Selected category: Energy

Carbon Pollution Standards that Begin by 2020: Vital for Climate Security, Human Health

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hard at work right now on the Clean Power Plan – the first ever national carbon pollution standards for power plants.

Among the many important aspects of this historic plan, we believe this: It is critical that EPA finalize carbon pollution standards for the power sector that include protective, well-designed standards beginning in 2020. 

Power plants account for almost 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, making them the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the nation and one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the world.

The Clean Power Plan will be finalized this summer. When fully implemented, it is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector to 30 percent below 2005 levels. That makes these eminently achievable and cost-effective standards integral to climate security, human health and prosperity.

The Clean Power Plan will phase in over a 15-year period, with interim standards commencing in 2020, and final standards taking effect in 2030 – and there is strong reason to believe that the interim standards covering the period 2020 to 2029 should be strengthened in the final rule.

Interim standards can help the U.S. secure near-term low-cost opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while generating the market signals necessary to achieve the deeper reductions required in the years ahead. They also can deliver important public health benefits for our families by providing healthier and longer lives for millions of Americans. And EPA has designed the interim standards in a manner that provides considerable flexibility to states and power companies to comply while deploying their own unique solutions.

Carbon Pollution Limits that Begin by 2020 are Essential for Driving Near-term Actions to Reduce Dangerous Emissions and to Advance Climate Security

As proposed, the Clean Power Plan’s interim standards could deliver cumulative emissions reductions of more than 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That approaches the total annual carbon dioxide emissions for the entire United States. Protective interim standards that require states and power companies to take near-term action to reduce carbon pollution are essential to secure these climate benefits.

Interim standards are essential for mobilizing the full range of near-term cost-effective opportunities to cut pollution, as they are the only way to ensure that investments in activities that reduce carbon pollution are fully recognized and properly rewarded. This is true whether the investments are new renewable generation, customer-friendly demand side energy efficiency programs, or other low-carbon solutions.

As the cost of clean energy decreases and the heavy burden of carbon pollution increases, a near-term limit on carbon emissions helps ensure these vital solutions are deployed without delay.

Interim standards can also help drive sustained investments in one especially important area – energy efficiency. Investments in energy efficiency can lead to direct financial benefits for customers – families and businesses alike – in the form of lower electric bills.

23 states are already implementing mandatory efficiency savings targets. These efforts have been overwhelmingly successful, regularly delivering two dollars of savings to customers for every one dollar invested – and in some cases up to five dollars for every one dollar invested.

Even in those states that have been implementing these programs for a while, there is little reason to believe that they have come anywhere close to exhausting the available potential. For example, analysis by McKinsey & Company found that implementing only those efficiency measures that pay for themselves would reduce the country’s total end-use energy consumption by 23 percent by 2020 relative to a business-as-usual scenario.

Analysis by the National Academy of Sciences found that the building sector could reduce energy consumption by 25 to 30 percent between 2030 and 2035, at a cost of just 2.7 cents per kilowatt hour saved. In addition, they found that cost-effective measures could reduce industrial demand 14 to 22 percent by 2020.

For all these reasons, electricity bills are actually expected to decrease as a result of efficiency investments power companies and states make to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

Near-Term Reductions are Essential to Ensure Healthier, Longer Lives for Millions of Americans

The interim emission standards are expected to drive significant near-term public health benefits across America.

In 2020 the proposed standards are expected to prevent:

  • Up to 4,300 premature deaths
  • Up to 100,000 asthma attacks in children
  • Up to 2,100 heart attacks
  • Up to 1,500 hospital admissions
  • Up to 290,000 missed school and work days

Even greater benefits are anticipated in later years.

That’s because power plants are major sources of emissions for a range of pollutants that contribute to ground-level ozone, better known as smog, and dangerous particulate pollution, better known as soot. Power plants are also a major source of emissions for pollutants that have neurotoxic or carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects.

Power plants account for about 70 percent of U.S. total sulfur dioxide emissions and 46 percent of mercury emissions, and are important sources of nitrogen oxides. Steps taken to reduce carbon pollution under the Clean Power Plan will have the co-benefit of reducing emissions of these and other harmful air pollutants.

EPA estimates that these human health benefits outweigh the costs of compliance by a factor of seven to one.

Each year they are in effect, these important safeguards provide healthier and longer lives for Americans.

Protective Interim Standards are Flexible and Achievable

The goals of the Clean Power Plan are eminently achievable, as they are based on proven and cost-effective methods for reducing carbon pollution that many states and power companies are already demonstrating.

In addition, the Clean Power Plan provides an extraordinarily flexible structure in which states are able to craft their own path forward for reducing carbon pollution, so long as they meet the 10-year average interim target over the period 2020-2029 and then achieve the final reduction target in 2030. This flexibility provides states with the opportunity to harness their own unique opportunities and solutions in light of their own policy preferences.

When evaluating the feasibility of the standards, it is important to consider how quickly the nation’s grid is already decarbonizing. Emissions of carbon pollution from the power sector fell 15 percent from 2005 to 2014. As proposed, the Clean Power Plan only requires them to fall another 15 percent by 2030. Analysis by EIA suggests that the U.S. could cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector about four times faster.

Here’s more evidence that the grid is decarbonizing at a considerably faster rate than what is required by EPA – in the five year period from 2007 to 2012, the Northeastern states reduced their carbon dioxide emissions from large power plants by 37 percent to 42 percent below 2005 levels. The reductions were due to a wide range of factors, including the adoption of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, shifting natural gas prices, and efficiency investments. That demonstrates the dynamic flexibility and adaptability of which the grid is capable.

This is all happening in the context of a continuously evolving and decarbonizing electric system. Since 2000, the U.S. has installed roughly 30 gigawatts of new generation capacity per year, the vast majority of which was natural gas and renewables. According to EIA, more than 20 gigawatts of utility scale renewables, natural gas, and nuclear generation are already scheduled to come online in 2015, almost half of which is wind.

Meanwhile, we continue to build new infrastructure – which can help unlock even greater opportunities.

For example, according to the Department of Energy, during the last several years more than 2,300 circuit miles of new transmission additions were constructed annually. According to FERC, there are almost 10,000 miles of proposed new transmission projects in various stages of development that have a “high probability of completion” by January 2017.

Protective interim standards will align our nation’s major investments in new infrastructure with climate security – providing lasting protections and smart investments.

Interim Standards Can Help Promote Investments that Drive Even Deeper Reductions in the Years Ahead 

The cost of zero carbon generation is rapidly falling. Wind and solar are cheaper than coal – and even natural gas in a growing number of markets.

Renewable prices are expected to continue their meteoric decline. The price for photovoltaic modules has fallen 80 percent since 2007, and wind prices have fallen 64 percent since 2009.

As a result, the solar industry is expecting to build another 20 gigawatts of new generation over the next two years alone. That’s roughly equivalent to the generation of 13 mid-sized coal plants. (The average capacity factor for new utility scale solar array is around 20 percent, while the average monthly capacity factor for the coal fleet was 61 percent in 2014.)

While EPA’s building blocks assume only modest growth in renewable generation over the next 15 years, recent shifts in price dynamics suggest that the actual market opportunity could be considerable. For this opportunity to materialize, however, power companies and investors need a clear signal about the value of reducing carbon pollution from the power sector.

Providing the clear investment signal beginning in 2020 can shape the broader range of infrastructure investments expected in the coming years, and ensure that they are consistent with the low carbon future we will need if we are to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

That broader range of infrastructure investments includes the vast miles of electric transmission and natural gas pipelines that are expected to be built in the coming years, as well as investment decisions in today’s generation fleet. More than 30 percent of coal plants are 50 years old, and approximately one in four plants do not contain controls for sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides.

In total, utilities appear poised to invest up to $2 trillion in new generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure between 2010 and 2030 in order to modernize aging generating facilities and grid systems. Any delay in establishing carbon pollution standards for the power sector increases the uncertainty and increases the risk that investments could become stranded in the future.

All of this suggests that well-designed interim standards are both achievable and essential. If anything, the standards should be strengthened given the urgency of the climate challenge, the scale of change we have seen in the power sector to date, and the significant public health and economic benefits the standards can provide.

We have an opportunity as a nation to take advantage of the fact that the economics of power generation are rapidly changing. The best way for both companies and states to position themselves for a competitive advantage in the future is to think long-term and to get on the leading edge of these emerging trends. Otherwise, there is a risk of reinvesting in assets that will be left behind by a changing market, leaving shareholders and ratepayers on the hook.

The Clean Power Plan presents a real opportunity. Let’s all work together to strengthen the program, and work to deliver a vibrant low-carbon economy for the United States.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health| Read 1 Response

Ozone Pollution in the West: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Source: Wikipedia

By Jon Goldstein, Senior Policy Manager, US Climate and Energy Program

Long familiar in major urban areas, smog – what we experts call “ground-level ozone” pollution – is quickly becoming a serious problem in the rural mountain west, thanks to rapid expansion in oil and gas development. Smog serious health impacts like aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, and even premature death. In areas like the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming, smog levels have sometimes rivaled those in Los Angeles.

Now, the Environmental Protection Agency and several western states are putting the pieces in place to fix this problem: EPA through proposed revisions to  the health-based ozone standard that will better protect people from pollution, and states like Wyoming and Colorado through strong policies that are helping to reduce the sources of ozone pollution in the oil and gas industry.

In official public comments filed this week with EPA, EDF and a broad coalition of western environmental and conservation groups supported a more protective ozone standard and pointed out the importance of this issue to the intermountain west–where most of the country’s oil and gas production from federal lands occurs.

Ozone is a story with important public health consequences that calls to mind the old Western, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” though perhaps in a slightly different order.

The Bad:

Ozone is a harmful air pollutant, and bad news from a health perspective. Countless studies (including those in the mountain west) have shown that elevated levels of ozone pollution can cause painful breathing, lung inflammation, and are associated with increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits. EPA’s independent expert science panel, on the basis of the latest scientific evidence, unanimously recommended a stronger federal ozone limit to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety, as the law requires.

Strong ozone standards are just as necessary today in intermountain west – where many residents are living amidst large-scale oil and gas developments – as in urban settings. That’s why our comments urge EPA to revise the existing federal ozone pollution standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to a more protective 60 ppb.

The Ugly:

As drilling has rapidly increased in areas like Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin, Utah’s Uinta Basin, the San Juan Basin in New Mexico and in suburban areas of Denver, Colorado so too have harmful ozone levels. In all, as many as thirty-three counties currently in attainment across the Intermountain West have experienced ozone levels above the range recommended by EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. Of these 33 counties, 17 (52%) are home to oil and gas development.6 Specifically:

  • Wyoming: Fremont, Laramie, Teton, Uinta, Campbell, Carbon counties;
  • Colorado: El Paso, La Plata, Montezuma, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties;
  • Utah: Weber, Utah, Tooele, Washington, Box Elder, Carbon, San Juan, Salt Lake, Davis, Duchesne, and Cache counties;
  • New Mexico: Dona Ana, Bernalillo, Eddy, San Juan, Valencia, Luna, Lea, Santa Fe, Grant, and Sandoval counties.

To be clear, the latest available science and EPA’s independent scientific advisors along with the nation’s leading public health and medical societies all suggest a stronger standard is needed to protect public health; this is not a problem of EPA’s making. Citizens in these counties already face exposure to potentially unhealthy levels of ozone pollution.  The only thing that’s changing is that EPA is acting, consistent with its responsibilities under the nation’s clean air laws, to strengthen those standards so they reflect latest scientific information and can provide people with transparent information about air quality in their communities.

Without additional commonsense air quality measures, growing oil and gas development expected in the mountain west could only compound this problem. In Wyoming, for instance, there are plans for as many as 34,246 new oil and gas wells across the state, some in locations that impact existing ozone nonattainment areas, and some that may cause future compliance concerns.

The Good:

Fortunately, it’s not too late to fix the problem. Several states have already enacted or are finalizing emissions reduction requirements on pollution from the oil and gas industry that will bring about substantial reductions in emissions and help to reduce ozone pollution:

  • Colorado’s nationally-leading rules that substantially reduce emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas production.
  • Wyoming’s recently instituted requirements to reduce pollution from new and modified oil and gas sources in the Upper Green River Basin through regular, mandatory leak detection inspections. A statewide approach is needed to better target new problem areas, but the state deserves praise for a proposal to extend these strong requirements to existing pollution sources in the basin as well.
  • Utah has made some positive steps, in particular, by requiring that devices known as pneumatic controllers used by the oil and gas industry be retrofitted with lower emitting models.

Coupled with recently announced plans for a federal methane rule from EPA and rule to minimize waste from the Bureau of Land Management, these state requirements will have positive impacts for air quality. Moreover, policies that keep methane – the main ingredient in natural gas – out of the air and in the pipeline benefit not only the environment, but also the industry (through additional gas sales) as well as the beneficiaries of the royalties paid on a resource that’s no longer being wasted.

Better standards are needed to protect us all from ozone pollution, but luckily, sensible controls on the major sources of this pollution in the western US are there for the taking. As states in the region and federal regulators continue to lead toward better pollution reduction rules, this can be one Western with a happy ending.

This post originally appeared on our Energy Exchange blog.

Also posted in Health, News, Policy| Comments are closed

A Little-Known Federal Rule Brings Invisible Pollution Into Focus

Cropped rig houseLegal fellow Jess Portmess also contributed to this post.

Unlike an oil spill, most greenhouse gas emissions are invisible to the naked eye. Though we can’t see them, this pollution represents a daily threat to our environment and communities, and it is important to understand the extent of this pollution and where it comes from.

This is why in 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule requiring facilities in the oil and gas industry to report yearly emissions from their operations.

The Rule is part of a larger greenhouse gas measurement, reporting, and disclosure program called for by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. By coincidence, the rule is known as Subpart W.

The emissions data required by the Rule helps communities near oil and natural gas development better understand pollution sources, and gives companies better ways to identify opportunities to reduce emissions.

As these policies have gotten stronger under the Obama administration, industry has continued to fight them in federal court. Read More »

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments are closed

Illinois Legislators Pledge Support for EPA’s Proposed Carbon Regulations

By Dick Munson, Director, Midwest Clean Energy, Environmental Defense Fund

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sorts through the more than 1.6 million comments received on its proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP), one group is stepping out to pledge its support of the landmark proposal. 53 Illinois legislators recently signed a letter urging the EPA to finalize the plan, which will set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants for the first time ever.

Power plants currently account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution and Illinois’s proposed target would result in a 33 percent reduction in the state’s carbon output by 2030. Fortunately, due to impressive state efforts to invest in clean energy over the past few years, Illinois is well-positioned to meet the challenge.

CPP is an economic opportunity

The Illinois legislators argue the CPP will help the state “achieve even greater cuts in our emissions, health benefits for all our citizens, and will spur further growth in our state’s economy.” The CPP will further the state’s transition to a clean energy economy by attracting investment in innovation, creating more jobs, and keeping electricity prices affordable.

Illinois is already home to nearly 100,000 clean energy jobs, and that number is expected to grow nine percent this year. To put that into perspective, the clean energy sector is roughly equal to the size of the state’s real estate and accounting industries combined.

Furthermore, the state’s energy efficiency standard, established in 2008, has already saved consumers nearly a billion dollars.

Illinois supports the EPA, clean energy

These members of the General Assembly said the EPA has both the clear authority as well as the responsibility to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Unlike some states that have reacted to the plan with the-sky-is-falling predictions, Illinois state leaders “pledge to work with both U.S. EPA and Illinois EPA to ensure we have a strong plan that works for Illinois to reduce carbon emissions.”

This kind of support is a clear choice for Illinoisans; clean energy is popular in the Land of Lincoln. Hart Research found a whopping majority of Illinois voters – 71 percent – support EPA enforcing new limits on carbon pollution. A separate poll by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3), and Public Opinion Strategies found remarkable support for investing in clean energy: 95 percent for energy efficiency, 88 percent for wind energy, and 80 percent for solar energy.

To thank the legislators for their leadership, a coalition of environmental groups produced a short video featuring Tony Award-winning director, Anna D. Shapiro:

EPA’s final rule is expected by June 2015, after which each state must develop an implementation plan to reduce carbon pollution and meet its target. EDF looks forward to continuing its work with legislators and regulators on the development of an effective plan that builds on Illinois’ already substantial clean energy progress.

This post originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog

Also posted in Clean Power Plan| Read 1 Response

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, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments are 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, Economics, Green Jobs, Jobs| Comments are closed
  • About this blog

    Expert to expert commentary on the science, law and economics of climate change.

  • Categories

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Meet The Bloggers

    Megan CeronskyMegan Ceronsky
    Attorney

    Nat KeohaneNat Keohane
    Vice President for International Climate

    Ilissa Ocko
    High Meadows Fellow, Office of Chief Scientist

    Peter Zalzal
    Staff Attorney

    Gernot Wagner
    Senior Economist

    Graham McCahan
    Attorney

    Mandy Warner
    Climate & Air Policy Specialist

    Pamela Campos
    Attorney

    Kritee
    High Meadows Scientist