, EDF will be looking for three main indicators of a strong commitment to action:

  • Maintains or ideally strengthens the climate pollution reduction targets the legislature included in its proposals: at least a 45% reduction below 1990 levels by 2035 and at least an 80% reduction by 2050.
  • Directs agencies to deliver a regulatory package that is capable of ensuring these targets will be met.
  • Recognizes the urgency of action and adheres to the timeline the legislature was pursuing so that Oregon has an enforceable climate policy framework in place that can deliver reductions by 2022.

Governor Brown can ensure that those walkout legislators who abandoned their jobs don’t set a dangerous precedent for a functioning democracy, and don’t thwart the kind of policy momentum that our communities and our planet desperately need. If their underhanded tactics are successful, it will be our kids– and their kids – who will pay the price.

It is heartening to see two women, the Governor and the Speaker, provide such responsible, strong, and forward-looking leadership. In a moment when the country is observing the roadblocks faced by women in politics, Oregon is providing a vivid counter-example. With women like Governor Brown and Speaker Kotek in office, we know we have a fighting chance to make progress on the climate crisis.

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California-Quebec carbon auction kicks off 2020 with record allowance price

Keywords: Perazzo Meadows, Truckee, CA, California. Natural and working lands are part of California’s climate strategy. EDF/Mathew Grimm

The results of February’s joint California-Quebec auction are in, and 2020 is off to a strong start in the Western Climate Initiative. Fewer allowances were available in this auction than in the past, which could help explain the record high settlement price.

Highs and lows of the February 2020 auction:

  • All 57,090,077 current allowances sold. Notably, this amount is over 10 million fewer allowances than what was offered at the last auction in November 2019. It is also the lowest volume of offered allowances since the very first joint auction in November 2014.
  • Current allowances cleared at $17.87, which is $1.19 above the price floor of $16.68. This is 87 cents higher than the November 2019 clearing price of $17.00 and 42 cents higher than the previous record-high price of $17.45 from the May, 2019 auction.
  • 8,672,250 future vintage allowances were offered for sale, and all of them sold as well. With over 350,000 fewer future allowances than the November 2019 auction, this was the smallest volume of future allowances ever offered.
  • The future allowances cleared at $18.00, $1.32 above the floor. These allowances cannot be used for compliance until 2023.
  • The auction raised approximately $600 million USD for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which California will use for programs that further reduce climate and local air pollution and advance environmental equity.
  • Quebec raised over $240 million CAD (approximately $185 million USD) to support climate action in the province.

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Posted in California, Carbon Markets / Comments are closed

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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