Category Archives: Economics

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 Air Act, Clean Power Plan, 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 Air Act, Clean Power Plan, 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 Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments closed

The Clean Power Plan and the Deployment of Renewable Energy

(This post originally appeared on Resources for the Future's Expert Forum on EPA's Clean Power Plan, on October 2, 2014)

The proposed Clean Power Plan identifies the “best system of emission reduction” to address carbon pollution from power plants as comprised of four building blocks: (1) efficiency improvements at coal-fired power plants; (2) shifts in utilization away from higher-emitting fossil plants towards lower-emitting fossil plants; (3) deployment of zero-carbon generation sources such as wind and solar; and (4) harvesting demand-side energy efficiency improvement opportunities.

This system best satisfies the statutory command of the Clean Air Act, which directs EPA to identify the system that maximizes emissions reductions, considering cost and impacts on energy and other health and environmental outcomes.

This system also reflects what is happening across the country (and indeed, around the world) to reduce carbon pollution—states and companies are using the interconnected electric system as a whole to cut carbon pollution, deploying zero- and low-emitting generation and reducing reliance on high-emitting generation, and doing so flexibly to ensure that reliability is maintained and emissions reductions are achieved cost-effectively.Fifteen states wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as the Clean Power Plan was being developed to describe the success they have had in deploying this system, cutting carbon pollution from power plants by 20 percent between 2005 and 2011, with some states achieving reductions of over 40 percent during that period.

Renewable energy is our future.

More than 60,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity have been installed in 39 states and an additional 12,000 megawatts are under construction. Wind power capacity in the United States has increased nine times over since 2005, supporting over 80,000 jobs and driving a new manufacturing sector with over 550 facilities across the country. Solar generating capacity is also rising rapidly—increasing by 418 percent between 2010 and 2014. PG&E has connected more than 100,000 customers with solar panels to the grid, saving the average residential customer with solar panels $130 a month. Costs of renewable generation have been falling rapidly, and power companies such as Xcel, DTE, MidAmerican, Georgia Power, and Austin Energy have announced renewable energy purchases that are outcompeting fossil-fueled alternatives and that will lower customer bills by saving fuel costs.

The Clean Power Plan’s assessment of the potential for renewable energy to reduce carbon pollution bases state targets on an average of existing renewable energy policies in different regions of the country. By taking this approach—effectively looking backward—the proposal fails to reflect the dynamism in renewable energy deployment that is happening across America, and fails to satisfy Section 111’s technology-forcing framework.

The proposed alternative approach, which would consider the technical and economic potential to harvest renewable energy in each state, has the potential to better reflect the country’s vast renewable energy resources. The analysis underlying the alternative approach needs to be updated to reflect current technologies (such as taller wind turbines and distributed generation) and current costs (which are falling rapidly).

An up-to-date analysis of the technical and economic potential for renewable energy to cut carbon pollution will provide a strong legal and technical foundation for the Clean Power Plan, and help facilitate our transition to the clean energy–fueled economy of the future.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy| Comments closed

5 Undeniable Truths about the Clean Power Plan

Do you get a sense of déjà vu when you hear the fossil fuel industry arguments against the Environmental Protection Agency’s new climate change plan? You’re not imagining things – we’ve heard these many, many times before.

The EPA recently held public hearings around the country to solicit comments on its new proposal to put reasonable, nationwide limits on climate pollution from power plants.

The plan is moderate, flexible, and paves the way for considerable economic gains, but the substance hardly mattered for some die-hard opponents: The fossil fuel industry allies trotted out the same talking points about the supposed costs of action and American indifference to clean air policies that they always do.

Tellingly, industry lobbyists and their friends in Congress couldn’t even be bothered to wait and see what the rule said before blasting it with wildly inaccurate claims about the cost of implementation.

Fossil fuel industry allies have clung to these false arguments for decades, so it’s little wonder misinformation continues to swirl around these rules and the clean energy debate at large.

Here are the real facts about five issues opponents raised about the Clean Power Plan:

1. Renewable energy is taking hold.

Opponents of clean air regulations are keen to convince the public that affordable, renewable energy is a pipe dream. But the truth is renewable energy has never been more efficient, it’s never been less expensive, and it’s taking root all over the country.

Take a look at solar power: According to the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association, the cost of solar power plummeted 60 percent between the first quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2013. The long-term picture is just as impressive: In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost about 1 percent of what they did 35 years earlier.

And solar isn’t the only renewable that’s catching on. Wind energy accounted for one-third of new power capacity over the last five years, an amount that could double in the years to come.

Texas, the nation’s top wind producing state, saw wind energy generation grow a whopping 13 percent in 2013. Last year, 60 percent of wind projects in the entire United States were in Texas.

2. Americans support limits on greenhouse gas emissions. 

Industry lobbyists often suggest that Americans cringe at any and all attempts to curb the pollution that causes global warming, but that argument is flat-out false. Recent polling shows that's clearly not the case.

A recent study by Yale found that 64 percent of Americanssupport strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing power plants.

3. The power plant rules will be efficient and affordable. 

As I wrote earlier, the fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress were eager to say the proposed rules will cost vast sums of money that will trickle down to consumers and destroy jobs in the process. The Washington Post Fact-Checker thoroughly debunked those claims, and it is not the first time industry has been caught red-handed.

Time and again, the cost of implementing any rules related to the Clean Air Act are five to 10 times less than the industry initially estimates they will be.

4. Power companies already have tools to implement pollution limits.

The Clean Power Plan is part of President Obama’s broader plan to reduce nationwide carbon dioxide emissions. He has set as a goal to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020 nationwide, using 2005 as the baseline. Industry opponents claim the emission reduction goal is unrealistic, but there's evidence to the contrary.

Xcel Energy, one of the country’s largest electricity and natural gas providers, has already reduced emissions 20 percent since 2005. The company is on pace to decrease emissions by 31 percent in 2020.

5. States can handle implementation better than you may think. 

Yet another common complaint from industry is these meaningful clean air regulations are too big and unwieldy for states to implement. Don’t tell that to California, which last year implemented a world-class climate law that has led to substantive greenhouse gas reductions and economic growth.

And the nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiativeare already reaching stellar results.

Industry allies are actually half-right about one thing, though: The Clean Power Plan is indeed a huge deal. It may very well serve as a turning point for the United States and the world in our effort to reduce greenhouse gasses, while pointing the economy toward revitalization through clean energy.

The sooner opponents stop circulating myths to the contrary, the sooner everyone can reap those benefits.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

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

"Risky Business" stands out in growing sea of climate reports

Receding beach on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Source: FEMA/Tim Burkitt

(This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices)

This blog post was co-authored by Jonathan Camuzeaux.

Put Republican Hank Paulson, Independent Mike Bloomberg, and Democrat Tom Steyer together, and out comes one of the more unusual – and unusually impactful – climate reports.

This year alone has seen a couple of IPCC tomes, an entry by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment.

The latest, Risky Business, stands apart for a number of reasons, and it’s timely with the nation debating proposed, first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from nearly 500 power plants.

Tri-partisan coalition tackles climate change

The report is significant, first, because we have a tri-partisan group spanning George W. Bush’s treasury secretary Paulson, former mayor of New York Bloomberg, and environmentalist investor Steyer – all joining forces to get a message through.

That list of names alone should make one sit up and listen.

Last time a similar coalition came together was in the dog days of 2009, when Senators Lindsay Graham, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry were drafting the to-date last viable (and ultimately unsuccessful) Senate climate bill.

Global warming is hitting home

Next, Risky Business is important because it shows how climate change is hitting home. No real surprise there for anyone paying attention to globally rising temperatures, but the full report goes into much more granular details than most, focusing on impacts at county, state and regional levels.

Risky Business employs the latest econometric techniques to come up with numbers that should surprise even the most hardened climate hawks and wake up those still untouched by reality. Crop yield losses, for example, could go as high as 50 to 70 percent (!) in some Midwestern and Southern states, absent agricultural adaptation.

The report is also replete with references to heat strokes, sky-rocketing electricity demand for air conditioning, and major losses from damages to properties up and down our ever-receding coast lines.

Not precisely uplifting material, yet this report does a better job than most in laying it all out.

Financial markets can teach us a climate lesson

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Risky Business gets the framing exactly right: Climate change is replete with deep-seated risks and uncertainties.

In spite of all that we know about the science, there’s lots more that we don’t. And none of that means that climate change isn’t bad. As the report makes clear, what we don’t know could potentially be much worse.

Climate change, in the end, is all about risk management.

Few are better equipped to face up to that reality than the trio spearheading the effort; Paulson, Bloomberg and Steyer have made their careers (and fortunes) in the financial sector. In fact, as United States Treasury secretary between 2006 and 2009, Paulson was perhaps closest of anyone to the latest, global example of what happens when risks get ignored.

We cannot – must not – ignore risk when it comes to something as global as global warming. After all, for climate, much like for financial markets, it’s not over ‘til the fat tail zings.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Cars and Pollution, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, News, Policy| Comments closed
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