Climate 411

Is the media making the connection between wildfires and climate change?

With entire towns in Oregon and Washington razed, ash raining down on Denver and the skies over San Francisco an apocalyptic orange, the unprecedented wildfire season in the Western U.S. is getting plenty of coverage. But much of it seems to ignore a central fact: This devastation — more frequent, bigger wildfires, and a longer fire season — is largely a consequence of climate pollution produced by burning fossil fuels.

The way it works is easy to understand. Rising temperatures, a key component of climate change, evaporate more moisture from the ground, drying out the soil and making vegetation more flammable. At the same time, winter snow-packs are melting about a month earlier, meaning that the forests are drier for longer periods of time. Meanwhile, shifting meteorological patterns can drive rain away from wildfire-prone regions, a phenomenon scientists previously discovered in California and have linked in certain cases to human-made climate change.

Even before this year’s devastating season, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the damage caused by wildfires. The average wildfire season in the West is three and a half months longer than it was a few decades back, and the number of annual large fires has tripled — burning six times as many acres. Read More »

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Our new report shows the importance of “accelerating to 100% clean” vehicles

Drone photo of busy highways over Denver’s Elyria-Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods and schools. Credit: Chance Multimedia

Air pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world. In the U.S. almost half of all people live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution. More than 20,000 Americans die prematurely every year as a result of the motor vehicle pollution on our roads and highways, according to a new peer reviewed study by EPA  experts. Pollution from our roadways disproportionately harms people of color and lower income communities. Transportation sector pollution is now also the largest source of climate pollution in the U.S.

A new EDF report includes these facts and other comprehensive information about the dangers of transportation sector pollution and about strategies to address it. The report, Accelerating to 100% Clean: Zero Emitting Vehicles Save Lives, Advance Justice, Create Jobs, compiles the best and most recent information on the issue.

Here are a few key findings. Read More »

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Green Jobs, Health, Jobs, Policy / Comments are closed

What you need to know about hurricanes and climate change

Photo: NOAA

This post was co-authored by EDF Postdoctoral Climate Science Fellow Tianyi Sun

Today Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane, causing death and destruction. Louisianans and Texans in its path are now mourning and looking ahead to a long and painful recovery.

Laura had winds up to 150 miles per hour, making it one of the strongest hurricanes on record to ever hit the Gulf Coast in the United States. It tied the record for how quickly it intensified, driving questions about the role of climate change in creating and fueling this monster storm.

A look at the latest science

Scientists have been actively studying how climate change affects hurricanes for decades, and the evidence that it can influence several aspects of hurricanes continues to grow.

Overall, climate change is making these already dangerous weather events even more perilous. They are stronger, wetter, slower, and intensify more rapidly. Major storms are occurring more often and piling on heavier rainfall, and scientists anticipate the strongest storms will continue to increase in frequency. Sea level rise, along with stronger winds, are also worsening storm surges, causing more coastal flooding.

All aspects of hurricanes – from formation to track to strength to damages – can be influenced to some degree by climate change, through warmer waters, more moisture in the atmosphere, changing air patterns, and sea level rise.

For some connections, such as how climate change affects hurricane strength and its damages, the science is simple and robust. For other connections, such as how climate change affects hurricane formation and track, the science is more complicated and nuanced.

Here we break down what we know about how climate change affects four key aspects of hurricanes

1. Hurricane formation – competing factors at play
Read More »

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Oceans, Science / Comments are closed

Pennsylvania legislators seek to protect workers, ratepayers and our climate

As Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) move forward to advance meaningful climate action in Pennsylvania, legislators are also stepping up with a new complementary bill. Last month, state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa introduced legislation with 17 of his colleagues that charts a course to a cleaner, more sustainable power sector for Pennsylvania. The bipartisan “Energy Transition and Recovery Act,” (Senate Bill 15) will ensure carbon emissions from Pennsylvania’s power sector reach net zero by mid-century and demonstrates strong leadership on the most significant environmental issues facing the state.

Introduction of S.B. 15 followed attempts by some in the legislature to halt progress being made to address carbon pollution by passing H.B. 2025, legislation that essentially stops action being taken by DEP to link with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Legislators supporting H.B. 2025 offered no solution to address climate change, protect workers and communities, or reduce air pollution and instead opted to obstruct action on climate that is supported by 79% of Pennsylvanians.

Here is what Sen. Costa’s bill would do:

Set necessary and achievable targets

The bill sets out to eliminate Pennsylvania’s power sector emissions before 2050, using the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) as a framework for the state. Pennsylvania’s power sector is the fifth dirtiest in the nation, in terms of carbon emissions, and also emits nearly as much as the other 10 current states in RGGI combined. Pennsylvania’s power sector is the 10th largest emitter of NOx and seventh largest emitter of SO2 in the U.S., which contribute to deadly smog and soot. The bill also includes measures that can help improve the environmental performance of the program, ensuring reducing emissions in Pennsylvania doesn’t create an incentive to shift some emissions to another state (i.e. emissions leakage), including by directing DEP and the state Public Utility Commission to work with the regional grid operator, PJM. However, it is worth noting that recent modeling results show a 65% increase in net energy exports in 2030 compared to 2018 for Pennsylvania even with a limit on carbon pollution, underscoring Pennsylvania’s anticipated and continued role as a major electricity producer in the region.

Pennsylvania’s power sector has reduced emissions 38% since 2005, and modeling analysis shows greater reductions are feasible and cost-effective. Power companies across the country, including in Pennsylvania, are making strong commitments to reduce carbon pollution, recognizing that clean energy is the most cost-effective option for powering America and is critical to tackling climate change. A cap-and-invest framework like RGGI will deepen this accelerating trend, and there is over a decade of experience with this program from which Pennsylvania can draw as it implements its own, tailored program.

Invest in energy efficiency and clean energy

In addition to directing investments in clean air projects, the bill establishes and funds an Energy Transition Fund “to support energy affordability, energy efficiency, renewable energy and a just and equitable transition to a decarbonized economy for environmental justice communities and workers and communities…” Deploying energy efficiency and clean energy can reduce energy costs paid by consumers, reduce air pollution and create jobs. This triple win is boosted by the strategic investments made by S.B. 15, which allocates half of the Energy Transition Fund towards weatherization of homes and commercial buildings, energy efficiency, reducing energy use, deploying solar panels and other projects that can reduced energy usage and build a cleaner electric grid. The bill also appropriately prioritizes investments “to benefit environmental justice communities, low-income residential customers and moderate-income residential customers.” Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania’s clean energy jobs sector continues to see strong growth, with a report released by the state just last week showing that clean energy jobs in the state grew 8.7% from 2017-2019, more than four times higher than the statewide average for job growth of 1.9%.

Protects workers and Environmental Justice communities

Sen. Costa’s bill does more than pay lip service to communities which are going to inevitably face transition as power plants retire. It also helps address longstanding Environmental Justice community needs. The bill invests over one-third of the Energy Transition Fund proceeds – potentially tens of millions of dollars in the first year – to assist workers and communities impacted by the transition to cleaner energy sources, helping ensure that the transition to a carbon-free electric grid does not leave workers or communities behind. Although many Pennsylvania coal plants and mines have closed over the last decade as alternatives like natural gas and renewables have become increasingly cost-competitive, workers, families and communities have too often been left behind in the wake of shutdowns and transition. This bill puts a much-needed plan on the table to help ensure fairness for these workers and communities.

Importantly, programs like RGGI also provide significant health benefits by reducing deadly soot and smog that is more prevalent near coal-fired power plants and around industrial development often located adjacent to low-income communities. An analysis from 2009-2014 found that RGGI saved up to 800 lives, avoided 8,200 asthma attacks, and provided approximately $5.7 billion in health savings from avoided impacts.

Ensuring ratepayer protection

While electric bills have gone down for many ratepayers in RGGI states thanks to investments in energy efficiency and other measures, this bill would direct a portion of the program investments towards low-income residential ratepayers in Pennsylvania, helping mitigate any potential impacts that could occur. Analysis of other RGGI states has shown that residential ratepayers can expect, on average, to pay 35% less on their bills in 2031 than they paid in 2017, even as the RGGI program deepens reductions in carbon pollution over that time. This legislation provides further, direct financial support to low-income ratepayers.

As DEP moves forward, the legislature has the opportunity to engage

This bill provides critical leadership in the legislature to address climate change. It sets out a path for deep and achievable emission reductions, invests in Pennsylvania workers and communities, and keeps Pennsylvania on track to be a leader in the clean energy future. At the same time, DEP is moving forward with a common sense, market-based regulatory approach, building on the RGGI framework to cut carbon pollution from the power sector.

The legislature continues to have an opportunity to constructively engage on climate policy and has a robust and established role to play by providing feedback in regulatory processes like the proposed RGGI rule. The legislature should heed the wishes of 79% of Pennsylvanians and consider ways to help drive cost-effective, climate pollution reductions such as through RGGI. What we cannot afford is further delay on climate action.

Bills like S.B.15 provide glimmers of hope for bi-partisan, effective legislative leadership that is in line with what Pennsylvanians want. The legislature can support this legislation or come up with other plans that deliver benefits to the climate, public health, workers, and communities as S.B. 15 does. Deflecting, delaying or dismissing carbon limits and RGGI is counterproductive and against the best interest of all Pennsylvanians. The RGGI rulemaking should be allowed to proceed unhindered so the public can have the opportunity to weigh in on this critical policy. Gov. Wolf and DEP are right to lead and respond to the urgency of the climate crisis with seriousness of purpose: it’s time for the legislature to do the same.

Also posted in Carbon Markets, Cities and states, Greenhouse Gas Emissions / Comments are closed

New research series: Ensuring fairness for workers and communities in the transition to a clean economy

EDF and Resources for the Future (RFF) partner on a new research series to inform policymaking on fairness for fossil fuel workers and communities in transition.

Coal burning plant in Conesville, Ohio.

Coal burning plant in Conesville, Ohio.

The shockwaves from the COVID-19 pandemic continue to reverberate across the United States, with tens of millions unemployed and workers in every sector in need of support. The energy sector is reeling from the impact — especially the many workers and communities living in coal-dominated regions already grappling with job loss.

In Northeast Wyoming, the Powder River Basin region experienced the largest round of coal mine layoffs in years. In West Virginia, Longview Power — cited as the most efficient coal-fired power plant in the country — filed for bankruptcy. And in Somerset County, Pennsylvania a local coal mine went “indefinitely idle” and laid off 100 workers. These are just a few examples from this spring that reveal how the steep drop in energy demand, largely a result of shutdowns to contain the spread of COVID-19, exacerbated loss in the coal industry. But they don’t capture the whole story.

The loss of these coal jobs will cause a ripple effect beyond the workers: these families will see a drop in income, making it harder to make ends meet, and may also lose health care and other critical benefits. Surrounding businesses — from restaurants to gas stations — will see a drop in customers and the communities and towns dependent on taxes from the coal industry for building roads and schools face an uncertain future too.

But well before the coronavirus outbreak, coal-dependent regions were already facing chronic job loss, public health crises, and other hardships. The rise of cheaper energy alternatives, including the dramatically improving costs of wind and solar power, has been steadily moving the needle toward a low-carbon economy in the US.

For years, many coal communities anticipated the gradual decline in jobs and revenue; few were prepared for the free fall from coronavirus.

As policymakers consider the best way to get the economy going again, hard-hit energy communities can be crucial workers in the clean economy of the future. Fortunately, implementing science-based policies that can get us on a safer path to a clean economy and avert the worst impacts of climate change can go hand-in-hand with generating well-paying jobs and economic security. By making fairness for workers and communities a primary goal, policymakers can ensure that communities where the economy is heavily dependent on the production, transformation, and use of fossil fuels are not only protected in this transition – but prepared to play a central role.

Introducing a New Research Series

As the US accelerates the shift to a low-carbon economy, all forms of climate, environmental, and energy injustice should be dismantled – and that includes tackling the disproportionate burdens working people may face as economic opportunities shift. These principles have been brought together by labor groups, the environmental community, and policymakers to varying degrees over the years in the concept of “just transition.” EDF and Resources for the Future (RFF) are partnering to analyze policies in one strand of this greatly needed area of solutions: addressing the needs of fossil fuel workers and communities in this transition. 

While labor groups have been discussing fairness policies for fossil fuel workers for quite some time, conversations in the policy community are just starting to gain traction: the Just Transition Fund and numerous groups across coal communities recently released the National Economic Transition Platform to support coal communities facing crisis. And the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and environmental organizations, released its Solidarity for Climate Action platform in 2019, where it outlines the principle of “Fairness for Workers and Communities” to address the needs of working people affected by the transition. These platforms provide a critical policy framework for economic transition.

At the same time, in the broader US policymaking and advocacy arena, there is limited understanding of the existing policies and programs designed to deliver on this promise – and how effective they have actually been. To help fill that gap and arm policymakers and advocates with the tools they need, EDF and RFF are conducting a systematic review of policy models and mechanisms that can support workers and communities in regions where fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas production and/or consumption – have been a leading employer and driver of prosperity. These reports will be released throughout fall 2020 and will cover the following key policy topics: economic development; energy, environment, and infrastructure; workforce development; and public benefits. These will culminate in a final synthesis report and be accompanied by additional domestic case studies and international policy analyses.

To be clear: this series does not intend to suggest that the solution is matching every fossil fuel worker with a clean energy job. The reality is much more complicated. Preparing these workers for job opportunities in clean energy, efficiency, and manufacturing – or in other viable industries that may be a better fit – is just one part of the solution. The insights drawn from this series will address many crucial aspects of ensuring fairness for workers and communities that may be overlooked – from providing financial support for local businesses to worker benefits like reliable pensions and health protections.

Why this Research Matters Now and Beyond COVID-19

Although this series reviews policies that were implemented prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of this crisis on the energy sector make these findings even more relevant, as shown by the three coal communities in Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. To understand why that is, policymakers must factor in the pandemic within the larger trajectory for energy growth in the US:

  • Coal: Coal mining jobs have declined by two-thirds since 1985, and hundreds of heavily-polluting coal-fired power plants have closed in the last decade, out-competed by cheaper renewables and natural gas in the power sector. US coal power generation is expected to plunge another 25 percent in 2020, according to the EIA.
Coal mining jobs

Coal mining jobs have declined by two-thirds since 1985. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

  • Oil & Gas: Even before the pandemic, investors were pushing oil and gas companies to rethink their business models and set net-zero emissions targets. After experiencing a price free-fall in 2020, some analysts predict that peak oil consumption may come sooner than expected.
  • Clean Energy: Conversely, the clean energy industry has moved well ahead of total U.S. employment growth over the last five years, adding jobs 70 percent faster than the overall economy. Like other energy sectors, clean energy has experienced acute job loss from COVID-19, but unlike the others, it was poised to expand in the long-run and become an integral part of the low-carbon economy that scientists agree is necessary to avoid costly climate impacts.

Regardless of how transition and economic redevelopment looks in different regions, a fully decarbonized economy must deliver well-paying, family-sustaining union jobs that propel us toward a clean future. This research can give policymakers the insights they need to ensure that fossil fuel workers and their communities, who have powered our country for decades, are fully prepared to build a stronger and more equitable 21st century clean economy.

Learn more about the full series on fairness for workers and communities here.

For more background on how the clean energy transition affects workers and communities, visit this page.

Also posted in Energy, Green Jobs, Jobs / Comments are closed

The broad coalition defending America’s state and national clean car standards in court

The legal battle over America’s Clean Car Standards is now in full swing.

EDF and a broad coalition that includes 23 states from all regions of the country recently filed court documents defending both state and national clean car standards against attacks from the Trump administration.

23 states from across the country have joined the coalition defending our nation’s Clean Car Standards.

The Trump administration recently finalized a rule that would roll back our national Clean Car Standards. This rollback would cause more than 18,000 premature deaths, cost Americans $244 billion at the gas pump, and produce as much climate pollution as running 68 coal plants for five years. The administration has also launched an unprecedented attack on states’ long-standing authority to protect people from vehicle pollution.

EDF and a group of public health and environmental groups, state and local governments, and businesses from across the economy have filed petitions challenging the rollback in court. And we recently filed a brief in a separate lawsuit arguing against the administration’s attack on state authority to limit vehicle emissions.

The broad coalition litigating to defend clean car standards includes:

  • 23 States and several cities that comprise a majority of America’s population and represent every region, from Michigan to North Carolina, Colorado, and California (seen in the map above)
  • Three Air Quality Management Districts responsible for maintaining safe, healthy air in their regions
  • 12 Public Health, Consumer, and Environmental Organizations including EDF, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Communities for a Better Environment, Conservation Law Foundation, Consumer Federation of America, Environment America, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Dozens of Major Businesses from across the economy, including Advanced Energy Economy (whose more than 70 members include Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Lyft, Cummins, Bloomberg Energy, Comcast, Trane, and Apex Clean Energy), National Coalition for Advanced Transportation (whose 17 participating members include Tesla, Rivian, Chargepoint, and Plug In America), and 20 major power companies

In litigation over the attack on state clean car standards, our coalition has been joined by a dozen amici curiae, who have filed briefs as “friends of the court” in support of state authority. These amici include:

  • 147 Members of Congress from 32 states and the District of Columbia
  • Five Former Department of Transportation Secretaries and Four Former EPA Administrators from both Democratic and Republican administrations, as well as former EPA officials Michael Walsh and Margo Oge and Clean Air Act architect Thomas Jorling
  • Leading Researchers and Professors including University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman, New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity, and seven climate science professors at California universities
  • Five Major Medical and Public Health Organizations including the American Thoracic Society, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, and California Medical Association
  • Four State and Local Government Organizations including the National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and International Municipal Lawyers’ Association, as well as the National Association of Clean Air Agencies
  • Two National Parks Organizations including the National Parks Conservation Association and Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
  • Edison Electric Institute, the trade association representing all U.S. investor-owned power companies
  • Lyft, which has recently committed to providing 100% of its rides using electric vehicles by 2030

Additionally, six major automakers – Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, BMW, Rolls Royce, and Volvo – have independently entered into voluntary frameworks with California for continued nationwide pollution reductions from their vehicles, in recognition of California’s authority under the Clean Air Act and the continuing need for state leadership.

Protecting well-established state authority

Last September, the Trump Administration purported to withdraw California’s authority to set vehicle pollution standards at a more protective level than the federal government, as well as other states’ authority to adopt these California standards. The Clean Air Act has always recognized California’s authority, which is based on the state’s historic leadership in setting vehicle standards and the need to address its serious pollution problems.

California has used this authority to set pathbreaking standards like its Zero Emission Vehicle standards, which 11 other states have adopted. Most recently, Nevada has joined New Mexico and Minnesota in announcing its plans to adopt these standards. This is just one recent example of states and businesses leading the way to lower transportation emissions. Others include California’s ongoing work to develop Advanced Clean Car 2.0 standards, its recently-finalized Advanced Clean Trucks standards (which will lead to electrification of all new medium- and heavy-duty trucks in the state by 2045), a clean trucks agreement by 15 states representing 35% of the national truck fleet (which aims to electrify 30% of new trucks in these states by 2030 and all of the states’ new trucks by 2050), and Lyft’s announcement that, in partnership with EDF, it will reach 100% electric vehicles by 2030. Defending California’s authority will be key in maintaining this momentum.

EDF and our allies have brought a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s attack on state authority. We recently filed briefs arguing that the administration’s reckless departure from longstanding precedent is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to applicable law. The dozen amicus briefs added further breadth and depth to our coalition’s legal support for state authority.

Defending the Clean Car Standards from a rollback that harms public health, the economy, and the environment

On April 30, the Trump Administration finalized a rollback that would eviscerate the national Clean Car Standards, cutting the required annual reduction in fleetwide climate pollution from about 5% to just 1.5%. Analysis by EDF and others shows that the rollback will result in an additional 1.5 billion tons of climate pollution, cause more than 18,000 premature deaths, cost Americans $244 billion at the gas pump, and lose as many as 200,000 jobs.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told the New York Times that the rollback will be especially harmful to auto industry jobs in her state, so it’s no surprise that many automakers disagree with the administration’s approach. Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, BMW, and Rolls Royce have declined to defend the rollback in court and reaffirmed their voluntary frameworks with California. And electric vehicle manufacturers Tesla and Rivian are among the businesses challenging the rollback.

The rollback is based on massive technical and economic errors and fails to meet core statutory requirements to reduce pollution and maximize fuel economy. In fact, by the Administration’s own analysis, the rollback will result in net harm to Americans.

Protective clean car standards deliver critical climate, health, and consumer benefits, and EDF – along with our many partners and allies – will continue working to defend them.

You can find all the legal briefs in the cases on our website.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Cities and states, Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, Partners for Change, Policy / Comments are closed