Climate 411

Congress set to vote on major job-creating, national infrastructure bill

Three months into the COVID-19 crisis, it’s clear that the American economy and the nation’s workforce needs more help. Millions are still out of work and experts have declared a recession. To address this need, next week the House of Representatives will take up a recovery bill that seeks to not only restore America’s crumbling infrastructure, but to create millions of jobs while building the healthier, safer and cleaner future we need.

The Moving Forward Act presents a transformative and actionable plan that can spur job growth almost overnight, and change the trajectory of our energy economy for decades to come–while addressing head-on the related environmental health impacts that disproportionately impact local communities.

This bill adds to mounting pressure for the U.S. Senate to help American families in a way that builds stronger, healthier communities for the long-term.

Here’s how the Moving Forward Act paves the way for prosperous communities and a safer climate:

Makes significant investments to clean up our nation’s transportation system:

  • $1.7 billion for transit agencies to purchase zero-emission buses
  • $500 million per year for zero emission ports, which will reduce air pollution and help mitigate the health disparities that exist in America’s port communities
  • $200 million to expand the use of sustainable aviation fuels that will reduce aircraft greenhouse gas emissions
  • Requires the U.S. Postal Service fleet, including medium and heavy duty trucks, to move to zero-emission vehicles

Invests in clean energy to make sure this sector, the fastest  growing energy sector in the U.S., thrives and grows to meet tomorrow’s energy needs:

  • Extends and expands tax incentives for renewable energy, energy storage, electric vehicles, energy efficiency and other clean energy technologies.
  • $700 million per year to modernize our electric grid and make sure it can support the expansion of clean energy generation and use throughout the country, as well as withstand increasingly extreme weather

Protects communities from climate-fueled extreme weather events that we are facing today:

  • $6.25 billion for pre-disaster mitigation to build resilience through natural infrastructure protections such as marshes that have been stripped under the pressures of sea level rise, erosion, and development.
  • $3 billion for a coastal resilience fund to shore up coastlines and habitat restoration, steering funding toward under-resourced communities.
  • Sets up a revolving loan fund authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide low-interest loans to states and tribal governments for projects that reduce disaster risk. Eligible projects would help mitigate risk from disasters such as drought and prolonged heat, severe storms, wildfires, earthquakes, flooding and chemical spills.

Puts workers in our nation’s oil and gas fields back on the job cutting pollution:

  • $2 billion to states to hire experts in the field to properly close and remediate orphaned  oil and gas wells. These wells, which may number over 500,000 around the country, leak toxic air and water pollution, as well as emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Cleans up leaking natural gas pipelines, while protecting low-income consumers

  • $1.25 billion for utility companies to offset the cost of replacing a portion of the nation’s 2.5 million miles of natural gas distribution lines in low-income communities.

Protects communities from exposure to lead in drinking water:

  • An amendment to the bill that’s been filed will by provide $22.5 billion over 5 years for full lead service line replacement–prioritizing low-income and environmental justice communities. Across the country, over 11,000 communities still have these lead pipes.

Voters across parties strongly support these investments to rebuild our nation’s economy. Now is the time to expand clean energy and protect the health and safety of American families by passing the Moving Forward Act.

Posted in News / 1 Response

Setting the Record Straight on the Benefits of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

(Image from EDFCC jobs report)

Protecting Pennsylvanians from COVID-19 and addressing the systemic racial injustices that plague our communities must be the top priorities of our elected officials right now. However, it’s critical lawmakers don’t lose sight of the escalating threats to our health and economy, including the pollution that impacts the safety and well-being of our families and communities.

In fact, this pandemic has made the urgency of proactive, science-based policy solutions all the more evident.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have a real opportunity to combat the looming and likely most extreme public health crisis of our generation, climate change, while rebuilding a stronger economy in the wake of COVID-19. Linking to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a flexible and proven cap-and-invest program that allows member states to reduce carbon emissions, is a simple, cost-effective way to do so. Pennsylvania’s power sector, currently the fifth dirtiest in the nation, can achieve significant emission reductions through RGGI while creating value in myriad ways by driving investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, including targeted efficiency for low-income consumers. Presently, ten Northeastern states are reaping the benefits of RGGI – New Jersey joined the program this year and RGGI’s eleventh state, Virginia, will be joining next year.

With a vote from the state’s Environmental Quality Board (EQB) expected in September, a candid assessment of what RGGI can offer Pennsylvanians, especially in the context of COVID-19, is warranted.

Rebuilding a Stronger and Cleaner Economy

RGGI is consistent with strong and sustainable economic growth — a direction Pennsylvania was already headed in before COVID-19 struck. Although some have blamed RGGI and other environmental regulations for the loss of coal jobs — and some legislators have even proposed bills to stop this crucial rulemaking during the pandemic, when it is needed more than ever — the coal industry has been in decline for decades largely as a result of market forces that prioritize the lowest-cost electricity generation and attendant lower electricity costs to ratepayers. Nationally, more than 100,000 coal mining jobs have been shed since 1985 and hundreds of coal-fired power plants have closed in the last decade, with the declining costs of natural gas and renewables largely fueling this shift.

Pennsylvania knows this better than any state as it has been at the heart of unconventional natural gas development. Coal power generation in Pennsylvania has dropped from 57% of total generation in 2010 to 25% in 2018, while natural gas has increased its market share from 18% to 43% in that timeframe, effectively replacing the bulk of coal-fired electric generation.

Percent of total generation from coal (all sectors)

Generation from coal has declined in the United States and Pennsylvania.

Market forces suggest that natural gas will continue to replace coal as a low-cost energy source into the next decade. RGGI can help ensure we lock in and deepen emissions reductions while creating value that drives targeted investments in job-creating energy efficiency, renewables and more. Therefore, a program like RGGI can lead to the expansion of Pennsylvania’s 90,000+ clean energy jobs, which have grown to outnumber jobs in the fossil fuel industry, and position the state as a leader in the clean energy economy.

Flexibility to Re-Invest in Pennsylvania

The beauty of a cap-and-invest program like RGGI? Its flexibility. Regulators set a firm, declining pollution limit (or cap), and then facilitate compliance with this limit by issuing a finite number of “allowances” that are required to be held by any polluting companies to account for every ton of carbon dioxide pollution emitted. The volume of allowances available for compliance is equivalent to the annual pollution limit, and this budget shrinks over time, guaranteeing pollution will go down.

Regulated companies can make the business decision of how best to meet the pollution limit—such as improving efficiency or reducing utilization of dirty energy sources— and can buy and sell allowances if lower cost reductions are available. This flexibility ensures that the cap is met cost-effectively, thereby enabling greater reductions at lower cost. Under existing law, the revenues from the program can go toward activities that reduce pollution, including through targeted investments in at-risk and vulnerable communities. Energy efficiency measures are just one example of cost-saving and pollution-reducing activities that could be leveraged in the RGGI program in Pennsylvania, as has been done to great effect in other RGGI states. Revenue could also be directed toward investment in things like on-bill consumer assistance and facilitating fairness for fossil fuel workers and communities who have been – and will be — affected by the long-term and inevitable energy transition.

So far, states participating in RGGI have returned over $2 billion in proceeds. Maryland, for example, has used its more than $500 million in proceeds to strategically invest in energy efficiency upgrades for low- to moderate-income households, improving energy efficiency for small businesses and more, as a way to drive energy costs even lower. As Pennsylvania recovers from the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19, there will undoubtedly be needs that these proceeds can address via strategic investment in pollution-reducing activities and advancing equitable outcomes for workers and communities.

A Proven Track Record of Results

RGGI has a 10-year history of delivering health and climate benefits to participating states. Residents in the Northeast are now experiencing significantly fewer premature deaths, heart attacks, and respiratory illnesses. And it’s particularly important to note that the health burdens of dangerous air pollution, like soot and smog, fall most heavily on communities of color.

The potential soot and smog pollution reductions generated is great news for Pennsylvania, which has some of the worst air quality in the nation. A new study published in the journal Environmental Health estimates that about 40% of air pollution-related coronary heart disease deaths in Allegheny County occur in environmental justice communities, even though these communities represent just 27% of the county’s total population.

And if there’s one thing on which the Republican and Democratic governors of RGGI states can agree, it’s that the program is incredibly effective at tackling climate pollution. RGGI states have reduced power plant carbon emissions by 47% since 2009, which outpaces other states’ reductions over the same time. Multiple analyses looking at Pennsylvania affirm that RGGI can significantly reduce climate pollution in a cost-effective manner, demonstrating that this proven program can help the state achieve its bold climate goals and protect our children and grandchildren from the worst impacts of climate change. Despite claims from some that emissions will just move to other states (i.e. “leakage”), EDF and M. J. Bradley & Associates modeling analysis presented to PJM last year shows that PA linking with RGGI will lead to net emissions reductions when looking at Pennsylvania, the RGGI region, and nationally. This analysis also shows that Pennsylvania can maintain its current role as a net energy exporter (slide 13) as it links with RGGI and in fact increases its net exports from current levels in 2030. This is due in part to the fact that Pennsylvania is an energy-rich state that helps power the region.

With all of these benefits in mind, Gov. Tom Wolf is doing the right thing in charting a course for RGGI pursuant to the authority granted to him by the state legislature under Pennsylvania’s Air Pollution Control Act.

What’s Next?

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is proposing its draft rule to the Environmental Quality Board at its meeting in the coming months. Lawmakers shouldn’t stand in the way and must seriously consider the overwhelming evidence in support of RGGI along with the strong public support for climate action in Pennsylvania. This market-based solution can offer the economic opportunities, health benefits and flexibility that Pennsylvanians will desperately need on the other side of COVID-19 — and in the long-term fight against climate change.

As Governor Wolf reminded us all in a recent announcement, “Addressing the global climate crisis is one of the most important and critical challenges we face. Even as we continue work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we cannot neglect our responsibility and our efforts to combat climate change.” Governor Wolf is showing strong leadership in Pennsylvania – it’s time for lawmakers to heed the wishes of their constituents and step up for the future of all Pennsylvanians.

Posted in Carbon Markets, Cities and states / Comments are closed

The case against the Trump administration’s rollback of the Clean Power Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency will file a legal brief today defending its decision to dismantle the Clean Power Plan and replace it with the harmful and cynically misnamed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.

But nothing EPA says can alter the fact that ACE is destructive, costly, and unlawful. EPA projects that ACE will reduce power sector emissions by a mere 0.7 percent by 2030, and will increase pollution at nearly one in five of the nation’s coal plants, two-thirds of which are located in minority and low-income communities.

In the face of a growing and ever-perilous climate crisis calling for meaningful action, we expect EPA will claim the Clean Air Act does not permit the agency to do more to reduce emissions from the nation’s largest industrial source of carbon pollution. This claim severely distorts the statutory requirements.

EDF filed suit last summer as part of a broad coalition of states, cities, other health and environmental advocates, power companies, and clean energy trade associations. In April, the coalition filed legal briefs showing that EPA has ample authority — and a clear obligation — under the Clean Air Act to require meaningful reduction of carbon pollution from power plants. These briefs collectively demonstrate that EPA’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan is based on a gross misreading of the Clean Air Act, and the agency’s replacement rule, premised on the same misreading, fails to live up to the statutory command that power plants use the “best system of emission reduction” to limit their carbon pollution.

Here are the key arguments we’ve made against the Clean Power Plan rollback and ACE.

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Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Partners for Change, Policy / Comments are closed

CORSIA: No, the ICAO Council can’t legally change CORSIA’s rules

ICAO building, Montreal

In March 2020 the International Air Transport Association (IATA) wrote to the 36-member Governing Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requesting that the Council re-write the rules of ICAO’s flagship Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). CORSIA requires airlines to offset their carbon emissions above the average of 2019-2020 emissions.

Citing the unexpectedly low aviation emissions due to the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could result in an increase in offset obligations at such time as air travel emissions increase above this average level, IATA wants the ICAO Council to change the emissions baseline to 2019 only. They argue that implementing CORSIA with the 2019-2020 emissions baseline, as originally written, would impose an “inappropriate economic burden on international aviation.”

The request is ironic: In an effort to lure back customers, airlines are publicly touting their commitments to reducing emissions – including to carbon offsetting. But behind the closed doors of the ICAO Council, they’re pushing a re-write that would give them a free pass to escape offsetting requirements for three to five years or more, according to analyses by EDF and other experts.

The request for a hasty re-write raises an important legal question. Does the ICAO Council have the legal authority to change a decision of the ICAO Assembly? It appears that while the Council could, at the current session, recommend that the ICAO Assembly change the baseline, ICAO’s Council lacks the legal authority to undertake this change itself. Below we review (a) the legal authority of the Assembly; (b) the legal authority of the Council; and (c) the legal character of the CORSIA baseline and Council’s authority in light of that legal character.

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Posted in Aviation, Carbon Markets, United Nations / Comments are closed

CORSIA: 5 reasons why the ICAO Council shouldn’t move now to rewrite the rules of its aviation climate program

Airplane, jumbojet on runway preparing for takeoff at sunset at the airport. iStock

The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Council is meeting through June 26, and Council members have been asked to make a decision at this session that could undermine the agency’s flagship climate program.

ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) requires airlines to offset emissions above a baseline set at the average of 2019-2020 emissions. However, the International Air Transport Association has asked the ICAO Council to change the baseline to reflect only 2019 emissions, citing the unexpectedly low aviation emissions in 2020 due to COVID-19 and concomitant potentially greater offset requirements for the industry.

Airlines have taken a massive hit due to the pandemic. They argue that they need to escape CORSIA requirements to save money. But hastily rewriting the fundamental structure of the industry’s market-based program to address airline carbon emissions would be penny-wise and future-foolish. Even as airlines are publicly touting their commitment to “sustainability measures like carbon offsetting,” the rule rewrite they are seeking behind the closed doors of the Council would give them a free pass to pollute with no offsetting requirements for three to five years or more, according to analyses by Environmental Defense Fund and other experts.

EDF is calling on the ICAO Council not to move now to change the rules of CORSIA. Deciding, at this Council session, to change the baseline year for CORSIA to 2019-only:

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Posted in Aviation, Carbon Markets, News, United Nations / Comments are closed

Western Climate Initiative auction results show resilience of cap and trade and benefit of long-term climate investment strategy

Yosemite National Park, California. iStock.

The results of the latest joint California-Quebec cap-and-trade auction were released today. As expected, the auction was significantly undersubscribed, something not seen since February 2017. The low revenue from this auction points to a need for California to develop a diversified, long-term strategy to fund critical climate programs, even as the state works to balance many important fiscal priorities. At the same time, the resilience of the cap and trade program even during periods of instability provides a critical backstop, ensuring California’s targets for reductions in climate pollution are achieved.

Here’s a quick recap of the results:

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Posted in California, Carbon Markets / Comments are closed