Climate 411

By the numbers: Colorado Zero Emission Vehicle Program will cut climate pollution and save Coloradans money

(This post was written by EDF  Attorney Laura Shields) 

The numbers are in for Colorado’s proposed Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program – it will cut climate pollution and save Coloradans millions of dollars.

This week, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission is formally considering adoption of the ZEV program for model year 2023 through 2025 vehicles. (Colorado already adopted state Low Emission Vehicle standards last year).

What’s at stake for Coloradans?

This important clean air program means that, while no Coloradan has any obligation to buy or choose a zero-polluting vehicle, ALL Coloradans will have more models of zero-emitting vehicles to choose from if they want a cleaner car.

These clean vehicles will save Coloradans hard-earned money at the gas pump and will reduce dangerous climate pollution. They will also help reduce smog-forming pollution in all communities across Colorado, clean up Denver’s brown cloud, and lift the veil of haze pollution in our world-class national parks and wilderness areas.

In short, Colorado’s proposed ZEV program will mean healthier air, fuel cost savings, more vehicle choice and a safer climate for all Coloradans.

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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Cities and states, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Partners for Change, Policy / 2 Responses

Climate Changed: Millions of Americans Already Living Beyond Temperature Goal

(This post was co-authored by Nat Keohane and David Festa

Earth as seen from a NOAA weather satellite. Photo: NASA

The hotter future that climate pollution is creating has already arrived for 1 in 10 Americans. A new analysis from The Washington Post shows that 34 million Americans live in areas that have now seen average temperatures rise farther than the goal set by the Paris climate agreement — 2 degrees centigrade or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Even as the Trump administration attempts to dismantle policies to reduce climate pollution, average temperatures have shot up in parts of North Dakota, Montana, Utah, in the Northeast and Southwest, and elsewhere. These increases – which are not summer spikes, but year-round averages – are part of the trend that is worsening wildfires, making more damaging storms, and creating serious problems for farmers.

The Post‘s Steven Mufson, Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin, and John Muyskens surveyed more than 100 years of weather data about the continental United States from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and other scientific sources. Their work provides a bold-face headline to the peer-reviewed science that shows the dangerous speed at which our world is warming. It comes on the heels of last week’s United Nations report on land use and climate change, which warned of increasing water scarcity and food shortages from continued warming.

If there is good news in these disturbing reports, it is that the tangible reality of climate change may be spurring action to reduce emissions and begin the long overdue process of building resilience. Despite the Trump administration’s surrender on the issue, many states are newly aggressive. New Jersey, one of the states that the Washington Post reports is getting hottest fastest, just enacted a series of climate pollution reduction policies. Minnesota, California, and Maine – all states with areas of 2-degree increase – have recently put in place ambitious climate action policies. Colorado, another state with hotspots, just enacted landmark legislation that sets some of the strongest targets in the country for reducing climate pollution.

We can’t solve the climate crisis without leadership from the federal government, but there are paths forward to a better outcome. Failing to act because we hear bad news will only make the problem tougher. If we can generate the political will, we can make our future dramatically safer by moving to a 100% clean economy.

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Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Cities and states, Extreme Weather, Policy, Science / Leave a comment

Getting 100% Clear on 100% Clean

Authored by Steve Capanna, Director, U.S. Climate Policy & Analysis

Scientists agree that to maximize our chances of averting the worst impacts of climate change, we must stop adding climate pollution to the atmosphere by soon after mid-century. As one of the world’s most advanced economies, the U.S. must reach that goal no later than 2050 – which means transitioning to a 100% clean economy. If this sounds like an ambitious goal, that’s because it is. But it is also what’s needed to protect our economy, our health and our kids’ future.

Why a 100% Clean Economy?

For decades, scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change will result from continued unchecked greenhouse gas emissions. And for decades, our emissions have continued to grow.

Last fall, a Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body made up of leading scientists from around the world and responsible for assessing the science related to climate change, found that to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, it will be necessary for the world to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions (adding no more pollution to the atmosphere than we can remove) by soon after midcentury. We also need to achieve deep reductions in other greenhouse gas pollutants like methane. Continued delay will only deepen the challenge, and require us to reduce our emissions even more rapidly.

We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change in communities across the country from record flooding, devastating wildfires, scorching heat waves, and bigger and more damaging storms. Although the impacts are local, climate change is a global problem – which is why the IPCC outlined a global goal. But there are several reasons why the U.S. should strive for achieving a 100% clean economy as soon as possible.

First, the U.S. is the second largest emitter in the world, behind only China. Reaching net-zero emissions globally will only be possible with U.S. leadership. Second, over our history, the U.S. is responsible for by far the most emissions of any other country, more than 85% above China, the second biggest emitter. (Check out this Carbon Brief animation to see the relative emissions contributions of top emitting countries since 1750.) The U.S. has played a major role in creating this problem – we must also play a major role in the solution.

Furthermore, tackling the climate challenge is also just good business. By transitioning as rapidly as we can to 100% clean energy across our economy – including the power sector as well as transportation and industry – we will unleash the power of American innovation to develop cheaper, more efficient clean energy technologies. As global momentum on climate action continues to build, clean energy manufacturing will be an increasingly important industry. Innovative solutions developed by American entrepreneurs can be deployed around the world, helping lower the costs of global emissions reductions while strengthening American industries.

What Exactly Does 100% Clean Mean?

As we substitute zero carbon energy sources like wind and solar for fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, we reduce emissions. We’ve made a lot of progress on this front: according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, from 2007-2017, renewable electricity generation more than doubled, and wind and solar generation went from less than 1% of our electricity mix to more than 8%. But we can – and must – do a lot more.

Other sectors of the economy, however, such as air travel, or steel, cement and chemicals manufacturing, are very likely to be difficult and expensive to decarbonize with the technologies we have available or are developing today.

That’s where carbon dioxide removal technologies (CDRs) can play an important role. In comparison to technologies like solar or wind, which generate carbon-free energy, CDRs actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As long as we remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as we put into it, we’ll have achieved net-zero emissions – or a 100% clean energy economy.

There are many different types of CDRs, from natural approaches like increasing the amount of forest land and adopting sustainable farming practices, to technologies like direct air capture (DAC) that can suck pollution directly out of the air and store it underground or reuse it in products like fuel, fertilizer, or concrete.

How Do We Do It?

That’s a good question. We know that we are going to need to rapidly shift to cleaner sources of generation in the electricity sector, expand the use of clean electricity in sectors across the economy, advance energy efficiency – and also remove carbon from the atmosphere. The strategies we’ll need to pursue will vary by sector, and given the rapid pace of technology development over the last several years, it’s hard to know which zero-carbon technologies will end up being the most cost-competitive and easy to scale by 2050.

That’s why it’s important that the 100% clean economy goal is focused squarely on environmental results – cutting the pollution that causes climate change without specifying specific technology solutions. This allows for maximum opportunities to deploy a portfolio of technologies and approaches while providing incentives to innovators to find new effective and efficient low-, no-, and negative-emission technologies.

We can achieve this goal, but it will require policies that set declining limits on greenhouse gas emissions; account for the real cost of that pollution; stimulate the research, development and deployment of innovative technologies; and incentivize rapid action, especially in the sectors of the economy that look most challenging to decarbonize.

Climate change is an urgent problem that demands an urgent solution. The time is now to commit to a 100% clean economy that will be cleaner, safer, and more prosperous for all Americans.

Also posted in Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, Policy, Science / Comments are closed

A Chorus of Opposition to the Final ACE Rule

(This post was co-written by EDF intern Laura Supple)

The Trump administration has finalized a rule that throws out the Clean Power Plan – America’s first and only nationwide limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants – and replaces it with a “do nothing” rule that, by EPA’s own numbers, would actually increase dangerous climate and smog-forming pollution in many states compared to no policy.

A broad and diverse group including political leaders, business representatives, and public health advocates have come out in strong opposition to the rollback. You can find all their responses here.

Here are some of the most notable comments. Read More »

Also posted in Cities and states, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Partners for Change, Policy / Comments are closed

The Status Quo is not an Option for Oregon or the Planet

Authored by Erica Morehouse, Senior Attorney, U.S. Climate Policy and Analysis

Oregon is the current bellwether for climate action in the United States thanks to its effort to place an ambitious, firm limit on all major sources of climate pollution in the state.  HB 2020, Oregon’s “Cap and Invest” bill has passed three major legislative hurdles this year and has the final and most challenging – passage in the state Senate – left to clear before the end of session on June 30.  We are expecting a vote today.

The status quo is not an option

Oregon is already seeing the devastating effects of climate change; the question is only how much worse it is going to get before we transition to the clean economy we need. It’s time to be honest with ourselves, the status quo is not an option.  HB 2020 lays out a solution to address climate pollution while providing a smooth transition for Oregonians directly impacted by this bold initiative. These features include assistance for low-income Oregonians, investments in worker transition programs, compliance cost reductions for many manufacturers designed to protect jobs, and a novel investment set aside for tribes.

The two most critical components of Oregon’s policy

In the final weeks of Oregon’s legislative session, opponents tried and failed to make amendments to the bill that would have gutted the core of what makes Oregon’s effort so ambitious and critical—and a true model for other states to follow: the interim 2035 target and Day 1 coverage of the transportation sector.

  • The 2035 interim target ensures reductions over the next decade on the timescale that science demands. The IPCC report tells us we have just over a decade to significantly reduce climate pollution and avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Setting ambitious targets for the 2030s is essential for getting reductions on track now, and achieving the critical early emission reductions people and the planet need. Also, having an ambitious target in the 2030s is almost certainly a non-negotiable prerequisite for linking with the California-Quebec WCI market – a stated priority for the architects of Oregon’s policy. Moreover, this level of ambition is consistent with Colorado’s recently passed statutory requirement to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • Coverage of the transportation sector means the largest source of Oregon’s pollution is included. Exempting the rising emissions of this sector means smaller industries would have to do even more to reduce emissions to meet Oregon’s goals, while giving the biggest polluters a free pass. Without the transportation sector in the program from day one, Cap and Invest will not have the power or reach to drive the transformational change that we literally cannot live without.

Climate action under attack

After failing to push their disastrous amendments, opponents are now set on undermining this bill altogether and are asking legislators to vote “no”.  Leading the charge against HB 2020 are Boeing and AAA.  AAA claims to be the travelers “most trusted advocate”, but it is unlikely that their members across Oregon who rely on them for towing services and roadside assistance understand that they are working actively in Salem to undermine an effort to get cleaner cars on the road and to diversify transportation options for Oregonians. Boeing’s opposition is also particularly hard to understand.  Final amendments to the bill put Boeing in the enviable position of being guaranteed valuable free allowances for their facility in Gresham that will significantly, if not completely, reduce costs the company might have seen from the program while creating a critical market-based incentive to improve efficiency and reduce emissions associated with their production practices while protecting incentives to increase output.  Yet, the company is lobbying against climate policy that is in line with corporate sustainability commitments they have already made.  Many companies have taken on ambitious voluntary, climate commitments and vocally supported climate action including in Oregon. Companies that are stuck in the past and insist on obfuscating, misleading, and outright obstructing to derail climate action should be held accountable.

A diverse coalition of stakeholders reflects a fine-tuned policy

As demoralizing as myopic opposition can be, Oregon has a winning coalition that can provide lessons on how to win on climate in the U.S. and around the world:

  • Legislative leaders and Governor Kate Brown have provided their full throated support for Cap and Invest for well over a year and have been diligently putting the pieces in place to pass a policy that can deliver the environmental outcomes the climate needs while ensuring the provisions are carefully tailored for Oregon communities.
  • Local environmental, environmental justice, and health leaders have been working hard for the better part of a decade to pass companion legislation and lay the groundwork for such an overarching policy like HB2020 that will provide the certainty around pollution outcomes and harness the power of the market to drive investment and innovation in clean technologies.
  • Over 100 forward-looking businesses, including major companies like Nike and Uber, have been supporting the policy through several legislative iterations.
  • Major electric and gas utilities—those that power and heat Oregon’s homes and businesses—are supporting the legislation, including Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, and Northwest Natural, citing key consumer-protection provisions.
  • Oregon’s Native American tribes have played a critical role in developing and advocating for the policy and have secured a novel set aside from carbon revenue that will directly benefit tribes.
  • Key labor unions such as the building trades also support Cap and Invest, after securing the inclusion of prevailing wage provisions.

Time for the Senate To Act

Oregon has all of the ingredients for success, but the political fight is still a bitter one. HB2020 will create tangible benefits for Oregonians and the state’s economy—while laying out a clear policy template for other states who are now committing to strong reduction targets but don’t yet have the regulations or policies in place to actually achieve the reductions in climate pollution that we know are necessary. It’s imperative that Oregon shows the way toward a real solution that can drive action now— and such a framework will not only chart a path for other states, but provide a real roadmap for future federal action.

Also posted in Carbon Markets, Climate Change Legislation, Economics / Comments are closed

Wheeler’s Clean Power Plan rollback misses a huge opportunity for cost-effective pollution reduction

Co-authored by Laura Supple and Rama Zakaria

The Trump administration is expected to soon finalize a rule that will throw out the Clean Power Plan – the first and only nation-wide limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants – and replace it with a “do-nothing” rule. Unlike the common-sense, market-based approach of the Clean Power Plan, the final rule is expected to mirror Wheeler’s proposed replacement–which contains no binding limits on carbon pollution, leaving it to the states to establish standards based on only a narrow and ineffective menu of operational efficiency tweaks for coal-fired power plants.

EPA’s own analysis has shown that this proposed replacement would increase climate pollution and dangerous soot and smog pollution, causing thousands of additional deaths and childhood asthma attacks every year compared to the Clean Power Plan, and may even increase pollution in several states compared to having no policy at all. In addition to disregarding the health and wellbeing of Americans, the proposed rule represents a tragic lost opportunity to achieve the deep, cost-effective reductions in pollution that are needed to address the urgent threat of climate change – and move the U.S. forward into a clean energy economy.

Here are four reasons why:

Power companies are making bold commitments to cut pollution, investing in cleaner technologies that deliver high-quality power at low cost to consumers

Power companies are setting ambitious goals to reduce pollution and increase the share of renewable technologies in their energy mix. Some of the largest power providers in the country have recognized the long-term economic value of renewable power and cleaner energy, setting their own targets to reduce pollution well below what the Clean Power Plan requires.

Xcel Energy, a utility serving 3.6 million customers across 8 Midwestern states, has already reduced carbon pollution by about 38% below 2005 levels while keeping costs low for its consumers. According to Xcel, its residential customer electric bill has decreased 3% in the past five years and is on average $28 lower per month than the national average. Xcel also recently ramped up its own ambitions, committing to cut carbon pollution 80% below 2005 levels by 2030, and achieve 100% clean power by 2050.

Other companies are also joining the trend towards decarbonizing their electricity mix, including Idaho Power, which has committed to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045, and Platte River Power Authority, which aims to provide 100% renewable energy by 2030.

States and cities across the country are also setting bold targets to reduce pollution and expand the use of renewable energy. Seven states, 11 counties, and 125 U.S. cities have committed to 100% renewable energy, and at least 27 states have long-term policies establishing quantitative energy savings targets. These initiatives are making energy supplies more robust, reliable, and affordable, demonstrating that ambitious pollution reduction strategies can be good for the environment, good for business, and good for consumers.

Power sector trends have made deeper reductions achievable and cost-effective

Thanks in part to the ongoing market shift towards a cleaner electricity resource mix, the power sector is decarbonizing faster than was predicted just a few years ago.

In 2015, when the Clean Power Plan was finalized, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected baseline power sector carbon dioxide pollution would drop 10% from 2005 levels by 2030. Based on recent trends and technological developments, however, EIA’s most recent projections estimate that power sector carbon pollution would be at 34% below 2005 levels by 2030 – surpassing Clean Power Plan targets – even without federal climate regulation.

To be clear, we need the long-term regulatory signal established by meaningful federal regulation to ensure these trends continue and secure pollution reductions. Now more than ever, it is imperative that EPA use this momentum to set even greater climate protection targets in order to achieve the rapid reductions in carbon pollution that scientists say are necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Plummeting costs of clean energy technologies are making pollution reduction more affordable and economical than ever

Targets for the Clean Power Plan relied on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) 2015 Annual Technology Baseline projections of renewable energy costs. In its latest 2018 report, NREL predicted that the costs of onshore wind in 2030 would be 28% lower than 2015 projections, and utility-scale solar PV costs could be up to 68% lower.

These projections match trends we see on the ground. Recent filings from Xcel Energy to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission include proposals for wind power between $11 to $18/MWh – cheaper than the operating cost of all existing coal plants in Colorado – and solar-plus-storage bids not much higher than standalone solar. Last year, NV Energy reported even lower bids, setting record-low prices in its solar and solar-plus-storage request for proposals.

Overall, electricity from renewables is already cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels in many parts of the country. PacifiCorp, a majority-coal power provider, recently found it could save money by retiring 60% of its coal fleet by 2022 and replacing those units with renewables. In a 2019 analysis, Energy Innovation reported that the U.S. has officially entered the “coal cost crossover,” finding that local (within 35 miles) wind and solar generation could replace 74% of U.S. coal plants at an immediate cost savings to customers. By 2025, 86% of coal power plants could be replaced with local renewable generation.

Recent modeling shows far more ambitious and cost-effective pollution reductions can be achieved

Several studies demonstrate just how ambitious climate targets could be – with the right set of regulatory and market-based strategies. A range of analyses show that far greater reductions in carbon pollution can be achieved at low cost.

In 2015, EPA estimated the cost of achieving the Clean Power Plan targets to be in the range of $24 to $37 per ton of carbon over the 2022 to 2030 compliance period. Recent updated analysis using the same power sector model, however, found that much more ambitious carbon pollution reductions of more than 50% below 2005 levels are possible at similar costs to the Clean Power Plan.

EIA also found that even greater reductions of 68% below 2005 levels could be achieved by 2030 at modest cost. A 2016 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that in a “Mid-Cost Case”, power sector carbon pollution limits of 76% below 2005 levels by 2030 could be cost-effectively achieved. Modeling by Columbia University Center and Rhodium Group also suggest that similar strategies could cut power sector carbon pollution by 72 to 76% below 2005 levels by 2030.

At a time when the threats of climate change have never been more apparent, EPA must move forward on climate action with emission reduction targets that surpass the ambition of the Clean Power Plan and protect human health and the environment from dangerous pollution. Instead, Wheeler’s proposed replacement misses a tremendous opportunity to secure deep reductions in carbon pollution and propel the U.S. into a clean energy future.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, Health / Comments are closed