Author Archives: EDF Blogs

Ozone Pollution in the West: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Source: Wikipedia

By Jon Goldstein, Senior Policy Manager, US Climate and Energy Program

Long familiar in major urban areas, smog – what we experts call “ground-level ozone” pollution – is quickly becoming a serious problem in the rural mountain west, thanks to rapid expansion in oil and gas development. Smog serious health impacts like aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, and even premature death. In areas like the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming, smog levels have sometimes rivaled those in Los Angeles.

Now, the Environmental Protection Agency and several western states are putting the pieces in place to fix this problem: EPA through proposed revisions to  the health-based ozone standard that will better protect people from pollution, and states like Wyoming and Colorado through strong policies that are helping to reduce the sources of ozone pollution in the oil and gas industry.

In official public comments filed this week with EPA, EDF and a broad coalition of western environmental and conservation groups supported a more protective ozone standard and pointed out the importance of this issue to the intermountain west–where most of the country’s oil and gas production from federal lands occurs.

Ozone is a story with important public health consequences that calls to mind the old Western, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” though perhaps in a slightly different order.

The Bad:

Ozone is a harmful air pollutant, and bad news from a health perspective. Countless studies (including those in the mountain west) have shown that elevated levels of ozone pollution can cause painful breathing, lung inflammation, and are associated with increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits. EPA’s independent expert science panel, on the basis of the latest scientific evidence, unanimously recommended a stronger federal ozone limit to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety, as the law requires.

Strong ozone standards are just as necessary today in intermountain west – where many residents are living amidst large-scale oil and gas developments – as in urban settings. That’s why our comments urge EPA to revise the existing federal ozone pollution standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to a more protective 60 ppb.

The Ugly:

As drilling has rapidly increased in areas like Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin, Utah’s Uinta Basin, the San Juan Basin in New Mexico and in suburban areas of Denver, Colorado so too have harmful ozone levels. In all, as many as thirty-three counties currently in attainment across the Intermountain West have experienced ozone levels above the range recommended by EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. Of these 33 counties, 17 (52%) are home to oil and gas development.6 Specifically:

  • Wyoming: Fremont, Laramie, Teton, Uinta, Campbell, Carbon counties;
  • Colorado: El Paso, La Plata, Montezuma, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties;
  • Utah: Weber, Utah, Tooele, Washington, Box Elder, Carbon, San Juan, Salt Lake, Davis, Duchesne, and Cache counties;
  • New Mexico: Dona Ana, Bernalillo, Eddy, San Juan, Valencia, Luna, Lea, Santa Fe, Grant, and Sandoval counties.

To be clear, the latest available science and EPA’s independent scientific advisors along with the nation’s leading public health and medical societies all suggest a stronger standard is needed to protect public health; this is not a problem of EPA’s making. Citizens in these counties already face exposure to potentially unhealthy levels of ozone pollution.  The only thing that’s changing is that EPA is acting, consistent with its responsibilities under the nation’s clean air laws, to strengthen those standards so they reflect latest scientific information and can provide people with transparent information about air quality in their communities.

Without additional commonsense air quality measures, growing oil and gas development expected in the mountain west could only compound this problem. In Wyoming, for instance, there are plans for as many as 34,246 new oil and gas wells across the state, some in locations that impact existing ozone nonattainment areas, and some that may cause future compliance concerns.

The Good:

Fortunately, it’s not too late to fix the problem. Several states have already enacted or are finalizing emissions reduction requirements on pollution from the oil and gas industry that will bring about substantial reductions in emissions and help to reduce ozone pollution:

  • Colorado’s nationally-leading rules that substantially reduce emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas production.
  • Wyoming’s recently instituted requirements to reduce pollution from new and modified oil and gas sources in the Upper Green River Basin through regular, mandatory leak detection inspections. A statewide approach is needed to better target new problem areas, but the state deserves praise for a proposal to extend these strong requirements to existing pollution sources in the basin as well.
  • Utah has made some positive steps, in particular, by requiring that devices known as pneumatic controllers used by the oil and gas industry be retrofitted with lower emitting models.

Coupled with recently announced plans for a federal methane rule from EPA and rule to minimize waste from the Bureau of Land Management, these state requirements will have positive impacts for air quality. Moreover, policies that keep methane – the main ingredient in natural gas – out of the air and in the pipeline benefit not only the environment, but also the industry (through additional gas sales) as well as the beneficiaries of the royalties paid on a resource that’s no longer being wasted.

Better standards are needed to protect us all from ozone pollution, but luckily, sensible controls on the major sources of this pollution in the western US are there for the taking. As states in the region and federal regulators continue to lead toward better pollution reduction rules, this can be one Western with a happy ending.

This post originally appeared on our Energy Exchange blog.

Posted in Energy, Health, News, Policy| Comments are closed

Illinois Legislators Pledge Support for EPA’s Proposed Carbon Regulations

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

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

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

CPP is an economic opportunity

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

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

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

Illinois supports the EPA, clean energy

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

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

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

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

This post originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy| Read 1 Response

US-China climate pact a "game changer" for clean energy

(This blog by Karin Rives originally appeared on EDF Voices)

President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China. Source: Flickr/White House

For the first time, the world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters have pledged to reduce carbon pollution. This is a game changer, writes Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.

The agreement between the United States and China will be a giant boost for clean-energy markets.

Having the world’s two largest economies competing to accelerate the adoption of no-carbon and low-carbon technologies will send one of the most powerful market signals we have ever seen, Fred writes.

China, spurred by its smog-burdened cities and the growing costs from the impact of climate change, will be increasing its already substantial investments in solar and wind, working with the U.S. on new approaches to cleaner energy and reducing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

And America’s fears of competition from China may now be cast in a new, positive direction: Who will dominate – and profit from – the renewable-energy resources that will power the world’s low-carbon economy?

In the past century, fossil fuels were the surest route to wealth and power. Now, the companies that produce and sell carbon-free and low-carbon technologies – from solar and wind to energy efficiency and nuclear – will be advantaged.

And the U.S. must demonstrate that it is up to the task of competing with China in all of these areas, Fred writes.

His full article is available to subscribers of the Wall Street Journal.

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

Flexible Pollution Rules can Boost the Economy: 5 Reasons Why

By Diane Munns, Senior Director, Clean Energy Collaboration

economy_378x235

Source: Flickr/Brookhaven National Lab

Nobody likes being told what to do.

Gina McCarthy, head of Environmental Protection Agency, knows that. So she asked her agency to craft a plan that leaves it up to states to shape their energy future – as long as they cut carbon emissions from power plants.

Often lost in the heated debate over EPA’s Clean Power Plan, however, is the fact this built-in flexibility will also give a boost to clean technology ventures, and speed up energy innovations already under way in many states. It could bring down costs for consumers, and maybe even give a much-needed boost to our economy.

Here’s how.

1. Flexibility will foster creativity.

All states have different strengths and weaknesses, and their infrastructure varies. Under EPA’s plan, a state can choose to close or upgrade coal plants, join a carbon market such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, invest in zero-carbon renewable energy sources, boost energy efficiency programs, or take any other step to meet the individual goal EPA set for the state.

Chances are, many state strategies will be multi-pronged and collaborative. The best and most viable solutions will surface to the top and be exported as best practices to other states. In fact, states and utilities looking to get ahead of the game are already beginning the discussions needed to one day craft plans.

2. State plans can be tweaked and improved over time.

States have 15 years to meet their individual carbon reduction goals. This is not supposed to be a rush job, no matter how urgent the climate challenge.

So a state that needs to abandon plans for a certain new technology, or that wants to switch to a more affordable solution, will likely have time to do so. The long-term planning horizon will allow new technologies and business models to be tested and take hold.

3. As old plants close, new and cost-effective technologies move in.

The EPA rules are being proposed at a time when utilities nationwide are pondering how to best replace aging infrastructure. Three-quarters of all coal-fired power plants are at least 30 years old, which means they only have about a decade left to operate.

This transition is expected to speed up over the next few years as a 2015 deadline for reducing mercury emissions and other harmful pollutants from power plants draws near.

With carbon storage still out of reach, no off-the-shelf technology available to affordably cut pollution from coal plants – and with natural gas, a fossil fuel, not a long-term viable alternative – we expect utilities to increasingly turn to renewable generation and energy efficiency solutions to meet EPA’s goals.

Energy efficiency remains the single best value for the dollar and it can easily be deployed within the 15-year timeframe.

4. A changing energy landscape will bring new business.

As zero and low-carbon technologies become more valuable and competitive over time, there will be more opportunities for companies to move into this space – and to flourish.

For years already, utilities have been switching from coal to natural gas, a cleaner and cheaper fuel that emits about half the carbon coal does. Industry analysts expect this transition to speed up in anticipation of the new power plant rules.

As state regulators push utilities to comply with the EPA emissions targets, look for new opportunities for industry and entrepreneurs to reduce emissions and improve efficiencies at natural gas plants.

Other businesses will scale up investment in alternative energy sources as the market for such technology gains value and broadens. There are already many active players in this emerging industry, and they want to grow in the United States and beyond.

5. Coming: A new way to produce and consume energy.

States working to cut emissions from fossil plants will be exploring new approaches – not just for energy production, but also for how we consume energy. There is “low-hanging fruit,” untapped opportunities for carbon reduction and customer savings, that won’t require additional power plant investments.

Expect EPA’s plan to fuel smarter utility business models where power companies are rewarded for helping consumers save energy rather than wasting it. The environment will benefit, as will American households and businesses.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Read 2 Responses

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| Read 2 Responses

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| Read 1 Response
  • About this blog

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

  • Categories

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Meet The Bloggers

    Tomás CarbonellTomás Carbonell
    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