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Compliance with Clean Power Plan is Within Reach — Even for States Opposing It

(Tomás Carbonell, EDF Director of Regulatory Policy and Senior Attorney, and Diane Munns, EDF Senior Director of External Affairs, co-authored this post)

In one week – on Tuesday, September 27th – the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument in legal challenges brought by the coal industry and its allies against the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan establishes the nation’s first ever climate pollution standards for the power sector, which is the largest source of climate pollution in the United States, and one of the largest sources in the world. (According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the next largest sector – light-duty vehicles, which includes passenger cars and most pickup trucks – accounted for roughly one-half the emissions of the power sector in 2014.)  As a result, the Clean Power Plan is one of the most important measures the United States has ever taken to combat the threat of climate change.

The Clean Power Plan is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, yielding up to $54 billion in annual climate and health benefits and saving up to 3,600 lives each year.

The good news is that the United States’ power sector is already rapidly reducing emissions by transitioning toward low cost, lower carbon sources of generation. In 2015, emissions were already 21 percent below 2005 levels. That’s almost two-thirds of the way toward the 2030 emission reduction target reflected in the Clean Power Plan. The rate of emission reduction we have seen over the last decade far exceeds the rate that would be required to achieve the Clean Power Plan targets by 2030. Meanwhile, analysts are projecting that the combination of falling prices for renewable energy and the extension of federal tax credits will drive a significant surge in new renewable development (see here, here, and here for just a few examples).

Even though powerful market forces are already driving dramatic progress in reducing climate pollution, opponents of the Clean Power Plan have argued in court that the plan represents a dramatic “restructuring of nearly every State’s electric grid” and have also argued that compliance with the Clean Power Plan’s emission reduction goals is “impossible.”  (See Opening Brief of Petitioners on Core Legal Issues, page 6, West Virginia v. EPA, No. 15-1363, D.C. Cir. Apr. 22, 2016, and Opening Brief of Petitioners on Procedural and Record-Based Issues, page 12, West Virginia v. EPA, No. 15-1363, D.C. Cir. Apr. 22, 2016)

To evaluate these claims, EDF commissioned an analysis to examine how far measures already planned by power companies could go towards helping achieve the Clean Power Plan emission targets in the states that have challenged these standards.

What the analysis found stands in stark contrast to allegations by the litigating states and power companies.

About the Analysis

M.J. Bradley and Associates conducted the analysis using its publicly available Clean Power Plan Compliance Tool. The analysis drew on multiple, widely-used sources of industry-provided information on investments in new generation and planned retirements, and was based on policy scenarios and assumptions provided by EDF. The analysis is cited in a court declaration filed by EDF clean energy expert Diane Munns, and was recently featured in a Reuters article titled “Most states on track to meet emissions targets they call burden.”

Finding #1: All 27 litigating states can comply with the Clean Power Plan by leveraging planned investments coupled with flexible compliance programs

The analysis found that all 27 states opposing the Clean Power Plan could come into compliance with their emission reduction targets all the way through 2030, without making any additional investments beyond those that are already planned by power companies or required under existing state law. All state regulators need to do is take advantage of the inherent flexibility provided by the Clean Power Plan and adopt flexible compliance programs that allow power plants to fully leverage the benefits of planned investments – such as by allowing companies to average across their sources or trade compliance credits across states lines.

As Clean Air Act experts have noted, this compliance approach is familiar territory under our nation’s clean air laws. The Supreme Court recently upheld this approach in reviewing EPA’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule, and many of the litigating states have already successfully adopted these types of emissions trading programs to achieve compliance with limits on soot and smog pollution from power plants.

Finding #2:  Even if they do not take full advantage of these program flexibilities, the vast majority of litigating states can comply with Clean Power Plan goals through 2030 through planned investments alone

The analysis also considered very conservative scenarios where states do not take advantage of these program flexibilities, and each state comes into compliance solely through in-state investments and existing state policies – without engaging in trading of compliance instruments with any other states. Such constraints seem unlikely, given that most of the litigating states are already taking advantage of interstate trading in other Clean Air Act programs for the power sector and requested that interstate trading be an option under the Clean Power Plan.

Even in these very conservative scenarios, as many as 21 of the 27 states challenging the Clean Power Plan could fully achieve their emission targets through the first three-year compliance period of the Clean Power Plan (the period from 2022-2024) by relying exclusively on existing generation, investments already planned within each state, and implementation of respective existing state policies. The study also found that as many as 18 of these states could comply all the way through 2030 as a result of these measures. Also, since this analysis was completed, Arkansas announced that it was already in compliance with the 2030 emissions targets. This suggests that at least 22 of the states could comply through 2024 as a result of planned investments, and that 19 states could comply through 2030.

For the minority of states that were not found to meet their Clean Power Plan emission reduction targets through planned investments alone, this analysis indicates that very modest additional measures would be sufficient to close the gap. For example, it finds that all of the states could come into compliance in the first three-year compliance period merely by deploying cost-effective energy efficiency measures and developing new clean resources at a rate comparable to the average of their neighboring states.

mjb-graphic

 

Finding #3:  The Clean Power Plan has an essential role to play in reducing emissions from the power sector

While the analysis shows that these states are well positioned for compliance, it also reaffirms the importance of the Clean Power Plan in delivering the needed reductions in climate pollution over the long term.

This is because building new clean generation alone is not enough – it is also vital to ensure that the benefits of these investments are fully realized. By establishing nationwide emission limits through 2030, the Clean Power Plan will provide clear market and regulatory signals to power companies that encourage them to cost-effectively deploy their generation in a manner that reduces climate pollution. However, any delay or disruption in the implementation of the Clean Power Plan would interrupt those signals and put these eminently achievable reductions in climate pollution at risk.

Power companies, states, and others agree: compliance is readily achievable

We aren’t the only ones who have concluded that the Clean Power Plan targets are eminently reasonable. Our results are consistent with recent, independent economic analyses by the Nicholas Institute, M.J. Bradley & Associates, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and others. All of these analyses predict very low compliance costs because favorable economics for lower and zero-carbon sources of electricity are expected to continue driving sustained investment in these resources even in the absence of the Clean Power Plan. As a result, states around the country are well positioned for compliance.

Notably, states and power companies from across the country have themselves affirmed this very point:

  • In Georgia, an official at the state Public Service Commission, Sheree Kernizan, affirmed that: "We were already on track under the proposed rules to kind of meet the goals anyway – without doing anything – and this was prior to the 2016 [integrated resource plan] that was filed this year …. and [Georgia Power Company’s] talking about adding more renewables, continuing the energy efficiency programs that have been in place."
  • The state of Arkansas announced in May that it has already met the 2030 emission targets in the standards by moving to cleaner and more affordable sources of energy.
  • The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says the state can comply with the federal Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions without changing anything until at least 2025.
  • Oklahoma’s two largest utilities, PSO and OG&E, both say they’re on a path to compliance with the Clean Power Plan by the 2030 deadline.
  • Analysis conducted by Pace Global for the Arizona Utilities Group shows that the state can comply with the Clean Power Plan based on investments already planned under business-as-usual. (The Arizona Utilities Group consists of Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, Inc., Arizona Public Service Company, Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, Tucson Electric Power Company, and UniSource Energy Services.)

(You can find even more analyses and statements about how states and power companies are well positioned to achieve Clean Power Plan targets here.) 

At this point it is abundantly clear that America is rapidly transitioning to a low carbon economy – yielding enormous benefits for climate and public health, and opening new economic opportunities in communities across the nation. With the price of low-carbon resources at all-time lows, the market is already strongly driving this transition. The Clean Power Plan is a common sense framework that can provide an essential role in harnessing this momentum and providing a clear, certain path forward to protect against climate change — while at the same time giving states the ability to achieve emission reductions in ways that maximize local public health benefits for communities affected by air pollution.

Litigating states and power companies should stop wasting money fighting against the protection of public health and the environment, and instead focus more fully on how to seize the opportunities of a clean energy future and maximize benefits for communities and consumers.

 

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Economics, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| 1 Response

Clean Power Plan: Opponents Have Already Conceded that EPA Has Authority to Regulate

(EDF Attorney Ben Levitan co-authored this post)

rp_Gavel-and-earth-from-Flickr-300x199.jpgTwo weeks from today, on September 27th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument on the Clean Power Plan — our nation’s first-ever limits on dangerous, climate-destabilizing carbon pollution from power plants. Fossil fuel power plants are the country’s single largest source of this pollution, and among the world’s largest contributors to climate change.

As we’ve noted before, the Clean Power Plan has a solid legal foundation and is supported by many of the nation’s leading legal experts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued similarly flexible, cost-effective pollution limits for decades under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, resulting in generations of healthier Americans and enormous economic benefits. Nevertheless, opponents of the Clean Power Plan — the coal industry, coal-intensive power companies and allied states — will almost certainly claim on September 27 that EPA has overstepped its bounds.

One particular claim you can expect to hear is that EPA does not have the authority to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants under section 111 of the Clean Air Act because EPA has already regulated those same power plants — for entirely separate toxic substances like mercury, arsenic, acid gases and other hazardous air pollutants — under section 112 of the Clean Air Act. This bizarre theory is akin to arguing that a restaurant that has complied with health standards can’t be subject to the fire code.

This “pick your poison” legal theory is antithetical to the public health foundations of the Clean Air Act and utterly self-serving to the interests of polluters. Under this reading of the Clean Air Act, some dangerous pollution could be emitted in unlimited quantities no matter how much harm it inflicts upon our health and environment.

But opponents of the Clean Power Plan haven’t always sung this same tune. There are several prominent examples of Clean Power Plan opponents conceding EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants — sometimes even citing section 111 of the Clean Air Act, the very statutory provision that is the basis for the Clean Power Plan.

Here are some instances in which the Clean Power Plan opponents and their legal counsel have manifestly conceded EPA’s authority to limit the carbon pollution from existing power plants:

  • Concession #1: Attorney Peter Keisler, Representing Coal-Based Power Companies Before the U.S. Supreme Court, Concedes EPA’s Authority to Regulate Carbon Pollution from Existing Power Plants under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act

In American Electric Power v. Connecticut (2011), several states and land trusts sought to limit climate pollution from several power companies under federal common law. In the Supreme Court, the power companies successfully argued that action under common law was unwarranted because Congress had already given EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under section 111.

During oral argument in the case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked Peter Keisler — an attorney who represented the power companies in American Electric Power v. Connecticut and who is slated to present oral argument in the Clean Power Plan case — whether EPA had the authority to regulate climate pollution from existing power plants. Keisler responded that EPA did have authority — under the very same section that opponents of the Clean Power Plan now claim prohibits EPA from regulating those emissions.

We believe that the EPA can consider, as it’s undertaking to do, regulating existing nonmodified sources under section 111 of the Clean Air Act, and that’s the process that’s engaged in now. It’s announced that it will propose standards in the summer and complete a rulemaking by May. Obviously, at the close of that process there could be [Administrative Procedure Act] challenges on a variety of grounds, but we do believe that they have the authority to consider standards under section 111. (Attorney Peter Keisler, from transcript of oral argument in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, 564 U.S. 410 (2011) (No. 10-174), page 15, emphasis added)

Three years later, Keisler again appeared before the Supreme Court representing coal companies and coal-based power companies. This time he was challenging EPA’s authority to require limits on the climate pollution under a separate Clean Air Act program.  During oral argument in this case, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, Justice Ginsburg asked Keisler to identify which sections of the Clean Air Act provide EPA with authority to regulate climate pollution. Keisler responded by citing the Court’s discussion of section 111 in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, where the central question was the regulation of climate pollution from existing power plants.

I think most critically, Your Honor, it includes the new source performance standards program of Section 111 that this Court discussed in Connecticut v. AEP. And this is a very important point, because [Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA] is not about whether EPA can regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources. This Court held that it could under this program in Section [1]11. (Attorney Peter Keisler, from transcript of oral argument in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, 134 S. Ct. 2427 (2014) (No. 12-1146), page 18, emphasis added)

Crucially, this exchange occurred in February 2014 — more than two years after EPA issued the emission standards for mercury and air toxics that opponents now claim deprive EPA of the authority to issue the Clean Power Plan.

  • Concession #2: American Public Power Association and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

The American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association — current petitioners against the Clean Power Plan — expressly supported Keisler’s position in American Electric Power v. Connecticut. Their amicus brief in that case specifically cited section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act — the same section under which EPA issued the Clean Power Plan — as a source of EPA’s authority to regulate the carbon pollution from existing power plants.

[The Clean Air Act] authorizes EPA to list categories of ‘stationary sources’ — i.e., non-mobile emissions sources, such as power plants — that ‘cause[ ], or contribute[ ] significantly to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,’ and to establish federal performance standards for new or modified sources that fall within the listed category.  [Clean Air Act] § [1]11(b)(1)(A), (B). It requires states to issue performance standards for existing stationary sources in some circumstances, subject to EPA-promulgated guidelines. Id. § [1]11(d). (Brief of Amici Curiae Edison Electric Institute, American Public Power Association, and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, 564 U.S. 410 (2011), pages 6 and 7, emphasis added)

The brief goes on to note that section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act requires the establishment of emission standards for:

air pollutants that are not regulated under other provisions of the Clean Air Act, such as [greenhouse gases] (Brief of Amici Curiae Edison Electric Institute, American Public Power Association, and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, 564 U.S. 410 (2011), page 9)

This is directly contrary to the position these same opponents have taken in the Clean Power Plan litigation, in which they have written that EPA lacks authority to regulate carbon pollution even though that pollution is not regulated under other Clean Air Act programs.

  • Concession #3: Hunton & Williams’s “Clean Air Handbook”

The law firm Hunton & Williams has long represented coal-related interests that are currently challenging the Clean Power Plan. In recent legal filings, Hunton & Williams attorneys have made the same argument — that EPA lacks the authority to regulate carbon pollution from power plants because it already regulated those power plants for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants under section 112.

But in late 2014 — almost three years after EPA had issued its section 112 regulations, and two years before the recent legal filings — Hunton & Williams released a new edition of its “Clean Air Handbook” which correctly explained that EPA could regulate the same pollution source under both sections 111 and 112.

Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act governs the regulation of emissions from existing sources of air pollutants that are not listed as criteria air pollutants pursuant to section 108 of the Act or listed as hazardous air pollutants under section 112. (Hunton & Williams, Clean Air Handbook 4th ed., page 211, (2014) emphasis added)

Hunton & Williams’s explanation in its 2014 Handbook is entirely consistent with EPA’s approach — their explanation indisputably permits the Clean Power Plan’s limits on carbon emissions from power plants, which aren’t listed under sections 108 or 112.  Yet an attorney from Hunton & Williams is expected to present the exact opposite position at the Clean Power Plan oral argument, claiming that EPA can’t regulate the same source under sections 111 and 112.

In Hunton & Williams’ 2014 Handbook, this notion was relegated only to an endnote and described as an alternative “legal argument [that] exists.” (page 222, endnote 230 of the handbook)

  • Concession #4: Clean Power Plan Opponent Peabody and Its Attorney Laurence Tribe Endorsed EPA’s Expertise in Regulating Carbon Pollution from Existing Power Plants

Despite EPA’s long, successful history of regulating pollution from power plants, Clean Power Plan opponents argue in their briefs that EPA lacks the expertise to make the policy decisions that went into the Clean Power Plan. Yet previously, in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, the same industry litigants urged the courts themselves not to set climate pollution limits for power plants under the federal common law, arguing vigorously that EPA was more qualified to do so.

Peabody Energy Corporation’s brief in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, written by Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, explained that the Supreme Court had recognized EPA’s regulatory expertise:

This Court has opined, in recognizing EPA’s regulatory jurisdiction, that the judiciary has ‘neither the expertise nor the authority to evaluate [climate change] policy judgments …’ Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497, 533 (2007). (Brief of Amici Curiae Peabody Energy Corporation, Consumer Energy Alliance, and others in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, 564 U.S. 410 (2011), page 11, emphasis added, brackets in brief.)  

Tribe ultimately removed his name from that brief, but he continues to represent Peabody in litigation against the Clean Power Plan.

  • Concession #5: Peter Keisler Again

Peter Keisler, the attorney for the coal-based power companies, stated at oral argument for American Electric Power v. Connecticut that Congress created an orderly statutory framework under the Clean Air Act for EPA to regulate carbon pollution from power plants.

[T]here’s a reason that this issue is so fraught and difficult in international negotiations and at the EPA and in the halls of Congress, and that’s because it requires policymakers to allocate burdens among critical social goods in favor of important environmental considerations … [I]n a big intractable issue like this, Congress can often create an orderly framework for consideration within a statutory context, which it has done in part by enacting the Clean Air Act. [The Clean Air Act is implemented by EPA.] (Attorney Peter Keisler, from transcript of oral argument in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, 564 U.S. 410 (2011) (No. 10-174), page 64 and 65, bracketed sentence added)

What do all these contradictory statements reveal? Opponents of climate progress will tie themselves in knots coming up with legal arguments to oppose any limit on carbon pollution. Their opposition isn’t just to the Clean Power Plan, but to any required reductions in climate-harming pollution from existing fossil fuel power plants.

As communities across America confront tragic flooding, heat waves, rising sea levels, and other grim impacts of climate change, we need to overcome this obstructionism and work together to forge solutions. We need the Clean Power Plan to help protect our families and communities from the clear and present danger of climate change — we do not need a legalistic shell game to evade accountability and avoid common-sense solutions.

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New Standards for Cleaner Freight Trucks – By the Numbers

rp_Pepsi-truck-300x225.jpgThe Clean Truck standards are here!

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) just announced new greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

These are the second phase of EPA and DOT’s joint program for heavy-duty trucks.

They will apply to the freight trucks that transport the products we buy every day, as well as to buses and school buses, tractor-trailers, heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and garbage trucks for model years 2018 to 2027.

These standards will have widespread benefits. They’ll help ensure that our nation’s fleet of trucks uses dramatically less fuel, will cut climate and other harmful pollution, and will save both truckers and consumers money. EPA and DOT estimate they will yield $230 billion in net societal benefits over the life of the program.

Here’s a bit more on the benefits of the new Clean Truck standards, by the numbers:

Cutting Pollution

  • 1.1 billion tons of carbon pollution: EPA projects the standards will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.1 billion tons over the lifetime of vehicles sold under the program.
  • 550,000 tons of nitrous oxides and 32,000 tons of particulate matter: EPA projects that the standards will have multi-pollutant benefits and result in significant reductions of nitrous oxides and particulate matter — harmful air pollutants associated with respiratory ailments and premature death.

Saving Fuel

  • 2 billion barrels of oil: EPA estimates that the standards will save two billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of vehicles sold under the program.

Saving Money

  • $170 billion: EPA estimates that over the lifetime of the program, the standards will save vehicle owners fuel costs of about $170 billion.
  • 2 years: The typical buyer of a new long-haul truck in 2027 could recoup the cost of modernizing with advanced low-emitting technologies in less than two years through fuel savings.
  • $250: The program will also benefit con­sumers by reducing the costs for shipping goods. The Consumer Federation of America found that rigorous fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards could save American households $250 annually in the near term and $400 annually by 2035.

Broad Support

  • 300 Companies: More than 300 companies called for strong final standards during the rulemaking process, including PepsiCo and Walmart (two of the largest trucking fleets in the U.S.), mid-size trucking companies RFX Global and Dillon Transport, and large customers of trucking services General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, and IKEA. Innovative manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, and freight shippers have also called for strong standards.

Strong Clean Truck standards are also supported by national security and veterans groups, labor, consumer, and health groups, and clean air advocates (including EDF). 

Beyond the numbers, they are a testament to the fact that when we work together we can secure commonsense standards that protect public health while driving innovation and helping to create more efficient trucks for the future.

(This post was co-written by EDF Legal Fellow Alice Henderson)

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New Clean Trucks program: Business, Consumers and the Planet all Win

(This post originally appeared on EDF+Business)

Across America, companies have reason today to celebrate an important step to drive cost and emissions out of their supply chain. The U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks. Once fully implemented, the new standards will cut over a billion tons of climate pollution and save hundreds of millions of dollars by 2035.

Every business in America stands to benefit.

Why? Because every business in America relies, in some form, on trucking services. Product manufacturers need trucks to get goods to market. Service and knowledge companies depend on trucks to deliver equipment and supplies. Retailers utilize trucks in distribution.

One of Walmart's aerodynamic trucks

One of Walmart's aerodynamic trucks

Retailers and consumer brands are among the top winners of strong fuel efficiency standards, as these companies account for a lot of freight movement. Companies that have undertaken detailed carbon footprint analysis often find, as Ben & Jerry’s did, that freight transportation can account for upwards of 17 percent of their total impact.

The new fuel standard means continued progress in tackling this significant source of emissions. This progress will reveal itself in lower carbon footprints for every product brought to market. It will be apparent through lower freight and fuel surcharge fees – saving large consumer brands millions annually.

The standards will be increased in 2024 and 2027, resulting in final standards that will require new tractor-trailer units to emit 25 percent less climate pollution in 2027 than in 2017. Long-haul truck drivers will see the new efficiency technology pay back in under two years.

The new standards will drive market uptake of a number of proven fuel saving technologies. Through the Super Truck program of the U.S. Department of Energy, for example, a Daimler team developed a 12.2 MPG trucks and a Cummins and Peterbilt team developed a 10.7 MPG truck. As a group of leading technology innovators noted early this year, “clear, stringent, long-term fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards” are critical to scaling emerging solutions “by creating certainty that high-quality, effective innovations will be rewarded in the marketplace.”

With the certainty of long-term standards, manufacturers will make the needed investments to introduce new engine platforms, better integrate powertrains, and take advantage of other cost-effective choices. In fact, this is just what has happened during an earlier phase of the clean truck program.

PepsiCo, Walmart, General Mills and a number of other leading companies played a critical role in securing the robust, final standards. They were drawn to advocate for strong standards because of the clean truck program’s combination of significant environmental and cost savings, and its ability to bring forward market-ready solutions.

It’s telling that these companies, which are leaders in adopting voluntary green freight best practices, were motivated to advocate for federal greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards too. They recognize that freight movement, which accounts for around 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases, has a critical role to play in cutting our emissions.

Making heavy trucks more fuel efficient is the single most important step to reducing freight emissions. The program announced will be crucial to build a low-carbon future that enables the free flow of freight. That is an outcome every business should celebrate.

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Four Things You May Not Know About the Heat Wave

Photo by: Julie Falk

This post first appeared on EDF Voices

The National Weather Service issued extreme heat warnings for a large swath of central United States this week, drawing comparisons to the dangerous heat events of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

The combination of extreme heat and humidity in large Midwestern cities such as St Louis and Chicago will likely lead to a range of human health impacts, including the potential for fatalities. Naturally, some will question whether this heat wave is the result of human-caused climate change.

Here are four things to consider as we sort that out:

1. Temperature is only part of the story

While it is unclear at this time if daily temperature records will be broken during this event, it doesn’t necessarily matter. , especially if these conditions persist for more than two days, as is expected for this event.

We now know that the increase in global mean temperature as the result of greenhouse gas emissions is pushing us into a new climate reality where extreme heat events are much more likely.

As if heat isn’t enough, increasing atmospheric temperature has also boosted global evaporation. This has led to an increase in global atmospheric moisture content over the last several decades, and by extension a propensity for stronger heat indices.

2. Thermometers don’t matter

The metric used to quantify the combined temperature and humidity impacts on humans, the heat index, is what makes a day feel like 110 degrees even if the thermometer only shows 96 degrees – much the same way a wind chill feels colder than the mercury suggests.

With the heat index already above 105 Fahrenheit for two days straight and then rising as high as 115 F  in many Midwestern locales, health officials are urging millions of Americans to stay hydrated and indoors.

3. Day 3 of a heat wave is critical

The third day is also critical for the human body. That’s when people who remain exposed to extreme heat can often no longer cope and fatalities historically rise, especially if temperatures remain high at night and keep people from resting.

With the heat building over the eastern half of the U.S. and expected to last into the weekend, even President Obama weighed in via Twitter this week, urging citizens to “drink water, stay out of the sun and check on your neighbors.”

4. Natural cycles may play a part, as with Dust Bowl 

There are always natural climate cycles at play and they can conspire to temporarily enhance or detract from the continually increasing climate change signal.

These cycles are usually expressed through changes in the surface temperature of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and have fancy names such as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the El Niño Southern Oscillation.

But their impact is really quite simple: Because the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are so large, these natural cycles can heat large areas of the atmosphere from underneath, much like a stove heats a pot of boiling water. When aligned like they are right now, they can contribute to extreme heat and drought in the central part of the country.

It’s happened before. The conditions that kicked off the 1930s catastrophic Dust Bowl in central U.S. are widely reckoned to have originated from a combination of these natural cycles.

To be sure, the events in the 1930s also had a human cause, including poor land management and agricultural practices that led to a large-scale depletion of soil moisture. It warmed the land surface over the Great Plains and Midwest, exacerbating a persistent and large high-pressure system already in place.

Is it climate change? Science will tell.

Of course, our impact on the climate is much different today.

With monthly and annual temperature records being smashed month after month and year after year – recently pushing global atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations past 400 parts per million – it’s likely that human-caused global warming is playing a large role in this week’s heat wave.

Also different today is that the science of linking climate change to large-scale extreme heat wave events has advanced rapidly over the last decade, helping us know when to attribute extreme weather events to global warming.

So stay tuned as this week’s “heat dome” unfolds. The climate science community will be rolling up their sleeves, once again, and go to work to understand the various forces at play.

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EPA Updates Standards to Reduce Methane Pollution from Landfills

Landfill Gas Extraction — photo by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

(This post was co-written by EDF’s Tomás Carbonell)

This morning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized long-overdue revisions to national emission standards and emission guidelines for new and existing municipal solid waste landfills.

These standards will reduce harmful air pollution from landfills, which are our nation’s third largest source of climate-destabilizing methane pollution and also discharge other deleterious pollutants.

In 2025, EPA estimates that the final standards and emission guidelines will reduce methane emissions by an estimated 334,000 metric tons and non-methane organic compounds by more than 2,000 metric tons, primarily by expanding the application of landfill gas capture technology.

Today’s announcement updates standards and guidelines for existing sources that have not been substantially changed since they were first issued in 1996. Over the last two decades, technology and practices have evolved to enable better and more efficient control of landfill emissions — both from new and existing sources. For instance, leading landfill operators and industry experts have identified and implemented a number of best practices for achieving further reductions in landfill emissions, including: installing gas collection systems early in the life cycle of the landfill; using proper landfill covers and rigorously monitoring the integrity of those covers; using landfill gas as an energy source to replace fossil fuels; and developing alternatives to landfilling, including recycling and composting of organic waste.

Despite these advances, some have argued that EPA is not authorized to update emission guidelines for existing sources and instead must maintain requirements that are now more than 20 years out of date. EPA’s authority to review and revise emission guidelines for existing landfills, however, is firmly grounded in the text and purpose of the Clean Air Act and consistent with bedrock principles of administrative law.

Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which authorizes these standards and guidelines for landfills, requires standards for new and existing sources alike to reflect the “best system of emission reduction,” taking into account cost and other factors.

Courts have consistently held that this provision of the Clean Air Act is manifestly forward-looking, enabling EPA to:

look toward what may fairly be projected for the regulated future, rather than the state of the art at present (National Asphalt Pavement Association v. Train, F.2d 775, 785, D.C. Circuit 1976 — quoting Portland Cement Association v. Ruckelshaus, 286 F.2d 375, 391, D.C. Cir. 1973)

If EPA is to fulfill this statutory obligation, it must have the ability to ensure that guidelines for existing sources are updated over time – just as the agency does for new sources — to reflect the latest advances and improvements in systems of emission reduction.

More broadly, EPA’s authority to update guidelines for existing sources flows inexorably from the fabric of the Clean Air Act, which recognizes the importance of EPA assessing new information about air pollution threats, incentivizing development of new technologies, and enabling their swift application.

In amending the Clean Air Act in 1977 Congress explicitly noted the importance of providing for continuous development and updating of standards:

Throughout this bill there is a philosophy of encouragement of technology development. It is an encouragement to induce, to stimulate, and to augment the innovative character of industry in reaching for more effective, less-costly systems to control air pollution. (S. Rep. No. 95-127 at *18, 1977)

Indeed, EPA periodically revisits the nation’s health-based standards for various pollutants in light of new scientific information and has revised standards for sources ranging from cars to power plants as new technologies have enabled more efficient and protective approaches. This process of regular review and improvement is consistent with firmly established principles of administrative law, which have long held that agencies have authority to revisit and update their regulations over time.

As the Supreme Court held in a landmark case:

Regulatory agencies do not establish rules of conduct to last forever; they are supposed … to adapt their rules and practices to the Nation's needs in a volatile, changing economy. They are neither required nor supposed to regulate the present and the future within the inflexible limits of yesterday. (American Trucking Associations, Inc., et al v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe RR Co., et al., 387 U.S. 397; 87 S. Ct. 1608, 1967)

Although EPA’s final landfills standards secure important benefits for climate and public health, there remain significant opportunities to achieve cost-effective emission reductions from municipal solid waste landfills. EPA’s decision to revise its landfill standards, however, is firmly consistent with the Clean Air Act’s long history grounded in innovation and cost effective pollution reductions. It can help to ensure these requirements remain vibrant over time and spur development of these and other new technologies to reduce landfill pollution.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Read 2 Responses
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