Climate 411

Our new report shows the importance of “accelerating to 100% clean” vehicles

Drone photo of busy highways over Denver’s Elyria-Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods and schools. Credit: Chance Multimedia

Air pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world. In the U.S. almost half of all people live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution. More than 20,000 Americans die prematurely every year as a result of the motor vehicle pollution on our roads and highways, according to a new peer reviewed study by EPA  experts. Pollution from our roadways disproportionately harms people of color and lower income communities. Transportation sector pollution is now also the largest source of climate pollution in the U.S.

A new EDF report includes these facts and other comprehensive information about the dangers of transportation sector pollution and about strategies to address it. The report, Accelerating to 100% Clean: Zero Emitting Vehicles Save Lives, Advance Justice, Create Jobs, compiles the best and most recent information on the issue.

Here are a few key findings. Read More »

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Green Jobs, Health, Jobs, News, Policy / Comments are closed

Pennsylvania legislators seek to protect workers, ratepayers and our climate

As Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) move forward to advance meaningful climate action in Pennsylvania, legislators are also stepping up with a new complementary bill. Last month, state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa introduced legislation with 17 of his colleagues that charts a course to a cleaner, more sustainable power sector for Pennsylvania. The bipartisan “Energy Transition and Recovery Act,” (Senate Bill 15) will ensure carbon emissions from Pennsylvania’s power sector reach net zero by mid-century and demonstrates strong leadership on the most significant environmental issues facing the state.

Introduction of S.B. 15 followed attempts by some in the legislature to halt progress being made to address carbon pollution by passing H.B. 2025, legislation that essentially stops action being taken by DEP to link with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Legislators supporting H.B. 2025 offered no solution to address climate change, protect workers and communities, or reduce air pollution and instead opted to obstruct action on climate that is supported by 79% of Pennsylvanians.

Here is what Sen. Costa’s bill would do:

Set necessary and achievable targets

The bill sets out to eliminate Pennsylvania’s power sector emissions before 2050, using the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) as a framework for the state. Pennsylvania’s power sector is the fifth dirtiest in the nation, in terms of carbon emissions, and also emits nearly as much as the other 10 current states in RGGI combined. Pennsylvania’s power sector is the 10th largest emitter of NOx and seventh largest emitter of SO2 in the U.S., which contribute to deadly smog and soot. The bill also includes measures that can help improve the environmental performance of the program, ensuring reducing emissions in Pennsylvania doesn’t create an incentive to shift some emissions to another state (i.e. emissions leakage), including by directing DEP and the state Public Utility Commission to work with the regional grid operator, PJM. However, it is worth noting that recent modeling results show a 65% increase in net energy exports in 2030 compared to 2018 for Pennsylvania even with a limit on carbon pollution, underscoring Pennsylvania’s anticipated and continued role as a major electricity producer in the region.

Pennsylvania’s power sector has reduced emissions 38% since 2005, and modeling analysis shows greater reductions are feasible and cost-effective. Power companies across the country, including in Pennsylvania, are making strong commitments to reduce carbon pollution, recognizing that clean energy is the most cost-effective option for powering America and is critical to tackling climate change. A cap-and-invest framework like RGGI will deepen this accelerating trend, and there is over a decade of experience with this program from which Pennsylvania can draw as it implements its own, tailored program.

Invest in energy efficiency and clean energy

In addition to directing investments in clean air projects, the bill establishes and funds an Energy Transition Fund “to support energy affordability, energy efficiency, renewable energy and a just and equitable transition to a decarbonized economy for environmental justice communities and workers and communities…” Deploying energy efficiency and clean energy can reduce energy costs paid by consumers, reduce air pollution and create jobs. This triple win is boosted by the strategic investments made by S.B. 15, which allocates half of the Energy Transition Fund towards weatherization of homes and commercial buildings, energy efficiency, reducing energy use, deploying solar panels and other projects that can reduced energy usage and build a cleaner electric grid. The bill also appropriately prioritizes investments “to benefit environmental justice communities, low-income residential customers and moderate-income residential customers.” Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania’s clean energy jobs sector continues to see strong growth, with a report released by the state just last week showing that clean energy jobs in the state grew 8.7% from 2017-2019, more than four times higher than the statewide average for job growth of 1.9%.

Protects workers and Environmental Justice communities

Sen. Costa’s bill does more than pay lip service to communities which are going to inevitably face transition as power plants retire. It also helps address longstanding Environmental Justice community needs. The bill invests over one-third of the Energy Transition Fund proceeds – potentially tens of millions of dollars in the first year – to assist workers and communities impacted by the transition to cleaner energy sources, helping ensure that the transition to a carbon-free electric grid does not leave workers or communities behind. Although many Pennsylvania coal plants and mines have closed over the last decade as alternatives like natural gas and renewables have become increasingly cost-competitive, workers, families and communities have too often been left behind in the wake of shutdowns and transition. This bill puts a much-needed plan on the table to help ensure fairness for these workers and communities.

Importantly, programs like RGGI also provide significant health benefits by reducing deadly soot and smog that is more prevalent near coal-fired power plants and around industrial development often located adjacent to low-income communities. An analysis from 2009-2014 found that RGGI saved up to 800 lives, avoided 8,200 asthma attacks, and provided approximately $5.7 billion in health savings from avoided impacts.

Ensuring ratepayer protection

While electric bills have gone down for many ratepayers in RGGI states thanks to investments in energy efficiency and other measures, this bill would direct a portion of the program investments towards low-income residential ratepayers in Pennsylvania, helping mitigate any potential impacts that could occur. Analysis of other RGGI states has shown that residential ratepayers can expect, on average, to pay 35% less on their bills in 2031 than they paid in 2017, even as the RGGI program deepens reductions in carbon pollution over that time. This legislation provides further, direct financial support to low-income ratepayers.

As DEP moves forward, the legislature has the opportunity to engage

This bill provides critical leadership in the legislature to address climate change. It sets out a path for deep and achievable emission reductions, invests in Pennsylvania workers and communities, and keeps Pennsylvania on track to be a leader in the clean energy future. At the same time, DEP is moving forward with a common sense, market-based regulatory approach, building on the RGGI framework to cut carbon pollution from the power sector.

The legislature continues to have an opportunity to constructively engage on climate policy and has a robust and established role to play by providing feedback in regulatory processes like the proposed RGGI rule. The legislature should heed the wishes of 79% of Pennsylvanians and consider ways to help drive cost-effective, climate pollution reductions such as through RGGI. What we cannot afford is further delay on climate action.

Bills like S.B.15 provide glimmers of hope for bi-partisan, effective legislative leadership that is in line with what Pennsylvanians want. The legislature can support this legislation or come up with other plans that deliver benefits to the climate, public health, workers, and communities as S.B. 15 does. Deflecting, delaying or dismissing carbon limits and RGGI is counterproductive and against the best interest of all Pennsylvanians. The RGGI rulemaking should be allowed to proceed unhindered so the public can have the opportunity to weigh in on this critical policy. Gov. Wolf and DEP are right to lead and respond to the urgency of the climate crisis with seriousness of purpose: it’s time for the legislature to do the same.

Posted in Carbon Markets, Cities and states, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News / Comments are closed

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