Selected category: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

2016 Wrap-Up: States, Power Companies Lead in Cutting Carbon; Election Not Slowing Expected 2017 Progress

(This post was co-authored by EDF Associate Charlie Jiang. It was revised on January 6, 2017)

The new Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island -- one of many examples of clean energy progress in 2016. Photo courtesy Deepwater Wind

The new Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island — one of many examples of clean energy progress in 2016. Photo courtesy Deepwater Wind

2016 was a big year for progress in the U.S. power sector. Renewable energy sources provided 16.9 percent of the country’s electricity in the first half of 2016, up from 13.7 percent for all of 2015. The country’s first offshore wind farm opened off the coast of Rhode Island. Most importantly, carbon emissions from the power sector are projected to continue to decline and hit levels not seen since 1992.

Strong leadership by forward-thinking governors, policymakers, and power company executives who recognize the imperative of lower-carbon generation and the promise of clean energy, powerful market forces intensifying the push to lower-carbon resources, and the critical federal regulatory overlay of the Clean Power Plan — which has made clear that unlimited carbon pollution is a thing of the past — have all combined to deepen a trend towards cleaner electricity production at this dynamic moment in time.

Even with any possible political maneuverings in Washington, D.C. to reverse clean energy and climate progress, it is clear that the transition to a low-carbon future is well under way.

States and power companies are surging ahead — and given the favorable economics of clean energy and the urgent need to reduce climate-destabilizing pollution it would be foolish to turn back.

  • More than 21 gigawatts of wind and solar power (utility-scale and rooftop) are projected to have been installed in 2016, accounting for 68 percent of new U.S. capacity additions. That’s according to analyses by FERCSNL EnergyEIA, and SEIA/GTM Research.
  • Some of the country’s oldest and least efficient power plants were scheduled to close in 2016, transitioning 5.3 gigawatts of capacity, in no small part due to increasingly favorable economics for low-carbon generation.
  • Since 2014, solar installation has created more jobs than oil and gas pipeline construction and crude petroleum and natural gas extraction combined. According to recent reports, there are now more than 400,000 jobs in renewable energy.

Together, these trends indicate the U.S. power sector is well-positioned to continue to reduce carbon pollution at a significant pace. And because of the favorable economics for low-carbon generation and the urgent need to protect against climate risks, hundreds of major corporations are on record supporting the Clean Power Plan and the achievement of emission reduction targets.

Power sector carbon emissions declined to 21 percent below 2005 levels in 2015, and are expected to drop again in 2016, meaning the power sector is already two-thirds of the way towards meeting its 2030 pollution reduction goals under the Clean Power Plan.

Notably, this de-carbonization of the electric sector has proceeded while the U.S economy has grown. In addition, recent analysis by the Brookings Institution shows that as of 2014, at least 33 individual states have also decoupled their economic growth from carbon pollution — continuing to grow their gross domestic product while significantly slowing their rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

Heading into 2017, companies from coast to coast are well-positioned to secure ongoing reductions in carbon emissions from their fleets – thereby helping the United States to achieve international commitments under the Paris Agreement, delivering greater value to customers and shareholders while ensuring state or municipal policy objectives will be achieved, and sharpening their ability to meet declining emissions limits in accordance with a federal regulatory framework.

Even the vast majority of states litigating against the Clean Power Plan can comply with the CPP targets by optimizing the carbon pollution benefits from already planned investments and compliance with existing state policies. The Clean Power Plan is crucial to making certain that states and companies take advantage of the opportunity to ensure the carbon reduction potential of these investments are fully realized, so they can in fact achieve these reasonable protections.

The shift to a lower-carbon future should continue, as power companies recognize both the imperative to reduce emissions and the benefits of moving in this direction despite changing political winds in Washington.

For example, shortly after the November election, a number of executives from historically coal-intensive companies convincingly reaffirmed their commitment to de-carbonization:

  • No matter who occupies the White House, “[coal is] not coming back,” said American Electric Power CEO Nick Akins. “We’re moving to a cleaner-energy economy and we’re still getting pressure from investors to reduce carbon emissions. I don’t see that changing.”
  • “It can't just be, ‘We're going to get rid of these regulations, and you guys can party until the next administration comes,’” Cloud Peak Energy Vice President Richard Reavey said. “There are serious global concerns about climate emissions. We have to recognize that's a political reality and work within that framework.”
  • “Markets are driving a lot of the behavior,” said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy. “[W]e’ll continue to move toward a lower carbon energy mix.”
  • “We've always had a point of view at Southern that there's a reasonable trajectory in which to move the portfolio of the United States to a lower carbon future,” said Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning. “There's a way to transition the fleet now.” In a later interview, Fanning added: “It's clear that the courts have given the EPA the right to deal with carbon in a certain way.”
  • “Regardless of the outcome of the election,” said Frank PragerXcel Energy’s Vice President of Policy and Federal Affairs, “Xcel Energy will continue pursuing energy and environmental strategies that appeal to policymakers across the political spectrum because we are focused on renewable and other infrastructure projects that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions without increasing prices or sacrificing reliability.”

Acting on these commitments, many power companies are continuing to expand their renewable investments while phasing out high-carbon generation, putting them in a solid position to comply with robust carbon pollution regulations.

Here are a few recent highlights just from the last months:

  • At the end of December, Florida Power & Light (FPL) showed strong leadership when announcing plans to shut down the recently-acquired 250-megawatt Cedar Bay coal plant at the end of the year. “I'm very proud of our employees for proposing this innovative approach that's environmentally beneficial and saves customers millions of dollars,” said CEO Eric Silagy. FPL plans to replace the retired power with natural gas and solar — the company added 224 megawatts of solar capacity in 2016. FPL also noted that their system is now “cleaner today than the 2030 carbon emissions rate goal for Florida outlined by the Clean Power Plan,” while average residential bills are about 30 percent lower than the national average.
  • On December 30, Southern Company announced an agreement with Renewable Energy Systems America to develop 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy scheduled to come online between 2018 and 2020. The agreement comes as Southern Company continued to boost its renewable portfolio with the acquisition of 300 megawatts of wind power in late December, bringing its total to more than 4,000 megawatts of renewable generation added or announced since 2012.
  • Duke Energy acquired its first solar project in Colorado on December 8. The purchase advances Duke’s goal of owning more than 6,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects by 2020.

After the election, a number of power companies reiterated their commitment to reducing air pollution and meeting their obligations under the federal Clean Air Act by transitioning aging coal plants.

  • PNM Resources spokesman Pahl Shipley said the company has no change in plans for retiring two units at a New Mexico plant, totaling 837 megawatts of capacity, in 2017. PNM will replace the retired capacity with solar and nuclear power.
  • The Tennessee Valley Authority is moving forward with plans to retire two coal plants in 2017, as well as a third in 2018.
  • Colorado-based electric cooperative Tri-State Generation will move forward with plans to retire its 100-megawatt Nucla coal plant and Unit 1 of the Craig coal plant. “We are moving forward with retirement activities and developing a transition plan for the employees and communities,” said Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey after the election.

These announcements follow one of the biggest clean energy leadership stories of 2016 – commitments by two midcontinent utilities, Xcel Energy and Berkshire Hathaway Energy, to go big on cost-effective investments in new wind resources.

  • This past year, Minnesota regulators approved a plan for Xcel Energy to construct as much as 1,800 megawatts of new wind power and 1,400 megawatts of solar in the state by 2030. Xcel also received approval to build a 600 megawatt wind farm in Colorado.
  • Berkshire subsidiary MidAmerican Energy secured approval to construct a massive 2,000 megawatt wind farm in Iowa that will be the “largest wind energy project in US history.” Said CEO Bill Fehrman: “Our customers want more renewable energy, and we couldn’t agree more.”

State policymakers have not stayed on the sidelines, either. 2016 sustained progress as states moved forward with commonsense efforts to reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants. And even with promises to roll back critical clean air, climate, and clean energy progress coming out of Washington, D.C., states made clear after the election that they will not be slowed down by potential federal backsliding:

  • On December 7, Illinois enacted a comprehensive new energy bill that will in part double the state’s energy efficiency portfolio and allow for 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind power while providing for continued operation of zero-emission nuclear facilities. These measures are expected to reduce the state’s carbon emissions 56 percent by 2030.
  • On December 15, Michigan lawmakers approved a new bill to increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 15 percent by 2021, up from 10 percent. Republican Governor Rick Snyder touted the bill in a statement: “What we’re in is a huge transition in how we get our energy. We’ve got a lot of aging coal plants that are beyond their useful life, and it’s not worth investing in them anymore … We can transition to both natural gas and renewables and let the markets sort of define the balance between those two, so we’re moving away from an old energy source [where] we had to import all of this coal.”
  • Also in December, Washington Governor Jay Inslee proposed the state adopt a first-of-its-kind carbon tax of $25 per metric ton of carbon pollution. The proposal supplements the state’s innovative Clean Air Rule, adopted in September, which caps carbon emissions from individual polluters.
  • Nine states comprising the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are engaged in a stakeholder process designed to establish new, more protective, standards for climate pollution.
  • In Oregon, regulators are evaluating options for a market-based mechanism that could link to the California-Quebec carbon market, releasing a partial draft report on November 21.
  • Governors such as Colorado’s John Hickenlooper continue to display strong leadership and a keen understanding of the imperative to move to a low-carbon future. After the election, Hickenlooper said he remains committed to fulfilling the goals of the Clean Power Plan, no matter what happens to the rule.
  • In Pennsylvania, a spokesman for Governor Tom Wolf’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) noted that: “Pennsylvania’s carbon footprint has been shrinking rapidly due to market based decisions being made in the state’s electric generating sector … It is likely that this trend will continue.” He added that the DEP “will continue to seek ways to continue addressing climate change.”
  • In California, Governor Jerry Brown mounted a vigorous defense of California’s climate leadership and the role the state will continue to play in setting the stage for ongoing progress and defending the important progress of the last eight years. “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight. We’re ready to defend,” he said.

The momentum that power companies and states have generated towards achieving a clean energy future is powerful and encouraging.

Looking to 2017 and beyond, market trends are expected to continue to help facilitate de-carbonization of the electric sector, while federal and state policies must continue to provide certainty about the pace and depth of emissions reductions needed to address the threat of climate change. These policies will help companies plan clean energy investments in a way that maximizes benefits for consumers and facilitates optimal deployment of available resources.

The Clean Power Plan remains crucial to achieving these goals. Any disruption in the Clean Power Plan’s implementation could put long-overdue and readily achievable emission reductions at risk.

As we ring in the New Year, EDF will keep working with a diverse set of stakeholders across the country — including many state officials and power companies — to defend these critical environmental safeguards. At the same time, we will work vigorously to ensure that we achieve the reductions in carbon pollution envisioned by the program.

 

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, EPA litgation, Green Jobs, Jobs, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

Congressman Gives Trump a Plan to Erase Health, Safety, And Environment Safeguards

At Risk: The Air We Breathe, Water We Drink, and Food We Eat

The conservative House Freedom Caucus has provided President-Elect Trump a “recommended list of regulations to remove.” Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC), chair of the all-Republican Freedom Caucus, identified 228 federal rules they hope Trump will help eliminate.

Thirty-two of the proposals would roll back safety, health and environmental standards that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and our nation’s infrastructure (from pipelines to airports). By rolling back these regulations, the plan would essentially prevent the agencies responsible for protecting us from doing their job.

Another 43 proposals are aimed at undermining America’s progress on clean energy and climate change, pushing us away from energy efficiency and renewable energy sources toward more reliance on fossil fuels. This includes eliminating two dozen Department of Energy energy efficiency standards that save families money on energy bills, reduce energy waste, and prevent pollution.

Environmental Defense Fund has posted a copy of the Freedom Caucus document online (first obtained by the Washington Post) and added highlights to show the 75 health, safety, environment, and energy rollbacks.

The leading targets for these attacks are the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, but other agencies targeted include the Federal Aviation Administration, the State Department, the Department of Interior and others.

Trump’s Pick to Lead EPA Is An Added Threat

The danger of this regulatory ‘kill list’ is compounded by Donald Trump’s picks for key cabinet positions that would traditionally be the first to defend their agencies from political interference. Many of the recommendations are favorites of the fossil fuel lobby, which will have unprecedented power in Trump’s cabinet.

Trump’s decision to entrust Scott Pruitt with running the Environmental Protection Agency is especially dangerous. EPA is responsible for protecting our families from air and water pollution as well as toxic chemicals. Pruitt, however, has repeatedly and systematically teamed up with fossil fuel companies to sue the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent EPA action on regulating toxic mercury, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In a 2014 investigative report, the New York Times exposed Pruitt’s “secretive alliance” with oil and gas companies while Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Breaking Down the Regulations at Risk

Here is a summary of some of the most alarming Freedom Caucus proposals that Pruitt and others in Trump’s cabinet will be looking over. The Freedom Caucus list has inaccuracies, and it seems to be based on the premise that Trump can erase rules with a stroke of the pen in the first 100 days. For most of these, he cannot, because the agencies have responsibilities to implement laws and are subject to oversight by the courts. But that does not mean that these regulations are safe from diversion of funds, lack of enforcement, legislative attacks, and other efforts to weaken them.

In the following list, the numbers in parentheses match the numbers in the House Freedom Caucus plan.

  • Eliminate air pollution standards for smog-forming ozone (174), lung-damaging soot (fine particles, 178), and rules to reduce air pollution from tailpipes (175, 181) and smokestacks (182, 183)
  • Reverse course on climate change, including: erasing carbon pollution regulations for power plants (173, 182, 183), tailpipes (175, 181), and airplanes (194); cancelling the Paris agreement (161); and eliminating the Green Climate Fund (172).
  • Roll back Clean Water standards that protect the Great Lakes (186), Chesapeake Bay (185), and to prevent pollution of wetlands (13) and rivers (199) across the nation.
  • Block regulations to prevent dangerous chemical accidents that release toxic chemicals into surrounding communities (189).
  • Jeopardize Worker safety, including repealing standards to prevent lung cancer among workers exposed to silica dust (135).
  • Repeal two dozen energy efficiency standards for appliances and industrial equipment (28-53).
  • Repeal natural gas pipeline safety standards passed in response to gas pipeline disasters, including the 2010 San Bruno disaster in California (153).
  • Repeal fuel economy and tailpipe standards for cars that are saving consumers money at the pump, reducing our dependency on oil, and reducing air pollution (175, 181).
  • Eliminate food safety regulations, including fish inspections (3).
  • Strip FDA’s authority to regulate the tobacco industry (55).
  • Repeal an FDA rule to safeguard our food supply against tampering by terrorists (83).
  • Eliminate the State Department agencies responsible for environmental science, protecting our oceans, and addressing climate change (162, 170, 171).
  • Block FAA regulations aimed at improving the safety of air traffic management at airports (156).
Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, News, Policy, Science| Comments are closed

Western Leaders, Attorneys General Support BLM’s Oil and Gas Waste Policies in Court

8362494597_b5e016f63f_z-300x169By Jon Goldstein and Peter Zalzal

(This post originally appeared on EDF Energy Exchange)

The legal fight to defend the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) recent efforts to prevent oil and gas companies from wasting methane on public and tribal owned land continued yesterday.

EDF and a coalition of local, regional, tribal and national allies filed a brief opposing efforts by industry organizations and a handful states to block BLM’s protections before they even come into effect. 

The states of New Mexico and California also sought to participate in the legal challenges, likewise stepping up to defend BLM’s common sense standards. Notably, New Mexico is the largest producer of oil from public lands in the U.S. and the second largest producer of natural gas.

In seeking to stay BLM’s protections, the industry associations have claimed the standards have no benefits – so blocking them won’t have any impacts on the communities they are designed to protect.

But BLM’s oil and gas waste standards are about ensuring that operators use common sense technologies to capture natural gas that would otherwise be wasted. That preserves a valuable natural resource and cleans up the air, all while putting additional royalty payments in the pockets of Western communities that can be used to fund schools, roads and important infrastructure.

For example, a recent analysis found that in 2013, oil and gas companies operating on public and tribal lands wasted more than $330 million worth of gas – more than $100 million of that from New Mexico alone. This translates to lost royalty revenues for local communities. One report estimates that without action to reduce this waste, taxpayers could lose out on more than $800 million in royalties over the next decade.

The challengers’ legal claims stand in stark contrast to the facts on the ground. Evidence of the broad-based benefits of BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule was readily apparent in yesterday’s court filings supporting the protections..  Current and former state and county officials and everyday Westerners alike let their voices be heard about the importance of common sense measures to preserve public resources and protect the environment.

For example, in their filing seeking to participate in the case, the states of New Mexico and California emphasized:

Implementation of the Rule will benefit the States of California and New Mexico by generating more annual royalty revenue . . . . In addition, the Rule will benefit the health of the states’ citizens who are exposed to harmful air contaminants leaked, vented and flared from federally-managed oil and gas operations . . . . The People of California and New Mexico have a strong interest in preventing the waste of public resources, as well as in reducing the emission of harmful air pollutants that threaten the health of the states’ citizens, the integrity of their infrastructure, protection of their unique environments and ecosystems, and the continued viability of their economies. ( Filing, pages 2 and 3)

And in their filing opposing the preliminary injunction, these states claimed:

Because the Rule is likely to result in the stronger protection of federal lands and greater prevention of the waste of natural resources, which belong to the People, the public interest weighs strongly in favor of denying the injunction. (Filing, page 16)

The benefits that New Mexico and California identified are broadly shared and were likewise reflected in declarations submitted by county officials and former state officials in support of the standards.

Current La Plata County Colorado Commissioner Gwen Lachelt identified both the problem of resource waste on public lands and the benefits for Western counties like hers in addressing it:

The San Juan Basin, in which La Plata County is situated, has one of the highest rates of wasted gas and methane loss in the country, accounting for nearly 17% of U.S. methane losses.

In addition to wasted methane, oil and gas sites in La Plata County and the San Juan Basin release dangerous pollutants such as benzene and ozone-forming pollutants that can lead to asthma attacks and worsen emphysema . . . . This air pollution continues to be a regional public health hazard, and has contributed to La Plata County receiving a low grade for poor ozone air quality from the American Lung Association…

The Rule will benefit La Plata County by providing additional royalties that we can use to fund key County priorities—including infrastructure, roads, and education—while also helping to clean up the air in the San Juan Basin, which will have health benefits for our citizens. (Filing, page 4 and 5)

Lachelt points out that unlike other leading oil and gas states like Colorado, New Mexico has no policies to reduce methane waste and other pollution from oil and gas wells, and that BLM’s efforts will help to provide uniformity across state lines.

Sandra Ely, a former Chief of the New Mexico Environment Department’s Air Quality Bureau likewise submitted a declaration describing the importance and benefits of the BLM standards. She particularly focused on the long-standing problem of resource loss in the San Juan Basin. The region made headlines in recent years when NASA scientists discovered a 200-square-mile methane cloud over the region – the largest methane cloud uncovered in the U.S. Subsequent studies determined that oil and gas emissions were the main contributor to the methane “hot spot.”

I am aware of a recent study, focused on the San Juan Basin, which suggested that BLM’s proposed leak detection and repair requirements alone would result in anywhere from $1–$6 million dollars of additional revenue for New Mexico… Absent the Waste Prevention Rule, I am concerned that resource loss and poor air quality associated with oil and gas development will continue unabated in New Mexico (Sandra Ely, Filing, page 7)

Western leaders have been vocal in their support for BLM’s sensible standards that take an important energy resource out of the air and deliver it responsibly to the American public. At public hearings that the BLM held across the west these rules were supported by more than 3 to 1 margins. More than 80 local officials across the West, including county commissions in La Plata, Park and San Miguel counties in Colorado and Bernalillo, Rio Arriba and San Miguel counties and the Santa Fe city council in New Mexico, all support the protections. And these rules enjoy broad bipartisan public support as well (more than 80 percent of Westerners in a recent poll).

Given this cross-cutting support and yesterday’s forceful legal filings, it’s no wonder that industry challengers in this case don’t even want the judge to hear the views of New Mexicans and Californians. Yesterday, they indicated that they would oppose these states’ efforts to protect the interests of their citizens by participating in the case. While this reflexive obstructionism isn’t surprising—industry petitioners filed their legal challenges within 40 minutes of the rule being finalized and tried to block the standards’ effectiveness shortly thereafter—it certainly reveals their very one-sided view of what is in the public’s interest.

The Wyoming Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in this case on January 6. We look forward to continuing to defend these standards that will clean the air and prevent waste.

Also posted in Economics, Energy, Health, News, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

Defending BLM Standards that Reduce Waste, Protect Air Quality

us-doi-blm-logo-300x261EDF, along with a coalition of health and environmental groups, just filed a motion to intervene in defense of vital new standards that will prevent the wasteful loss of natural resources, save money for taxpayers and tribes, and reduce emissions of dangerous and climate-disrupting pollution.

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) waste prevention standards will reduce venting, flaring, and leakage of natural gas on BLM-managed federal and tribal lands – but they are being challenged in U.S. Federal District Court in Wyoming by oil and gas industry groups and three states.

Federal and tribal lands are an important source of oil and gas production. Together, the amount they produce is the equivalent of five percent of the U.S. oil supply and 11 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply, and generates more than $2 billion annually in royalties.

Unfortunately, oil and gas companies that lease these federal and tribal lands lose substantial amounts of publicly-owned natural gas through unnecessary venting, flaring, or leaking at production sites.

A recent study from ICF International found that in 2013, drilling on federal and tribal lands —mostly in the rural West— leaked, vented, and flared natural gas worth about $330 million. An analysis from the Western Values Project estimates taxpayers could lose almost $800 million over the next decade if wasteful venting and flaring practices continue.

In addition to wasting a public resource, oil and gas companies’ unnecessary venting, flaring, and leakage on federal and tribal lands also poses significant public health and safety risks.

The wasted natural gas is primarily composed of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas, capable of warming the climate at a rate 84 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

The leaked, vented, and flared natural gas also emits air pollutants including carcinogens such as benzene, and volatile organic compounds – which contribute to hazardous smog.

BLM’s recently finalized venting and flaring standards deploy common sense, cost-effective, and readily available technologies — already effectively in use in several states across the country — to capture this gas.

The standards yield significant benefits by minimizing the waste of a taxpayer-owned natural resource, and by curbing emissions that contribute to air pollution and climate change, all while helping to create new jobs in methane mitigation. They will save, and put to productive use, up to 56 billion cubic feet of gas a year — enough to supply up to 760,000 households – and will provide millions in additional revenues for taxpayers.

The standards will also cut methane emissions by up to 169,000 tons per year — the equivalent to carbon emissions from as many as 890,000 vehicles.

These benefits will accrue to millions of people across the country, including those living near oil and gas development on federal and tribal lands.

EDF member and New Mexico rancher Don Schreiber has more than 100 oil and gas wells on and near his ranch in the San Juan Basin that will now be covered by the BLM standards. In a declaration supporting EDF’s motion to intervene, he describes the impact of venting, flaring, and leaking from these wells on his family and, in particular, his grandchildren:

Most noticeable is the near-constant smell from leaking wells. …  These odors make breathing uncomfortable and often cause us to leave affected areas as quickly as possible. … We worry about [our grandchildren’s] exposure to air pollutants from oil and gas development on the property, and always are careful to keep them away from the wells and above ground pipeline equipment. Protecting our grandchildren from the negative health effects of oil and gas emissions is a constant concern when they come to visit us. (New Mexico rancher Don Schreiber, Declaration)

With the new standards, he anticipates a reduction in the “harmful air pollution near my home and in the state where my family and I live, work, and recreate.” (Declaration)

BLM’s efforts to reduce natural gas waste have broad and cross-cutting support from elected officials and community members across the West. In a recent bipartisan poll of Western states, 80 percent of respondents supported BLM standards to curtail waste of this valuable resource. And, over the course of several years during which the rule was under development, BLM solicited the feedback of community stakeholders, oil and gas developers, and local, tribal and state governments. The final rule is the result of a collaborative and deliberate process and includes changes that reflect this stakeholder input.

Standing in stark contrast to this careful process, industry associations rushed to file legal challenges seeking to overturn the waste prevention rule within 40 minutes after it was released — hardly enough time to read the rule, let alone meaningfully consider its contents.

And in a subsequent filing seeking to block these protections before they become effective, these industry associations put forward a number of flawed claims, not least of which was their suggestion that BLM acted unlawfully because its rule may “only” produce additional annual royalty revenues of $22.4 million — a sum the filing characterizes as “de minimis.”

While $22 million annually may be an insignificant amount for the oil and gas companies litigating to overturn this rule, it has real meaning for infrastructure projects, schools, and communities across the country that stand to benefit from this funding.

It’s unfortunate that some have engaged in reflexive efforts to roll back protections designed to prevent the waste of our nation’s public resources and, at the same time, protect our air quality and climate.

The good news is that BLM’s commonsense standards are firmly rooted in the agency’s manifest authority to minimize waste and to address the harmful health and environmental consequences of oil and gas development on federal lands.  We at EDF look forward to vigorously defending these standards in court.

Also posted in Economics, Energy, Health, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

Ensuring Environmental Outcomes from a Carbon Tax

(This post originally appeared on EDF Market Forces)

How can we ensure that a carbon tax delivers on its pollution reduction potential? An innovative, new idea could provide greater certainty over the environmental outcome.

As momentum intensifies around the world for action to fight climate change, the United States is emerging as a leader in the new low-carbon economy. But if we are going to reduce climate pollution at the pace and scale required — cutting emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 and at least 83% by 2050, on a path to zero net emissions —we need to roll up our sleeves on a new generation of ambitious climate policies that harness the power of the economy and American innovation. An emerging idea could be a game-changer for the prospects of a carbon tax to help tackle climate pollution.

Economics 101 teaches us that market-based policies, including cap-and-trade programs as well as carbon taxes, are the most cost-effective and economically efficient means of achieving results. Both put a price on carbon emissions to reduce dangerous pollution. Cap-and-trade programs place a “cap” on the total quantity of allowable emissions, directly limiting pollution and ensuring a specific environmental result, while allowing prices to fluctuate as pollution permits are traded. The “guarantee” that the cap provides is a primary reason this tool has been favored by EDF and other stakeholder s focused on environmental performance. That U.S. targets are based on quantities of pollution reductions also speaks to the need for policy solutions tied to these pollution limits.

In comparison, a carbon tax sets the price per unit of pollution, allowing emissions to respond to the changes in behavior this price encourages. The problem, from an environmental standpoint, is that a carbon tax lacks an explicit connection to a desired pollution reduction target — and therefore provides no assurance that the required reductions will actually be achieved. We know that a carbon tax will impact emissions, but even the most robust modeling cannot provide certainty over the magnitude of that impact. Furthermore, fundamental factors like energy or economic market dynamics can change over time, affecting the performance of a tax. Because greenhouse gas pollution accumulates in the atmosphere over time, even being slightly off the desired path over several decades can produce significant consequences for cumulative emissions, and thus climate damages.

A new approach: Environmental Integrity Mechanisms (EIMs)

Two recently-released papers by the Nicholas Institute at Duke University and Resources for the Future (RFF) directly address this key concern with a carbon tax —and suggest an innovative path forward. They illustrate how a suite of provisions – we’ll call them “Environmental Integrity Mechanisms” or “EIMs,” though each paper uses different terminology – could provide greater levels of certainty regarding the emissions outcome, by allowing for adjustment of the carbon tax regime over time to course-correct and keep us on track for meeting our targets.

EIMs – if carefully designed – can play an important role in connecting a carbon tax to its performance in reducing pollution. They are a type of built-in insurance mechanism: they may never be triggered if the initial price path achieves its projected impact, but provide a back-up plan in case it does not.

These mechanisms are analogous to well-studied “cost containment” provisions in cap-and-trade that are designed to provide greater certainty over prices. Cost containment provisions are included in several successful cap-and-trade programs around the world. For example, California’s cap-and-trade program includes a price collar that sets a floor as well as a ceiling that triggers the release of a reserve of allowances.

EIMs are a parallel effort to introduce greater emissions certainty into a carbon tax system. With the recent publication of these two papers, EIMS are beginning to receive well-deserved greater attention. These provisions help bridge the gap between caps and taxes, merging the strengths of each to create powerful hybrid programs.

How EIMs might work

Let’s take a closer look at how these “EIMs” could work.

• First, the initial tax level and/or growth rate could be adjusted depending on performance against an emissions trajectory or carbon budget benchmark. This could occur either automatically via a simple formula built into the legislation, by Congressional intervention at a later date based on expert recommendations, or by delegation of authority to a federal or independent agency or group of agencies.

There are clear advantages to including an automatic adjustment in the legislation. This avoids having to go back to a sluggish Congress to act; and there is no guarantee that Congress would make appropriate adjustments. Moreover, Congress is likely to be loath to relinquish its tax-setting authority to an executive agency — and such delegation could even face legal challenges. Delegating tax-setting authority to an executive agency could also introduce additional political uncertainty in rate setting.

In designing such an automatic adjustment, policy makers will need to consider the type, frequency and size of these adjustments, as well as how they are triggered. The RFF paper in particular discusses some of the resulting trade-offs. For example, an automatic adjustment will reduce the price certainty that many view as the core benefit of a tax. On the other hand, by explicitly and transparently specifying the adjustments that would occur under certain conditions, a high degree of price predictability can still be maintained – with the added benefit of increased emissions certainty.

• Second, the Nicholas Institute brief discusses regulatory tools that could be employed if emission goals were not met –including existing opportunities under the Clean Air Act, or even new authority. The authors point out that relative to automatic adjustment mechanisms, regulatory options are more difficult to “fine-tune.” Nevertheless, they could provide a powerful safeguard if alternatives fail.

• Finally, as the Nicholas Institute brief discusses, a portion of tax revenue could be used to fund additional reductions if performance goals were not being met. This approach could tap into cost-effective reductions in sectors where the carbon tax might be more challenging to implement (e.g. forestry or agriculture). The revenue could also be used to secure greater reductions from sectors covered by the tax — for example, by funding investments in energy efficiency. In a neat twist, the additional revenue needed to fund these emissions reductions would be available when emissions were higher than expected — that is, precisely when more mitigation was needed.

EDF’s take

Our goal is to reduce the amount of carbon pollution we put into the atmosphere in as cost-effective and efficient a manner as possible. This means putting a limit and a price on carbon pollution.

Even at this preliminary stage in the exploration of EIM design, one takeaway is clear: all carbon tax proposals should include an EIM with an automatic adjustment designed to meet the desired emissions path and associated carbon budget.

More work is needed to develop and evaluate the range and design of EIMs. And while a cap is still the most sure-fire means of guaranteeing an emissions outcome, this growing consideration by economists and policy experts opens a new path for the potential viability of carbon taxes as a pollution reduction tool in the United States.

The bottom line is this: The fundamental test of any climate policy is environmental integrity. For a carbon tax, that means an EIM.

Also posted in Economics, Policy| Comments are closed

Open Road Ahead for Clean Trucks

rp_iStock_000002312011Medium2-1024x768.jpgOur nation is making great progress in reducing the environmental impact of trucking.

This is tremendous news, of course, as trucking – the main method of transporting the goods and services we desire – is critical to the fabric of our society.

Consider these facts:

We’re making major progress because of a team effort from truck and equipment manufacturers, fleets, policymakers, and clean air and human health advocates. With protective, long-term emission standards in place, manufacturers are investing in developing cleaner solutions and bringing them to market. Truck fleets are embracing new trucks because of lower operating costs and improved performance.

(For a more detailed picture of the widespread support for cleaner trucks, see EDF’s list of quotes supporting recent national Clean Truck standards.)

We must continue this team effort to make further necessary improvements in the years ahead.

Despite our recent progress, diesel trucks continue to be a leading source of NOx emissions, which is why a number of leading air quality agencies across the nation, health and medical organizations, and more than  30 members of Congress are calling for more protective NOx emission standards.

Trucks are also a large and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Thankfully, the new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards mentioned above – which were released this past August and just published in the Federal Register today – will cut more than a billion tons of emissions.

Trucking fleets are embracing cleaner trucks. UPS, for example, is expanding its fleet of hybrid delivery trucks. PepsiCo, Walmart, Kane and others have applauded strong fuel standards for trucks.

Manufacturers are developing solutions to further improve the environmental footprint of trucking.

In the past few weeks alone:

  • Cummins unveiled a 2017 engine that cuts NOx emissions 90 percent  from the current emission standard.
  • Volvo Trucks North American showcased its entry to the DOE SuperTruck program, which is  a concept truck capable of surpassing 2010 efficiency levels by 70 percent and exceeding 12 miles per gallon.
  • Navistar also revealed its SuperTruck, the CatalIST, which hit a remarkable 13 mpg.

The progress we’ve made to date does more than just improve conditions within the U.S. Our strong standards push U.S. manufacturers to develop solutions that will resonate with international markets. For example, the European Union, Brazil, India, Mexico, and South Korea all are exploring new fuel efficiency and greenhouse standards for big trucks. U.S. manufacturers will be well positioned to compete in markets that put a premium on fuel efficiency.

In the coming years, we will need to continue to advance protective emission standards to protect the health of our communities and safeguard our climate. When the time comes, we will be building upon an impressive record of progress and cooperation.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, News, Policy| Comments are closed
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