Category Archives: Health

A New Step in the Fight to Reduce Toxic Mercury Pollution from Power Plants

(This post was written by EDF Senior Attorneys Graham McCahan and Tomas Carbonell)

Today, EDF and its allies joined the latest fight to protect the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

We filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to deny the petitions that are seeking review of a lower court decision upholding the standards.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will require crucial and long-overdue emission reductions of toxic pollutants including mercury, arsenic, and acid gases from the single largest source of toxic air pollution in the U.S.— coal-fired power plants.

Starting in April 2015, when they go into effect, these standards will prevent thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks, and asthma attacks every year.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were upheld by a panel of judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2014 against a variety of legal challenges.

Fortunately, most power plants in the U.S. are already on track to comply with these life-saving standards.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that by the end of 2012 — or more than two years ahead of the April 2015 compliance deadline:

64.3% of the U.S. coal generating capacity in the electric power sector already had the appropriate environmental control equipment to comply with the MATS.

Unfortunately, some power companies and their industry partners continue to file legal attacks against the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Our opponents are continuing their legal attacks in spite of the D.C. Circuit’s detailed opinion strongly upholding EPA’s authority to issue the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and affirming the EPA’s well-reasoned determinations on key technical issues.

Industry interests and states have filed petitions asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the D.C. Circuit’s decision.  Their petitions primarily emphasize the alleged costs of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — even though some of the same power companies have recognized that the standards include flexibilities that have helped them slash their compliance costs.

For instance, Southern Company CFO and Executive Vice President Arthur P. Beattie stated in 2012 that the amount the company projects for MATS compliance costs would be far lower than previously predicted:

[B]ecause of the new flexibility that [the company has] found in the final rules of the MATS regulation." (Arthur P. Beatty, CFO and Executive Vice President of Southern Company,  Deutsche Bank Clean Tech, Utilities and Power Conference, May 15, 2012)

In fact, as the D.C. Circuit recognized in its decision, EPA’s cost-benefit analysis found that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards would yield as much as $90 billion in annual health benefits once implemented — approximately nine times the anticipated cost of the rule.

The good news is that many people and organizations— including public health, equal justice, and environmental groups, plus a number of states and cities — are standing together to safeguard these protections for our communities and families.

Those groups include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Clean Air Council, Conservation Law Foundation, Environment America, Izaak Walton League of America, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Natural Resources Council of Maine, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ohio Environmental Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance – along with EDF, of course.

That’s why today we joined together to file a brief with the Supreme Court asking the Justices not to reconsider the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision upholding these life-saving clean air protections.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now 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, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Why Support the Clean Power Plan? Testimony from the EPA Hearings

By Dan Upham

Across the country this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held public hearings to solicit comments about its Clean Power Plan, which will put the first-ever national limits on the amount of climate pollution that can be emitted by power plants. EDF’s president, a senior attorney, and a clean energy specialist were among the hundreds of Americans who testified in support of the Plan. As these selections from EDF staff testimonies illustrate, the Plan offers moderate, flexible, and necessary measures to address climate change at the federal and state levels.

It’s necessary: The climate is changing across the U.S.

Image of the DC rally outside the EPA hearings. Source: Heather Shelby

“The stakes are high in Colorado as hotter temperatures, reduced winter snowpacks, and more frequent droughts are expected to decrease Colorado River streamflows.

Our treasured Rocky Mountain ecosystems are especially susceptible to climate change impacts, and high elevations have already experienced temperature increases at rates three times the global average.

Increased warming, drought, and insect outbreaks have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems throughout the West.” – Graham McCahan, a senior attorney with EDF’s U.S. Climate and Air legal team.

“The Southeast is the region expected to be the most affected by increasing temperatures. Extremely hot days – 95°F or above – could cause a decrease in labor productivity by 3.2% in the construction, mining, utilities, transportation, and agricultural sectors. Extreme heat also is projected to cause 11,000 to 36,000 more deaths each year.” – Greg Andeck, EDF’s North Carolina senior manager, Clean Energy.

“The bottom line is that we cannot continue down the path of unlimited pollution.” – Fred Krupp, EDF’s president.

It’s flexible: It can work well in different states

“Strong carbon pollution standards are consistent with a strong clean energy economy in Colorado.

Solar and wind resources are cheaper than ever before. In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost approximately one percent of what they did 35 years ago, and the cost of solar panels fell by 60 percent from 2011 to 2013. This past May, Xcel Energy [a Colorado utility] announced that it is now acquiring renewable energy at prices that out-compete fossil fuels.” – Graham McCahan

“The plan would allow North Carolina to get credit for steps it already has taken to grow clean energy and invest in energy efficiency. Here are some examples:

  • North Carolina’s solar industry is now ranked 4th in the country in installed solar capacity, thanks to policies that make it easier for investors to finance projects.
  • North Carolina has more than 1,000 clean energy and energy efficiency companies that can help the state meet the Clean Power Plan.

North Carolina demonstrates how a state can move to a clean energy economy in a thoughtful, measured and cost-effective manner.” – Greg Andeck

It’s moderate (and affordable): The cost of inaction is high

“We know that transition to clean energy is not only possible, it’s affordable. In fact, every time EPA has used the Clean Air Act to limit air pollution, it has ended up boosting our economy. Overall, the benefits have outweighed the costs by thirty to one. And every past rule has saved lives – tens of thousands of them.

Hiding from challenges is not what Americans do. And it is certainly the wrong path for us and the generations to come.” – Fred Krupp

It’s imperative: Millions stand to benefit  

“For the millions of kids who will have fewer asthma attacks in the future.

For the workers who will find jobs in new and growing industries.

For the rate payers, who will see their electricity bills go down.

For all of those who will be protected from the most damaging impacts of climate change.

And for our children and grandchildren, who will know that our generation cared enough to leave them a safer, healthier world.” – Fred Krupp

This post first appeared on EDF Voices

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Jobs, Policy| 1 Response, comments now 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, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, News, Policy| 1 Response, comments now closed

Soot Pollution Limits Unanimously Upheld in Court, Continuing Clean Air Victory Streak

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) particulate matter (soot) pollution standard, ruling that EPA’s decision to strengthen the standard in 2012 was firmly grounded in science and the law. The ruling also upheld EPA’s new requirement that states install air quality monitors near heavy traffic roads, where soot pollution levels can spike. The court’s decision is the latest in a string of legal victories for critical health protections on air pollution.

When fossil fuels are burned in an automobile or power plant, they release soot pollution, very fine, ashy particles less than one tenth the width of a human hair. These particles are so small that the air can carry them for long distances. When inhaled, soot particles penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can cross into the bloodstream via the path normally taken by inhaled oxygen. Exposure to soot pollution can inflame and alter our blood vessels, cutting off the oxygen supply to our heart and brain, leading to a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiac event.

The Clean Air Act mandates that EPA revisit its standards on criteria air pollutants – like soot – every five years, so that clean air standards can keep pace with the latest understanding of health science. Since EPA established its 2006 soot standard, hundreds of scientific studies have shown that particle pollution could cause adverse health effects—even in cities that met EPA’s established limits. Based on this information, in 2012, EPA strengthened its soot pollution standard to protect public health. Furthermore, EPA called for states to implement roadside air quality monitors to ensure the standards would likewise protect individuals exposed to significant near-road emissions.

The National Association of Manufacturers and the Utility Air Resources group, a coalition of large power companies and coal companies, filed legal challenges to EPA’s new soot standards, arguing that the 2006 standard was sufficient to protect public health. But the science doesn’t lie. In the D.C. Circuit Court’s unanimous decision, Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote:

Here, we can be brief: Petitioners have not identified any way in which EPA jumped the rails of reasonableness in examining the science. EPA offered reasoned explanations for how it approached and weighed the evidence, and why the scientific evidence supported revision of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

EPA was reasonable in their interpretation of the science—the polluting companies, on the other hand, could not present a credible argument against the updated soot pollution standards, or the need for roadside air quality monitors.

This important victory is critical to protect our families and communities from harmful soot pollution, and it is clear that EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act stands up to both legal and scientific scrutiny.

This post was adapted from EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matters Blog

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act| 3 Responses, comments now closed

The way forward to kicking our carbon addiction

Photo credit: Billy Wilson cc

How would you respond to an upsetting medical diagnosis? Probably first with shock and fear, then you’d ask the doctor about realistic treatment options. That’s how it works for an individual, but what about when seven billion people get the bad news at the same time?

That’s what happened yesterday, when the White House released another troubling National Climate Assessment (NCA). It described a condition that’s going to get significantly worse without intervention – with troubling symptoms already apparent.

Now, to be fair, this NCA wasn’t really news in the “I didn’t see that coming” sense. Just like a patient who has been told to stop smoking for years, there has been plenty of warning that our “unfiltered” smokestacks are causing serious damage to our environment and health. Last month, in fact, the International Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth report, and this is the third National Climate Assessment – each making more specific estimates of the climate dangers ahead. And yet, we can’t quit our pack-a-day habit.

The disturbing news is all here: Threats to agriculture from drought, danger for coastal residents and businesses from rising seas, more frequent intense hurricanes, more asthma attacks for kids, the spread of insect borne disease, and much more.

But the good news is that this disease has a cure. In fact, in just about four weeks, the United States is poised to take a very important step towards improving the currently predicted outcome. On June 2, EPA is planning to announce limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants, which are America’s largest source of climate pollution – about a third of the total we produce.

When EPA announces the new standards, what will probably surprise most people is that the agency doesn’t already have limits on this type of pollution. A recent poll indicates that 56% of Americans assume we currently have these protections. That’s an understandable belief since EPA limits most other forms of air pollution, but up to now utilities have been free to put as much of this stuff as they can crank out in our common atmosphere. And all that pollution has a very real cost borne by society.

Of course, as with all other proposed air pollution rules, there will be a small but powerful group who howl in protest. They did it when EPA limited toxic mercury, sulfur, smog and other dangerous pollutants. I’m sure you’ll hear that ending unlimited carbon pollution will wreck our economy and bankrupt us all. But what those people won’t tell you is that studies have shown that every past air pollution rule has actually helped the U.S. economy, with benefits outweighing costs by a substantial margin.

The new rules alone won’t cure climate change. But, along with actions on cars and trucks that have already been announced, they are a substantial first step. These standards will also push utilities to modernize, help grow clean energy jobs, and give a boost to entrepreneurs who are looking for ways to power our economy more cleanly. (EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said the agency is exploring ways to make the rules flexible, allowing states and companies to find innovative ways to meet the standards.)

Cures are never painless, but they’re usually a lot better than the disease. And everyone knows that the sooner you act, the better the outcome. So let’s take yesterday’s diagnosis seriously, and when EPA announces the new carbon standards on June 2, let’s make sure Congress knows we all want a healthy future.

This post first appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now closed
  • About this blog

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

  • Categories

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Meet The Bloggers

    Megan CeronskyMegan Ceronsky
    Attorney

    Nat KeohaneNat Keohane
    Vice President for International Climate

    Ilissa Ocko
    High Meadows Fellow, Office of Chief Scientist

    Peter Zalzal
    Staff Attorney

    Gernot Wagner
    Senior Economist

    Graham McCahan
    Attorney

    Mandy Warner
    Climate & Air Policy Specialist

    Pamela Campos
    Attorney

    Kritee
    High Meadows Scientist