Author Archives: Tomas Carbonell

Supreme Court Reaffirms EPA’s Bedrock Legal Authority to Cut Carbon Pollution from Power Plants

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The United States Supreme Court issued a long-awaited decision in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (No. 12-1146) this week, resolving the last of many multi-year legal challenges to EPA’s first generation of climate protections under the Clean Air Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-to-2 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permissibly read the Clean Air Act to require large new or modified industrial pollution sources to deploy modern pollution controls for greenhouse gases. Thus, new and rebuilt large emitters of other regulated pollutants such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen subject to the Clean Air Act’s pre-construction review permit program must use the “best available control technology” to control climate pollution.

This is now the third decision in which the Court has affirmed the application of the Clean Air Act to climate pollution.

A 5-to-4 majority of the court also held that EPA must narrow its permit program to avoid applying the permitting program to many smaller sources that EPA itself had taken steps to exclude from regulation.

The UARG case emphatically puts an end to the misplaced claims by some who question EPA’s bedrock authority to address the deleterious carbon pollution from power plants and other industrial sources under section 111 and the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit program of the Clean Air Act. The central question in the UARG case was not whether EPA must address climate-destabilizing pollution from power plants and other industrial sources, but rather how EPA should carry out these essential clean air protections.

When it took up the UARG case, the Supreme Court decided not to review EPA’s rigorous, science-based determination in 2009 that six greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations — the legal foundation for addressing climate pollution under the Clean Air Act. The Court similarly declined to review EPA’s landmark rules in 2010 setting the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger vehicles (the Clean Car Standards). The Supreme Court’s review of UARG was focused exclusively on EPA’s interpretation of the PSD permitting program. Nothing about the Supreme Court’s final decision in UARG affects the Clean Car Standards or the science-based finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare and therefore must be addressed under the Clean Air Act. And in UARG, seven justices of the Court agreed with EPA that large industrial sources that are already required to obtain PSD permits due to their emissions of other regulated pollutants must limit their greenhouse gas emissions with “best available control technology.”

The UARG case also reinforces EPA’s clear legal authority to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s fossil fuel-fired power plants, which emit nearly forty percent of the United States’ carbon dioxide and are currently subject to no national limits on carbon pollution. As described in detail on our earlier blogs, EPA has proposed long-overdue and much-needed rules under section 111 of the Clean Air Act that would, for the first time, require new power plants to use advanced technologies available for carbon reduction — and would reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 through available cost-effective solutions. Together, these rules would cut carbon pollution from our nation’s largest source, achieve significant reductions in other harmful pollutants that are emitted together with carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants, and spur complementary action in other countries.

The Supreme Court has affirmed time and again EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution, and it further reiterated this precedent in UARG:

  • Seven years ago in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court held that “greenhouse gases fit well within the Act’s capacious definition of ‘air pollutant,’” and are therefore clearly within EPA’s authority to regulate under the Clean Air Act. 549 U.S. 497, 532 (2007). In UARG, the Court rejected requests by some of the parties to overturn this fundamental holding.
  • Four years later in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court explicitly acknowledged EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants, holding that it was “plain” that section 111 of the Clean Air Act “speaks directly to emissions of carbon dioxide from the defendants’ plants.” 131 S. Ct. 2527, 2537 (2011)
  • During the February 24, 2014 oral argument in UARG, industry attorney Peter Keisler conceded, in response to questioning from Justice Ginsburg, that EPA has clear authority to address climate pollution from power plants under section 111.  The Court specifically acknowledged and reiterated this holding in UARG noting that the section 111 is “not at issue here” and that “no party in American Electric Power argued [section 111] was ill suited to accommodating greenhouse gases.”

It is always an important occasion when the Supreme Court weighs in on legal issues affecting the Clean Air Act. It’s especially important when the Court is addressing the climate pollution that presents a clear and present danger to the health of our communities and families and to our prosperity.

Posted in Climate Change Legislation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments closed

Energy Efficiency and Carbon Pollution Standards: Double Dividends for Climate and Consumers

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has embarked on a vital effort — accompanied by extensive outreach to states, power companies, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders, including you — to establish the nation’s first limits on carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

EPA was directed to take this critical step for public health and the environment in the President’s Climate Action Plan that was released last summer. Protective and well-designed Carbon Pollution Standards will provide important benefits for all Americans.

Fossil fuel-fired power plants emit 40 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution, as well as significant amounts of mercury, acid gases, and pollutants that contribute to smog and particulates.

That’s why it is critical to get these rules right, and to mobilize common sense solutions proven in red and blue states alike in reducing carbon pollution from the power sector.

Of all the available ways to reduce carbon pollution, one of the most cost-effective and time-tested approaches is to reduce demand for fossil fuel electricity through end-use energy efficiency (EE).

EE measures encompass countless improvements, large and small, in the ways we use electricity in our offices, factories, and homes. All of those improvements can add up to big savings, not only in our monthly energy bills but in the total amount of fossil generation needed to power our society.

Dozens of states and power companies are already investing heavily in EE, and have built up decades of experience in measuring and verifying the many benefits it can yield for consumers and for the environment.

Incredible Potential to Cut Emissions and Save Money by Reducing Wasted Electricity

States and power companies around the country have been implementing EE programs for decades, and have increased their efforts in recent years as experience with the benefits of EE has grown.

26 states in diverse regions of the country, from Arizona and Colorado in the Southwest to industrial Midwest states like Ohio and Illinois, now have “energy efficiency resource standards” or similar policies that require utilities to achieve a certain amount of energy savings each year.

State spending on EE programs increased by 28 percent between 2010 and 2012.

As EE policies and investments have grown, so have energy savings.

In 2011, state EE programs saved a total of 22.9 million megawatt-hours — roughly equivalent to the entire annual output of seven 500 megawatt coal-fired power plants.

These savings increased 22 percent since 2010 and, importantly, count only those savings achieved in the first year these EE measures are in place.

Because most EE measures continue to yield energy savings years or even decades after they are installed, the cumulative savings from these state EE programs are much larger.

A recent study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found that EE programs and policies are a key reason why residential and commercial electricity demand has remained stable since 2007.

As impressive as these developments are, they only scratch the surface of what could be achieved if we were to fully unlock the potential for EE to save energy and reduce emissions.

An exhaustive 2009 analysis by McKinsey & Company, for example, found that rigorous investment in cost-effective EE could reduce the country’s total energy consumption by 23 percent in 2020.

Energy savings on this scale would yield massive emission reductions — about 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxidein 2020 alone (more than 30 percent of power sector emissions today) – and at a cost per kilowatt-hour saved that is about 85 percent less than the average retail price of electricity.

The report also estimated that realizing these energy savings would create about 600,000 to 900,000 jobs through 2020.

Other national and regional studies have similarly found that EE represents a tremendous “win-win” opportunity for our climate, for families and consumers, and for the economy as a whole.

In 2012, for example, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) issued a report focusing on the potential benefits of scaling-up EE programs in six Southwestern states (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming).

Based on the track record of “best practice” EE programs around the country, SWEEP found that these six states could reduce their electricity demand in 2020 by more than 20 percent while achieving net benefits of about $20 billion – amounting to $2,650 for every household in the region (largely in the form of lower energy bills).

Investments in EE at this scale would also create about 30,000 additional jobs in the region by 2020, and increase wages and salaries by more than $1 billion.

At the same time, these EE measures would reduce carbon pollution by more than 30 million metric tons in 2020, (a 16% reduction relative to expected emissions in 2020), while also reducing thousands of tons of pollutants that contribute to smog, acid rain, and harmful particulate pollution.

EE and the Carbon Pollution Standards

If you’ve read my colleague Megan Ceronsky’s earlier blog, you’ve already heard about section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.

That section provides bedrock authority for EPA to issue Carbon Pollution Standards for existing power plants.  It also provides a broad, flexible framework for states and companies to deploy EE and other flexible approaches to reducing carbon pollution from the power sector.

Under section 111(d), EPA and the states will work together to reduce emissions from existing power plants.  EPA will issue “emission guidelines” that identify the “best system of emission reduction” for carbon pollution from existing power plants and the emission reductions achievable using that system.  The states then have the responsibility to develop plans that implement standards consistent with those guidelines.

Just a few weeks ago, Kate Konschnik, Policy Director of the Environmental Law Program at Harvard Law School, released a report that makes a strong legal case for considering EE as part of the “best system of emission reduction” that underpins EPA’s emission guidelines.

As Konschnik argues, the Clean Air Act grants EPA broad authority to consider flexible measures such as EE as a part of the best system of emission reduction for carbon pollution:

[B]ecause it is adequately demonstrated and cost-effective, imposes minimal environmental costs, and reduces overall energy requirements.

Moreover, as Konschnik points out, methods for quantifying and verifying EE-related energy savings and emission reductions are well-developed.

Over the last two decades, at least 35 states and two regional transmission organizations have adopted protocols for measuring and verifying energy savings from EE projects. These savings are now widely used as the basis for critical regulatory proceedings and market functions, including establishing utility rates, compensating EE in regional capacity markets, and carrying out long-term regional resource planning.

In addition, EPA has already allowed several states to credit emission reductions resulting from EE and renewable energy towards compliance with national air quality standards. EPA has also issued detailed guidance to the states on analytical approaches and tools that could be used for future programs.

Ensuring Smooth Implementation of EE in the Carbon Pollution Standards

Under traditional emissions trading programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) or California’s cap-and-trade system, the emission reduction benefits of EE are readily observed as emissions from power plants drop.

Under these programs, no separate system for tracking emission reductions from EE is necessary.  As a recent report by RGGI confirms, these programs are also funding significant investments in EE programs that have already helped 815,000 families.

However, some states may choose to directly incentivize EE through policies that credit individual projects and programs for their impacts on energy savings and emissions.

For this reason, EDF has worked with experts in the field to study how measurement and verification for such EE crediting systems could work in a way that is environmentally rigorous and administratively streamlined, and that builds on extensive state and regional experience with existing EE programs.

We recently submitted a report to EPA, developed by the Analysis Group, that lays out one possible framework for ensuring both desirable outcomes:

  • Rigorous measurement and verification of EE projects, and
  • Consistent methods for determining emission reductions that are attributable to EE projects

This framework recognizes the diverse approaches to measurement and verification of EE that are in use around the country. But in developing this framework, we were also struck by the significant progress that a number of organizations have made in developing best practices and consensus protocols for evaluating EE projects.

One example is the Department of Energy’s Uniform Methods Project (UMP), which has organized a multi-stakeholder process to develop rigorous yet streamlined measurement and verification protocols for different types of EE projects.

To date, UMP has released protocols addressing seven major EE project types and five “cross-cutting” evaluation issues. Eight more protocols are expected to be finalized in the coming months.

Other notable efforts to develop and encourage best practices in the field include:

EE: Ready for Prime Time

EE represents a historic opportunity to achieve extensive reductions in emissions of carbon pollution and other power sector pollutants that directly harm public health and the environment.

In many cases, EE measures will actually save families and businesses money over time and help strengthen the economy.

Decades of state and utility experience in designing and implementing EE programs have demonstrated that the benefits of EE are real, and that the policies and tools needed to incentivize EE and measure its effects are available.

EPA should fully mobilize the potential of EE by exercising its authority to consider EE in the design of the Carbon Pollution Standards, and by providing guidance to the states to facilitate the inclusion of EE in state plans implementing those standards.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

EDF and Allies Defend EPA Emission Standards for Oil and Gas Pollution

(This post was co-authored by Tomás Carbonell, EDF Attorney, and Brian Korpics, EDF Legal Fellow. It originally appeared on EDF’s Energy Exchange blog.)

A new year may be upon us, but – unfortunately – some members of the oil and gas industry would prefer we roll back the clock on common sense, long-overdue emission standards for oil and gas equipment.

Oil and natural gas production continues to expand rapidly in the United States – and with it the potential for emissions of climate-destabilizing pollutants (especially methane), smog-forming compounds and carcinogenic substances, such as benzene. We urgently need rigorous national standards that comprehensively address the full suite of pollutants from oil and gas facilities, protect public health and the environment and conserve needless waste of our nation’s natural resources.

In August 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a promising first step by issuing emission standards for new natural gas wells and other oil and gas equipment, including the thousands of large storage tanks built near gas wells, pipelines and processing facilities each and every year. These “New Source Performance Standards” (NSPS) were based on proven and highly-effective emission control technologies that leading companies have been using for years. Many of these control technologies also directly benefit a company’s bottom line by reducing avoidable waste of natural gas from vents and leaks – saving money while protecting our climate and air.

Regrettably, some industry associations have consistently attacked these common-sense standards. In response to industry petitions seeking to weaken vital clean air requirements for storage tanks, EPA proposed to revise these standards in April 2013. Among other things, the proposed revisions would have created a broad exemption for approximately 20,000 facilities built between August 2011 and April 2013. EDF and five other environmental organizations joined together to file extensive comments strongly opposing these proposed rollbacks, and highlighting the benefits of rigorous national emission standards. Our comments objected that the proposed exemption would lead to massive increases in emissions of harmful pollutants – over 3 million tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and 700,000 tons of methane over the lifetime of these storage tanks.

Fortunately, these and other comments prompted EPA to retract this broad exemption in its final rule issued in August 2013. EPA instead maintained its requirement that operators of all high-emitting storage tanks built since August 2011 reduce emissions by 95 percent. EPA noted that the supply of emission controls for storage tanks was adequate, and concluded that the broad exemptions sought by industry were not justified.

Industry responded to this development by taking EPA to court. On November 22, five industry groups – the American Petroleum Institute (API), Texas Oil and Gas Association, Independent Petroleum Association of America, Western Energy Alliance and Gas Processors Association – filed suit in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. challenging EPA’s emission standards.

Just before the holidays, Earthjustice and EDF filed a motion to intervene in that suit. Along with several other environmental organizations, we are vigorously seeking to defend EPA’s action and safeguard these national emission standards.

While some industry players attempt to obstruct critical clean air progress, others are supporting common sense air pollution control measures. Last month, Colorado proposed new air regulations for oil and gas operations that, if adopted, will help dramatically reduce harmful air and climate pollution caused by oil and gas operations. The state of Colorado, EDF and three energy companies—Anadarko Petroleum, Encana Corporation and Noble Energy — worked together on these measures that could result in cleaner, safer air for all Coloradoans.

In places like Colorado, diverse interests are putting aside their differences and finding clean air solutions. It’s time for API and other oil and gas associations to do the same – and invest in clean air solutions for our nation, not litigation.

Posted in EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments closed
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