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Selected category: Greenhouse Gas Emissions
As I write this, Hurricane Matthew is battering the Atlantic coast of Florida, having wreaked havoc on Haiti and the Bahamas. In Haiti hundreds lost their lives due to the Hurricane’s destructive winds and storm surge.
With half a million Floridians already without power even before Matthew makes landfall, there is sure to be significant damage in Florida and other portions of the southeast U.S. from this Category 3 storm, the first major hurricane to strike the U.S. since Wilma in 2005. Our first and highest priority is to help the victims and others in the path of the storm.
However, as with any destructive weather event, people are asking about the role of climate change.
We know that increases in sea level caused by climate change result in higher and more destructive storm surges, like the one that swamped lower Manhattan during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Coastal towns suffer greater damage because the ocean starts out higher, and the storm shoves more water inland. Coastal states like South Carolina and Florida – and the rest of us through taxes and insurance rates – will pay billions as a result.
But what about the connection between climate change and the strength of hurricanes themselves?
Hurricanes are fueled by the warm waters of the tropical oceans, which have been warming as the result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases.
However, hurricanes are also impacted by wind shear – the change of wind speed and direction with height. For a hurricane to grow and strengthen it needs a low wind shear environment, and some research indicates that climate change may actually increase wind shear over the tropical Atlantic. And that’s the rub. When it comes to climate change and hurricanes, the warming oceans and increasing wind shear are in competition. Science is still working out which mechanism will dominate as the global climate continues to warm – so stay tuned.
But there is more to the story than just the relationship between the intensity or frequency of hurricane and global warming. Because the climate system is so complex, no storm happens in a vacuum. Scientists have been working on the issue of “attribution”— How much can we know about the link between specific storms and climate change? The organization Climate Central has also been working intensively in this area.
While we await attribution studies, we shouldn’t lose site of the bigger picture: we already know that climate change is doing tremendous damage to our environment and our economy. Citibank estimates the cost of inaction on climate change is in the trillions. So let’s first help those hurt by this storm, then focus on cutting the pollution that is causing so much damage to our world.
Earlier today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument on the Clean Power Plan — America’s first-ever limits on climate pollution from power plants, which are our single largest source of this harmful pollution.
For the first time, these vital safeguards are being reviewed on the merits. Ten active judges on the D.C. Circuit presided over today’s argument.
I was at the courthouse today. Here’s my read out:
Judges’ probing questions reflected their active engagement and preparation as anticipated in such a high profile case — as well as a skeptical view of opposing arguments
The judges today were prepared and engaged. They asked sharply probing questions of all sides.
But the big news is that a majority of judges appeared receptive to arguments in support of the Clean Power Plan.
The court understood that EPA was carrying out long-established legal authority — affirmed in three separate Supreme Court opinions — to tackle the urgent threat of climate change by addressing our nation’s largest source of climate pollution.
Judge Millett characterized petitioners’ arguments against EPA’s authority as a “bait and switch”— one that would gut the Supreme Court’s conclusion in an earlier groundbreaking case, American Electric Power, which concluded that Section 111(d) “speaks directly” to EPA’s authority regulate greenhouse gases from existing power plants. (564 U.S. 410, 424, 2011)
Judges also recognized that the Clean Power Plan’s approach reflects familiar, time tested strategies to reduce pollution — strategies that the Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit have upheld in numerous past Clean Air Act programs adopted under administrations of both parties.
The judges’ questions demonstrated their keen understanding of how the power sector works. Several judges underscored the unique nature of the interconnected electricity grid system —which distinctly enables sources to reduce emissions cost-effectively through shifting generation to lower-emitting sources — in discussing EPA’s inclusion of generation shifting as part of the best system of emissions reduction reflected in the Clean Power Plan. Judge Tatel, for example, expressly recognized the point that generation-shifting strategies incorporated in the Clean Power Plan are “business as usual” for power companies.
Meanwhile, the judges expressed skepticism towards petitioners’ claims. In one exchange, Judge Pillard questioned why petitioners’ arguments would not entirely “immunize” highly polluting sources from pollution control.
Legal experts representing a wide variety of perspectives forcefully and effectively argued in support of the Clean Power Plan
A diverse and impressive suite of presenters argued in support of the Clean Power Plan.
Seasoned U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys articulated the clear and compelling legal and technical basis for the Clean Power Plan, which was informed by an unprecedented level of public and expert input including more than four million public comments. The DOJ attorneys underscored how the Clean Power Plan’s approach carefully respects statutory limits on EPA’s authority and embodies well-established, proven strategies to reduce pollution.
The attorney representing power companies supporting the Clean Power Plan — a robust coalition that represents almost ten percent of America’s electricity generation capacity —emphasized that the power sector is already reducing its carbon pollution by shifting to low-cost cleaner generation, making Clean Power Plan targets eminently achievable. For these companies, the carbon reduction strategies EPA recognized in the Clean Power Plan are “business as usual” — the phrase that was then raised by Judge Tatel later during the day. The power company attorney’s remarks also emphasized that petitioners’ approach would ask EPA to ignore the widespread strategies that power companies are already using to reduce carbon pollution cost-effectively through shifting generation to lower and zero emitting resources.
Counsel for the numerous states and cities across the country that are supporting the Clean Power Plan spoke on behalf of their citizens on the urgent need for protections against climate pollution. The state attorney’s remarks highlighted how the rule’s flexible approach echoes other traditional, successful Clean Air Act programs, and properly respects states’ role in the interconnected electricity grid system.
Sean Donahue, counsel for public health and environmental organizations including Environmental Defense Fund, forcefully articulated the clear basis for EPA’s authority and the urgent need to protect our communities, our families, and our economy against climate change. In particular, Donahue underscored that Clean Power Plan opponents seek to fundamentally obstruct any progress in addressing the most pressing environmental challenge of our time – climate change. Indeed, opponents of the Clean Power Plan have, in previous statements, conceded that EPA has authority to issue the Clean Power Plan — entirely undercutting their current claims to the contrary.
It’s challenging to predict an outcome from oral argument
It’s difficult to guess a case’s outcome from any oral argument. That’s even more true in today’s case, which was heard by an en banc court – all ten active judges on the court, aside from Judge Merrick Garland who recused himself. With ten judges to observe and interpret, each with an individual perspective and background, prognostications are particularly challenging.
Nonetheless, we have many reasons for optimism after today’s rigorous review of petitioners’ claims. Most of all, the rock solid legal and technical foundation for the Clean Power Plan gives us confidence that climate protection can win the day.
Now, the judges deliberate
The judges now turn to deliberation and discussion. In a typical case, the D.C. Circuit can take several months to issue an opinion. Here, there is a true sense of urgency in resolving EPA’s clear authority to combat climate change — earlier in the case, judges issued an order for expedited consideration — but there will also be ten judges’ opinions to resolve. Our nation’s biggest step to protect the health and well-being of our communities from climate pollution hangs in the balance.
(EDF Attorneys Tomás Carbonell and Martha Roberts co-authored this post)
Tomorrow – Tuesday, September 27th – the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear argument about the historic Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Power Plan places the nation’s first limits on climate-disrupting pollution from the electricity sector, which is responsible for almost 40 percent of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide.
Many utilities, power producers, and state regulators recognize the importance of addressing climate change – and support the Clean Power Plan. However, some in the electric industry have instead chosen to take a reactionary, obstructionist position against climate progress. They are participating in litigation against the Clean Power Plan. A wide array of prominent legal experts have concluded that these companies’ legal arguments are unsupported. Moreover, in many cases, opponents’ claims are even contrary to their own actions. (See Opening Brief of Petitioners on Procedural and Record-Based Issues, page 12, West Virginia v. EPA, No. 15-1363, D.C. Cir. Apr. 22, 2016)
EDF has just released a new analysis of this issue. It examines a diverse selection of power companies that are litigating against the Clean Power Plan, including Southern Company, American Electric Power, Big Rivers Electric Corporation, and Tri-State Generation & Transmission.
We find that:
- Overall, power sector emissions of climate pollution are already 21 percent below 2005 levels. As a result, the sector is already two-thirds of the way towards meeting the 2030 emissions reduction requirements of the Clean Power Plan.
- Even though these particular companies are opposing the Clean Power Plan in court, they are already using a variety of approaches to drive significant cost-effective reductions in climate pollution from their existing fossil-fuel powered units, thanks in large part to favorable economics for lower and zero-carbon generation.
- These are the same practical, cost-effective methods that EPA identified as the “best system” of emission reduction for climate pollution from power plants, and that formed the basis for the emission limits in the Clean Power Plan.
- With these investment decisions, power companies are well positioned to comply with the Clean Power Plan, even though they are making claims to the contrary in court.
- These companies’ own actions affirm the reasonableness of the Clean Power Plan targets as well as EPA’s approach in setting the standard, even though the companies are repeatedly claiming otherwise in court.
This is not the first time some of these companies have advanced deeply flawed “sky is falling” claims about clean air safeguards. Back in the 1970’s, AEP published a series of Washington Post newspaper ads claiming:
There is no way on God’s green earth that the present sulfur-dioxide emissions standards can be met. (Washington Post, April 30, 1974, AEP Display Ad 13)
Not surprisingly, coal plants across the nation are routinely meeting sulfur dioxide limits far more stringent and at very low cost.
This was also true in 1990, when AEP told the Boston Globe that bipartisan solutions to address acid rain could lead to:
the potential destruction of the Midwest economy.
Of course, they then proceeded, along with the rest of the industry, to go out and comply at a small fraction of the costs predicted by EPA. This same story is playing out again today.
The Clean Air Act has achieved deep reductions in pollution and delivered benefits exceeding the costs by 30 to 1 – all while our economy has prospered, and all at a small fraction of the costs predicted by obstructionists in the power industry.
The Clean Power Plan is no different. As our analysis shows, day by day it becomes clearer that the reductions it requires are wholly consistent with driving trends in the industry, and that the benefits will far exceed any cost of compliance.
The full analysis is available here.
In one week – on Tuesday, September 27th – the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument in legal challenges brought by the coal industry and its allies against the Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Power Plan establishes the nation’s first ever climate pollution standards for the power sector, which is the largest source of climate pollution in the United States, and one of the largest sources in the world. (According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the next largest sector – light-duty vehicles, which includes passenger cars and most pickup trucks – accounted for roughly one-half the emissions of the power sector in 2014.) As a result, the Clean Power Plan is one of the most important measures the United States has ever taken to combat the threat of climate change.
The Clean Power Plan is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, yielding up to $54 billion in annual climate and health benefits and saving up to 3,600 lives each year.
The good news is that the United States’ power sector is already rapidly reducing emissions by transitioning toward low cost, lower carbon sources of generation. In 2015, emissions were already 21 percent below 2005 levels. That’s almost two-thirds of the way toward the 2030 emission reduction target reflected in the Clean Power Plan. The rate of emission reduction we have seen over the last decade far exceeds the rate that would be required to achieve the Clean Power Plan targets by 2030. Meanwhile, analysts are projecting that the combination of falling prices for renewable energy and the extension of federal tax credits will drive a significant surge in new renewable development (see here, here, and here for just a few examples).
Even though powerful market forces are already driving dramatic progress in reducing climate pollution, opponents of the Clean Power Plan have argued in court that the plan represents a dramatic “restructuring of nearly every State’s electric grid” and have also argued that compliance with the Clean Power Plan’s emission reduction goals is “impossible.” (See Opening Brief of Petitioners on Core Legal Issues, page 6, West Virginia v. EPA, No. 15-1363, D.C. Cir. Apr. 22, 2016, and Opening Brief of Petitioners on Procedural and Record-Based Issues, page 12, West Virginia v. EPA, No. 15-1363, D.C. Cir. Apr. 22, 2016)
To evaluate these claims, EDF commissioned an analysis to examine how far measures already planned by power companies could go towards helping achieve the Clean Power Plan emission targets in the states that have challenged these standards.
What the analysis found stands in stark contrast to allegations by the litigating states and power companies.
About the Analysis
M.J. Bradley and Associates conducted the analysis using its publicly available Clean Power Plan Compliance Tool. The analysis drew on multiple, widely-used sources of industry-provided information on investments in new generation and planned retirements, and was based on policy scenarios and assumptions provided by EDF. The analysis is cited in a court declaration filed by EDF clean energy expert Diane Munns, and was recently featured in a Reuters article titled “Most states on track to meet emissions targets they call burden.”
Finding #1: All 27 litigating states can comply with the Clean Power Plan by leveraging planned investments coupled with flexible compliance programs
The analysis found that all 27 states opposing the Clean Power Plan could come into compliance with their emission reduction targets all the way through 2030, without making any additional investments beyond those that are already planned by power companies or required under existing state law. All state regulators need to do is take advantage of the inherent flexibility provided by the Clean Power Plan and adopt flexible compliance programs that allow power plants to fully leverage the benefits of planned investments – such as by allowing companies to average across their sources or trade compliance credits across states lines.
As Clean Air Act experts have noted, this compliance approach is familiar territory under our nation’s clean air laws. The Supreme Court recently upheld this approach in reviewing EPA’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule, and many of the litigating states have already successfully adopted these types of emissions trading programs to achieve compliance with limits on soot and smog pollution from power plants.
Finding #2: Even if they do not take full advantage of these program flexibilities, the vast majority of litigating states can comply with Clean Power Plan goals through 2030 through planned investments alone
The analysis also considered very conservative scenarios where states do not take advantage of these program flexibilities, and each state comes into compliance solely through in-state investments and existing state policies – without engaging in trading of compliance instruments with any other states. Such constraints seem unlikely, given that most of the litigating states are already taking advantage of interstate trading in other Clean Air Act programs for the power sector and requested that interstate trading be an option under the Clean Power Plan.
Even in these very conservative scenarios, as many as 21 of the 27 states challenging the Clean Power Plan could fully achieve their emission targets through the first three-year compliance period of the Clean Power Plan (the period from 2022-2024) by relying exclusively on existing generation, investments already planned within each state, and implementation of respective existing state policies. The study also found that as many as 18 of these states could comply all the way through 2030 as a result of these measures. Also, since this analysis was completed, Arkansas announced that it was already in compliance with the 2030 emissions targets. This suggests that at least 22 of the states could comply through 2024 as a result of planned investments, and that 19 states could comply through 2030.
For the minority of states that were not found to meet their Clean Power Plan emission reduction targets through planned investments alone, this analysis indicates that very modest additional measures would be sufficient to close the gap. For example, it finds that all of the states could come into compliance in the first three-year compliance period merely by deploying cost-effective energy efficiency measures and developing new clean resources at a rate comparable to the average of their neighboring states.
Finding #3: The Clean Power Plan has an essential role to play in reducing emissions from the power sector
While the analysis shows that these states are well positioned for compliance, it also reaffirms the importance of the Clean Power Plan in delivering the needed reductions in climate pollution over the long term.
This is because building new clean generation alone is not enough – it is also vital to ensure that the benefits of these investments are fully realized. By establishing nationwide emission limits through 2030, the Clean Power Plan will provide clear market and regulatory signals to power companies that encourage them to cost-effectively deploy their generation in a manner that reduces climate pollution. However, any delay or disruption in the implementation of the Clean Power Plan would interrupt those signals and put these eminently achievable reductions in climate pollution at risk.
Power companies, states, and others agree: compliance is readily achievable
We aren’t the only ones who have concluded that the Clean Power Plan targets are eminently reasonable. Our results are consistent with recent, independent economic analyses by the Nicholas Institute, M.J. Bradley & Associates, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and others. All of these analyses predict very low compliance costs because favorable economics for lower and zero-carbon sources of electricity are expected to continue driving sustained investment in these resources even in the absence of the Clean Power Plan. As a result, states around the country are well positioned for compliance.
Notably, states and power companies from across the country have themselves affirmed this very point:
- In Georgia, an official at the state Public Service Commission, Sheree Kernizan, affirmed that: "We were already on track under the proposed rules to kind of meet the goals anyway – without doing anything – and this was prior to the 2016 [integrated resource plan] that was filed this year …. and [Georgia Power Company’s] talking about adding more renewables, continuing the energy efficiency programs that have been in place."
- The state of Arkansas announced in May that it has already met the 2030 emission targets in the standards by moving to cleaner and more affordable sources of energy.
- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says the state can comply with the federal Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions without changing anything until at least 2025.
- Oklahoma’s two largest utilities, PSO and OG&E, both say they’re on a path to compliance with the Clean Power Plan by the 2030 deadline.
- Analysis conducted by Pace Global for the Arizona Utilities Group shows that the state can comply with the Clean Power Plan based on investments already planned under business-as-usual. (The Arizona Utilities Group consists of Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, Inc., Arizona Public Service Company, Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, Tucson Electric Power Company, and UniSource Energy Services.)
(You can find even more analyses and statements about how states and power companies are well positioned to achieve Clean Power Plan targets here.)
At this point it is abundantly clear that America is rapidly transitioning to a low carbon economy – yielding enormous benefits for climate and public health, and opening new economic opportunities in communities across the nation. With the price of low-carbon resources at all-time lows, the market is already strongly driving this transition. The Clean Power Plan is a common sense framework that can provide an essential role in harnessing this momentum and providing a clear, certain path forward to protect against climate change — while at the same time giving states the ability to achieve emission reductions in ways that maximize local public health benefits for communities affected by air pollution.
Litigating states and power companies should stop wasting money fighting against the protection of public health and the environment, and instead focus more fully on how to seize the opportunities of a clean energy future and maximize benefits for communities and consumers.
(EDF Fellow Charlie Jiang co-authored this post)
Oral argument in litigation about the Clean Power Plan is rapidly approaching.
In two weeks – on Tuesday, September 27th — the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear argument en banc about the historic measure to limit climate pollution from American power plants. (Argument begins at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 20).
As you get ready for the argument, one important development to keep in mind is the rapid expansion of clean energy. A power sector transformation is happening now because low-carbon energy is tremendously cost-effective. Prudent investments in clean energy are helping to create cleaner air and shared prosperity — and they’re also further demonstrating that the Clean Power Plan targets are eminently achievable, and that the rule’s approach builds from existing trends and low carbon generation shifts that are already happening in the power sector.
The Clean Power Plan is a sensible framework to help protect us from the dangers of climate change. As these trends show, it is hardly the “reengineer[ing] of the grid” described by opponents. Many states and major power companies are on track to meet or exceed the Clean Power Plan’s targets — including those that are challenging the Clean Power Plan in court.
Here are a few examples of power companies that are shifting their generation towards low-cost clean energy:
- Of American Electric Power’s (AEP) generating capacity, more than half (60 percent) comes from coal — but even AEP is reducing emissions by replacing coal with renewables and natural gas. AEP has already cut carbon dioxide emissions 39 percent from 2000 levels. The company plans to add 5,500 megawatts of wind, 3,000 megawatts of solar, and 3,000 megawatts of natural gas in the coming years. CEO Nick Akins last year noted that the Clean Power Plan could be a “catalyst for the transformation that’s already occurring in our industry.”
- Iowa-based MidAmerican Energy has announced a goal to provide 100 percent renewable energy. MidAmerican’s just approved $3.6 billion project to add 2,000 megawatts of wind — called the “largest wind energy project in US history” — will expand wind energy to become 85 percent of the company’s sales. Said CEO Bill Fehrman, “Our customers want more renewable energy, and we couldn’t agree more.” Meanwhile, an executive of MidAmerican’s parent company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, had this to say about the Supreme Court stay of the Clean Power Plan: “We wish that hadn’t happened… Rather than litigating, we are leading.”
- Southern Company, a major generator of coal-fired power, is expanding renewable energy development that would count towards Clean Power Plan compliance. Southern Company and its subsidiaries have added or announced more than four gigawatts of renewable generation since 2012 to its 44 gigawatt fleet. Southern Company subsidiaries are challenging the Clean Power Plan in court.
- Xcel Energy reported in a recent SEC filing that its Integrated Resource Plan for subsidiary NSP-Minnesota will “allow for a 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2030,” and that it “anticipated compliance with the [Clean Power Plan] while maintaining reasonable costs for customers.” In comparison, the Clean Power Plan will reduce carbon emissions from the power sector on average 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
- Westar Energy, which serves Kansas, is rapidly reducing emissions — even while it is challenging the Clean Power Plan in court. The company’s 2015 Annual Report states that its fleet’s carbon emissions will fall 36 percent below 2005 levels by 2017 (see page 86 of the report). That already exceeds the national goal under the Clean Power Plan.
Power companies aren’t alone in their race to clean energy. States are continuing to make significant progress towards reducing their power sector emissions and meeting Clean Power Plan targets.
Here are some examples of continued state progress:
- Arkansas already reached its 2030 Clean Power Plan compliance target last year, thanks to declining coal use in favor of more renewables and natural gas. An in-depth Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article found that “low natural-gas prices” was the most common reason cited by utility leaders for the decline in coal use.
- Arizona is “well positioned” to comply and already on track to meet interim goals under business as usual, according to analysis by Pace Global. Modeling from Arizona State University similarly found that compliance was eminently feasible. The state is continuing to convene meetings to assess compliance options even though the Arizona Corporation Commission is challenging the rule in court.
- California released a draft of its Clean Power Plan compliance plan in early August, the first state to do so. A California Air Resources Board spokesman stated that the proposal is “a proof of concept for other states, to demonstrate that this is a program that can be adapted to each state and that can be set up in a way that we can form a regional association.”
- Georgia is on track to comply with the Clean Power Plan, especially under Georgia Power Company’s proposed integrated resource plan, which proposes to add much more renewable power.
- Louisiana is continuing to plan for compliance. According to Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Chuck Carr Brown, “Some of the coal states are saying, ‘Put your pencils down’… I took this as an opportunity to sharpen the pencil — to create something that is going to work for the state of Louisiana.”
- Michigan’s Attorney General is fighting the Clean Power Plan in court even though the state “would be largely in compliance” with the rule under expected “business as usual” conditions, according to a recent report by the Electric Power Research Institute.
- South Carolina regulators are developing a new state energy plan that will likely include measures to reduce power plant emissions. Although the state has halted official work on the Clean Power Plan and is challenging it in court, these emissions reductions could help the state comply with the rule — and spur economic development, as highlighted in a recent op ed by Frank Knapp, President of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.
- This summer the National Association of Clean Air Agencies released a comprehensive report designed to help states develop implementation plans to comply with EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The report includes a complete model state plan submittal that states can adapt or build on as they wish.