Category Archives: Clean Air Act

5 reasons EPA is right about tougher smog standards

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Robert S. Donovan

The Environmental Protection Agency last week released much-awaited, tighter standards for smog pollution, common-sense protections that will save lives and safeguard human health from one of the nation’s most ubiquitous air pollutants – ozone.

As expected, it took but a few hours before critics lashed out, while ignoring key facts behind EPA’s proposal. Here are five reasons EPA is on the right track:

1. The current standard doesn’t do enough to protect human health

About half our population, some 156 million Americans, areat risk from smog, or ground-level ozone, because of age, health conditions, or the work that they do. They include more than 25 million people with asthma, 74 million children, 40 million senior citizens, and nearly 17 million outdoor workers.

Our current standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) doesn’t adequately protect human health.

EPA’s new proposal, issued under a court-ordered deadline, is a step in the right direction – even if it doesn’t, in our view, go far enough.

Consider this: The proposed 65 to 70 ppb limit would prevent between 320,000 and 960,000 asthma attacks in children and up to 1 million lost school days. It would also prevent up to 180,000 lost work days and an estimated 750 to 4,300 premature deaths.

2. Clean air is good for the economy

By law, the issue of cost cannot be factored in when setting a health-based standard. But even if costs were considered, the conclusion remains that clean air is good for the economy.

Since 1970, the benefits of the Clean Air Act have outweighed costs by 30 to 1, and a similar trend is expected to hold true also for the proposed smog standards.

In fact, in Texas, the state agency charged with protecting public health and natural resources, concluded that Houston’s gross domestic product increased as smog concentrations dropped.

3. EPA’s action is backed by science

The proposed standard, set to be finalized in October 2015, has been recommended repeatedly by EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, an independent panel of leading scientists, as well as by medical and public health professionals nationwide.

There’s overwhelming evidence showing that smog affects millions at the existing standard of 75 ppb.

In fact, EPA is also seeking comments on a health standard that would limit exposure to 60 ppb – a standard that would provide the strongest protections for Americans and be in line with what groups such as the American Lung Association recommend.

4. Smog pollution measures are nothing new

The United States has already taken steps over the past few years that help to cost-effectively reduce smog pollution and help restore healthy air.

Those protections include the Tier 3 tailpipe standards, supported by the U.S. auto industry, which will slash smog-forming pollution from new cars beginning in model year 2017. Meanwhile, EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan  will reduce smog-forming pollutants from power plant smokestacks nationwide.

These standards will work in tandem to cut pollution and spur new innovation. America has shown time and time again that we can innovate and come up with solutions for industry that make new regulations affordable.

5. It’s time we catch up with other developed nations

Once a leader in environmental protection, the U.S. now lags behind other developed and developing nations in the protectiveness of air quality standards for smog.

Numerous industrialized countries have adopted ozone standards that are far more protective than the current standard in the U.S. The European Union’s limit today is 60 ppb and Canada’s is 63 ppb, for example.

Some of these countries are doing as well, or better, economically than the U.S.

For this and all other reasons mentioned here, EPA’s new smog standards will help us breathe easier.

Also posted in Health, Policy| Comments closed

Carbon markets reward 10 pioneering states. Who's next?

Source: Flickr/Nick Humphries

A handful of states are already proving that economic growth and environmental protection can go hand in hand – and they’re using market forces, price signals and economic incentives to meet their goals.

These results are particularly salient as states consider how to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit dangerous pollution from power plants.

So let's take a closer look at what's happening on our two coasts.


California: 4% cut in emissions, 2% growth

California’s landmark cap-and-trade program is closing out its second year with some strong results. Between 2012 and 2013, greenhouse gas emissions from the 350+ facilities covered by the program dropped by 4 percent, putting California solidly on track to meet its goal to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

During the same period, the state’s gross domestic product jumped 2 percent.

What’s more, the climate change and clean energy policies ushered in by California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 helped slash carbon pollution from in-state and imported electricity by 16 percent between 2005 and 2012.

All this while attracting more clean-tech venture capital to California than to all other states combined.

Northeast: GDP rises as emissions and power prices drop

Those who would rather turn east for inspiration can look to the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade system stretching from Maryland to Maine.

Since the RGGI program launched in 2009, participating states have cut their greenhouse gas emissions 2.7 times more than non-RGGI states, while growing their gross domestic product 2.5 times more than non-RGGI states.

The states have experienced these dramatic win-win benefitswhile also seeing retail electricity prices across the region decline by an average of 8 percent.

With 70 percent of Americans supporting EPA’s Clean Power Plan – and given that everyone warms up to the notion of a sound economy – can these carbon markets be replicated elsewhere?

States choose their own path

EPA’s rules aim to cut power plant pollution by 30 percent by 2030, giving states individual reduction targets along withgreat flexibility to meet that national goal.

Hitting the sweet spot of supporting economic growth and environmental protection will be a primary objective, and the options are virtually endless. Energy efficiency, renewable energy, power plant efficiency and cap-and-trade are all good bets.

Expanded markets offer new options

Not surprisingly, EPA mentioned RGGI numerous times in its proposed power plant standards as an efficient way to cut carbon pollution. Since then, experts have suggested that regional markets, or even a single national market in which all 50 states participate, may be a way to make the plan affordable.

States still have some time to ponder their options.

EPA is expected to finalize the rule in summer 2015, and states have another year after that to submit plans to EPA detailing how they intend to meet their targets. Those entering into multistate agreements have three years.

The good news is that they wouldn’t be starting from scratch. The experiences of California and the RGGI states can provide useful, real-world insights as states plot their path toward a clean energy future.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments closed

Why these leading companies welcome EPA's carbon pollution rules

Copyright: istockphoto.com

Who’s for carbon emission rules? For starters, some of America's largest companies and most innovative industry leaders, who are moving aggressively to wean themselves off fossil fuel-fired power through energy efficiency and conservation.

So far, more than 120 corporations have come out in favor of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants, including some of our most well-known brands.

It’s not hard to understand why.

Regulatory certainty and a growing market for increasingly competitive renewable energy will help these companies manage risk, meet changing customer expectations and achieve corporate sustainability goals.

Added bonus: They earn recognition for being on the cutting edge of the clean energy economy.

"Just what we need"

The California headquarters of The North Face is 100 percent powered by solar and wind, and it feeds excess electricity into the grid. Other buildings owned by the outdoor products company have similar ambitions.

"EPA’s plan will help spur additional investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency and that’s just what we need,” says James Rogers, North Face’s sustainability manager.

JLL, a commercial real estate giant that has made energy-efficiency a key part of its portfolio, agrees. Since 2007, the company has helped clients reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 12 million metric tons and energy costs by $2.5 billion.

“I’d like to think that more efficiently managing our electricity and power facilities is truly a ‘no brainer,’” writes JLL’s chairman of energy and sustainability services, Dan Probst, who has also spoken publicly in favor of EPA’s plan. “It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our impact on the planet, reduce costs for both power companies and consumers, and help drive the economy.”

And in September, IKEA’s chief executive and group president, Peter Agnefjäll, and Steve Howard, the home furnishing company's chief sustainability officer, marched with 400,000 others in the People’s Climate March in New York City to call for stronger policies on global warming.

“We need strong policy leadership in order for us and others to accelerate innovation,” Agnefjäll noted.

Climate change bad for business

But business leaders at the forefront of the clean energy movement are also driven by concern that unabated climate change will hurt the long-term viability of their businesses.

For example, Starbucks’ sustainability manager Jim Hanna has been warning for several years that soil changes and increased threats from pest infestations are altering the way coffee can be grown. Global warming already poses "a direct business threat to our company," he has said.

And today, the private sector is becoming increasingly concerned that water scarcity may hamper business growth in coming years.

Resources for businesses

Here at Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that the Clean Power Plan is an opportunity for any business that wants to get ahead of the game.

Building on our long track record of partnerships with the private sector, we’ll be working with businesses to help them make their voices heard as the Clean Power Plan takes shape – and to prepare them for a new reality.

Interested in learning more? We're hosting a webinar on November 19 to get the conversation started and look forward to the collaboration.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, Green Jobs, Jobs| Comments closed

History 101: Pollution rules good for economy and pocketbooks

Source: Flickr/Ervins Strauhmanis

This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices

So our political landscape is morphing yet again, and the future looks uncertain. But there are some things we know will happen over and over, like rituals.

We know that next time it snows, someone will make a tired joke about how global warming must be over. And next time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveils another plan to reduce air pollution and protect public health, opponents will claim it’ll cost a fortune and ruin our economy.

I'm sure they're now trying to sell a recent study claiming that EPA’s plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will hit consumers, when the best available data points to the complete opposite.

History shows that opponents of environmental regulations consistently miss the mark on costs.

Economic benefits of clean air offsets costs, by far

The benefits of the Clean Air Act and its amendments, which have been around since 1970 and 1990, have outweighed costs 30 to 1.

In fact, EPA estimates that in 2020, the Clean Air Act amendments will prevent 230,000 early deaths. The monetized benefits are expected to approach $2 trillion by 2020.

And still, when the amendments were first enacted, opponents claimed they would be financially ruinous. They said the same thing about efforts to limit acid rain pollution.

When in reality, we achieved the Acid Rain Program reductions in less time, and for less money, than anyone expected.

As states implement the Clean Power Plan, look for environmental regulations to prove themselves cost-effective once again. Early benefit-cost analyses of the plan show net benefits (benefits minus costs) of almost $70 billion annually by 2030.

Smart energy choices pay off

There’s also plenty of evidence that EPA is not the reason for the coal industry’s decline, or for the economic struggle in coal-producing states. The real story is that coal is losing to cheaper natural gas in the marketplace.

Clean energy sources and energy conservation are also emerging forces in what used to be coal’s monopoly market – and they’re providing benefits for both our wallets and our lungs. Between 2008 and 2013, savings from utilities' energy efficiency programs rose 116 percent, and power from renewables more than doubled.

But the best argument against the “sky-is-falling” frenzy is to look at the alternative.

Right now, the United States has no national limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

Climate change is expensive

Carbon pollution is the main underlying cause of climate change, and power plants are America’s single biggest source of carbon pollution. Climate change is already costing us, and will cost a lot more in the future.

The latest IPCC report lists some of the many ways that climate change puts humanity at risk – through heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea-level rise, storm surges and threatened food supplies.

The National Climate Assessment says “climate change threatens human health and well-being.” The Pentagon, meanwhile, calls climate change a “threat multiplier” that will affect national security.

Continuing to allow unlimited carbon pollution is the expensive and irresponsible option.

Time to act

The Clean Power Plan will set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It will protect public health and the environment, and help us avoid the worst damage from climate change – and it will do so without costing anywhere near what opponents are claiming it will.

In fact, EPA estimates that by 2030, when the Clean Power Plan is fully implemented, electricity bills will be about 8 percent lower than they would have been otherwise. That would save Americans about $8 on an average monthly residential electricity bill.

So we can afford the Clean Power Plan. In fact, we can’t afford a future without it.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments closed

Flexible Pollution Rules can Boost the Economy: 5 Reasons Why

By Diane Munns, Senior Director, Clean Energy Collaboration

economy_378x235

Source: Flickr/Brookhaven National Lab

Nobody likes being told what to do.

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

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

Here’s how.

1. Flexibility will foster creativity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. A changing energy landscape will bring new business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments closed

A New Step in the Fight to Reduce Toxic Mercury Pollution from Power Plants

(This post was written by EDF Senior Attorneys Graham McCahan and Tomas Carbonell)

Today, EDF and its allies joined the latest fight to protect the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

We filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to deny the petitions that are seeking review of a lower court decision upholding the standards.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will require crucial and long-overdue emission reductions of toxic pollutants including mercury, arsenic, and acid gases from the single largest source of toxic air pollution in the U.S.— coal-fired power plants.

Starting in April 2015, when they go into effect, these standards will prevent thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks, and asthma attacks every year.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were upheld by a panel of judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2014 against a variety of legal challenges.

Fortunately, most power plants in the U.S. are already on track to comply with these life-saving standards.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that by the end of 2012 — or more than two years ahead of the April 2015 compliance deadline:

64.3% of the U.S. coal generating capacity in the electric power sector already had the appropriate environmental control equipment to comply with the MATS.

Unfortunately, some power companies and their industry partners continue to file legal attacks against the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Our opponents are continuing their legal attacks in spite of the D.C. Circuit’s detailed opinion strongly upholding EPA’s authority to issue the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and affirming the EPA’s well-reasoned determinations on key technical issues.

Industry interests and states have filed petitions asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the D.C. Circuit’s decision.  Their petitions primarily emphasize the alleged costs of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — even though some of the same power companies have recognized that the standards include flexibilities that have helped them slash their compliance costs.

For instance, Southern Company CFO and Executive Vice President Arthur P. Beattie stated in 2012 that the amount the company projects for MATS compliance costs would be far lower than previously predicted:

[B]ecause of the new flexibility that [the company has] found in the final rules of the MATS regulation." (Arthur P. Beatty, CFO and Executive Vice President of Southern Company,  Deutsche Bank Clean Tech, Utilities and Power Conference, May 15, 2012)

In fact, as the D.C. Circuit recognized in its decision, EPA’s cost-benefit analysis found that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards would yield as much as $90 billion in annual health benefits once implemented — approximately nine times the anticipated cost of the rule.

The good news is that many people and organizations— including public health, equal justice, and environmental groups, plus a number of states and cities — are standing together to safeguard these protections for our communities and families.

Those groups include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Clean Air Council, Conservation Law Foundation, Environment America, Izaak Walton League of America, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Natural Resources Council of Maine, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ohio Environmental Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance – along with EDF, of course.

That’s why today we joined together to file a brief with the Supreme Court asking the Justices not to reconsider the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision upholding these life-saving clean air protections.

Also posted in EPA litgation, Health, Policy| Comments closed
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