Congressional Review Act: A Law of Unintended and Long-Lasting Consequences

3802348922_e99184a252_bWith legislation flying fast and furious through the Capitol – much of it using new or unusual legal mechanisms – lawmakers today must be doubly mindful of unintended consequences. Case in point: Actions rushed through the House and Senate under an obscure law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), the details of which can cause deeper, more lasting impact than the simple name implies.

The CRA dates to the 1990s. It says that any rule finalized by a federal agency can be subject to an expedited congressional repeal for 60 legislative days after the agency sends up a copy of the final rule and a report detailing the reasons for its promulgation. Within that window, either chamber can introduce a joint resolution of disapproval – which, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president, effectively voids the rule.

The law sounds simple enough. But it leaves a lot of room for error or mischief.

The CRA enjoys fast-track privileges, allowing a CRA bill to go straight to the floor without committee hearings. A so-called resolution of disapproval can be brought up at any time, with little or no notice. In the Senate, passage requires only a simple majority (51 votes). The measures are not subject to filibuster.

Until January, only one such resolution had ever been passed and signed into law, and the CRA has never been tested in court. But now there are at least 10 different CRA actions moving through the House and Senate. It’s worth a close look at what those measures would really do.

Hands Tied

If the President signs the joint resolution, the agency rule is voided. What’s more, that agency is forever barred from issuing any rule that is “substantially the same” as the as the one voted down. And therein lies the most serious problem.

Because this vague provision has never been clarified by the courts, agencies will almost certainly hesitate to undertake a new rule on the same topic, no matter how serious and well founded the action might be or regardless of new information (this is exactly what happened to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the only agency so far to have a rule disapproved through the CRA).

In short, CRA disapproval is a drastic and extreme legislative move that shouldn’t be undertaken lightly by either political party.

CRA Attack on BLM Waste Rule Defies Logic

Take for example the CRA resolution passed last week by the House of Representatives, which would roll back a Bureau of Land Management rule requiring oil and gas companies operating on millions of acres of federal and tribal land to take cost-effective, common-sense steps to reduce nearly 110 billion cubic feet of taxpayer-owned natural gas they currently waste each year through leaks, venting, or simply burning it off (called flaring).

That gas is worth an estimated $330 million dollars annually — more than $1.5 billion since 2013 — and is enough to supply every home in a city the size of Chicago for a year. Besides squandering a valuable energy resource, the waste generates air pollution affecting the health of millions of Americans.

BLM’s much-needed and long-overdue standards to address this problem took years to craft, and reflect input received in over 300,000 public comments.  Industry lobbyists have glibly suggested that a resolution of disapproval means that rule could somehow be sent back to the agency for a redo. But this is not how the CRA works. Lawmakers in that chamber need to understand this critical difference before they vote.

Waking Up to the Problem

The good news is lawmakers in both houses appear to be increasingly aware of the issues involved with the CRA. A resolution roll back the BLM rule passed the House on a vote of 221-191, with a record 11 Republicans voting no (and three Democrats voting yes).

The bill is could hit the Senate floor at any time. Before they vote, Senators should step back and understand that the CRA resolution offers up an axe in place of the scalpel that many are seeking, and weigh their decision accordingly. We need our lawmakers to stand up for their constituents – American taxpayers – to promote their interests over the needs of the oil and gas lobby.

Image source: Flickr/k3nna

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Scott Pruitt’s Misleading Senate Testimony – Will ‘Alternative Science’ Replace Real Science at EPA?

Earth as seen from a NOAA weather satellite. Photo: NOAA/NASA

As a climate scientist who is trained to base his conclusions strictly on scientific evidence and not politics, I find it particularly troubling that Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is misrepresenting the scientific data that shows the earth’s atmosphere is warming.

Pruitt hopes to run the agency responsible for protecting the lives and health of Americans from environmental threats, and that includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. And as the Supreme Court has ruled, EPA has the authority to address greenhouse gases.

However, in his testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on January 18, and then in follow-up written answers to Senators, Pruitt made several misleading, or flat-out inaccurate, statements.

In his attempt at subterfuge, Pruitt leaned on false and misleading climate-skeptic myths that have been debunked time and time again.

For instance, consider this one question and answer:

Written question from Sen. Jeff Merkley: Are you aware that each of the past three decades has been warmer than the one before, and warmer than all the previous decades since record keeping began in the 1880s? This trend is based on actual temperature measurements. Do you believe that there is uncertainty in this warming trend that has been directly measured? If so, please explain.

Written answer from Scott Pruitt: I am aware of a diverse range of conclusions regarding global temperatures, including that over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming, which some scientists refer to as the "hiatus." I am also aware that the discrepancy between land-based temperature stations and satellite temperature stations can be attributed to expansive urbanization within in our country where artificial substances such as asphalt can interfere with the accuracy of land-based temperature stations and that the agencies charged with keeping the data do not accurately account for this type of interference. I am also aware that 'warmest year ever' claims from NASA and NOAA are based on minimal temperature differences that fall within the margin of error. Finally, I am aware that temperatures have been changing for millions of years that predate the relatively short modern record keeping efforts that began in 1880. (Questions for the Record, page 145)

In response to the scientific evidence that the last three decades have each been warmer than the one before it, Mr. Pruitt offered negligent claims that both the satellite data and surface based observations have shown there to be no warming over the last two decades – the so-called global warming hiatus.

Science does not agree with this assessment.

The idea of a hiatus and a potential discrepancy between satellite and surface based data have been under intense objective scrutiny by the scientific community for some time – and the results are in:

  • NOAA scientists recently published a peer reviewed article in the Journal Science that clearly shows the “hiatus” to have never existed.
  • Then last month a follow up study, undertaken by a separate group of researchers as an objective check on the NOAA result, also confirmed that the global warming hiatus never happened.
  • Additionally, the alleged satellite discrepancy has also been debunked – its origin an artifact of necessary, but potentially faulty, post-processing techniques that are employed when using data gathered by a satellite from space, as opposed to direct surface temperature measurements from thermometers. Stated plainly, raw satellite observations from space are not as accurate as those taken in the actual location, so these raw observations need to be quality controlled for scientific accuracy.

Next, in the same answer, in what can only be described as countering his own misguided narrative, Pruitt attempted to blame the increasing temperature trend – which he just stated did not exist via the hiatus argument – on an unfounded discrepancy between satellite based and urban land based data.He claimed the increase in urbanization was causing a fictitious rise in global temperature – an impact long shown to be minimal at best, especially when applied to the massive geographic expanse of the world relative to the lesser change in the geographic extent of cities.

Pruitt went on to quibble with the fact that 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded, by overemphasizing the role of negligible differences in how various scientific agencies around the world calculate the globally averaged temperature.

Actually, the diversity of approaches is a scientific strength, because it provides a balanced view of the data – much like seeking a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. It's vital to note that despite these trivial differences in methodology, the three long-running analyses by NASA, NOAA, and Great Britain’s UK Met Office all showed 2014 to 2016 to be the three consecutive warmest years on record. This fact is indisputable.

Pruitt concluded his misdirection by pointing out his awareness that temperatures have been changing for millions of years, and predating the relatively short modern record. Mr. Pruitt is indeed correct that the rapid warming in recent decades is quite alarming in the context of the much slower and longer term natural changes – although I don’t think that was what he was trying to say.

Pruitt seemed unaware of the latest scientific evidence on the various topics he chose to explore during his testimony. That indicates an ignorance of science coupled with a lack of preparation which adds up to being unfit to lead a scientifically-based government agency.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Science, Setting the Facts Straight| Read 3 Responses

Less Science, More Cost: Why the Misguided “Secret Science” Bill Is Bad Policy

shutterstock_3243574012It’s a good idea for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rely on the best, most up-to-date science in making its decisions.

Seems like a fairly basic point — but recent legislation aims to thwart EPA’s ability to do so.

Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) “Secret Science Reform Act” will reportedly be back again this year and soon be on the move.  The bill would prohibit EPA from finalizing an action unless “all scientific and technical information relied on to support” the action is “publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.”

Like so many misleadingly-named bills of the past, this bill tries to sound like common sense – but in fact, it would do great damage to human health and the environment, as well as to a predictable regulatory environment for business.

A Blindfolded EPA

Here’s the first problem: to make informed decisions, some of the data EPA needs to use can’t be made public without doing damage to real people or to businesses.

Almost all of EPA’s work touches on issues of human health — relying, for example, on research that uses health records of asthma sufferers and their asthma attacks to see if they are associated with air pollution.

Data that involve private medical records of individual patients cannot – ethically or legally – be made fully public.

Here’s another example: businesses sometimes claim that information about their operations is legally protected from public release because it is “confidential business information.”

But under this legislation, EPA would be barred from relying on any study or any analysis unless they made all the underlying information publicly available.

What would be the real-world result for the safety of our air and water and the products we use?

Under this legislation, EPA decision-making would grind to a halt. For instance:

  • EPA would no longer be able to establish limits on emissions of hazardous air pollution into our air if a business claimed that any of the information EPA used to create the Clean Air Act protection was “confidential business information” that could not be released.
  • EPA could no longer issue national air quality standards that rely on studies about the health impacts of pollution if the studies relied in any part on confidential patient health data.
  • EPA could not make decisions about the safety of chemicals because such decisions would necessarily rely on information representing industry trade secrets.

EPA properly relies on peer-reviewed scientific research, and industry studies and data, to inform its efforts to protect public health and the environment. Particularly for health research, studies often involve confidential data that researchers are prohibited by law from disclosing. This legislation would force EPA to pretend that none of this valuable research exists when making substantial agency decisions.

The end result? Our health and environment is put at risk.

Congressional Budget Office Says It Will Cost Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to Implement

Here’s a second problem: even setting aside the enormous confidentiality problems in this legislation, it would be extremely costly to implement.

The “Secret Science” bill authorizes just $1 million in expenditures per year. But the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing this bill would cost approximately $1 billion to implement over the next four years — and that’s their middle estimate.

CBO estimates that EPA relies on about 50,000 scientific studies every year to accomplish its mission — so providing public online access to all of the underlying data and information is an expensive proposition.

Alternatively, if EPA presses ahead on the basis of a smaller number of studies, EPA protections would be less well-informed and may not reflect the latest science. They could also be inaccurate or incomplete — and thus more vulnerable to legal challenges that would delay the implementation of important public health protections or timely decisions affecting industry operations.

CBO’s own predicted result?

  • “CBO expects that EPA would modify its practices, at least to some extent, and would base its future work on fewer scientific studies, and especially those studies that have easily accessible or transparent data.”
  • “On balance — recognizing the significant uncertainty regarding EPA’s potential actions under the bill — CBO expects that the agency would probably cut the number of studies it relies on by about one-half … CBO estimates the incremental costs to the agency would be around $250 million a year initially, subject to appropriation of the necessary amounts. In our assessment that figure lies near the middle of a broad range of possible outcomes.”
  • “If EPA continued to rely on as many scientific studies as it has used in recent years, while increasing the collection and dissemination of all the technical information used in such studies as directed by H.R. 1030, then implementing the bill would cost at least several hundred million dollars a year.”

The challenges of meeting these huge expenses are enormous. They’re even more daunting in light of simultaneous efforts by EPA’s opponents in Congress to dramatically curtail the agency’s budget.

Bedrock Safeguards Subject to Delay and Uncertainty

Here’s a third problem: the bill would prohibit EPA from finalizing an action unless all information relied on is “publicly available in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.” Yet for many key health studies, it could take years — decades even — to “reproduce” some key research.

Some of the most rigorous, crucial health studies are based on health data that is collected over many years — for example, studies that follow a group of people over time to understand how their health is affected by environmental conditions. Such data is how we recognized that smoking causes cancer, to cite just one example.

By their very nature, results from such “longitudinal studies,” which may involve thousands of people, cannot be readily and rapidly “reproduced” as a laboratory study on mice might be. Yet such studies, when carefully designed and executed, can be among the most powerful in shedding light on how pollution impacts our health.

The troublingly vague language in this bill could be interpreted to mean that research results can only be used if time has been allowed for reproduction of research results. This presents EPA with an array of bad options: incurring enormous delay and expense to reproduce even the most sound, rigorous studies, even when other research already supports their findings; moving ahead on the basis of limited science and ignoring crucial health insights from the latest research and from longitudinal studies; or moving ahead with the benefit of insights from these studies—but facing needless uncertainty and litigation risk due to the troublingly vague language in the bill. Whichever way, EPA’s ability to protect human health and the environment would be undermined.

Best Available Science

Why would anyone support this legislation that would force EPA to rely on less science at more cost to taxpayers?

Well, it would benefit big polluters who would be handed more ways to pick apart EPA safeguards in court — or stop their creation in the first place. But for the rest of America’s businesses, it could increase uncertainty and economic challenges, because EPA would be hindered in using the industry’s own information in making decisions. And for American families, who would be put at risk by less informed safeguards, the “Secret Science” bill is a bad idea for science and for public health.

It’s just plain wrong to suggest that EPA relies on “secret” data. EPA depends on the best, most up-to-date science – including university research and industry analyses that are available to the public, but that rely on confidential data and information properly protected from disclosure under the law and under common decency.

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Investments to Meet Emissions Goals are Driving Innovation and Growth in U.S. Auto Industry

15261010832_b13a8d395c_kThe past couple of weeks have seen a whirlwind of announcements related to the U.S. auto industry.

The century-old industry has been hailed as the fastest U.S. job creator – expanding payroll by “nearly 35 percent” in recent years. Manufacturers have introduced dozens of new, fuel-efficient models. Technology companies and automotive manufacturers are collaborating more than ever to add features, and to get the world ready for self-driving vehicles.

The need for climate action has been a critical driving factor in each of these trends.

The Clean Car Standards have been focusing auto industry investment and innovations since they were finalized in 2010. Over that time, the automobile industry has made a dramatic return to profitability and added jobs – all while exceeding the Clean Car Standards. The industry has also started to bring to market a new generation of fuel-saving solutions.

Confirmation of these trends could be found at the recent Consumer Electronics Show and the Detroit Auto Show, where manufacturers paraded out their latest developments.

  • Ford stated that it expects sales of electric vehicles will overtake sales of gas-fueled vehicles within 15 years. Ford showcased its ability to improve conventional vehicles by unveiling the 2018 model Ford F150 – the best selling vehicle in the U.S. – with options for a more fuel efficient 3.3 liter six cylinder engine and automatic stop-start technology. It also announced new hybrid versions of the F-150 and Mustang by 2020. The company promised a new fully electric SUV vehicle with 300-mile range by 2020.
  • General Motors (GM) celebrated having the fully-electric, 238-mile range Chevy Bolt awarded the North American Car of the Year or Truck of the Year. The Chevy Bolt was previously awarded Motor Trend Car of the Year. The Bolt, which came to market last month, is also at the center of GM’s work on self-driving vehicle technology
  • Nissan announced a new generation of its LEAF electric vehicle, with “autonomous drive functionality" for highways.
  • Honda publicized its plan to introduce a new, U.S.-made hybrid vehicle in 2018 and roll out its Clarity Electric and the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid vehicles.
  • Toyota appointed its president (grandson of the company’s founder) to lead their newly formed electric car division, in an effort to “speed up development of electric cars.” 
  • Volkswagen – unveiled a prototype electric van capable of a 270-mile range and with room for eight-passengers. The company has committed to have at least 25 percent of its global sales be electric vehicles by 2025.
  • Samsung introduced a new lithium-ion battery cell for electric vehicles. The battery promises over 350 miles of range and a 20-minute fast charge. The battery is slated for production in 2021.
  • Tesla declared that its gigafactory for battery production was open for business. The Reno, Nevada facility already employees almost 3,000 workers, and is ultimately expected to employ 6,500 in full-time positions.
  • Mercedes announced in Paris last year that electric cars would account for 25 percent of the company’s deliveries in 2025, backed by plans to invest $1.1 billion in battery technology.

As these developments show, automakers and their suppliers are investing and bringing to market clean vehicle solutions beyond what even the Clean Car Standards require.

These companies are making these investments because there is a robust domestic market for clean cars. Electric vehicle sales in the U.S., for example, were up more than 50 percent in the second half of 2016 (compared to 2015).

Companies are also making these investments to stay competitive in a global race that will define the next chapter of mobility. GM, for example, had a third of its global sales in China in 2016. China is the largest market worldwide for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and if U.S. automakers want to be competitive there they will need to stay on the leading edge of the technology curve. Autotomy and electrification will be the hallmarks of this new, global chapter.

By driving more investment in future offerings, the Clean Car Standards help position U.S. manufacturers to win this race at home and abroad.

This perspective was recently voiced by the United Auto Workers, which noted:

“Our competitors around the globe are working to strengthen environmental standards and it would be counterproductive to enact policies that provide disincentives for investing in advanced technologies and improving efficiency. History has taught us that a diverse fleet is essential for strong export sales and keeping jobs in the United States. Efficiency and emission standards can and must continue to be a win-win for the environment, working families, domestic manufacturing and the overall economy.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Jobs, News, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

2016 Wrap-Up: States, Power Companies Lead in Cutting Carbon; Election Not Slowing Expected 2017 Progress

(This post was co-authored by EDF Associate Charlie Jiang. It was revised on January 6, 2017)

The new Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island -- one of many examples of clean energy progress in 2016. Photo courtesy Deepwater Wind

The new Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island — one of many examples of clean energy progress in 2016. Photo courtesy Deepwater Wind

2016 was a big year for progress in the U.S. power sector. Renewable energy sources provided 16.9 percent of the country’s electricity in the first half of 2016, up from 13.7 percent for all of 2015. The country’s first offshore wind farm opened off the coast of Rhode Island. Most importantly, carbon emissions from the power sector are projected to continue to decline and hit levels not seen since 1992.

Strong leadership by forward-thinking governors, policymakers, and power company executives who recognize the imperative of lower-carbon generation and the promise of clean energy, powerful market forces intensifying the push to lower-carbon resources, and the critical federal regulatory overlay of the Clean Power Plan — which has made clear that unlimited carbon pollution is a thing of the past — have all combined to deepen a trend towards cleaner electricity production at this dynamic moment in time.

Even with any possible political maneuverings in Washington, D.C. to reverse clean energy and climate progress, it is clear that the transition to a low-carbon future is well under way.

States and power companies are surging ahead — and given the favorable economics of clean energy and the urgent need to reduce climate-destabilizing pollution it would be foolish to turn back.

  • More than 21 gigawatts of wind and solar power (utility-scale and rooftop) are projected to have been installed in 2016, accounting for 68 percent of new U.S. capacity additions. That’s according to analyses by FERCSNL EnergyEIA, and SEIA/GTM Research.
  • Some of the country’s oldest and least efficient power plants were scheduled to close in 2016, transitioning 5.3 gigawatts of capacity, in no small part due to increasingly favorable economics for low-carbon generation.
  • Since 2014, solar installation has created more jobs than oil and gas pipeline construction and crude petroleum and natural gas extraction combined. According to recent reports, there are now more than 400,000 jobs in renewable energy.

Together, these trends indicate the U.S. power sector is well-positioned to continue to reduce carbon pollution at a significant pace. And because of the favorable economics for low-carbon generation and the urgent need to protect against climate risks, hundreds of major corporations are on record supporting the Clean Power Plan and the achievement of emission reduction targets.

Power sector carbon emissions declined to 21 percent below 2005 levels in 2015, and are expected to drop again in 2016, meaning the power sector is already two-thirds of the way towards meeting its 2030 pollution reduction goals under the Clean Power Plan.

Notably, this de-carbonization of the electric sector has proceeded while the U.S economy has grown. In addition, recent analysis by the Brookings Institution shows that as of 2014, at least 33 individual states have also decoupled their economic growth from carbon pollution — continuing to grow their gross domestic product while significantly slowing their rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

Heading into 2017, companies from coast to coast are well-positioned to secure ongoing reductions in carbon emissions from their fleets – thereby helping the United States to achieve international commitments under the Paris Agreement, delivering greater value to customers and shareholders while ensuring state or municipal policy objectives will be achieved, and sharpening their ability to meet declining emissions limits in accordance with a federal regulatory framework.

Even the vast majority of states litigating against the Clean Power Plan can comply with the CPP targets by optimizing the carbon pollution benefits from already planned investments and compliance with existing state policies. The Clean Power Plan is crucial to making certain that states and companies take advantage of the opportunity to ensure the carbon reduction potential of these investments are fully realized, so they can in fact achieve these reasonable protections.

The shift to a lower-carbon future should continue, as power companies recognize both the imperative to reduce emissions and the benefits of moving in this direction despite changing political winds in Washington.

For example, shortly after the November election, a number of executives from historically coal-intensive companies convincingly reaffirmed their commitment to de-carbonization:

  • No matter who occupies the White House, “[coal is] not coming back,” said American Electric Power CEO Nick Akins. “We’re moving to a cleaner-energy economy and we’re still getting pressure from investors to reduce carbon emissions. I don’t see that changing.”
  • “It can't just be, ‘We're going to get rid of these regulations, and you guys can party until the next administration comes,’” Cloud Peak Energy Vice President Richard Reavey said. “There are serious global concerns about climate emissions. We have to recognize that's a political reality and work within that framework.”
  • “Markets are driving a lot of the behavior,” said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy. “[W]e’ll continue to move toward a lower carbon energy mix.”
  • “We've always had a point of view at Southern that there's a reasonable trajectory in which to move the portfolio of the United States to a lower carbon future,” said Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning. “There's a way to transition the fleet now.” In a later interview, Fanning added: “It's clear that the courts have given the EPA the right to deal with carbon in a certain way.”
  • “Regardless of the outcome of the election,” said Frank PragerXcel Energy’s Vice President of Policy and Federal Affairs, “Xcel Energy will continue pursuing energy and environmental strategies that appeal to policymakers across the political spectrum because we are focused on renewable and other infrastructure projects that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions without increasing prices or sacrificing reliability.”

Acting on these commitments, many power companies are continuing to expand their renewable investments while phasing out high-carbon generation, putting them in a solid position to comply with robust carbon pollution regulations.

Here are a few recent highlights just from the last months:

  • At the end of December, Florida Power & Light (FPL) showed strong leadership when announcing plans to shut down the recently-acquired 250-megawatt Cedar Bay coal plant at the end of the year. “I'm very proud of our employees for proposing this innovative approach that's environmentally beneficial and saves customers millions of dollars,” said CEO Eric Silagy. FPL plans to replace the retired power with natural gas and solar — the company added 224 megawatts of solar capacity in 2016. FPL also noted that their system is now “cleaner today than the 2030 carbon emissions rate goal for Florida outlined by the Clean Power Plan,” while average residential bills are about 30 percent lower than the national average.
  • On December 30, Southern Company announced an agreement with Renewable Energy Systems America to develop 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy scheduled to come online between 2018 and 2020. The agreement comes as Southern Company continued to boost its renewable portfolio with the acquisition of 300 megawatts of wind power in late December, bringing its total to more than 4,000 megawatts of renewable generation added or announced since 2012.
  • Duke Energy acquired its first solar project in Colorado on December 8. The purchase advances Duke’s goal of owning more than 6,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects by 2020.

After the election, a number of power companies reiterated their commitment to reducing air pollution and meeting their obligations under the federal Clean Air Act by transitioning aging coal plants.

  • PNM Resources spokesman Pahl Shipley said the company has no change in plans for retiring two units at a New Mexico plant, totaling 837 megawatts of capacity, in 2017. PNM will replace the retired capacity with solar and nuclear power.
  • The Tennessee Valley Authority is moving forward with plans to retire two coal plants in 2017, as well as a third in 2018.
  • Colorado-based electric cooperative Tri-State Generation will move forward with plans to retire its 100-megawatt Nucla coal plant and Unit 1 of the Craig coal plant. “We are moving forward with retirement activities and developing a transition plan for the employees and communities,” said Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey after the election.

These announcements follow one of the biggest clean energy leadership stories of 2016 – commitments by two midcontinent utilities, Xcel Energy and Berkshire Hathaway Energy, to go big on cost-effective investments in new wind resources.

  • This past year, Minnesota regulators approved a plan for Xcel Energy to construct as much as 1,800 megawatts of new wind power and 1,400 megawatts of solar in the state by 2030. Xcel also received approval to build a 600 megawatt wind farm in Colorado.
  • Berkshire subsidiary MidAmerican Energy secured approval to construct a massive 2,000 megawatt wind farm in Iowa that will be the “largest wind energy project in US history.” Said CEO Bill Fehrman: “Our customers want more renewable energy, and we couldn’t agree more.”

State policymakers have not stayed on the sidelines, either. 2016 sustained progress as states moved forward with commonsense efforts to reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants. And even with promises to roll back critical clean air, climate, and clean energy progress coming out of Washington, D.C., states made clear after the election that they will not be slowed down by potential federal backsliding:

  • On December 7, Illinois enacted a comprehensive new energy bill that will in part double the state’s energy efficiency portfolio and allow for 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind power while providing for continued operation of zero-emission nuclear facilities. These measures are expected to reduce the state’s carbon emissions 56 percent by 2030.
  • On December 15, Michigan lawmakers approved a new bill to increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 15 percent by 2021, up from 10 percent. Republican Governor Rick Snyder touted the bill in a statement: “What we’re in is a huge transition in how we get our energy. We’ve got a lot of aging coal plants that are beyond their useful life, and it’s not worth investing in them anymore … We can transition to both natural gas and renewables and let the markets sort of define the balance between those two, so we’re moving away from an old energy source [where] we had to import all of this coal.”
  • Also in December, Washington Governor Jay Inslee proposed the state adopt a first-of-its-kind carbon tax of $25 per metric ton of carbon pollution. The proposal supplements the state’s innovative Clean Air Rule, adopted in September, which caps carbon emissions from individual polluters.
  • Nine states comprising the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are engaged in a stakeholder process designed to establish new, more protective, standards for climate pollution.
  • In Oregon, regulators are evaluating options for a market-based mechanism that could link to the California-Quebec carbon market, releasing a partial draft report on November 21.
  • Governors such as Colorado’s John Hickenlooper continue to display strong leadership and a keen understanding of the imperative to move to a low-carbon future. After the election, Hickenlooper said he remains committed to fulfilling the goals of the Clean Power Plan, no matter what happens to the rule.
  • In Pennsylvania, a spokesman for Governor Tom Wolf’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) noted that: “Pennsylvania’s carbon footprint has been shrinking rapidly due to market based decisions being made in the state’s electric generating sector … It is likely that this trend will continue.” He added that the DEP “will continue to seek ways to continue addressing climate change.”
  • In California, Governor Jerry Brown mounted a vigorous defense of California’s climate leadership and the role the state will continue to play in setting the stage for ongoing progress and defending the important progress of the last eight years. “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight. We’re ready to defend,” he said.

The momentum that power companies and states have generated towards achieving a clean energy future is powerful and encouraging.

Looking to 2017 and beyond, market trends are expected to continue to help facilitate de-carbonization of the electric sector, while federal and state policies must continue to provide certainty about the pace and depth of emissions reductions needed to address the threat of climate change. These policies will help companies plan clean energy investments in a way that maximizes benefits for consumers and facilitates optimal deployment of available resources.

The Clean Power Plan remains crucial to achieving these goals. Any disruption in the Clean Power Plan’s implementation could put long-overdue and readily achievable emission reductions at risk.

As we ring in the New Year, EDF will keep working with a diverse set of stakeholders across the country — including many state officials and power companies — to defend these critical environmental safeguards. At the same time, we will work vigorously to ensure that we achieve the reductions in carbon pollution envisioned by the program.

 

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, EPA litgation, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

A Holiday Gift for the Environment – New Tools to Fight Invasive Species

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Kudzu in Atlanta, GA – one of many invasive species in the U.S. Photo by Scott Ehardt through Wikimedia Commons

The environment got an early gift this holiday season.

The Obama Administration has just released an update to an Executive Order first developed in 1999 on safeguarding the nation from the impacts of invasive species.

If you’ve ever lived in Florida, like I used to, you’ve seen the danger of invasive species first-hand. Whether it’s the nasty bites of fire ants, or the incessant need to control weedy invaders that threaten to overtake the landscape, or the menace of invasive snakes in the Everglades, invaders interfere everywhere.

Florida is just one of the many places around the U.S. where it’s hard to ignore the impacts of invasive, non-native species on everyday life. If you are a farmer or a rancher or enjoy fishing or boating or birdwatching, invaders can be an expensive problem, a health threat, and a substantial inconvenience. Invaders cost the U.S. billions of dollars annually and pose significant threats to our health and livelihoods.

As a plant ecologist, I started by learning where these non-native species are coming from. They can arrive accidentally – as hitchhikers on other imports or the packing material those imports are shipped in – or purposely – for food, ornamentals, pets, or other uses like erosion control. My investigation into plant invaders showed that the vast majority – perhaps 90 percent – were purposely introduced.

That information led me to focus on how we might prevent the introduction of new invaders, through risk analyses and other methods. Over the years, our ability to identify the likely bad actors – whether they are plant, animal, insect, or disease – has really improved.

That brings me back to the updated Executive Order.

The main emphasis of the original Executive Order was to ensure coordinated action among the federal agencies to prevent new invaders and control existing ones, as well as to work in partnership with the private sector to achieve these goals.

In addition to reinforcing and strengthening the original intent of the Order, this update emphasizes that human and environmental health need protection, and that those efforts will be impacted by climate change. The updated Order also recognizes that the need to seek and take advantage of technological advances for both prevention and management or control of invaders.

The updated Executive Order was announced on the same day that an Innovation Summit on new potential options for addressing invasive species was held. I had the chance to attend that summit.

In addition to hearing about approaches to control species ranging from fish to plant and human diseases (including some very cool new methods for detection and control), presenters discussed how to incentivize innovation around this issues. Summit presentations showed that the advances called for in the updated Executive Order are emerging, providing an optimistic outlook for all of us concerned about this issue.

Because invaders don’t respect property boundaries and don’t stay put, we need everyone to join the effort to stop their import and movement. News of the Zika virus in the U.S., carried by a non-native mosquito that also carries at least four other diseases, is a clear indicator of the need to take aggressive action. So the Obama Administration’s decision to update the Executive Order is a great holiday gift for all of us.

Posted in News, Plants & Animals, Science| Comments are closed
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