Climate 411

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

(Image from EDFCC jobs report)

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

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

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

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

Rebuilding a Stronger and Cleaner Economy

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

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

Percent of total generation from coal (all sectors)

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

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

Flexibility to Re-Invest in Pennsylvania

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

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

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

A Proven Track Record of Results

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

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

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

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

What’s Next?

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

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

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

Summer smog review: new analysis shows continued challenges to air quality

(This post was co-authored by EDF intern Jayne Stevenson)

Summer brings sunshine, fun, and outdoor adventures – but unfortunately, it also brings smog that causes serious health problems for many American families.

We have made significant progress delivering healthier summer air, but many families still find themselves sidelined by ground-level ozone pollution – commonly called smog. That pollution will be made even worse by climate change.

New EDF analysis shows that so far in 2019 we’ve seen more than 2,500 smog exceedances – meaning ground-level ozone pollution monitoring stations recorded levels higher than allowed under the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone. (That limit is a maximum eight-hour concentration greater than 70 parts per billion).

Approximately 185 million people across America were exposed to at least one of those exceedances, which spanned 248 counties in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

Read More »

Posted in Cities and states, Clean Air Act, Health, Policy, Smog / Comments are closed

Five things you should know about the Trump Administrations latest assault on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

In 1990, while I was busy with kid priorities like learning to roller-skate, Congress was updating the Clean Air Act – kicking off a process to reduce mercury and other air toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Fast-forward several decades to 2012, the year my first daughter was born, and we finally had the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in effect.

Unfortunately, after that 20-year journey to get strong protections against mercury pollution, the Trump Administration is now trying to move us backward.

Trump’s Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler has confirmed that he’s “reconsidering” the legal foundation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – a move that could allow him to topple our national safeguards against the pollution linked to cancer, lung disease, and brain damage in babies.

What’s worse, Wheeler proudly announced the move on National Child Health Day.

Here are five things you should know about the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – and Wheeler’s assault against them:

Read More »

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, News, Policy / Read 1 Response

Cleaning the air saves lives and creates an engine for job growth

The Clean Air Act has a long, well-documented history of reducing pollution, and thus improving – and often even saving – lives in America.

This bedrock law represents one of the greatest environmental and health success stories in the world. Gross Domestic Product in the U.S. has grown 246 percent over the life of the Clean Air Act while at the same time pollutants have been reduced 71 percent.

The Clean Air Act has led to enormous innovation in technology

The Clean Air Act has helped launch innovation in technologies that reduce pollution –technologies which in many cases can be exported around the world.

We know from previous experience with standards we adopted to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants in 1971 and 1979 that pollution standards can reduce emissions substantially, and that the more the technology is deployed to meet the standards the more costs go down. The Clean Air Act helped create a market demand for various pollution control technologies by creating standards for pollutants, including for sulfur dioxide. (Read more from technology experts who filed a legal brief in support of carbon standards for power plants)

Source: The Effect of Government Actions on Technological Innovation for SO2 Control. The EPA/DOE/EPRI Mega Symposium, August 20-23, 2001.

America’s homegrown environmental protection industry

The U.S. is the single largest producer of environmental technologies in the world, capturing 29 percent of the world’s $1.05 trillion market.

In 2015, there were an estimated 1.73 million jobs in the U.S. environmental industry, with projected growth of 3 to 4 percent over the next several years.

According to the U.S. government, 99 percent of the businesses in this industry were small to medium-sized. U.S. environmental companies exported about $48 billion in goods in 2013. At the same time, 2005 data from U.S. manufacturers indicate that their expenses for reducing pollution account for less than one percent of the value of the goods they ship.

Environmental protection standards can drive jobs in a myriad of sectors including manufacturing, engineering, construction, operations, and more.

Some examples of jobs and industries created by specific EPA clean air protections include:

Clean air saves lives and improves productivity

Cleaner air saves lives and protects the health of American families.

According to a landmark analysis, in 2010 alone the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 deaths.

It also prevented 13 million lost workdays and 3.2 million lost school days because of illnesses and diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution. The value of avoiding those lost work and school days in 2010 was approximately $2 billion.

That same landmark analysis estimates that the central benefits of the Clean Air Act outweigh costs by more than 30 to one.

The evidence is clear – environmental protection helps improves lives and grow the economy.

Posted in News, Smog / Comments are closed

Delaying smog standards risks lives, jeopardizes Americans’ health

Twenty-six. That is how many smog-related air quality alerts were forecast across our country for one single day earlier this week.

From Pennsylvania to Rhode Island, “action days” were called urging “sensitive groups” (including children, people who are active outdoors, older Americans, and people with heart or lung disease) to reduce their time spent outdoors.

Smog is a dangerous air pollutant linked to premature deaths, asthma attacks, lower birth weight in infants, and serious heart and lung diseases.

Smog forms when industrial emissions from power plants, factories, cars, and other sources react with heat and sunlight in the atmosphere.

There have already been many alerts across the U.S. this year for smog pollution, and “smog season” has just begun. That shows we have more work to do to clean the air and protect our families and communities.

That is why it is disturbing to hear that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has decided to delay implementation of the updated smog standards by one year.

According to the American Lung Association’s 2017 State of the Air Report [PDF], more than one-third of all Americans live in areas with unhealthful levels of smog. More than 116 million people live in counties that received a grade of “F” for smog levels.

A one-year delay in the implementation of anticipated pollution from the smog standards would mean:

  • 660 more deaths
  • 230,000 asthma attacks among children
  • 180,000 missed work or school days

These are real lives being affected by Administrator Pruitt’s irresponsible actions.

The smog standards are driven by medical science. Here are some of the medical and health associations that supported strengthening the ozone standards:

  • The American Thoracic Society
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Medical Association
  • American Heart Association
  • American Lung Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • Children’s Environmental Health Network
  • National Association of County and City Health Officials
  • Trust for America’s Health
  • Health Care Without Harm
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
  • American College of Chest Physicians
  • American College of Preventive Medicine
  • American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
  • American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation
  • National Association for the Medical Direction of Respiratory Care
  • Society of Physicians for Social Responsibility

EPA’s mission is to protect public health and the environment. Administrator Pruitt’s decision to delay the smog standards runs counter to that bi-partisan, four-and-a-half decade mission. It also runs counter to the recommendations of leading medical and public health associations.

The successful history of implementing the Clean Air Act shows that states have the flexibility to design tailored solutions to address smog pollution, and that dramatic pollution reductions go hand-in-hand with a strong economy.

We need to reduce the amount of smog in our air – and to achieve that goal, we need EPA to lead.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Partners for Change, Policy, Smog / Read 1 Response

Healthier, safer summers – brought to you by EPA

This weekend is Memorial Day – the unofficial start to summer. That means kids across the country – and adults too – are counting down the days until summer vacation.

Whether your plans include going to a beach, visiting a national park, or just letting your kids play outside in the sprinklers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plays an important role in making your summer healthier and safer – in ways you might not realize.

Here are four examples of how EPA improves summers for all Americans:

  1. Reducing deadly smog

Smog comes from pollution emitted from cars, power plants, and other sources. It can lead to asthma attacks, heart attacks and even deaths.

The summer smog season has already started in most parts of the country. A number of “code orange” days – the terms for days when the air may be too dangerous for some people, like children with asthma and seniors with heart conditions, to be outdoors – have already been issued.

Los Angeles in 1948 USC Libraries Special Collections – Los Angeles Examiner

Smog has improved significantly in recent decades, thanks to EPA and state leadership, but air quality in the U.S. continues to be a serious problem that can jeopardize public health and limit many individuals’ freedom to spend time outdoors. The American Lung Association estimates that more than a third of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of smog.

EPA has worked for decades to reduce smog, most recently when the agency issued new standards for smog in 2015. Once they’re in effect, those standards will prevent 230,000 asthma attacks among children every year. That doesn’t include the benefits for California, which EPA calculated separately – the smog standards will prevent another 160,000 asthma attacks among children in that state alone.

Los Angeles nowAlamy

Unfortunately, smog standards are under attack in Congress. Several bills to delay and fundamentally alter how these and other air pollution standards are set are now moving through the Senate. Additionally, President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 cuts funding for the air monitoring that warns families about “Code Red” and “Code Orange” days – the days when air quality reaches unhealthy levels – by almost one third. 

  1. Safer, cleaner beaches

Many of us look forward to summer for the opportunity to spend time on the beach.

Last year, U.S. beach attendance was almost 360 million (more than the entire U.S. population!).

Unfortunately, beaches can be shut down by pollution – including raw sewage, which can expose swimmers to harmful microorganisms called “pathogens” that can make people sick.

An analysis done by the Natural Resources Defense Council a few years ago looked at water samples from 3,485 coastal U.S. beaches – and found that 10 percent of them were above EPA’s benchmark for swimmer safety. The analysis also notes that an estimated 3.5 million people are sickened every year from contact with raw sewage.

EPA – in partnership with states, local governments, and others – works to protect our nation’s beaches. The agency enforces laws and administers programs that regulate sources of water pollution at beaches, conducts leading scientific research on pathogens and sets national standards and criteria, funds grants to states and local governments to help protect our beaches, provides information to the public about water quality, and more. This work helps ensure that America’s beaches stay safe, clean, and open for visitors.

Here are a few examples of beach monitoring and cleanup grants distributed by EPA:

  • Lakeview Beach Green Infrastructure Project in the Great Lakes. The City of Lorain, Ohio got a $250,000 grant to construct a “green” stormwater treatment system at the city’s Lakeview Park, located on Lake Erie. The new system will reduce the E. coli bacteria in stormwater from being directly discharged into Lake Erie at Lakeview Beach, and will reduce the frequency of bacteria-related beach closures.

President Trump’s proposed budget for EPA would eliminate the beach monitoring grants program, among many other things that could impact the health of our nation’s beaches.

  1. Cleaning up the air in our national parks

Shenandoah National Park on a clear day and a hazy dayNational Park Service

National parks are a popular destination for summer vacationers across the country.

According to the National Park Service, there were over 307 million visits to our national parks last year and those visitors spent $16.9 billion in surrounding communities. This spending supported 295,000 jobs and contributed $32 billion to economic output nationally.

EPA and other agencies monitor visibility at 155 national parks and wilderness areas across the country. Unfortunately, many national parks suffer from haze – a form of pollution – that can tarnish scenic vistas and create health problems for visitors.

EPA’s program to reduce haze and other pollution harming our parks has led to measurable improvements in visibility. However, according to the National Parks and Conservation Association, three out of four of our most iconic national parks struggle with unhealthy air, and visitors miss about 50 miles of scenery because of haze.

EPA’s work to reduce the pollution affecting our parks is under threat by Administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued EPA over a plan to reduce haze when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma.

  1. Reducing the pollution contributing to climate change

Climate change affects virtually every facet of our lives and can exacerbate all of the problems listed above – more smoggy days, rising sea levels and more pathogens potentially spreading at beaches, and worse haze in our parks.

Extreme summer heat can also cause illness and death, and climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of those potentially deadly heat waves.

EPA has provided essential leadership to address climate change – including setting standards that would reduce pollution from power plants, cars, trucks, oil and gas operations, and more. Actions underway by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and severe budget cuts in President Trump’s proposed EPA budget could significantly harm the progress we’ve made and delay urgently needed protections for public health and our climate.

President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have indicated they will seek to unravel numerous climate protections, including the Clean Power Plan. Their proposed budget for EPA and other agencies undermines climate research and policies, including by zeroing out the U.S. Climate Action Plan.

Protecting the things that we love about summer

EPA’s work protects our air, our water, our beautiful beaches and parks – and most important, the health and safety of our families. As you enjoy your summer, please remember how important it is to protect the qualities that make summer great.

We need a strong EPA – now and all year long. More than just our summers are at stake.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Health, News, Policy, Science / Comments are closed