Climate 411

Clean Energy Innovation: An Important Piece of the Climate Puzzle

Bipartisanship and congressional action aren’t words associated with climate change in recent years. But we may be taking steps away from that stalemate. There is growing momentum in Congress to support innovation in clean energy – which can play an important role in reducing climate pollution.

Members from both parties recognize that investing in innovation can accelerate the development of high-impact breakthrough clean energy technologies. That includes “negative emissions technologies” (NETs) that remove carbon from the air and that scientists say will be needed to meet climate goals. Innovation programs can also help drive down the costs of existing essential options like solar, wind, and electric vehicles.

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy recently held a hearing to discuss two proposals that would direct the Department of Energy to develop and improve technologies that would reduce emissions from using fossil fuels. For example, DOE would be authorized to spend significant funding on technologies that capture carbon from power generation and industrial facilities as well as those that can cut emissions from difficult to decarbonize parts of the economy, like aviation, shipping, and cement, iron and steel production. Meanwhile, the House version of the Fiscal Year 2020 Energy and Water appropriations bill reflects the growing bipartisan support for innovation. It is a clear rejection of President Trump’s recommendations to cut or eliminate funding for renewable energy development, building and industrial energy efficiency programs, sustainable transportation technologies, and the popular and successful ARPA-E program that invests in high risk, high reward technologies.

These investments in innovation are an important step forward, but they are also not sufficient on their own to solve climate change – we must also act swiftly to put in place policies that set declining limits on greenhouse gas emissions and account for the real costs of that pollution. Together, these policies will lead to deeper pollution reductions, accomplished more quickly and affordably. That’s because a limit and a price on emissions will accelerate demand for clean energy, creating powerful economic incentives to adopt new technologies and providing a market for innovators who develop better ways to cut carbon. Investment in innovation can help make new technology options available, but we also need policies that create a level playing field such that clean technologies can thrive on the timeline and at the scale consistent with meeting our ambitious climate goals.

When it comes to innovation policies specifically, details matter, which is why we are outlining a set of key principles that together can form the foundation for well-designed innovation policy. Of course, not every individual bill can be expected to meet all of these principles, but a comprehensive national innovation strategy should strive to achieve them collectively.

  • Performance-based. The most promising technologies should receive the most funding – our focus should be on potential tons of pollution reduced per dollar invested.
  • Diversified. Investments should take a broad-based approach, encompassing a wide range of technologies that can reduce emissions in sectors throughout the economy – from NETS to emissions-reducing technologies like utility-scale energy storage to building and industrial efficiency to next-generation batteries, nuclear designs, electric vehicles, and grid equipment.
  • Risk tolerant. Government should not shy away from supporting riskier investments in potential breakthrough technologies given their possible impact on reducing pollution.
  • Ambitious. We need to stop adding climate pollution no later than 2050 – that is, producing no more than we can remove, or net-zero emissions. To dramatically transform our energy systems, we will need to at least double overall investments in innovation. That includes clean energy research and development – as well as programs focused on helping entrepreneurs and scientists bring technologies from the lab to the market.
  • Strategic. Policies should aim to leverage private capital as much as possible, and avoid duplicating or “crowding out” private investment.
  • Coordinated. Coordination across government agencies and programs, including within the Department of Energy, is critical to ensure investments are streamlined and their impacts maximized.
  • Adaptive. Programs should collect data to track performance in order to evaluate effectiveness per dollar and to improve with lessons learned over time.
  • Environmental integrity. Monitoring and tracking of emissions reductions is critical – including carbon that’s captured and stored underground or used in products or processes.  It’s also important to ensure full life-cycle accounting of emissions impacts – for example, taking into account land use changes as a result of biofuels production. And all policies should guard against negative environmental or health impacts and respect local and national environmental laws, like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

We must be at least as bold as the climate crisis is urgent. Support for innovation alone won’t do the job – but by pairing a robust innovation push with strong policy frameworks that limit overall greenhouse gases, we can cut pollution at the pace and scale that science demands. We should seek out and embrace every step forward while fighting for the comprehensive action needed to protect our economy, our health, and our children from the impacts of climate change.

Posted in Energy, Policy / Comments are closed

Accelerating clean energy innovation is key to solving the climate crisis

Co-authored by Elgie Holstein

Our nation has a history of tackling big challenges and leveraging the ingenuity of American entrepreneurs to develop solutions that have changed the world – from curing diseases to exploring space to launching the internet.

Today, climate change is one of our most urgent global challenges, for which there is little time left to prevent the most destructive impacts. To combat it, we must bring every bit of our nation’s entrepreneurial creativity and scientific excellence to bear. That means accelerating the deployment of existing low-carbon technologies as well as investing in new and emerging innovations that can transform our economy to 100% clean energy. And we have to do it quickly.

Fortunately, there are recent indications that a clean energy innovation agenda can attract bipartisan support in Congress, even as the debate over broader climate policy remains gridlocked. Recently, in the Republican-controlled Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing focused on a bipartisan bill that would invest in research on cutting- edge approaches such as direct air capture (DAC), a “negative emissions technology” (NET) that might someday be able to suck carbon pollution directly out of the air and store it or recycle it into fuel, fertilizer, and concrete. Read More »

Posted in News / Comments are closed

A growing call for environmental integrity

The recent introduction of bipartisan carbon fee legislation is demonstrating an important pattern taking hold as policymakers focus on climate change solutions. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, like the MARKET CHOICE Act introduced earlier this year by Republican Rep. Curbelo, recognizes that any carbon fee aimed at meeting the challenge of climate change must be designed with environmental performance in mind.

The new legislation is the first time in a decade that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have come together to put forth serious climate policy. And like the MARKET CHOICE Act, it uses a fee to reduce pollution across the economy and includes “environmental integrity mechanisms” (EIMs) — provisions that tie a carbon fee to clear, measurable pollution reduction goals and keep us on track to meet those goals. EIMs are still a relatively new concept on the climate policy scene, but leading thinkers have begun to pay them significantly more attention, and it is clear they are emerging as a critical component of any serious carbon fee proposal: and with good reason.

A carbon fee – which sets a price per unit of pollution – prompts the economy to respond by providing powerful incentives to reduce that pollution, but it cannot guarantee the environmental result. While energy and economic modeling tools can provide critical insight into possible or likely outcomes, they cannot provide certainty over the magnitude of the impact. That’s why it is critical to include EIMs designed to provide greater assurances that a fee will deliver on its pollution reduction potential. Read More »

Posted in Carbon Markets, Cars and Pollution, Climate Change Legislation, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed

Trump Administration misleads Americans about the cost of climate pollution

The Trump Administration is attempting to justify the rollback of crucial environmental and health protections by vastly undervaluing the costs of climate change.

The latest safeguards under attack are the Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, and the Bureau of Land Management’s vital standards to reduce wasted natural gas from oil and gas facilities on public and tribal lands. They would have health, environmental, and economic benefits worth an estimated billions of dollars annually. But you wouldn’t know it from reading the Administration’s recently revised documents – because of a series of deceptive accounting tricks, including efforts aimed at obscuring the benefits of reducing carbon pollution.

The Trump Administration has used discredited methods to eviscerate the social cost of carbon — an estimate of the costs that carbon pollution inflicts on the public, represented as the dollar value of the total damages from emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere.

The social cost of carbon is a tool that helps ensure that policymakers consider the health, environmental and economic benefits of avoiding extreme weather, rising temperatures and intensifying smog when they make decisions that affect climate pollution.

Climate change harms businesses, families, governments and taxpayers through rising health care costs, destruction of property, increased food prices and more — so it’s common sense that we should properly account for the value of avoiding these harmful outcomes. But the Trump Administration has systematically undermined and attacked the well-established science of climate change – including the social cost of carbon, which has had a target on its back for a while now.

The most up-to-date estimates of the social costs of carbon were developed by an Interagency Working Group (IWG) of experts from a dozen federal agencies. They were developed through a transparent and rigorous process based on the latest peer-reviewed science and economics, and with input from the public and the National Academy of Sciences.

But in March, President Trump cast aside the results of this thorough and consultative process. He issued an executive order aimed at discrediting the IWG estimates, withdrawing them as government policy, and directing federal agencies to pick their own metric.

The executive order leaves federal agencies to fend for themselves without specific guidance, opens the door to extensive legal challenges, and effectively sets up agencies to cook the books to serve the Administration’s goals.

That’s exactly what EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke just did – releasing benefit-cost analyses that massively undervalue the costs of carbon pollution, radically reducing the estimates by up to 97 percent.

The Trump Administration would have us believe that the costs of carbon pollution are near zero. The Administration’s new estimates are only a couple dollars per ton of carbon dioxide – about as much as a cup of coffee or a bus ticket.

Sadly, communities around the country are already seeing just how wrong that is. From longer wildfire seasons to more intense hurricanes, the American public is already bearing the enormous costs of climate change.

Even the IWG estimates – roughly $50 per ton of carbon dioxide based on year 2020 emissions – are almost certainly a conservative lower bound since they do not yet reflect many different types of climate impacts.

A closer look at the Administration’s deceptive math 

There are two major flaws in the Administration’s drastically reduced estimates, both of which fly in the face of established science and economic principles in service of obscuring the very real benefits of climate action.

First, the reduced estimates ignore that carbon emissions are a global pollutant, so they omit important categories of climate change impacts on the United States.

Second, they shortchange the harm to our children and future generations from climate change.

The so-called “domestic-only” estimate

Since the impacts of carbon pollution are felt globally regardless of where the emissions come from, leading researchers and the IWG have appropriately focused on accounting for that full global impact.

In contrast, the Administration’s revised estimates claim to consider “domestic-only” impacts to the United States. But that title is a misnomer – the Administration’s flawed approach ignores important categories of impacts that affect the American public. Climate impacts beyond our borders have costly repercussions for U.S. citizens in the form of changing global migration patterns, economic and political destabilization, and other “spillover” effects.

The National Academy of Sciences specifically rejected the approach the Administration is taking in a report released earlier this year, concluding that:

[C]limate damages to the United States cannot be accurately characterized without accounting for consequences outside U.S. borders.

Economist Richard Newell – president of the think tank Resources for the Future, which is leading an effort to implement the Nation Academy of Sciences’ recommendations to update the social cost of carbon estimates – has criticized the Administration’s approach, saying that considering only direct domestic impacts is:

[U]nnecessarily constrained and unwise for addressing inherently global pollutants like greenhouse gases.

The use of a “domestic-only” number also harms Americans because it undervalues the cost of climate pollution and encourages other countries to similarly undervalue – and over-emit – this pollution.

More than half a dozen leading experts argue:

[The] United States benefits tremendously if other countries set policy based on global rather than local effects.

They also point out that the use of a global estimate can encourage reciprocal climate action elsewhere. For instance, the Canadian government incorporated the U.S. IWG value in its own policy analysis.

Undervaluing the impacts on children and future generations

The Administration’s estimates also use a sharply lower value for the benefits that today’s carbon reductions provide to children and future generations. Again, this is in direct conflict with the weight of expert opinion that supports valuing these impacts even more than we did before the Trump Administration.

The Administration’s estimates “discount” future impacts at 7 percent – a rate significantly higher than the 3 percent central rate of the IWG, and one that is wholly unsupported by the economics literature when it comes to the long-lived intergenerational effects of carbon pollution.

A growing consensus among leading economists supports lower or declining discount rates, as does the Council of Economic Advisors.

As Richard Newell of Resources for the Future points out:

Practically speaking, the use of such a high discount rate means that the effects of our actions on future generations are largely unaccounted for in the new analysis.

In other words, the Administration’s estimates reveal just how little they value protecting American children and generations to come.

The social cost of carbon has profound influence on our policy process and embodies the very real costs of climate change that communities around the country are already feeling.

The Administration’s distortion of these values is illustrative of a frequent strategy of theirs – twisting the facts to validate their desired outcome, and in the process sowing doubt around the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.

Unfortunately, while the math the Administration is using is warped, the costs of climate change are still very real – and the American public is footing the bill.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed

President Trump’s mystery math

By this time, your eyes may have glazed over from reading the myriad of fact checks and rebuttals of President Trump’s speech announcing the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. There were so many dizzying falsehoods in his comments that it is nearly impossible to find any truth in the rhetorical fog.

Of all the falsehoods, President Trump’s insistence that compliance with the Paris accord would cost Americans millions of lost jobs and trillions in lowered Gross Domestic Product was particularly brazen, deceptive, and absurd. These statements are part of a disturbing pattern, the latest in a calculated campaign to deceive the public about the economics of reducing climate pollution.

Based on a study funded by industry trade groups

Let’s be clear: the National Economic Research Associates (NERA) study underpinning these misleading claims was paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) – two lobbying organizations backed by fossil fuel industry funding that have a history of commissioning exaggerated cost estimates of climate change solutions. When you pay for bad assumptions, you ensure exaggerated and unrealistic results.

In the past five years alone, NERA has released a number of dubious studies funded by fossil fuel interests about a range of environmental safeguards that protect the public from dangerous pollution like mercury, smog, and particulate matter – all of which cause serious health impacts, especially in the elderly, children, and the most vulnerable. NERA’s work has been debunked over and over. Experts from MIT and NYU said NERA’s cost estimates from a 2014 study on EPA’s ozone standards were “fraudulent” and calculated in “an insane way.” NERA’s 2015 estimates of the impacts of the Clean Power Plan, which are frequently quoted by President Trump’s EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and others, have also been rebutted due to unrealistic and pessimistic assumptions.

The study does not account for the enormous costs of climate pollution

In his speech about the Paris agreement, President Trump crossed a line that made even NERA so uncomfortable that it released a statement emphasizing that its results were mischaracterized and that the study “was not a cost-benefit analysis of the Paris agreement, nor does it purport to be one.”

The most important point embedded in this statement is that the study does not account for the enormous benefits of reducing the carbon pollution causing climate change. Climate change causes devastating impacts including extreme weather events like flooding and deadly storms, the spread of disease, sea level rise, increased food insecurity, and other disasters. These impacts can cost businesses, families, governments and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars through rising health care costs, destruction of property, increased food prices, and more. The costs of this pollution are massive, and communities all around the U.S. are already feeling the impacts – yet the President and his Administration continue to disregard this reality as well as basic scientific and economic facts.

Cherry-picking an impractical and imaginary pathway to emission reductions

The statistics the President used were picked from a specific scenario in the study that outlined an impractical and imaginary pathway to meet our 2025 targets designed to be needlessly expensive, as experts at the World Resources Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council have noted. The study’s “core” scenario assumes sector by sector emission reduction targets (which do not exist as part of the Paris accord) that result in the most aggressive level of mitigation being required from the sectors where it is most expensive. This includes an almost 40 percent reduction in industrial sector emissions – a disproportionate level not envisioned in any current policy proposal – which results in heavily exaggerated costs.

An expert at the independent think tank Resources for the Future, Marc Hafstead, pointed out:

The NERA study grossly overstates the changes in output and jobs in heavy industry.

Yale economist Kenneth Gillingham said of these numbers:

It’s not something you can cite in a presidential speech with a straight face … It’s being used as a talking point taken out of context.

The NERA analysis also includes a scenario that illustrates what experts have known for decades – that a smarter and more cost-effective route to achieving deep emission reductions is a flexible, economy-wide program that prices carbon and allows the market to take advantage of the most cost-effective reductions across sectors. Even NERA’s analysis shows that this type of program would result in significantly lower costs than their “core” scenario. Not surprisingly, that analysis is buried in the depths of the report, and has been entirely ignored by the Chamber of Commerce and ACCF as well as President Trump.

Study ignores potential innovation and declining costs of low carbon energy

Finally, the NERA study assumes that businesses would not innovate to keep costs down in the face of new regulations – employing pessimistic assumptions that ignore the transformational changes already moving us towards the expansion of lower carbon energy. Those assumptions rely on overly-conservative projections for renewable energy costs, which have been rapidly declining. They also underestimate the potential for reductions from low-cost efficiency improvements, and assume only minimal technological improvements in the coming years.

In reality, clean energy is outpacing previous forecasts and clean energy jobs are booming. There are more jobs in solar energy than in oil and natural gas extraction in the U.S. right now, and more jobs in wind than in coal mining.

The truth is that the clean energy revolution is the economic engine of the future. President Trump’s announcement that he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris accord cedes leadership and enormous investment opportunities to Europe, China, and the rest of the world. His faulty math will not change these facts.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, News, Policy / Comments are closed

Trump Moves to Cook the Books, Undercutting Common Sense Climate Protections

This blog was co-authored with Martha Roberts

It’s reported that the Trump Administration is poised to continue its barrage of attacks on some of our most vital health and environmental protections, following last week’s assault on broadly supported fuel economy and greenhouse gas safeguards for cars and light trucks. Here’s one attack that they may try to sneak under the radar—a move that would undercut common sense climate protection all across the federal government: directing federal agencies to abandon the use of social cost of carbon estimates in their evaluation of new policy.

The social cost of carbon is a measure of the economic harm from the impacts of climate change. Specifically, it’s the dollar value of the total damages from emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Weakening or eliminating the use of the social cost of carbon would result in skewed and biased policy-making that ignores the benefits of crucial safeguards and stacks the deck against actions to protect communities from the mounting costs of climate change.

The devastating impacts of climate change on health and the environment – such as extreme weather events, the spread of disease, sea level rise, and increased food insecurity – can cost American businesses, families, governments and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars through rising health care costs, destruction of property, increased food prices, and more. Many of these impacts are already being felt by communities across the country, as the government’s leading scientific agencies have found.

When the federal government develops policy affecting the carbon pollution causing climate change, it is both reasonable and essential that it takes these costs into account. The social cost of carbon is a tool that allows policy-makers to do just that.

Currently, the federal government uses a social cost of carbon estimate—roughly $40 per ton of carbon pollution—that was developed through a transparent and rigorous interagency process, relied on the latest peer-reviewed science and economics available, and allowed for repeated public comment as well as input from the National Academy of Sciences.

But that may not last much longer. As we’ve seen, the Trump Administration is waging war against an array of our most crucial health and environmental protections, ignoring the urgent threat of climate change while prioritizing fossil fuel interests. President Trump’s new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, denies that carbon pollution is a primary contributor to climate change, and built his political career by suing EPA 14 times as Oklahoma Attorney General to block protections from mercury, arsenic and smog pollution, hand in hand with the worst elements of the fossil fuel industry. Meanwhile the Administration is proposing devastating cuts to the budgets for EPA and climate research, and is moving towards revoking the Clean Power Plan, America’s first-ever nationwide limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

All of this points to a clear disregard for basic science, economic principles, and our nation’s clean air laws. Eliminating or weakening the social cost of carbon is another pernicious tactic by the Administration to undermine the development of crucial climate safeguards – by erroneously making it appear as though reducing carbon pollution has little or no benefit to society and the economy. Even the current figure is very likely a conservative lower bound since it does not yet include all of the widely recognized and accepted impacts of climate change.

The details of the upcoming attack are still unclear. It’s possible that the Administration may end use of the uniform social cost of carbon estimate at the federal level—despite its rigorous basis and judicial precedent. Other indications suggest that the Administration may choose to artificially and arbitrarily discount the costs of climate change for the health and economic well-being of our kids, grandkids, and future generations—ignoring the growing consensus among economists that supports valuing these impacts more, as does a recent report from the Council of Economic Advisors. Or the Administration may decide to disregard the fact that our greenhouse gas pollution has harmful impacts outside U.S. borders that can have costly repercussions for Americans.

Throwing out the social cost of carbon may play well with President Trump’s supporters in the fossil fuel industry. But the importance and appropriateness of accounting for these costs is a matter of both economics and law. We also know that nearly two thirds of Americans are concerned about climate change. Undermining limits on pollution—protections that are rooted in rigorous scientific research, reflecting long-standing bipartisan economic principles—will ultimately harm the health and environmental safety of all Americans, including Trump’s supporters.

This post originally appeared on EDF’s Market Forces blog.

Posted in Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions / Comments are closed