Category Archives: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A Milestone in a Vitally Important Clean Air Act Case Before the Supreme Court

This week, we saw another milestone in a vitally important Supreme Court case about the Clean Air Act and our environment.

On Tuesday, EDF and a coalition of environmental groups joined with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 15 states in filing briefs to defend EPA’s rules requiring new and rebuilt industrial sources to use cost-effective technology to limit climate pollution.

(The states are New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, plus the City of New York. You can read all the briefs here.)

In October, the Supreme Court denied review of EPA’s historic endangerment finding and clean cars standards, and granted review of a single question: whether EPA permissibly concluded that the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles triggered the application of the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and Title V permitting programs to sources of greenhouse gases.

The permitting programs at issue – PSD and Title V – ensure that large new industrial sources use modern cost-effective solutions to mitigate climate pollution in the same way they have effectively addressed other pollutants under the nation’s clean air laws, and facilitate compliance with the entire range of Clean Air Act programs.

The Clean Air Act is clear that both programs apply to large sources emitting “any air pollutant,” and EPA’s regulations have required PSD and Title V permits for large sources of air pollutants subject to regulation for decades.

The petitioners in this case and those filing amicus briefs on their behalf, many of whom are tied to a $900 million effort to obstruct progress on climate and clean energy, want to upend these long-standing protections.

In the process, they present readings of the Clean Air Act that would exclude common-sense modern pollution controls for climate pollution — as well as hydrogen sulfide, sulfuric acid mist, and other air pollutants long regulated under our nation’s clean air laws.

The central theme in their arguments? Someday, EPA might apply these clean air protections to too many emissions sources.

So let’s take a look at greenhouse gas permitting over the last three years:

  • As of this writing, approximately 140 permits have been issued nationwide.
  • Permits cover industries ranging from iron and steel plants to cement plants to power plants.
  • Almost all states are handling their own greenhouse gas permitting.

Meanwhile, EPA is carefully considering next steps for greenhouse gas permitting requirements, including options for lowering the number of sources that might require permits in the future.

The next milestones in the case are coming up soon. Reply briefs are expected on February 15, and the Court will hear oral argument on Monday, February 24.

In the meantime, you can read more about the case here.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, News, Policy | Comments closed

Why the cost of carbon pollution is both too high and too low

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Tell someone you are a “climate economist,” and the first thing you hear after the slightly puzzled looks subside is, “How much?” Show me the money: “How much is climate change really costing us?”

Here it is: at least $40.

That, of course, isn’t the total cost, which is in the trillions of dollars. $40 is the cost per ton of carbon dioxide pollution emitted today, and represents the financial impacts of everything climate change wreaks: higher medical bills, lost productivity at work, rising seas, and more. Every American, all 300 million of us, emit around twenty of these $40-tons per year.

The number comes from none other than the U.S. government in an effort to uncover the true cost of carbon pollution. This exercise was first conducted in 2010. It involved a dozen government agencies and departments, several dozen experts, and a fifty-page, densely crafted “technical support document,” replete with some seventy, peer-reviewed references and an even more technical appendix.

Cass Sunstein, the Harvard legal scholar of Nudge fame, who was co-leading the process for the White House at the time, recently declared himself positively surprised how the usual interest-group politics were all-but absent from the discussions throughout that process. This is how science should be done to help guide public policy.

The cost of carbon pollution is too low

The number originally reached in 2010 wasn’t $40. It was a bit more than half as much. What happened? In short, the scientific understanding of the impacts of rising seas had advanced by so much, and the peer-reviewed, economic models had finally caught up to the scientific understanding circa 2007, that a routine update of the cost of carbon number resulted in the rather dramatic increase to near $40 per ton. (There are twenty pages of additional scientific prose, if you want to know the details.)

In other words, we had been seriously underestimating the cost of climate change all along. That’s the exact opposite of what you hear from those who want to ignore the problem, and the $40 itself is still woefully conservative. Some large companies, including the likes of Exxon, are voluntarily using a higher price internally for their capital investment decisions.

And everything we know about the science points to the fact that the $40 figure has nowhere to go but up. The more we know, the higher the costs. And even what we don’t knowpushes the costs higher still.

Howard Shelanski, Sunstein’s successor as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA, pronounced “oh-eye-ruh”), has since presided over a further update of the official number. In fact, this one didn’t incorporate any of the latest science. It was simply a minor technical correction of the prior update, resulting in a $1 revision downward. (The precise number is now $37, though I still say $40 at cocktail parties, to avoid a false sense of precision. Yes, that’s what a climate economist talks about at cocktail parties.)

And once again, it all demonstrated just how science ought to be done: Sometimes it advances because newer and better, peer-reviewed publications become available. Sometimes it advances because someone discovers and fixes a small mathematical error.

Your input is needed

While announcing the correction, Shelanski added another layer of transparency and an opportunity for further refinements of the numbers: a formal call for public comments on the way the cost of carbon figure is calculated, open through January 27 February 26th.

We are taking this opportunity seriously. EDF, together with our partners at the Natural Resource Defense Council, New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, is submitting formal, technical comments in support of the administration’s use of the cost of carbon pollution number as well as recommending further revisions to reflect the latest science.

The bottom line, as economists like to put it, is that carbon pollution costs society a lot of money. So as the technical experts trade scientific papers, you can help by reminding our leaders in Washington that we need strong, science-based climate policies.

Update (on January 24th): The official comment period just was extended for another month, through February 26th. More time to show your support.

Also posted in Economics, Science, Setting the Facts Straight | 1 Response, comments now closed

New Power Plant Rule: Strong, Smart, and Legally Sound

Yesterday EPA published its revised proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants. When finalized, these standards will be the first national limits on the amount of carbon pollution emitted by new power plants in the United States. The standards will finally require new coal-fired power plants — the largest source of carbon pollution in our country — to install carbon capture technology and sequester the climate-destabilizing carbon pollution they produce underground.

Back in 2011, after testing this technology at a power plant in West Virginia, American Electric Power’s former CEO and president Mike Morris told investors:

We’re encouraged by what we saw. We’re clearly impressed with what we learned and we feel that we have demonstrated to a certainty that carbon capture and storage is in fact viable technology for the United States and quite honestly for the rest of the world going forward.

It is now 2014. The technology is being deployed across the world, and here at plants in Canada, Mississippi, California, and at two plants in Texas. EPA’s standards will ensure that the United States is leading the energy revolution — in carbon capture technologies as well as in clean renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Of course these realities did not stop the attacks from industry lawyers.

Jeff Holmstead, Counsel to the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council — a coalition of coal-dependent energy companies — released a statement arguing that we just can’t do it … can’t produce clean, safe, affordable power. He is wrong. These standards are common sense and legally sound. Not only are carbon capture technologies — long in use in other industries — being deployed in the power sector across the world, but renewables are taking off.

Between 2011 and October of 2013, wind generation in the United States increased by over 40%.  In April of 2013, the United States had a record month for wind power with generation of over 17,000 gigawatt hours. In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost approximately 1 percent of what they did 35 years ago. Since 2008, as the cost of a solar module dropped from $3.80/watt to $.80/watt, solar deployment has jumped by about 10 times.

We can, and we will build the low-carbon power sector of the 21st century—and we will not let those companies still investing in the dangerous, harmful energy technologies of the past dictate our future.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight | Comments closed

EPA Publishes Proposed Standards to Limit Carbon Pollution from New Power Plants

November of 2013 was the warmest November on record.

It was also was the 345th consecutive month (that’s almost 29 years!) with a global temperature above the 20th century average, according to the most recent data from NOAA.

So while some folks may be dismissing climate change because of the current blisteringly cold weather in parts of the U.S., we are still very clearly seeing the long-term trend of warming that experts at leading scientific and government agencies (like NASA and many, many others) agree is occurring.

This long-term trend of warming and the serious consequences at stake underscores the need to address carbon pollution now.

Here’s some good news on that front:

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its proposed standards to limit carbon pollution from new power plants in the Federal Register.

There are currently no national limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the single largest source of this pollution in the United States.

The standards published today will help ensure that we get our power from cleaner sources, and that we reduce climate-destabilizing pollutants like carbon dioxide.

Cleaner power means healthier lives for millions of Americans.

We are learning more and more about the impact of climate change on human health. From increased asthma attacks to disease and sanitation concerns, a changing climate will have a significant impact on Americans’ health now and in the future.

  • In one recent study, Harvard researchers found that high temperatures correlated with more hospital visits for five conditions including kidney, glandular, and urinary tract problems; accidents; and self-harm.
  • In another study, researchers found that those suffering from allergies or asthma are likely going to have to cope with earlier pollen seasons for some allergenic species in a changing climate.

Health groups, states, moms, environmental groups, and businesses have all expressed support for common-sense limits on carbon pollution. About four million Americans have written to EPA in support of carbon pollution standards for power plants.

This opinion piece from the American Medical Association may best sum up the health risk if we don’t act:

If physicians want evidence of climate change, they may well find it in their own offices. Patients are presenting with illnesses that once happened only in warmer areas. Chronic conditions are becoming aggravated by more frequent and extended heat waves. Allergy and asthma seasons are getting longer. . . . Rising air and water temperatures and rising ocean levels since the late 1960s have increased the severity of weather, including hurricanes and droughts, and the production of ground-level ozone. That means more asthma and respiratory illnesses, more heat stroke and exhaustion, and exacerbation of chronic conditions such as heart disease.

Fortunately, we have the technology to meet our clean energy and human health goals, and EPA’s standards will play a key role in getting us there.

Cost-effective, low-carbon energy solutions are being deployed across the country now. They are creating homegrown, good jobs while protecting Americans health and prosperity.

In fact, ALL of the new electric power that came online in November in America was from renewable energy.

In 2012, wind power was:

[T]he number one source of new U.S. electric generation capacity for the first time—representing 43 percent of all new electric additions and accounting for $25 billion in U.S. investment.

However, there are opposition forces working to derail EPA’s efforts to address carbon pollution.

We need all of the support we can muster to ensure EPA goes forward with its commonsense standards that will help ensure the healthier, clean energy future we know we must achieve for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

Please tell EPA you support a clean energy future for our children

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Health, News, Policy | Comments closed

EDF and Allies Defend EPA Emission Standards for Oil and Gas Pollution

(This post was co-authored by Tomás Carbonell, EDF Attorney, and Brian Korpics, EDF Legal Fellow. It originally appeared on EDF’s Energy Exchange blog.)

A new year may be upon us, but – unfortunately – some members of the oil and gas industry would prefer we roll back the clock on common sense, long-overdue emission standards for oil and gas equipment.

Oil and natural gas production continues to expand rapidly in the United States – and with it the potential for emissions of climate-destabilizing pollutants (especially methane), smog-forming compounds and carcinogenic substances, such as benzene. We urgently need rigorous national standards that comprehensively address the full suite of pollutants from oil and gas facilities, protect public health and the environment and conserve needless waste of our nation’s natural resources.

In August 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a promising first step by issuing emission standards for new natural gas wells and other oil and gas equipment, including the thousands of large storage tanks built near gas wells, pipelines and processing facilities each and every year. These “New Source Performance Standards” (NSPS) were based on proven and highly-effective emission control technologies that leading companies have been using for years. Many of these control technologies also directly benefit a company’s bottom line by reducing avoidable waste of natural gas from vents and leaks – saving money while protecting our climate and air.

Regrettably, some industry associations have consistently attacked these common-sense standards. In response to industry petitions seeking to weaken vital clean air requirements for storage tanks, EPA proposed to revise these standards in April 2013. Among other things, the proposed revisions would have created a broad exemption for approximately 20,000 facilities built between August 2011 and April 2013. EDF and five other environmental organizations joined together to file extensive comments strongly opposing these proposed rollbacks, and highlighting the benefits of rigorous national emission standards. Our comments objected that the proposed exemption would lead to massive increases in emissions of harmful pollutants – over 3 million tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and 700,000 tons of methane over the lifetime of these storage tanks.

Fortunately, these and other comments prompted EPA to retract this broad exemption in its final rule issued in August 2013. EPA instead maintained its requirement that operators of all high-emitting storage tanks built since August 2011 reduce emissions by 95 percent. EPA noted that the supply of emission controls for storage tanks was adequate, and concluded that the broad exemptions sought by industry were not justified.

Industry responded to this development by taking EPA to court. On November 22, five industry groups – the American Petroleum Institute (API), Texas Oil and Gas Association, Independent Petroleum Association of America, Western Energy Alliance and Gas Processors Association – filed suit in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. challenging EPA’s emission standards.

Just before the holidays, Earthjustice and EDF filed a motion to intervene in that suit. Along with several other environmental organizations, we are vigorously seeking to defend EPA’s action and safeguard these national emission standards.

While some industry players attempt to obstruct critical clean air progress, others are supporting common sense air pollution control measures. Last month, Colorado proposed new air regulations for oil and gas operations that, if adopted, will help dramatically reduce harmful air and climate pollution caused by oil and gas operations. The state of Colorado, EDF and three energy companies—Anadarko Petroleum, Encana Corporation and Noble Energy — worked together on these measures that could result in cleaner, safer air for all Coloradoans.

In places like Colorado, diverse interests are putting aside their differences and finding clean air solutions. It’s time for API and other oil and gas associations to do the same – and invest in clean air solutions for our nation, not litigation.

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

New Study — Web of Entities Invests Heavily in Obstructing Climate and Clean Energy Progress

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Peabody Coal Company is one of the top five worst performing stocks of 2013.

In a year when the S&P 500 was up 29 percent and the Dow rose by 26 percent, Peabody Coal’s stock plummeted by 28 percent.

While most investors recognize the serious environmental and financial risks associated with coal and its pollution, not all do.

Drexel University Professor Robert Brulle reviewed IRS data from 2003 to 2010 and found a web of entities investing over $900 million annually in organizations dedicated to obstructing climate progress and fighting the deployment of safe, clean energy in America.

If you take a closer look at those specific organizations identified in Brulle’s study, you’ll find that several of them are involved – now – in extensive efforts to obstruct climate and clean energy progress under the nation’s clean air laws and leading state programs.

Take a look at these examples:

The Landmark Legal Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute and FreedomWorks all just filed briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the Clean Air Act’s requirement that, at the time of their design and construction, large industrial sources deploy cost-effective modern pollution control technologies to mitigate their climate pollution.

In its challenge to clean air measures for climate pollution, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and FreedomWorks brief (filed along with Southeastern Legal Foundation) relies extensively — and chillingly — on the tobacco industry case FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and the legal attacks on our nation’s efforts to eliminate the scourge of youth tobacco addiction:

The Court’s approach to FDA’s assertion of regulatory authority over tobacco products has direct relevance in the present case and should control the outcome here.

(That’s from page 7 of their brief. The Supreme Court has already considered – and rejected – this misguided legal attack in the context of EPA's authority to regulate climate pollution.)

Earlier this year, the Landmark Legal Foundation unsuccessfully asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review EPA’s science-based determination that six greenhouse gases endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations. They tried to challenge EPA’s determination, anchored in extensive science reflecting decades of research, by ridiculously questioning whether this finding is a “scientific judgment.” (see page 11 of their brief)

The Competitive Enterprise Institute also litigated to overturn New York Republican Governor George Pataki’s leading efforts to cap and reduce the climate pollution from fossil fuel power plants in New York and to participate in a broader regional pollution control program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

On December 5th, New York’s appellate court affirmed the decision of the state’s trial court firmly rejecting these legal attacks.

In his study, Brulle also chronicles the “evidence of a trend toward concealing the sources of [climate obstructionism] funding through the use of donor directed philanthropies” such as the Donors Trust.

A closer look at funding by the Donors Trust through its most recent IRS Form 990 (2011) indicates $1,189,730 in grant funding provided to an organization called the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).  CFACT is a major outlet for climate denialism.

CFACT, too, just filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in which it asserts that the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-induced climate change is “tenuous, biased, inaccurate, incomplete, unsupported by actual observations, and lacking in scientific integrity.”

The recent scientific findings of the world’s leading scientists set out in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that climate change is unequivocal and its impacts are unprecedented and profound.

Another organization that has received support from the Donors Trust according to the Trust’s IRS Form 990 (2011) is the Judicial Education Project.

They also just filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the federal government’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s largest sources of such pollution. The brief alleges that the Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 landmark case, Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the Court stated that the “harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized.”

Earlier this year, the Mercatus Center — another group identified by Brulle’s researchsubmitted adverse comments on proposed clean air standards for cars and gasoline by calling into question the extensive body of peer reviewed science linking particulate pollution and mortality.

It is well documented that these clean air standards for cars and gasoline will provide healthier, longer lives. They have also won the support of diverse interests, including the American Lung Association and the U.S. auto industry, because of the dual benefits of reducing health-harming pollutants and enabling more efficient clean car technologies.

Recently, the Landmark Legal Foundation joined by the Cato Institute — both groups identified in Brulle’s research — challenged the Department of Energy’s adoption of improved appliance efficiency standards for microwaves.

The microwave standards will lead to less energy use, consumer cost savings and pollution reductions. Landmark Legal Foundation and the Cato Institute objected to DOE’s consideration of the societal benefits of mitigating carbon pollution. Patrick Michaels, a well-known climate denialist, co-authored the Cato comments. Landmark asked DOE to immediately halt implementation and rescind the Rule.

DOE has denied the request to upend these common sense energy conservation standards for our nation.

And it is not surprising that Peabody Coal Company, too, has just filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court objecting to the Clean Air Act requirement that our nation’s largest industrial emitters use modern pollution controls to mitigate climate pollution.

Peabody’s brief begins by asserting that “[w]hether and how to regulate GHGs [greenhouse gases] remains a highly debated, contentious issue in Congress, agencies and the courts.” (Page 2 of their brief)

But Brulle’s research elucidates how Peabody’s assertion is a tautology. Through massive funding of groups dedicated to climate obstructionism, Brulle documents how climate change remains contentious because there is a vast climate change counter-movement dedicated to making it so:

[A] number of conservative think tanks, trade associations, and advocacy organizations are the key organizational components of a well-organized climate change counter-movement (CCCM) that has not only played a major role in confounding public understanding of climate science, but also successfully delayed meaningful government policy actions to address the issue.

Climate change is happening. The toll exacted from extreme weather — fueled in part by climate change – on human life and our economy is profound, and reaches from the ravages wrought on New York and New Jersey by Hurricane Sandy to the tragic flooding in the Rockies.

However, the solutions are at hand.

In 2012, wind power was “the number one source of new U.S. electric generation capacity for the first time—representing 43 percent of all new electric additions and accounting for $25 billion in U.S. investment.”

And even more recently, in November 2013, 100 percent – ALL – of the new electrical power in America came from renewable energy.

While Peabody’s stock falls and its rhetoric rises, and while the forces of obstructionism fight clean energy, the winds of change are blowing briskly.

Brulle’s study is a clarion call for moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, and uncles to resolve that in 2014 we will work together to fight for clean air and clean energy for our children — and for all children.

In spite of a well-funded group of obstructionists, we can prevail.

We can secure climate progress and clean energy for our nation, for our communities and for our future.

Also posted in EPA litgation, News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight | 1 Response, comments now closed

EPA's Proposed Carbon Pollution Standards are Legally and Technically Sound

America is building cleaner cars, more efficient freight trucks, and smarter power systems.

Wind power was the top source of capacity additions for new electricity generation in 2012, with states like Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado leading the way.

Yet even as American companies build cars that are leading the world in fuel economy and saving families money at the pump, and as innovative new wind turbines provide zero-emitting electricity for all of us and a stable income source for farmers and ranchers, the supporters of high-emitting coal power claim that it is not capable of deploying advanced technologies to cut carbon pollution.

On September 20th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed Carbon Pollution Standards that will provide the first nationwide limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. The Carbon Pollution Standards could be met through clean renewable energy resources or fossil fuels such as an efficient combined cycle natural gas plant or coal plants using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to control their carbon emissions.

But coal’s boosters have attacked the long overdue EPA standards, asserting that coal is unable to use modern technologies. Last month, Majority members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to EPA asking the agency to withdraw the proposed standards.  The letter argues that because three of the coal plants currently being built to use CCS receive funding under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), EPA cannot rely on those plants to support its determination that CCS is an adequately demonstrated technology and the best system of emission reduction for coal-fired power plants.

As this legal analysis shows, EPA’s proposal is technically and legally sound.

Although EPAct provides that an innovative technology supported under that Act cannot by itself prove that the technology is adequately demonstrated, EPA relied on a broad body of evidence beyond the three EPAct-funded plants in identifying CCS as the best system of emission reduction for coal-fired power plants.

EPA’s finding that CCS is adequately demonstrated is in line with what the power industry itself has said.  American Electric Power’s former CEO and president Mike Morris had this to say about the company’s Mountaineer CCS project in 2011:

We’re encouraged by what we saw. We’re clearly impressed with what we learned and we feel that we have demonstrated to a certainty that carbon capture and storage is in fact viable technology for the United States and quite honestly for the rest of the world going forward.

There is no time to delay our transition to a clean energy economy. The United States experienced twelve separate climate disasters in 2012 each costing over a billion dollars, and climate change continues to impact the health and wellbeing of our families and communities every day. As the success of clean energy and energy efficiency programs across our country demonstrates, the solutions are at hand. We have but to deploy them.

While coal refuses to innovate, the world is turning toward cleaner energy. Earlier this year the U.S. and World Bank announced that they would no longer finance dirty coal projects abroad. Meanwhile, the wind farms continue to crop up across America’s heartland.

As a Midwesterner, I am thankful that there is a bolder vision for America – of engineers, welders, fabricators, and inventors, working together, who know that we can and we must make clean energy our future.  For our sake, and for our children and grandchildren.

Also posted in News, Policy | Comments closed

IPCC mention of geoengineering, though brief, opens window for discussion

The IPCC's latest report includes a brief mention of geoengineering — a range of techniques for reducing global warming through intervention in the planet’s climate system. (Photo credit: NASA)

(Originally posted yesterday on EDF’s Climate Talks blog)

Just a few weeks ago, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first piece of their fifth crucial report on global warming – and it confirms that our climate is changing. Key messages from the report include:

  • Warming of the climate is unequivocal
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear, and the evidence for human influence has only increased since the last IPCC report
  • Further changes in temperature, precipitation, weather extremes, and sea level are imminent

In short, humans are causing dramatic climate change—and we’re already witnessing the effects. Oceans are warming and acidifying. Weather patterns are more extreme and destructive. Land-based ice is declining—and leading to rising sea levels.

None of this should be surprising to those following the science of climate change. What has generated surprise amongst some, however, is the IPCC’s brief mention of the science of geoengineering, tucked into the last paragraph of the IPCC’s 36-page “Summary for Policymakers.”

Understanding the science of geoengineering

As communities and policymakers around the world face the risks presented by a rapidly changing climate, interest in the topic of “geoengineering” is growing.

Geoengineering refers to a range of techniques for reducing global warming through intervention in the planet’s climate system, by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (carbon dioxide removal, or CDR) or by reflecting away a small percentage of inbound sunlight (solar radiation management, or SRM).

Some of these ideas have been proposed by scientists concerned about the lack of political progress in curbing the continued growth in global carbon emissions, and who are looking for other possibilities for addressing climate change if we can’t get emissions under control soon.

With the risks and impacts of rising temperatures already being felt, the fact that SRM would likely be cheap to deploy and fast-acting means that it has attracted particular attention as one possible short-term response to climate change.

The world’s governments tasked the IPCC with investigating these emerging technologies in its new report, and the IPCC summary rightly sounds a cautionary note on their potential utility, warning:

Limited evidence precludes a comprehensive quantitative assessment of both Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and their impact on the climate system…

Modelling indicates that SRM methods, if realizable, have the potential to substantially offset a global temperature rise, but they would also modify the global water cycle, and would not reduce ocean acidification. If SRM were terminated for any reason, there is high confidence that global surface temperatures would rise very rapidly to values consistent with the greenhouse gas forcing. CDR and SRM methods carry side effects and long-term consequences on a global scale.

So what does this mean? Three things are clear from the IPCC’s brief analysis:

  1. CDR and SRM might have benefits for the climate system, but they also carry risks, and at this stage it is unknown what the balance of benefits and risks may be.
  2. The overall effects of SRM for regional and global weather patterns are likely to be uncertain, unpredictable, and broadly distributed across countries. As with climate change itself, there would most likely be winners and losers if SRM technologies were to be used.
  3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, SRM does not provide an alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, since it does not address the rising emissions that are the root cause of ocean acidification and other non-temperature related climate change impacts.

This last point is particularly important. The most that could be expected from SRM would be to serve as a short-term tool to manage some temperature-related climate risks, if efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions prove too slow to prevent severe disruption of the earth’s climate.

In that case, we need to understand what intervention options exist and the implications of deploying them. In other words, ignorance is our enemy.

Need for inclusive and adaptive governance of solar radiation management research

While much of the limited research on solar radiation management has taken place in the developed world – a trend likely to continue for the foreseeable future – the ethical, political, and social implications of SRM research are necessarily global. Discussions about governance of research should be as well.

But a transparent and transnationally agreed system of governance of SRM research (including norms, best practices, regulations and laws) does not currently exist. With knowledge of the complex technical, ethical, and political implications of SRM currently limited, an effective research governance framework will be difficult to achieve until we undertake a broad conversation among a diversity of stakeholders.

Recognizing these needs, The Royal Society, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and TWAS (The World Academy of Sciences) launched in 2010 an international NGO-driven initiative to explore how SRM research could be governed. SRMGI is neither for nor against SRM. Instead, it aims to foster inclusive, interdisciplinary, and international discussion on SRM research and governance.

SRMGI’s activities are founded on a simple idea: that early and sustained dialogue among diverse stakeholders around the world, informed by the best available science, will increase the chances of SRM research being handled responsibly, equitably, and cooperatively.

Connecting dialogues across borders

A key goal is to include people in developing countries vulnerable to climate change and typically marginalized in discussions about emerging science and technology issues, to explore their views on SRM, and connect them in a transnational conversation about possible research governance regimes.

This month, for example, saw the launch of a report by the African Academy of Sciences and SRMGI describing the results from a series of three SRM research governance workshops held in Africa in 2012 and 2013. Convened in Senegal, South Africa, and Ethiopia, the workshops attracted more than 100 participants – including scientists, policymakers, journalists and academics – from 21 African nations to explore African perspectives on SRM governance.

To build the capacity for an informed global dialogue on geoengineering governance, a critical mass of well-informed individuals in communities throughout the world must be developed, and they must talk to each other, as well as to their own networks. An expanding spiral of distinct, but linked outreach processes could help build the cooperative bridges needed to manage potential international conflicts, and will help ensure that if SRM technologies develop, they do so cooperatively and transparently, not unilaterally.

The way forward

No one can predict how SRM research will develop or whether these strategies for managing the short-term implications of climate risk will be helpful or harmful, but early cooperation and transnational, interdisciplinary dialogue on geoengineering research governance will help the global community make informed decisions.

With SRM research in its infancy, but interest in the topic growing, the IPCC report reminds us that now is the time to establish the norms and governance mechanisms that ensure that where research does proceed, it is safe, ethical, and subject to appropriate public oversight and independent evaluation.

It’s worth remembering that the IPCC devoted only one paragraph of its 36-page summary report to geoengineering. So while discussion about geoengineering technologies and governance is necessary, the key message from the IPCC must not be lost: it’s time to recognize that the billions of tons of carbon pollution we put in our atmosphere every year are causing dangerous changes to our climate, and work together to find the best ways to reduce that pollution.

Also posted in Geoengineering, News, Science | Comments closed

Setting the Record Straight — What this Week's Supreme Court Order Really Means

This week the Supreme Court denied numerous legal attacks seeking further judicial review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) determination that greenhouse gas emissions are dangerous to human health and welfare, and of other key aspects of EPA’s first generation of climate policies.

The Court agreed to hear arguments on one narrow issue, relevant to one specific Clean Air Act permitting program.

This marked the end of the road for years of sustained industry attacks on the scientific and legal foundation for addressing climate pollution under the Clean Air Act. This was a tremendous victory for science and the rule of law.

But some media reporting suggested just the opposite.

This was the lead of USA Today’s story:

Dealing a potential blow to the Obama administration and environmentalists, the Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to consider limiting the Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate greenhouse gases.

(We don’t mean to single out USA Today, which has a well-deserved reputation for excellent environmental reporting. Other media coverage was also confusing. We have more examples at the end of this post.)

Given all that, it seems like it might be helpful to look at the facts of what the Court did and did not do:

Fact One

Industry lawyers threw every attack they could think of at EPA’s science-based finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations due to intensifying smog levels, floods, drought, wildfires, and other dangerous climate impacts. The Supreme Court rejected every single industry challenge to the Endangerment Finding.

What this means

This is the end of the road for more than four years of industry regulatory, procedural, and legal attacks on the Endangerment Finding. The End.

But it means more than that. The reason why fossil fuel interests have been so desperate to discredit the Endangerment Finding is because it is the cornerstone for controlling climate pollution under the Clean Air Act — not just for the Clean Car Standards, but also for the forthcoming Carbon Pollution Standards for new and existing power plants and other major sources.

EPA’s Endangerment Finding reflects a vast body of peer-reviewed scientific research by thousands of scientists. Attempts to attack it through litigation have failed. This is a tremendous moment, and an unmistakable sign of the strength of the legal foundation for controlling climate pollution from cars and trucks, power plants, and other major sources under the Clean Air Act.

Fact Two  

The Supreme Court denied every legal challenge seeking review of the Clean Car Standards.

What this means

The landmark Clean Car Standards were strongly supported by U.S. automakers and the United Auto Workers. The Association of Global Automakers and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers helped to defend them in court.

These standards, combined with the second generation Clean Car Standards, mean the U.S. will achieve a fleet-wide average of 54.5 mpg by 2025, cut greenhouse gas pollution by six billion tons, avoid 12 billion barrels of oil imports, and save consumers $1.7 trillion at the gas pump — an average of $8,000 per vehicle by 2025.

Fact Three

The Supreme Court did grant review of a narrow question relevant to one specific (and important) Clean Air Act permitting program — did the regulation of greenhouse gases under the clean car program also make greenhouse gases regulated under the program requiring pre-construction review permits for major stationary pollution sources.

What this means

We believe that the Clean Air Act is clear — on its face — that this permitting program applies to all pollutants, as EPA has implemented it.  We will vigorously defend this interpretation in front of the Supreme Court, and we believe that we will succeed.

Moreover, even some petitioners have recognized — as did U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Kavanaugh in his dissent below — that even if the permit program were limited in the way they assert, the requirement to adopt the best pollution controls for greenhouse gases would still apply to sources that are required to obtain permits due to their emissions of other airborne contaminants regulated under national ambient air quality standards.

What this does NOT mean

The question being reviewed by the Supreme Court is important. But it does not have any effect on the programs going forward to address carbon pollution from the two largest sources in our nation — power plants, under the forthcoming Carbon Pollution Standards, and transportation, under the Clean Car Standards.

Bottom Line

The Obama Administration’s vital plan to protect our communities and families from climate change has NOT been called into question by the Supreme Court’s review of one question related to the permitting program for major stationary sources of emissions.

By rejecting every petition challenging the Endangerment Finding and the Clean Car Standards, the Court has yet again indicated that EPA is fulfilling its statutory duty in addressing greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Building on this firm foundation, EPA has a responsibility to protect Americans’ health and well-being from the threat of climate change. That includes establishing limits on carbon pollution from power plants — the single largest source of climate destabilizing emissions in our nation.

 

(As mentioned above, here are other examples of confusing media coverage from Tuesday morning)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would consider challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s permitting requirements for power plants and other facilities that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, throwing the Obama administration’s regulations into a state of uncertainty. (emphasis is ours)

  • Wall Street Journal (available by subscription only)

The hearings, set for next year, could allow the Court to scale back the Obama Administration’s climate regulations at a time when the chance of passing legislation to limit carbon emissions—long the preferred route of the White House and most environmental groups—seems virtually nil. (emphasis is ours)

At issue is whether the federal Environmental Protection Agency can tighten emission standards for stationary greenhouse gas sources, such as power plants, in what the government says is an effort to stem the effects of global warming. (emphasis is ours)

Also posted in Clean Air Act, News, What Others are Saying | Comments closed

New paper outlines the legal foundations for strong Carbon Pollution Standards for power plants

On June 25th, at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama issued a stirring call to action on climate change, saying:

As a president, as a father and as an American, I am here to say we need to act.  I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.

In that speech, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan — a suite of actions that his Administration will take to curb dangerous emissions of heat-trapping pollutants.

In that Climate Action Plan, the President directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop Carbon Pollution Standards for new and existing power plants.

Power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gases in America, and there are currently no federal limits on the amount of climate-destabilizing pollutants that these plants can put into the air.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the attacks on the Carbon Pollution Standards had begun months earlier.

Those attacks included the usual sensational, defeatist, and wholly-unsupported claims designed to delay, deny, and obstruct progress.

Quieter but no less sensational are the attacks launched by the lawyers of obstructionist fossil fuel interests. Hunton & Williams, on behalf of the opaque Utility Air Regulatory Group, is leading the pack.

The legal attacks on the standards for existing power plants effectively boil down to this:

  1. EPA does not have the authority under the Clean Air Act to establish any actual limits on carbon pollution.
  2. If EPA does have that authority, there are no demonstrated measures to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, so any required emission reductions must at most be "minimal."

We disagree. 

In this white paper, we lay out the legal foundation for EPA’s authority to work with the states to ensure implementation of strong and cost-effective Carbon Pollution Standards for existing power plants.

These standards can support our nation’s transition to a cleaner, safer, smarter power infrastructure and deliver the reductions in carbon pollution we so urgently need.

In the President’s words:

Our progress here will be measured differently, in crises averted, in a planet preserved. But can we imagine a more worthy goal? For while we may not live to see the full realization of our ambition, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that the world we leave to our children will be better off for what we did.

America is united by these hopes and dreams for a better world. Thanks to the ingenuity of our engineers and inventors, and the skill of our workers, the solutions are at hand to build a cleaner power sector and to use energy more efficiently.

The Clean Air Act provides a framework under which EPA and the states can work together to deploy these solutions. We need only work together — in red states, blue states and purple states alike — to meet this challenge.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Policy, What Others are Saying | Comments closed
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