Category Archives: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Why California thirsts for rain and the East Coast gets soaked

Source: Flickr/Jared Tarbell

If you think the weather’s acting strange, you’re correct. Extreme weather in the United States is trending upward, and human-caused climate change has already been blamed for much of it – most recently in connection with theCalifornia drought.

But along with extreme weather we’re also getting extreme contrasts. What on Earth is going on when New York gets endless rain and San Francisco none, and when one part of the country is freezing while another suffers under record heat?

You guessed it, rising temperatures have something to do with it – and here’s how.

Rain patterns are changing

In the Northeast, the combination of more moisture in the atmosphere from a warmer world and changes in circulation patterns are bringing more rain. In the Southwest, meanwhile, rainfall is suppressed by a northward expansion of high pressure in the subtropics.

The crippling drought now plaguing California is due to a persistent high pressure system off of the coast that is deflecting storms away from the region. A recent study shows that these systems are much more likely to occur with human-caused climate change.

Rain is more intense

Heavy downpours are controlled by cloud mechanisms and moisture content, which are both changing as global temperatures rise. Clouds that can dump a lot of rain are more common in a warmer atmosphere.

More evaporation has led to more moisture in the atmosphere which, in turn, leads to more intense rainfall when it rains. That helps explain why the entire U.S. is experiencing more heavy downpours – even in the drought-stricken West.

Droughts are taking hold

Rain and evaporation will determine how moist the soil will be. So although evaporation is increasing nationwide due to warmer temperatures, higher precipitation in the Northeast yields a net increase in soil moisture in that part of the country.

In the Southwest, on the other hand, the drop in overall precipitation brings drier conditions that spawn or magnify drought. As the soil there dries out, the incoming sunlight will heat the ground instead of evaporating water from the soil. This creates a vicious cycle of more heat and less rain.

Flooding is more common

The potential for flooding, meanwhile, depends a lot on what's going on with the soil. The higher the soil moisture content, the higher the chance that there will be more runoff from rainfall.

Because soil moisture is increasing in the Northeast, flooding events are on the rise. Fortunately for the region, many heavy rain storms occur in the summer and fall when soil moisture is low and the ground can absorb more water.

On the other hand, the sea level has risen by a foot since the 1900s in the Northeast. That, in turn, contributes to more flooding.

Disaster costs are also rising – but there is hope

In 2013, intense storms, severe regional drought, and extreme flooding led to more than $9 billion in disaster costs in the U.S. alone. It’s uncertain what the total bill was if you factor in ongoing agriculture, human health and infrastructure losses from changing weather conditions

Unless we curb emissions of heat-trapping gases, scientists expect these trends to continue and worsen – and the contrast between wet and dry areas of the U.S. will likely become even sharper. Our hope now is that the push for climate action amps up so we can finally set ourselves on a better path for the future.

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices 

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Science| Comments closed

Victory for Healthy Air: Court Rejects Nebraska Attorney General's Attempt to “Short-Circuit” the Law in Challenge to Carbon Pollution Standards

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning’s attempt to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to limit carbon pollution from power plants failed yesterday.

The federal district court in Nebraska dismissed the Attorney General’s lawsuit challenging EPA’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for new fossil fuel power plants.

The court held that:

[the Attorney General’s] attempt to short-circuit the administrative rulemaking process runs contrary to basic, well-understood administrative law. (Decision, Page 1)

The Attorney General’s challenge was flawed because it was filed only one week after EPA published proposed carbon emission standards for new power plants, in January 2014.

But the law is this case is clear and anchored in common sense.

As the court explained, legal challenges may only be brought against final standards:

Simply stated, the State cannot sue in federal court to challenge a rule that EPA has not yet actually made. (Decision, Page 1)

EPA’s proposed action is still in draft form and has been the subject of extensive public comment.

In December 2012, the D.C. Circuit rejected a similar challenge to EPA’s original proposal for the very same reason — that the standards had yet to be finalized.

This latest attempt at an end run around the Clean Air Act would have deprived the public of a chance to comment on a proposed rule and present its diverse viewpoints to the agency.  Moreover, for a court to review standards that are still being developed would be a waste of judicial resources and Americans’ tax dollars.

The court also noted a defect in the Nebraska Attorney General’s central legal claim.

The Attorney General argued that EPA’s reliance, in part, on data from facilities receiving federal assistance was unlawful.

The court explained:

The merits of this claim are not before the Court. But the Court notes that [Energy Policy Act section] 402(i) only forbids the EPA from considering a given technology or level of emission reduction to be adequately demonstrated solely on the basis of federally-funded facilities. 42 U.S.C. [section] 15962(i). In other words, such technology might be adequately demonstrated if that determination is based at least in part on non-federally-funded facilities. (Decision, Footnote 1, Page 5)

EDF previously examined the flaws with the Nebraska Attorney General’s legal claim in a detailed white paper. (You can read my blog about the white paper here)

Unfortunately for the citizens of Nebraska, Attorney General Bruning is devoting precious taxpayer resources to misguided legal attacks.

It’s not the only way in which Nebraska’s taxpayer dollars are being deployed to block vital clean air progress for our nation.

The Guardian reported that Bruning, on a conference call organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), told other state attorneys general that Nebraska has challenged EPA authority more than 30 times and will keep on doing so.

Yet the Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants have won broad public support from millions of Americans — including public health associations, Moms Clean Air Force, faith-based organizations, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and leading power companies.

Nebraska’s failed lawsuit is just one more misguided attempt to prevent vital limitations on the carbon pollution emitted by power plants from moving forward.

According to the Guardian, Bruning claims that:

EPA continues to try and ‘fix things’ that are not broken.

Tell that to the millions of Americans who are experiencing the harmful impacts of climate change.

While EPA takes steps to address carbon pollution from the single largest source in the country, Attorney General Bruning is devoting Nebraska’s tax dollars to flawed lawsuits.

Fortunately, millions of Americans in red and blue states alike are working together to forge solutions for our families, our communities and our nation.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News, Policy| Comments closed

Traveling to the climate march: Worth the carbon footprint?

(This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Lauren Frohne/Flickr

Looks like the simmering “climate swerve” may come to a boil on September 21 in New York City for what’s billed as the People's Climate March.

Bill McKibben called for it in the Rolling Stone magazine. Tens of thousands are slated to respond to his call, ostensibly to channel Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ghost and make world leaders "do it" – push for strong climate policies, now.

Except that it wouldn’t be the climate movement if it weren’t beset with self-doubt and second-guessing. Going to New York, you see, produces carbon dioxide emissions, the very cause of the problem. So how then can climate activists justify riding, driving or – heaven forbid – flying in the name of climate action?

We do because traveling to Manhattan, and expanding our carbon footprint in the process, may be better for the planet in the long-run than if we stayed home.

Real climate policy is what we need

Every cross-country roundtrip flight causes about a ton of carbon dioxide, per passenger. Driving emits carbon, if not quite as much. Trains do, too. Even if you bike or walk, you will need extra calories, which also come with additional carbon emissions.

A plethora of online calculators can help you decide how to minimize your own footprint. You could get positively crazy making these calculations, and some possibly have.

If you spend so much time online researching your carbon footprint that your power consumption shoots up, you may be on the wrong track.

We should all be decreasing our carbon footprint. The emphasis is on “all.” Real climate action, then, must go far beyond individual action by the committed core.

The People’s Climate March will take place on the eve of the United Nations’ Climate Summit, convened by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on September 23, and for good reason. It’s policy that needs to change.

Coal cannot be banned, but it can be priced

The headwinds are strong, to say the least.

King Edward I banned the burning of coal in 1306, replete with the death penalty for repeat offenders. It didn’t take long for the ban to be lifted, and the coal-fueled industrial revolution has brought untold riches to many.

The coal question, in many ways, goes to the heart of the matter. Banning coal is out. It is neither possible nor necessarily desirable.

What we need is to incorporate the full societal cost of burning that coal into everyone’s private decisions.

At the moment, each ton of coal and each barrel of oil used causes more in external damage to human health and the environment than it adds in value to the economy. That doesn’t mean we should not burn any coal or any oil, but it does mean putting a price on carbon, ideally directly via carbon markets or taxes.

It means regulation. It means standards. It means tax reform. It means taking significant policy steps to restructure misguided market forces so they lead us off of the current high-carbon, low-efficiency path.

Composting counts, but it’s not enough

Going green is fine. I don’t drive, don’t eat meat, and do all sorts of other things that minimize my own carbon footprint. The climate movement is home to quite a few who go the full-on vegan, composting, skip-coffee-because-it’s-bad-for-the-climate route.

But going green is only good if it actually gets somewhere.

If you compel your in-laws to compost more and drive less – go forth and proselytize. But if this makes them ignore efforts to achieve critical policy changes, your campaign for a voluntary green lifestyle should probably stop.

Many actions needed for a climate revolution are akin to a bootstrapping problem. Building a wind turbine takes steel, which in turn takes energy. The green energy revolution then may well mean an increase in current, largely fossil-fueled energy use for the sake of decreased carbon emissions later.

The Climate March falls into the same category. Going to New York implies emissions, as do most other things we hold near and dear in our daily lives.

Participating in the march won’t change that fact overnight. But calling for real, measured climate action just might. Helping to build the momentum toward policy change is precisely what’s needed.

If you can do it while also decreasing your own footprint, so much the better. If not, choose policy change.

Bike if you can, fly if you must. By all means, go to New York on September 21.

Also posted in News, Policy| Comments closed

5 Undeniable Truths about the Clean Power Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Renewable energy is taking hold.

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

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

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

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

2. Americans support limits on greenhouse gas emissions. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Health, Jobs, Policy| Comments closed

Supreme Court Reaffirms EPA’s Bedrock Legal Authority to Cut Carbon Pollution from Power Plants

Source: Openclipart

The United States Supreme Court issued a long-awaited decision in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (No. 12-1146) this week, resolving the last of many multi-year legal challenges to EPA’s first generation of climate protections under the Clean Air Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-to-2 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permissibly read the Clean Air Act to require large new or modified industrial pollution sources to deploy modern pollution controls for greenhouse gases. Thus, new and rebuilt large emitters of other regulated pollutants such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen subject to the Clean Air Act’s pre-construction review permit program must use the “best available control technology” to control climate pollution.

This is now the third decision in which the Court has affirmed the application of the Clean Air Act to climate pollution.

A 5-to-4 majority of the court also held that EPA must narrow its permit program to avoid applying the permitting program to many smaller sources that EPA itself had taken steps to exclude from regulation.

The UARG case emphatically puts an end to the misplaced claims by some who question EPA’s bedrock authority to address the deleterious carbon pollution from power plants and other industrial sources under section 111 and the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit program of the Clean Air Act. The central question in the UARG case was not whether EPA must address climate-destabilizing pollution from power plants and other industrial sources, but rather how EPA should carry out these essential clean air protections.

When it took up the UARG case, the Supreme Court decided not to review EPA’s rigorous, science-based determination in 2009 that six greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations — the legal foundation for addressing climate pollution under the Clean Air Act. The Court similarly declined to review EPA’s landmark rules in 2010 setting the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger vehicles (the Clean Car Standards). The Supreme Court’s review of UARG was focused exclusively on EPA’s interpretation of the PSD permitting program. Nothing about the Supreme Court’s final decision in UARG affects the Clean Car Standards or the science-based finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare and therefore must be addressed under the Clean Air Act. And in UARG, seven justices of the Court agreed with EPA that large industrial sources that are already required to obtain PSD permits due to their emissions of other regulated pollutants must limit their greenhouse gas emissions with “best available control technology.”

The UARG case also reinforces EPA’s clear legal authority to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s fossil fuel-fired power plants, which emit nearly forty percent of the United States’ carbon dioxide and are currently subject to no national limits on carbon pollution. As described in detail on our earlier blogs, EPA has proposed long-overdue and much-needed rules under section 111 of the Clean Air Act that would, for the first time, require new power plants to use advanced technologies available for carbon reduction — and would reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 through available cost-effective solutions. Together, these rules would cut carbon pollution from our nation’s largest source, achieve significant reductions in other harmful pollutants that are emitted together with carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants, and spur complementary action in other countries.

The Supreme Court has affirmed time and again EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution, and it further reiterated this precedent in UARG:

  • Seven years ago in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court held that “greenhouse gases fit well within the Act’s capacious definition of ‘air pollutant,’” and are therefore clearly within EPA’s authority to regulate under the Clean Air Act. 549 U.S. 497, 532 (2007). In UARG, the Court rejected requests by some of the parties to overturn this fundamental holding.
  • Four years later in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court explicitly acknowledged EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants, holding that it was “plain” that section 111 of the Clean Air Act “speaks directly to emissions of carbon dioxide from the defendants’ plants.” 131 S. Ct. 2527, 2537 (2011)
  • During the February 24, 2014 oral argument in UARG, industry attorney Peter Keisler conceded, in response to questioning from Justice Ginsburg, that EPA has clear authority to address climate pollution from power plants under section 111.  The Court specifically acknowledged and reiterated this holding in UARG noting that the section 111 is “not at issue here” and that “no party in American Electric Power argued [section 111] was ill suited to accommodating greenhouse gases.”

It is always an important occasion when the Supreme Court weighs in on legal issues affecting the Clean Air Act. It’s especially important when the Court is addressing the climate pollution that presents a clear and present danger to the health of our communities and families and to our prosperity.

Also posted in Climate Change Legislation, News, Policy| Comments closed

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

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

(This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices)

This blog post was co-authored by Jonathan Camuzeaux.

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

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

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

Tri-partisan coalition tackles climate change

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

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

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

Global warming is hitting home

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

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

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

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

Financial markets can teach us a climate lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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