Climate 411

The Clean Power Plan and the Deployment of Renewable Energy

(This post originally appeared on Resources for the Future's Expert Forum on EPA's Clean Power Plan, on October 2, 2014)

The proposed Clean Power Plan identifies the “best system of emission reduction” to address carbon pollution from power plants as comprised of four building blocks: (1) efficiency improvements at coal-fired power plants; (2) shifts in utilization away from higher-emitting fossil plants towards lower-emitting fossil plants; (3) deployment of zero-carbon generation sources such as wind and solar; and (4) harvesting demand-side energy efficiency improvement opportunities.

This system best satisfies the statutory command of the Clean Air Act, which directs EPA to identify the system that maximizes emissions reductions, considering cost and impacts on energy and other health and environmental outcomes.

This system also reflects what is happening across the country (and indeed, around the world) to reduce carbon pollution—states and companies are using the interconnected electric system as a whole to cut carbon pollution, deploying zero- and low-emitting generation and reducing reliance on high-emitting generation, and doing so flexibly to ensure that reliability is maintained and emissions reductions are achieved cost-effectively.Fifteen states wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as the Clean Power Plan was being developed to describe the success they have had in deploying this system, cutting carbon pollution from power plants by 20 percent between 2005 and 2011, with some states achieving reductions of over 40 percent during that period.

Renewable energy is our future.

More than 60,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity have been installed in 39 states and an additional 12,000 megawatts are under construction. Wind power capacity in the United States has increased nine times over since 2005, supporting over 80,000 jobs and driving a new manufacturing sector with over 550 facilities across the country. Solar generating capacity is also rising rapidly—increasing by 418 percent between 2010 and 2014. PG&E has connected more than 100,000 customers with solar panels to the grid, saving the average residential customer with solar panels $130 a month. Costs of renewable generation have been falling rapidly, and power companies such as Xcel, DTE, MidAmerican, Georgia Power, and Austin Energy have announced renewable energy purchases that are outcompeting fossil-fueled alternatives and that will lower customer bills by saving fuel costs.

The Clean Power Plan’s assessment of the potential for renewable energy to reduce carbon pollution bases state targets on an average of existing renewable energy policies in different regions of the country. By taking this approach—effectively looking backward—the proposal fails to reflect the dynamism in renewable energy deployment that is happening across America, and fails to satisfy Section 111’s technology-forcing framework.

The proposed alternative approach, which would consider the technical and economic potential to harvest renewable energy in each state, has the potential to better reflect the country’s vast renewable energy resources. The analysis underlying the alternative approach needs to be updated to reflect current technologies (such as taller wind turbines and distributed generation) and current costs (which are falling rapidly).

An up-to-date analysis of the technical and economic potential for renewable energy to cut carbon pollution will provide a strong legal and technical foundation for the Clean Power Plan, and help facilitate our transition to the clean energy–fueled economy of the future.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy| 1 Response

How scientists linked the California drought to climate change

A drought-stricken vineyard in Napa Valley. Source: John Weiss/Flickr

California has officially entered its fourth consecutive year of drought, and is trapped in its worst water shortage situation ever.

Because we know that human-caused climate change cantrigger and exacerbate drought conditions, media, public officials, California residents and scientists have all been wondering for years if rising global temperatures likely caused or contributed to the current drought in California.

The short answer: Yes, they did.

Weather won’t cooperate

Scientists have suspected for some time now that a certain meteorological condition lies behind the long-lasting California drought. The persistence of a stubborn high-pressure system off the coast has been preventing storm systems from reaching California and instead deflecting them to Alaska and elsewhere.

While weather events are almost always multi-causal, the California drought is largely a result of this atmospheric weather pattern. The question is whether climate change has influenced the development, or sustenance, of this system.

Stanford scientists connected the dots

When destructive events happen, people want to know right then and there what’s going on— whether it’s an epidemic, riot or weather disaster.

But evaluating an extreme weather event for climate change influences is a scientific process that takes several months of computer simulations and statistical techniques. It can frustrate some who demand an answer right away.

Well, the results from several, month-long studies are finally in. Scientists from Stanford have found that the meteorological conditions that have caused the California drought are far more likely to occur in today’s warming world than in one without human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases.

It shows us – ironically and tragically – that the state thatleads the nation in curbing greenhouse gas emissions is right now suffering more than any other from climate change.

California is not alone

The California drought attribution studies are a subset of alarger collection of recently published studies that explain 16 extreme weather and climate events of 2013.

Twenty research teams explored the causes of events such as heat waves in Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan, China, and Europe; torrential downpours in Colorado and India, a blizzard in South Dakota, and a cold spell in the United Kingdom.

The studies overwhelmingly indicated that all heat waves were largely attributable to human-caused climate change. One study even suggested that the heat wave in Korea has been made 10 times more likely due to human influence.

The extreme rainfall events in India were concluded to have been more likely in a human-influenced world, but data for assessing precipitation events is rather limited as compared to heat waves. Further, studies concluded that the extreme rainfall event in Colorado, the blizzard in South Dakota, and the cold spell in the U.K. were unlikely to have been influenced by climate change.

Climate change is happening. Now.

So for anyone who may still think that the consequences of climate change are in the distant future, this collection of studies suggest that human-caused climate change is right now causing a crisis in America’s most populous state and the world’s eighth largest economy.

California reminds us that climate change is a major concern for societies everywhere, and that all nations are vulnerable to extreme weather events. It’s time we roll up our sleeves and stop this, once and for all.

This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices 

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming| 4 Responses

A New Step in the Fight to Reduce Toxic Mercury Pollution from Power Plants

(This post was written by EDF Senior Attorneys Graham McCahan and Tomas Carbonell)

Today, EDF and its allies joined the latest fight to protect the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

We filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to deny the petitions that are seeking review of a lower court decision upholding the standards.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will require crucial and long-overdue emission reductions of toxic pollutants including mercury, arsenic, and acid gases from the single largest source of toxic air pollution in the U.S.— coal-fired power plants.

Starting in April 2015, when they go into effect, these standards will prevent thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks, and asthma attacks every year.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were upheld by a panel of judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2014 against a variety of legal challenges.

Fortunately, most power plants in the U.S. are already on track to comply with these life-saving standards.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that by the end of 2012 — or more than two years ahead of the April 2015 compliance deadline:

64.3% of the U.S. coal generating capacity in the electric power sector already had the appropriate environmental control equipment to comply with the MATS.

Unfortunately, some power companies and their industry partners continue to file legal attacks against the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Our opponents are continuing their legal attacks in spite of the D.C. Circuit’s detailed opinion strongly upholding EPA’s authority to issue the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and affirming the EPA’s well-reasoned determinations on key technical issues.

Industry interests and states have filed petitions asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the D.C. Circuit’s decision.  Their petitions primarily emphasize the alleged costs of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — even though some of the same power companies have recognized that the standards include flexibilities that have helped them slash their compliance costs.

For instance, Southern Company CFO and Executive Vice President Arthur P. Beattie stated in 2012 that the amount the company projects for MATS compliance costs would be far lower than previously predicted:

[B]ecause of the new flexibility that [the company has] found in the final rules of the MATS regulation." (Arthur P. Beatty, CFO and Executive Vice President of Southern Company,  Deutsche Bank Clean Tech, Utilities and Power Conference, May 15, 2012)

In fact, as the D.C. Circuit recognized in its decision, EPA’s cost-benefit analysis found that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards would yield as much as $90 billion in annual health benefits once implemented — approximately nine times the anticipated cost of the rule.

The good news is that many people and organizations— including public health, equal justice, and environmental groups, plus a number of states and cities — are standing together to safeguard these protections for our communities and families.

Those groups include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Clean Air Council, Conservation Law Foundation, Environment America, Izaak Walton League of America, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Natural Resources Council of Maine, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ohio Environmental Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance – along with EDF, of course.

That’s why today we joined together to file a brief with the Supreme Court asking the Justices not to reconsider the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision upholding these life-saving clean air protections.

Posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Health, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Why California thirsts for rain and the East Coast gets soaked

Source: Flickr/Jared Tarbell

If you think the weather’s acting strange, you’re correct. Extreme weather in the United States is trending upward, and human-caused climate change has already been blamed for much of it – most recently in connection with theCalifornia drought.

But along with extreme weather we’re also getting extreme contrasts. What on Earth is going on when New York gets endless rain and San Francisco none, and when one part of the country is freezing while another suffers under record heat?

You guessed it, rising temperatures have something to do with it – and here’s how.

Rain patterns are changing

In the Northeast, the combination of more moisture in the atmosphere from a warmer world and changes in circulation patterns are bringing more rain. In the Southwest, meanwhile, rainfall is suppressed by a northward expansion of high pressure in the subtropics.

The crippling drought now plaguing California is due to a persistent high pressure system off of the coast that is deflecting storms away from the region. A recent study shows that these systems are much more likely to occur with human-caused climate change.

Rain is more intense

Heavy downpours are controlled by cloud mechanisms and moisture content, which are both changing as global temperatures rise. Clouds that can dump a lot of rain are more common in a warmer atmosphere.

More evaporation has led to more moisture in the atmosphere which, in turn, leads to more intense rainfall when it rains. That helps explain why the entire U.S. is experiencing more heavy downpours – even in the drought-stricken West.

Droughts are taking hold

Rain and evaporation will determine how moist the soil will be. So although evaporation is increasing nationwide due to warmer temperatures, higher precipitation in the Northeast yields a net increase in soil moisture in that part of the country.

In the Southwest, on the other hand, the drop in overall precipitation brings drier conditions that spawn or magnify drought. As the soil there dries out, the incoming sunlight will heat the ground instead of evaporating water from the soil. This creates a vicious cycle of more heat and less rain.

Flooding is more common

The potential for flooding, meanwhile, depends a lot on what's going on with the soil. The higher the soil moisture content, the higher the chance that there will be more runoff from rainfall.

Because soil moisture is increasing in the Northeast, flooding events are on the rise. Fortunately for the region, many heavy rain storms occur in the summer and fall when soil moisture is low and the ground can absorb more water.

On the other hand, the sea level has risen by a foot since the 1900s in the Northeast. That, in turn, contributes to more flooding.

Disaster costs are also rising – but there is hope

In 2013, intense storms, severe regional drought, and extreme flooding led to more than $9 billion in disaster costs in the U.S. alone. It’s uncertain what the total bill was if you factor in ongoing agriculture, human health and infrastructure losses from changing weather conditions

Unless we curb emissions of heat-trapping gases, scientists expect these trends to continue and worsen – and the contrast between wet and dry areas of the U.S. will likely become even sharper. Our hope now is that the push for climate action amps up so we can finally set ourselves on a better path for the future.

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices 

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Science| 1 Response, comments now closed

Victory for Healthy Air: Court Rejects Nebraska Attorney General's Attempt to “Short-Circuit” the Law in Challenge to Carbon Pollution Standards

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning’s attempt to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to limit carbon pollution from power plants failed yesterday.

The federal district court in Nebraska dismissed the Attorney General’s lawsuit challenging EPA’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for new fossil fuel power plants.

The court held that:

[the Attorney General’s] attempt to short-circuit the administrative rulemaking process runs contrary to basic, well-understood administrative law. (Decision, Page 1)

The Attorney General’s challenge was flawed because it was filed only one week after EPA published proposed carbon emission standards for new power plants, in January 2014.

But the law is this case is clear and anchored in common sense.

As the court explained, legal challenges may only be brought against final standards:

Simply stated, the State cannot sue in federal court to challenge a rule that EPA has not yet actually made. (Decision, Page 1)

EPA’s proposed action is still in draft form and has been the subject of extensive public comment.

In December 2012, the D.C. Circuit rejected a similar challenge to EPA’s original proposal for the very same reason — that the standards had yet to be finalized.

This latest attempt at an end run around the Clean Air Act would have deprived the public of a chance to comment on a proposed rule and present its diverse viewpoints to the agency.  Moreover, for a court to review standards that are still being developed would be a waste of judicial resources and Americans’ tax dollars.

The court also noted a defect in the Nebraska Attorney General’s central legal claim.

The Attorney General argued that EPA’s reliance, in part, on data from facilities receiving federal assistance was unlawful.

The court explained:

The merits of this claim are not before the Court. But the Court notes that [Energy Policy Act section] 402(i) only forbids the EPA from considering a given technology or level of emission reduction to be adequately demonstrated solely on the basis of federally-funded facilities. 42 U.S.C. [section] 15962(i). In other words, such technology might be adequately demonstrated if that determination is based at least in part on non-federally-funded facilities. (Decision, Footnote 1, Page 5)

EDF previously examined the flaws with the Nebraska Attorney General’s legal claim in a detailed white paper. (You can read my blog about the white paper here)

Unfortunately for the citizens of Nebraska, Attorney General Bruning is devoting precious taxpayer resources to misguided legal attacks.

It’s not the only way in which Nebraska’s taxpayer dollars are being deployed to block vital clean air progress for our nation.

The Guardian reported that Bruning, on a conference call organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), told other state attorneys general that Nebraska has challenged EPA authority more than 30 times and will keep on doing so.

Yet the Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants have won broad public support from millions of Americans — including public health associations, Moms Clean Air Force, faith-based organizations, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and leading power companies.

Nebraska’s failed lawsuit is just one more misguided attempt to prevent vital limitations on the carbon pollution emitted by power plants from moving forward.

According to the Guardian, Bruning claims that:

EPA continues to try and ‘fix things’ that are not broken.

Tell that to the millions of Americans who are experiencing the harmful impacts of climate change.

While EPA takes steps to address carbon pollution from the single largest source in the country, Attorney General Bruning is devoting Nebraska’s tax dollars to flawed lawsuits.

Fortunately, millions of Americans in red and blue states alike are working together to forge solutions for our families, our communities and our nation.

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

8 reasons for hope: Our top take-aways from Climate Week

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

My forecast had been for a Climate Week “on steroids” and that’s exactly what we got.

Image source: Jane Kratochvil

We saw the largest climate rally in history draw 400,000 people – up from the 250,000 we had initially hoped for – and then the United Nations Climate Summit, where 125 heads of state joined business and civic leaders to discuss ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Another highlight for the week was the growing momentum for putting a price on carbon. More than 1,000 businesses and investors, nearly 100 national, state, province and city governments, and more than 30 non-profit organizations called for expanding emissions trading and other policies that create market incentives for cutting pollution.

Could it be that we’re finally reaching the point of meaningful action on climate change? To find out, I asked colleagues at Environmental Defense Fund who participated in the Climate Summit for their key take-aways from the week.

Here’s their report:

1. PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH

Eric Pooley, Sr. Vice President, Strategy and Communications: This march shot down, once and for all, the old canard that Americans “don't care” about climate change. And it reminded me what an extremely big tent the coalition for climate action really is — with plenty of room for groups with vastly different views.

More than 1,000 EDF members and staff, plus 300 members of the Moms Clean Air Force, were proud to be marching alongside all kinds of people from all kinds of groups from all over the country. To win on climate, we need a strong outside game and a strong inside game. EDF is helping to build both.

2. METHANE EMISSIONS RISE TO THE TOP

Mark Brownstein, Associate Vice President, U.S. Climate and EnergyMethane is becoming a top priority in the fight against climate change. Last week, EDF helped to launch the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil & Gas Methane Partnership, which creates a framework for oil and gas companies to measure and reduce methane emissions and report their progress.

At the summit, I watched the chief executive of Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, turn to Fred Krupp to say that his company was interested in joining the six companies that already agreed to sign on. While the ultimate test of the partnership will be the reductions that it achieves, it has gotten off to a promising start.

3. COMMON GROUND ON FORESTS

Stephan Schwartzman, Senior Director, Tropical Forest Policy: One of the high points of the week, no doubt, came when 35 national and state governments, more than 60 non-profits and indigenous organizations, and 34 major corporations pledged to halve deforestation by 2020 – and to completely end the clearing of natural forests by 2030. EDF was proud to be part of the coalition that put the New York Declaration on Forests together.

4. INDIGENOUS PEOPLES GOT THE RECOGNITION THEY DESERVE

Christopher Meyer, Amazon Basin Outreach Manager: Indigenous groups from the major rain forest basins pledged to continue to conserve 400 million hectares under their control. Those 400 million hectares are important for cultural and biodiversity purposes globally, but they also hold an estimated 71 gigatons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 11 years of emissions from the United States.

I was honored to accompany Edwin Vasquez Campos of the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, and to watch him deliver a stirring speech to a room that included the leaders of Norway and Indonesia. It was the first time an indigenous leader was given such an opportunity at the U.N.

5. US-CHINA LEADERSHIP ON CLIMATE?

Fred Krupp, EDF President: On September 23, EDF hosted a meeting with Chinese government officials, who reiterated their plans for a national carbon market in China, and said they’re interested in working with the United States to combat climate change. Later that day, I heard President Obama speak at the United Nations General Assembly.

I was encouraged and inspired to hear him say that the U.S. and China, “as the two largest economies and emitters in the world … have a special responsibility to lead.”

6. CLIMATE-SMART AGRICULTURE – NO LONGER JUST A CATCH PHRASE

Richie Ahuja, Regional Director, Asia: After a three-year global effort involving a large number of diverse stakeholders, we finally launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. Its purpose: To help the world figure out how to feed a growing population on a warming planet.

The alliance will use the latest technology and draw on the experience of farmers to improve livelihoods and build resilience – while at the same time cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. This is climate action that truly counts.

7. CORPORATIONS ARE ON BOARD

Ruben Lubowski, Chief Natural Resource Economist: One thing that made the Climate Summit unique was that it included corporate leaders, not just heads of state. In addition to signing the New York Declaration on Forests, chief executives of major global companies that buy and trade palm oil and other tropical commodities that drive deforestation – companies like Cargill, Unilever, and Wilmar – spoke strongly about their plans to change sourcing practices.

Already, companies accounting for about 60 percent of the world’s palm oil trade have made commitments to eliminate deforestation from their products.

8. CALIFORNIA DOES IT AGAIN

Derek Walker, Associate Vice President, U.S. Climate and Energy: California has served as a proving ground for climate change policies that can be adapted by other jurisdictions, whether in the U.S. and abroad – and there’s more to come. My highlight for the week: when Gov. Jerry Brown said that California will set a post-2020 emissions limit and ratchet up its 33-percent renewable standard – already the nation’s top target.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols also told us that the state is preparing to develop rules on how to incorporate forest carbon credits into its carbon market – a key step toward reducing deforestation.

Posted in News| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Traveling to the climate march: Worth the carbon footprint?

(This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Lauren Frohne/Flickr

Looks like the simmering “climate swerve” may come to a boil on September 21 in New York City for what’s billed as the People's Climate March.

Bill McKibben called for it in the Rolling Stone magazine. Tens of thousands are slated to respond to his call, ostensibly to channel Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ghost and make world leaders "do it" – push for strong climate policies, now.

Except that it wouldn’t be the climate movement if it weren’t beset with self-doubt and second-guessing. Going to New York, you see, produces carbon dioxide emissions, the very cause of the problem. So how then can climate activists justify riding, driving or – heaven forbid – flying in the name of climate action?

We do because traveling to Manhattan, and expanding our carbon footprint in the process, may be better for the planet in the long-run than if we stayed home.

Real climate policy is what we need

Every cross-country roundtrip flight causes about a ton of carbon dioxide, per passenger. Driving emits carbon, if not quite as much. Trains do, too. Even if you bike or walk, you will need extra calories, which also come with additional carbon emissions.

A plethora of online calculators can help you decide how to minimize your own footprint. You could get positively crazy making these calculations, and some possibly have.

If you spend so much time online researching your carbon footprint that your power consumption shoots up, you may be on the wrong track.

We should all be decreasing our carbon footprint. The emphasis is on “all.” Real climate action, then, must go far beyond individual action by the committed core.

The People’s Climate March will take place on the eve of the United Nations’ Climate Summit, convened by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on September 23, and for good reason. It’s policy that needs to change.

Coal cannot be banned, but it can be priced

The headwinds are strong, to say the least.

King Edward I banned the burning of coal in 1306, replete with the death penalty for repeat offenders. It didn’t take long for the ban to be lifted, and the coal-fueled industrial revolution has brought untold riches to many.

The coal question, in many ways, goes to the heart of the matter. Banning coal is out. It is neither possible nor necessarily desirable.

What we need is to incorporate the full societal cost of burning that coal into everyone’s private decisions.

At the moment, each ton of coal and each barrel of oil used causes more in external damage to human health and the environment than it adds in value to the economy. That doesn’t mean we should not burn any coal or any oil, but it does mean putting a price on carbon, ideally directly via carbon markets or taxes.

It means regulation. It means standards. It means tax reform. It means taking significant policy steps to restructure misguided market forces so they lead us off of the current high-carbon, low-efficiency path.

Composting counts, but it’s not enough

Going green is fine. I don’t drive, don’t eat meat, and do all sorts of other things that minimize my own carbon footprint. The climate movement is home to quite a few who go the full-on vegan, composting, skip-coffee-because-it’s-bad-for-the-climate route.

But going green is only good if it actually gets somewhere.

If you compel your in-laws to compost more and drive less – go forth and proselytize. But if this makes them ignore efforts to achieve critical policy changes, your campaign for a voluntary green lifestyle should probably stop.

Many actions needed for a climate revolution are akin to a bootstrapping problem. Building a wind turbine takes steel, which in turn takes energy. The green energy revolution then may well mean an increase in current, largely fossil-fueled energy use for the sake of decreased carbon emissions later.

The Climate March falls into the same category. Going to New York implies emissions, as do most other things we hold near and dear in our daily lives.

Participating in the march won’t change that fact overnight. But calling for real, measured climate action just might. Helping to build the momentum toward policy change is precisely what’s needed.

If you can do it while also decreasing your own footprint, so much the better. If not, choose policy change.

Bike if you can, fly if you must. By all means, go to New York on September 21.

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

The Future of Fires

(This post was written by Derek Sylvan of  the Institute for Policy Integrity, and first appeared on The Cost of Carbon Pollution. The Cost of Carbon Project is a joint project of the Environmental Defense Fund, the Institute for Policy Integrity, and the Natural Resource Defense Council.)

 U.S. Forest Service photo by John Newman

The 2014 wildfire season is not yet over, but in some regions it is already one of the most destructive ever. Fires continue to rage in many parts of the country, threatening hundreds of homes, creating emergencies in National Parks and residential areas, and straining government budgets — Washington State’s wildfire season is already six times more damaging than average.

And we may be in for much worse in the near future if climate change is not contained, according to a new report from the Cost of Carbon Pollution project.

The newly released report, Flammable Planet: Wildfires and the Social Cost of Carbon, surveys the scientific and economic literature on wildfires and climate change, in order to project the costs of climate change-induced fires. Written by Dr. Peter Howard, an economics fellow at the Institute for Policy Integrity, the report offers the first-ever estimates of the economic damages from future wildfires.

The report quantifies the many types of damage wildfires cause: market damages (such as from lost timber, property, and tax revenue), non-market damages (such as health effects and loss of ecological services), and adaptation costs (for fire prevention, suppression, and rehabilitation). Citing dozens of past studies, the report estimates the costs of various damage categories, per 100 acres burned. Already today, these costs are significant — the United States currently faces annual costs of $20 billion to $125 billion. But climate change could take these damages to new heights.

Scientists will never be able to definitively claim that any specific wildfire is the result of climate change. But the consensus view among climate scientists is that increases in global average temperature will make wildfires more frequent and intense, and fire seasons will last longer. Additionally, more areas are expected to face fire risk, and climate models project an increase in fire sizes (in terms of area burned). Some studies predict a 50 to 100 percent increase in area burned in the United States by 2050, with the most severe changes occurring in Western states. The beginnings of this trend may already be visible in recent wildfire data, as seen below:

Using the established scientific projections, Flammable Planet catalogs the estimated costs of climate-change induced wildfires, for both the United States and the world. By 2050, climate change is expected to raise the costs of U.S. wildfires by $10 billion to $60 billion annually.

Tallying these enormous costs can help policymakers and the general public better understand the effects of climate change. Perhaps more importantly, the report can lead to action — it advocates for including these wildfire costs in the government’s social cost of carbon estimate. This figure, which is used to help evaluate carbon regulations, currently omits wildfires and many other significant damages.

As scientists and economists continue to increase our understanding of the damages we face from carbon pollution, the case for cutting this pollution is stronger than ever. President Obama has taken important steps, using his authority under the Clean Air Act to propose emission limits on both new and existing power plants. Additional, robust action now can help avoid an increasingly fiery future.

Posted in News| 2 Responses, comments now closed

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
  • About this blog

    Expert to expert commentary on the science, law and economics of climate change.

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Meet The Bloggers

    Megan CeronskyMegan Ceronsky
    Attorney

    Nat KeohaneNat Keohane
    Vice President for International Climate

    Ilissa Ocko
    High Meadows Fellow, Office of Chief Scientist

    Peter Zalzal
    Staff Attorney

    Gernot Wagner
    Senior Economist

    Graham McCahan
    Attorney

    Mandy Warner
    Climate & Air Policy Specialist

    Pamela Campos
    Attorney

    Kritee
    High Meadows Scientist

  • Posts by topic

  • Archives