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The Supreme Court Decides in Favor of a Critical Clean Energy Resource: Demand Response

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Supreme Court of the United States of America

Today, the Supreme Court issued an important decision in support of a vital clean energy resource: demand response. The case, FERC v. EPSA, revolves around demand response, a resource that helps keep prices low and the lights on, all while being environmentally friendly.

It’s a significant victory for anyone in favor of a cleaner, cheaper, accessible, and more reliable grid. That describes a diverse group — consumer advocates, environmentalists, economists, states, grid operators, and leading legal scholars all filed in support of a critically important and well-designed policy creating access for demand response in wholesale energy markets.

How Demand Response Works

The incredible support for demand response exists because of how the resource works. Demand response reduces energy demand when power is needed most, rather than increasing supply from costly, carbon–emitting fuels. It relies on people and technology, not power plants, to affordably meet our country’s rising electricity needs. Think of it like crowd-sourced energy reductions, helping to reduce costs for everyone by taking the place of very expensive generation.

The Supreme Court Case

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the federal agency responsible for keeping our electricity rates “just and reasonable” (that is, fairly priced). FERC created Order 745 to further that goal, with the Order giving demand response access and equal footing in wholesale energy markets, where electricity is bought and sold. It levels the playing field between demand response and traditional sources of electricity, letting the resource compete alongside others.

And demand response has done more than compete – it’s reduced our use of unneeded, costly electricity – the exact type of electricity that should be limited if one wants “just and reasonable” rates.

In a strong, 6-2 decision written by Justice Kagan and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Breyer, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of FERC, stating that “[w]e will not read [FERC’s authority], against its clear terms, to halt a practice that so evidently enables the Commission to fulfill its statutory duties of holding down prices and enhancing reliability in the wholesale energy market.”

Continuing Demand Response Benefits

The Supreme Court’s decision ensures that demand response will keep providing important benefits — and these benefits are numerous. For example, demand response saved customers $11.8 billion in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States in 2013 alone. It likewise helped avoid blackouts during the polar vortex in 2014. And it gives customers the choice and opportunity to save money – for the grid and themselves – by taking part in demand response programs. All this, while being environmentally friendly and carbon reducing.

Also posted in Energy| Comments are closed

Climate Change and Millennials – An Entire Lifetime of Warmer Than Average Temperatures

While reading the announcement that 2015 had broken – indeed, shattered – the hottest year on record set by 2014, there was one fact that really made things personal: we have now had 31 straight years since a single month was cooler than the twentieth century global average temperature. That means that I have never lived through a month that wasn’t warmer than average – never once in my lifetime.

My entire career as a climate scientist is focused on reducing the threat of global warming, and yet I have never even been alive at a time when the climate was stable. I technically don’t even know what normal is.

Warmest Years on Record graphic

So on one hand, you could say that I don’t even know what I am fighting for. On the other hand, I’ve been afforded two unique opportunities because I’ve lived in the shadow of global warming my entire life.

First, because I’ve grown up at a time when heat records are broken over and over again, I was aware of this worldwide crisis during those impressionable and important “pick a major” years of college. I was thus able to set myself on a career path shaped by climate change from the get-go, rather than later on in life once I was already an established professional in something else.

Second, because my elder colleagues have already identified – with extreme confidence – that humans are the main cause of climate change, I’ve been able to focus on solutions from the get-go, and not just causes and impacts. I have thus benefitted from previous scientific research because I could explore avenues to address climate change, because if humans are the cause, then we are also the solution.

And it’s not just me; there is now an entire generation of young people motivated and empowered to do something about climate change. We – almost the entire millennial generation – have never lived in a world without global warming.

Perhaps for similar reasons to mine (and/or because we think we’re special), my generation has shown a propensity for not just caring about climate change, but doing something about it. Whether on their campuses of their schools or the communities where they live, my generation is showing that they want solutions. In fact, eighty-percent of millennials support cleaner energy in the U.S., regardless of party affiliation.

For this reason among others, I am more hopeful about our future than ever before. Climate change has been impacting my generation our whole lives, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We didn’t ask for this challenge, but I truly believe we’ll be able to rise up to meet it.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Science| Read 1 Response

The Broad and Diverse Coalition That Is Supporting the Clean Power Plan in Court

Minneapolis -- one of 14 cities and counties that just announced legal support for the Clean Power Plan.

Minneapolis — one of 14 cities and counties that just announced legal support for the Clean Power Plan. Source Flickr/m01229.

The National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the cities of Baltimore (MD), Coral Gables (FL), Grand Rapids (MI), Houston (TX), Jersey City (NJ), Los Angeles (CA), Minneapolis (MN), Portland (OR), Pinecrest (FL), Providence (RI), Salt Lake City (UT), San Francisco (CA), West Palm Beach (FL) and Boulder County (CO) all filed a motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to help defend the Clean Power Plan as amici curiae  — or “friends of the court.” (The news was announced by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University Law School – you can read their press release here.)

According to the motion filed by the cities:

The Local Government Coalition and its member national associations and local governments seek to participate as amici curiae to support their common view that the Clean Power Plan is a valid exercise of EPA’s authority and represents a reasonable interpretation of the ‘best system of emissions reduction’ standard established under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. (Page 8)

That impressive group of cities joins a tremendously broad group of entities that are standing up for the Clean Power Plan. Some of these groups, including EDF, are parties to the case; others have filed as friends of the court or have filed supportive declarations:

  • 18 states and seven other cities – including New YorkChicago, and Philadelphia – already filed with the court in support of these vital clean air safeguards.
  • Power Companies – including Calpine, NextEra, National Grid Generation and many others– are supporting the Clean Power Plan, and the cities of Austin (TX) and Seattle (WA) are joining in that support through their municipal power departments.
  • Public health groups like the American Lung Association, the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University Law School, two former EPA Administrators who served under Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and environmental advocates – including EDF – are showing their support as well.
  • A host of clean energy companies represented by Advanced Energy Economy and the national wind and solar associations weighed in on behalf of America’s $200 billion clean energy industry.
  • Google, a major power consumer, filed a declaration in support for the Clean Power Plan, highlighting that it reinforces the company’s conclusion that purchasing renewable energy makes “good business sense” because of its “low and stable marginal cost.”
  • More than six dozen experts have filed declarations with the court in support of the Clean Power Plan, including: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Larry Soward, who led environmental policy under Texas Governor Rick Perry; Sue Tierney of Analysis Group, a leading energy and environmental expert; former FERC Chairmen from both sides of the aisle, including Joseph Kelliher who served under President George W. Bush; and the Rev. Sally Bingham of Interfaith Power & Light, and many others. (The declarations in support of the Clean Power Plan can be found here.)
  • The National Nurses Union, our country’s largest professional association of registered nurses, highlighted the real world impacts of climate change and air pollution on community health, from asthma attacks to natural disasters
  • Ron Busby, head of the U.S. Black Chambers, underscored the economic opportunities and electricity bill savings that American communities can realize under the Clean Power Plan.

It’s no surprise that the Clean Power Plan is winning such support. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effort is the single biggest step America has ever taken to address the threat of climate change. It builds on our nation’s tremendous success in addressing soot and smog pollution from existing power plants, as well as our recent breakthrough progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

EPA estimates that by 2030, the Clean Power Plan will:

  • Reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels
  • Save 3,600 lives annually
  • Prevent 90,000 childhood asthma attacks annually
  • Save American families almost $85 on their annual energy bill

The Clean Power Plan will accomplish all this while building on the economic growth and job creation we’re already experiencing from the ongoing expansion of cost-effective clean energy nationwide.

The Clean Power Plan also gives states extensive flexibility to forge pollution-reduction strategies tailored to their individual needs and economic opportunities.

Opponents of the Clean Power Plan, including major emitters of harmful carbon pollution, started suing to stop it before EPA even finished writing it. (Various courts threw out those lawsuits). Their litigation — brought before they had even reviewed the final standards on the merits — illuminated objections that are highly reflexive.

The many and diverse supporters of the Clean Power Plan recognize that climate change is a threat to all of us, and that we must take action to address that threat. Allowing power plants to discharge unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air is a clear and present danger to public health, the environment and our economy, and we cannot allow it to continue. EDF is proud to be part of this vibrant group of supporters.

(Read more about the Clean Power Plan, and find all the legal briefs in the case, on our website.)

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

Congress Backs Down from Harmful Environmental Rollbacks

rp_US_Capitol_Building_at_night_Jan_2006-300x226.jpgCongress is on the verge of passing an omnibus spending bill for 2016, and the headlines will be that lawmakers — in a modest victory for common sense – are doing their job and avoiding another disastrous government shutdown.

What’s in the omnibus bill is important, of course. But just as important is what’s not in it.

Left on the cutting room floor were a host of objectionable rollbacks that were jammed into various pieces of appropriations bills. That’s a testament to both the courage of pro-environment negotiators in Congress and the White House, and to the growing political power of environmental issues.

The loudest threat against the environment was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign pledge to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. Never mind that this would mean unlimited carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants, more asthma attacks, more smog, and more climate change.

But McConnell’s threat was far from the only danger. Among the potential “riders” – rules in the bill meant to change or block policies – were ones designed to:

  • Block efforts to ensure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are clearly and consistently defined
  • Stop EPA efforts to strengthen public health protections against ground-level ozone pollution (better known as “smog”)
  • Block efforts to ensure that the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are calculated consistently, and are appropriately considered in federal environmental planning decisions
  • Require EPA to deem any biomass energy project as carbon neutral – even if the science didn’t support that decision
  • Block the Bureau of Land Management from improving environmental and safety standards for the use of hydraulic fracturing on federal lands
  • Bar the Administration from helping poor countries deal with drought, rising sea levels and other threats exacerbated by climate change
  • Stop EPA’s ability to require industry to phase out hydrofluorocarbons and other refrigerants that damage the ozone layer

This is a sampling of the proposals that would have represented serious setbacks for the work being done to responsibly clean our air and water and protect our environment for future generations.

The fact that these proposals didn’t make it into the final omnibus bill is a testament to everyone across America who has spoken up against these attacks. It’s also the latest piece of a remarkable recent winning streak for the environment, from the Clean Power Plan to the blocking of the Keystone XL pipeline to the breakthrough climate pact in Paris.

There is additional good news in that important tax incentives for wind and solar energy are extended in the omnibus bill into 2016 and beyond, as are vital funds for land and water conservation.

There’s no question that Congress is failing its larger responsibility to protect public health and the environment. But for now, we need to celebrate these victories that stop efforts to take us in the wrong direction. They are important wins for a cleaner future for our kids and grandkids.

 

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments are closed

3 signs we're entering a golden age for carbon markets

This is an adaptation of an essay by Fred Krupp and Nat Keohane for the International Emissions Trading Association’s Greenhouse Gas Market 2015/2016 report. This adaptation was originally posted on EDF Voices.

There was a time when market-based approaches seemed to fall off the radar in discussions of climate policy, but carbon markets are back.

Well-designed emission trading systems offer the combination of flexibility, incentives and guaranteed results that help polluters meet their targets – while leaving it up to the market to figure out the best way to meet them, driving costs down.

This is why so many companies are staunch supporters of emissions trading, and why national and international efforts are taking off.

Here are three indications  we may be entering a golden age for carbon markets and what it means for COP21, the international climate talks that begin in Paris later this month.

1. Carbon markets are going global

Climate progress in the United States and China is changing the global dynamic.

Gone are the days when the two largest emitters blame each other for inaction, and their bilateral progress is inspiring commitments around the world. All told, cap-and-trade programs are in place in more than 50 jurisdictions worldwide that are home to nearly a billion people.

Quebec and California have linked their carbon markets, creating North America’s largest cap-and-trade system, becoming the first example of subnational jurisdictions in different countries launching a joint market. And more programs are in the works.

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province and home to a significant manufacturing base, is developing a cap-and-trade program to launch by 2017 and link to California and Quebec’s market by 2018. Having the largest U.S. state and Canadian province in a formal, linked carbon market will help lay the foundation for further carbon market collaboration in North America and beyond.

China, meanwhile, is set to open a national carbon market in 2017, the world’s largest.

2. Next: International aviation and tropical forests

One of the most exciting opportunities is in international aviation.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is developing a market-based mechanism for consideration at its next Triennial Assembly in 2016 to help the sector meet its stated commitments to carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and a 50-percent cut by 2050.

That would cap emissions from a global sector that accounts for roughly 2 percent of carbon emissions, and growing fast, and would set a powerful precedent for international cooperation on climate change.

Another opening is in the forest sector.

Tropical forests are not only crucial to stabilizing the climate – they are critical to sustainable economic development for the communities and nations that rely on them. Carbon markets can play a key role in driving a new model of green growth in the tropics.

By allowing jurisdictional REDD+ credits (short for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) into their compliance markets, California – and, perhaps soon, the ICAO – have the opportunity to create positive economic incentives for forest protection at a landscape scale.

3. Existing markets are thriving

Since 2006, when California’s climate change program was signed into law, the state has received more clean tech venture capital investment than all other states combined. Bloomberg News recently ranked the Golden State the best place in the U.S. to do business, citing the state’s visionary leadership on climate change as one of the markers of its success.

A good illustration of how market-based policies can promote greater ambition is the landmark U.S. cap-and-trade program for sulphur dioxide. This program reduced national average concentrations of the pollutant by 76 percent since 1990 – taking an enormous step toward solving the problem of acid rain ahead of schedule and well below the estimated cost while creating hundreds of billions of dollars in annual benefits.

And despite well-publicized ups and downs – attributable in large part to the worst recession since the 1930s – the European Union’s emissions trading system is now performing well. It has over-achieved its goals, leading to more reductions at lower cost than expected.

To COP21 in Paris…and beyond

How can we capitalize on this political moment and build on the momentum we are seeing, to keep carbon markets growing around the globe?

A durable climate regime established by the Paris agreement will be one that harnesses market forces in the hunt for solutions, mobilizes private sector energies, enhances national self-interest and, through rigorous and transparent reporting, allows countries to demonstrate to each other that they are meeting their commitment.

A United Nations agreement is only one of many tools available to address climate change. It will take continuing strong action by leading emitters and leading carbon market jurisdictions to spur the technological, political and institutional transformations that will support more ambitious action in the years to come.

Also posted in Economics| Comments are closed

We Need the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in Place to Continue to Provide Their Life-Saving Protections

power-plant-815799_1280Last week, EDF went to court to help make sure that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards can continue protecting American families and communities.

EDF joined a broad group of state and local governments, public health and medical associations including the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and environmental groups – who all jointly filed a motion asking the D.C. Circuit Court to leave the life-saving protections in place while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responds to a recent Supreme Court decision.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards set the first-ever national limits on hazardous air pollution from their largest source – fossil fuel-fired power plants. The protections cover pollutants including mercury, arsenic, chromium, and hydrochloric acid gas. These pollutants are dangerous to human health even in small doses — mercury causes brain damage in children, metal toxics like chromium and nickel cause cancer, and acid gases cause respiratory problems.

But in June, the Supreme Court held that EPA should have considered costs in its threshold assessment whether it is “necessary and appropriate” to move forward with the regulation of these toxics – EPA had considered costs in establishing the resulting emissions standards. The Supreme Court did not overturn the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, it provided for EPA to take corrective action.

Right now, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — which would save an estimated 11,000 lives each year — remain in effect and continue to deliver clean air protections for our nation.

However, opponents of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are asking the D.C. Circuit Court to halt the implementation of these safeguards while EPA responds to the High Court’s decision. EDF and our allies will be fighting in court to prevent that from happening.

The current battle in the D.C. Circuit is critically important because halting the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards would result in the release of the most hazardous air pollutants from power plant smokestacks.

Some of the nation’s preeminent public health scientists are on our side in this battle. They also filed statements with the D.C. Circuit Court supporting the continued implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and highlighting what’s at stake for our communities and families including protecting infants from neurotoxic exposures to methylmercury:

Methylmercury can pass the placenta, and the developing brain is particularly vulnerable to such effects. If methylmercury toxicity occurs during fetal or early postnatal development, the damage is much more severe and more widespread than in adults, and the effects are likely to be permanent. . . . some portion of the increased mercury levels resulting from vacatur would persist in environmental reservoirs, available for uptake by fish and eventual consumption by people, for decades.”  (Philipe Grandjean, pages 6 and 14)

Vacating the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards would lead to more hazardous air pollution with serious public health consequences and is utterly unwarranted given the fact that EPA previously found that the public health benefits of the standards were valued at up to $90 billion annually and far exceeded the compliance costs.

Furthermore, due to technological improvements and other factors, power companies have been able to comply with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards at less than one-quarter of the cost originally estimated by EPA. Indeed, a group of power companies submitted their own motion to keep the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in place. See the declaration of James E. Staudt on page 5.

In other words, once EPA goes back and considers costs as the Supreme Court directed (which it plans to do by April 2016), the record before the Agency will be manifest that the public health benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards exceed the costs by an even greater margin.

More briefs are expected to be filed with the D.C. Circuit over the next two months on whether to vacate the Air Toxics Rule or keep it in place. EDF and our allies will continue to urge the court to keep these life-saving protections, for the health and safety of all Americans.

Posted in News| Comments are closed
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