Selected category: Policy

Go Farther, Faster to Cut Truck Pollution

The U.S. has put in place well-designed policies to cut climate pollution, and, with adopted and proposed policies, the nation’s 2025 climate reduction goals are within reach.  However, we are not there yet, and important work remains.

Big trucks have a critical contribution to make in cutting emissions now and well into the future. Cost-effective technologies are available to significantly reduce fuel use. Conversely, if we don’t take common sense steps today to cut climate-destabilizing emissions from this sector, climate emissions are projected to rise by approximately 15 percent by 2040. This is particularly problematic when you consider that the nation must reduce carbon emissions by at least 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 to prevent severe, potentially catastrophic, levels of climate change. Without further action to cut emissions from heavy-trucks, the sector would consume nearly 40 percent of our national 2050 emissions budget – a level that is clearly not sustainable.

Pepsi truck

600-02056018

The good news is that there is much that can be done to reduce emissions from trucks while also saving money; this year we have a unique opportunity to get started. As EPA Administrator McCarthy recently noted, finalizing new greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for heavy-duty vehicles is a priority in 2016.

Given the combination of environmental and economic benefits that strong GHG standards will provide, many leading companies have already shown public support. PepsiCo and Walmart – two of the largest trucking fleets in the U.S. — support strong standards. General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, IKEA and many other companies that rely on trucking support strong standards. Innovative manufacturers support strong standards.

So, where do we go from here?

The draft proposal issued jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) in June 2015 is a good step, particularly because it maintains a sound, enforceable structure of separate engine and vehicle standards. However, the proposal leaves significant emission reductions on the table, specifically in its engine standard.

The first generation of heavy truck fuel efficiency standards required engines to reduce fuel use and emissions by 6 percent from 2010 to 2017, or roughly 1 percent per year. The current draft would require reductions of only 4.2 percent from 2017 through 2030. Nearly all of this progress occurs between 2021 and 2024. Between 2025 and 2030 these standards increase by only 0.5 percent.  The hill we need to climb to achieve our 2050 emissions goals is steep enough without losing critical time to such nominal progress.

We can do more.

  • Finalizing stronger standards today will deliver more than just near-term emissions reductions. Trucks are long-lived assets. Some trucks manufactured in 2025 will still be on the road well into the middle of this century. The trucks we put on the road in 2030 will impact our ability to meet 2050 targets – and to avoid catastrophic climate change.
  • Stronger standards also enable a virtuous cycle of improvement. A higher bar for these next standards will drive additional investments in research and development and expedite market entry of the next generation of solutions. This, in turn, drives the innovation we will need to enable this sector to contribute to achieving our 2050 targets. All while creating an annual economic benefit of $50 billion dollars.

The savings potential we are seeing now is only the tip of the iceberg. As an executive with the Volvo Group – a leading global producer of heavy-trucks — recently highlighted, “there are no real limits” to our technical ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from trucks.  Our limitations are societal choices.

When it comes to trucks, we know that much greater emission savings than have been proposed are eminently reasonable. We know more protective standards are readily within reach – one of the largest truck makers created a truck that gets 12.2 MPG and another leading manufacturer and engine company teamed-up to create a 10.7 MPG truck.

These breakthroughs and others have come through the Department of Energy’s SuperTruck program — a leading public-private partnership that has delivered impressive results over the past decade and is investing another $80 million to develop more fuel saving solutions. Included among its current research investments are a medium-duty plug-in hybrid vehicle powertrain that reduces fuel consumption by 50 percent; a class 6 plug in hybrid delivery truck that reduces fuel consumption by 50 percent; and a class 6 delivery truck with a scalable, innovative, lightweight, low-cost, and commercially-viable plug-in electric drive system that improves fuel economy by 100 percent.

Here’s hoping the EPA and DOT, recognizing the clear potential of existing and emerging technology, will finalize the protective standards we need to cut truck pollution farther, faster, strengthen our economy and achieve U.S. climate goals.

This post originally appeared on our EDF+Business blog.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Partners for Change| Comments are closed

Climate denial has no place in the court

(This post was co-written by EDF’s Martha Roberts and Ilissa Ocko)

As federal courts consider the legal merits of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan — America’s first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants – we find ourselves in a situation that might have felt familiar to Galileo, who was hauled before authorities for having the temerity to make conclusions based on science.

Three hundred seventy-four years after Galileo, flat-earth Clean Power Plan opponents are using the court’s time to challenge EPA’s rock solid conclusions about the scientific realities of climate change. They’re using misinformation and misrepresentation in an attempt to block EPA’s flexible and efficient approach to reducing the carbon pollution that is causing so much costly damage to our society.

Yes, they’re still doing that in 2016.

The Usual Suspects

The latest assault takes the form of an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief that was submitted last week to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. It deploys selective reasoning and misleading arguments in an attempt to discredit evidence of climate change.

It’s numbingly familiar, but not surprising, to see Fred Singer’s name on the brief. A former tobacco industry mouthpiece, he’s been a mainstay for years in what’s been called the “parallel universe” of climate denial conferences.

It’s also no surprise that Peabody Energy — the world’s largest privately owned coal company — contested EPA’s rock solid climate science in an earlier submission to the court, given the company’s history of obfuscating the impacts of climate change in order to protect its profits.

The Real Motivation

This effort isn’t about debating science. It’s about using misinformation to obstruct climate progress. This attack is part of a longstanding effort to undermine EPA’s common sense solutions to limit harmful greenhouse gas pollution at all – despite that fact that the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to address climate pollution. Coal companies and their hired allies have relentlessly attacked EPA’s safeguards to protect human health and the environment from climate pollution.

Junk Science Amicus Brief

This junk science submission, authored by Singer and others, claims to be based on “real world empirical temperature data” (amicus brief, page 15) – but in truth it’s deceptively unscientific, cherry-picking dates and locations in an effort to rebut overwhelming evidence of rising surface temperatures.

Two obvious flaws demonstrate the problematic reasoning employed by the brief.

First, the authors contend that globally averaged surface temperature has not increased because:

The decade of the 1930s still has the most currently held high-temperature records for States within the United States. (amicus brief, page 31)

This point suffers from cherry picking data that seems to support their phony argument. Drawing a comparison between a long term globally averaged temperature trend (i.e., as related to anthropogenic climate change) and summertime regional temperature spikes in a select portion of the U.S. is inherently misleading (see Figure 1 below). The U.S. covers only two percent of the global surface area, and the Great Plains far less. Arguing that a small regional temperature anomaly undermines for the global temperature trend is scientifically untenable.

Figure 1: How Cherry-Picked Data Misrepresents the Larger Picture

Source: The U.S. Global Historical Climatology Network Dataset

Source: The U.S. Global Historical Climatology Network Dataset

The second flaw is an egregious error with respect to defining a linear trend. The authors break the temperature time series in half and display two distinct trend lines separated by a large step increase, as opposed to the scientifically appropriate approach of employing the entire time series to define a trend.

Figure 2. The Amicus Brief’s Broken Time Trend Global Average Temperature Anomalies

(amicus brief, page 7)

They do this to hide the trend. It’s a classic strategy used by the climate denial community to deny trends, known as the “escalator” (see Figure 3 below).

The authors argue that the absence of a trend in the latter portion of the record indicates a lack of evidence for an anthropogenic climate change signal during this time. However, their starting point for the latter half is during the 1997-1998 El Nino, one of the strongest such events on record. Given that El Nino has a significant warming influence on a given year’s global temperature, starting at this point in the record introduces a strong temperature bias — i.e. the authors purposely choose a starting point with an extremely high temperature in order to create the appearance of a plateau in the years that follow.

It’s a bit like beginning a chart of Barry Bonds’ home runs per season in 2001, when he hit 73. The authors fail to disclose that the globally averaged temperature exceeded the 1990’s average in every year of the first decade of the 21st century and that both 2014 and 2015 broke records as the hottest years ever recorded — further confirming their selection bias.

Figure 3: The Escalator — An Example of How One Can Manipulate a Trendline to Pretend That There Is No Trend

 escalator graphic

Source: skepticalscience.com

The brief also attempts to reject EPA’s conclusion that the atmosphere in the tropics warms faster than the surface as a response to rising carbon dioxide levels.

The brief presents data from only a single location in an attempt to rebut this conclusion — the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean, an area home to the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the largest mode of natural interannual climate variability on the planet.

Using only one region (and in this case a single idiosyncratic point) to represent the entire global tropics is highly misleading and scientifically inappropriate. The data manifestly suffer from selection bias and are not representative of the full population of tropical climate data.

Indeed, the temperature time series shown in their analysis correlate extremely well with recently observed El Nino and La Nina events — suggesting that their index is simply a proxy for the El Nino/La Nina signal. Extracting a trend from an area with extremely large natural variability is inherently tenuous, because the large background variability swamps our ability to observe any other data trends.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time opponents have inaccurately distorted climate data in this case.

Earlier in this same crucial case, Peabody represented to the court that EPA’s claims of climate harms "substantially outrun the available evidence." (brief, page 7 footnotes)

Peabody’s efforts to justify these misleading allegations misrepresent scientific understanding of climate science in several major respects. Two core inconsistencies, among several, include:

  • Peabody’s biased assertion of hiatus in warming since 1998 — as mentioned earlier, beginning a trendline in 1998, an exceptionally warm year due to an unusually strong El Nino, is nonsensical and irrelevant to the long-term trend. Further, surface air temperatures are certainly still increasing. The 2000s were warmer than the 1990s, 2015 smashed all previous surface air temperature records, and heat uptake in the ocean has doubled over the last 20 years.
  • Flawed reasoning that increasing Antarctic sea ice disproves climate change — Antarctic sea ice is influenced by differences in fresh water supply and circulation in the Southern Ocean. Land ice that has taken thousands of years to accumulate in Antarctica is melting at a rapid rate due to warmer temperatures, changing the chemistry of the water and likely preventing the buildup of sea ice. Peabody’s submission ignored and omitted this crucial context.

Sadly, it’s not really news that Peabody is presenting misleading climate information. Peabody, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, was cited last fall by the New York Attorney General for violating investor protection laws by misrepresenting climate risk in its corporate filings. The Attorney General noted that Peabody “repeatedly denied in public financial filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had the ability to predict the impact that potential regulation of climate change pollution would have on its business, even though Peabody and its consultants actually made projections that such regulation would have severe impacts on the company.”

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Science, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

After the Supreme Court’s Unexplained, Unexpected and Unprecedented Order — America’s Safer, Cleaner Power Supply is Moving Full Steam Ahead

Supreme Court of the United States

Supreme Court of the United States

Last night’s Supreme Court’s decision to temporarily stay implementation of the Clean Power Plan was unexpected, and the ruling is, as counsel for one of the lead challengers acknowledged, “unprecedented.” Indeed, the Supreme Court itself found in a landmark 2011 case that the Clean Air Act “speaks directly” to carbon pollution from existing power plants.

The D.C. Circuit is now carefully reviewing the merits of the case on an expedited basis and has not concluded its review – but across America, states and leading companies know that we must reduce climate-destabilizing pollution from the power sector, and the Court’s actions will not slow down America’s race to protect our communities, our children and our economic well-being.

That race is driven by developments far broader and deeper than a temporary setback in litigation. There is every reason for our nation to work together to prepare for, and meet, pollution reduction requirements under America’s Clean Power Plan.

Across the country, low-carbon, low-cost energy resources are already coming online at historic rates. We’re cleaning up the soot and smog emissions from our power system, and providing healthier longer lives and cleaner power for millions of Americans. Numerous states and leading power companies have been pursuing a flexible system-wide approach to cutting carbon emissions for years, harnessing opportunities to save money, reduce air pollution, and build our clean energy economy. America’s race to cleaner power is moving full steam ahead.

As for the Clean Power Plan – safeguards that are supported by millions of Americans – the Supreme Court’s February 9th stay order is far from the final word. As a number of state attorneys general, leading power companies, state air pollution control officials, and legal experts have recognized, the Clean Power Plan rests on a solid legal foundation and is anchored in a rigorous technical record.

We believe that when the court examines the merits in light of the extensive, compelling technical record supporting the Clean Power Plan, with full briefing and oral argument –- a review it did not conduct before issuing the February 9th order – it will uphold these critical protections for climate and public health, and they will go into effect as scheduled in 2022.

In the meantime, America will make sure it is ready by continuing to make progress in cutting dangerous carbon pollution — bringing more than 100 GW of new wind, solar, and other renewable generation online in the next six years, and offsetting generation from more than 80 coal-fired power plants — all while forging economic prosperity.

Clean Energy Is Powering America Today

The transition to secure cleaner, low-carbon power is already well underway. In total, natural gas and clean power such as wind and solar have accounted for 94 percent of all new generation since 2000.  In recent years, these trends have been tipping more and more in favor of zero-carbon clean power, offsetting more and more carbon pollution. Indeed, market experts project that zero-carbon generation will account for more than 75 percent of new generation in 2016.

Behind these trends has been a steady decline in the cost of low- and zero-carbon electricity generating resources. Perhaps the most staggering changes are to be found in the solar industry, where prices have been falling for decades as the industry has matured, in part due to sustained investments here in the United States and abroad.

Since 2007 alone, the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules has fallen by more than 80 percent, and many industry analysts are projecting that these declines will continue. Meanwhile, sustained improvements in wind technology continue to reduce costs and increase capacity factors, while expanding opportunities across the nation

The very recent extension of the federal tax credits for renewables will be a further catalyst for zero carbon generation.

This new development will contribute to an expected wave of more than 100 GW of new renewables added to the grid between 2016 and 2021, which would offset generation from more than 80 coal-fired power plants. Power companies and state policymakers are recognizing and seizing the tremendous economic opportunity to secure these clean least-cost investments that will position their grid and their customers well to achieve vital reductions of carbon pollution.

America Has A Strong Time Tested History of Making Continuous Progress to Cut Dangerous Pollution from Power Plants While Growing Our Economy

America has long made continuous progress in reducing emissions from the power sector, while maintaining a low-cost and reliable electricity supply. Mercury levels in fish — the source of serious health risks, particularly for children — have been cut substantially in recent years as toxic emissions from power plants have declined. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent program to address cross-state air pollution will reduce soot- and smog-forming sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54 percent from power plants in the eastern half of the U.S.

A separate standard will dramatically reduce mercury and other hazardous emissions from power plants, while also reducing soot-forming emissions by nearly twenty percent.  At the same time, the Supreme Court’s recent decision to remove market barriers to certain energy efficiency programs unleashes a powerful opportunity to build a power system that avoids emissions in the first place.

These pollution reductions have tremendous benefits for our communities — they are saving lives, protecting children from asthma attacks, improving public health and fostering the transition to fundamentally cleaner, safer power. At the same time, this progress is driving widespread interest in pollution-free electricity generation solutions that avoid pollution and also protect our climate.  America is already moving to cleaner, safer power to safeguard our communities from climate change and the array of harmful pollution discharged from aging, high emitting fossil fuel power plants

The Clean Power Plan Is Firmly Grounded in Law and Science

The Clean Power Plan has a firm anchor in our nation’s clean air laws and a strong scientific record.

The Supreme Court has affirmed three times that the Clean Air Act authorizes EPA to address climate-destabilizing carbon pollution.  In 2011, the Court affirmed that section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act –- the provision that underlies the Clean Power Plan — “speaks directly” to emissions of carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Indeed, the Supreme Court unanimously held that states harmed by climate change must look to EPA for protection rather than to common law remedies developed by federal courts. The Clean Power Plan is wholly consistent with the language of the Clean Air Act, and builds upon approaches that have been employed in other judicially-upheld Clean Air Act rules addressing the power sector.

Moreover, the Clean Power Plan rests on a rigorous, extensive technical record informed by nearly two years of public consultation, more than four million public comments, and multiple public hearings touching on nearly every aspect of the standards. Numerous key features were adopted specifically in response to comments by industry and the states on grid reliability, cost, and other issues.

The Clean Power Plan takes a flexible, cost-effective approach to addressing carbon pollution from the electricity sector — well in accord with the Supreme Court’s recognition, just last week in another major case, that the modern power system functions as “an interconnected grid of near-nationwide scope.”

A diverse coalition has joined with EPA to vigorously defend these historic safeguards in court. Eighteen states, the District of Columbia, numerous leading power companies, clean technology companies, and public health and environmental organizations have all partnered to vigorously defend the Clean Power Plan’s solid legal foundation. Twenty major municipalities across the country, from Houston to Grand Rapids and South Miami, are supporting the Clean Power Plan in court.

Moreover, a number of legal experts, law enforcement officials, and former regulators — including two former Republican Administrators of the EPA who are supporting the Clean Power Plan in the D.C. Circuit — have recognized that the Clean Power Plan is fully consistent with the Clean Air Act and represents a common-sense, cost-effective approach to pollution reduction.

Several of our nation’s most important clean air and clean energy safeguards have undergone legal wrangling before taking effect, such as the life-saving limits on smokestack pollution discharged cross-state to downwind communities, and the decision less than two weeks ago in which the Supreme Court fundamentally affirmed important clean energy provisions after damaging legal setbacks.

We are confident that the Clean Power Plan will prevail when considered based on a careful review of the merits, in light of the compelling technical record it is founded on — a review the Supreme Court did not undertake in issuing its February 9th stay order.

In the meantime, the race is on to secure a clean energy future, as many states and power companies have already been doing over the last several years. Nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision alters the imperative to reduce emissions of climate-altering pollution, and capture the economic benefits of near-term investments in clean power and energy efficiency.

And there is every reason for our nation to work together to prepare for and meet pollution reduction requirements under America’s Clean Power Plan — emissions reductions that take effect by 2022, long after any legal wrangling will be complete.

States Are Investing in Cleaner Power

All of these trends are already driving major reductions in carbon pollution. Carbon dioxide emissions from the US power sector hit a 27-year low last April, the lowest amount for any month since April 1988. Overall, the power sector has already reduced emissions of carbon pollution to 15 percent below 2005 levels, and a number of states have achieved even deeper cuts in recent years. From 2005 to 2012 alone, 16 states reduced carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by at least 25 percent, and nine states actually reduced emissions by more than 40 percent.

These trends are intersecting with a period of dramatic transformation in the electricity grid. Power companies are expected to invest an estimated $2 trillion in new generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure between 2010 and 2030 in order to modernize aging generating facilities and grid systems.

Smart states and power companies will continue to take this opportunity to make forward-looking investments that harness our dynamic clean energy economy, cut carbon pollution, and avoid the risk that comes from doubling-down on outdated, dirty technologies that will become stranded in the near future.

America is securing healthier air, a safer climate, and a more resilient and affordable electricity grid — all while growing our economy. All evidence points to this race only accelerating and states and companies achieving and exceeding our nation’s targets for reducing destabilizing carbon pollution. And that’s great news for our public health, our climate security and our economy.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News| Comments are closed

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

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

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

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

According to the motion filed by the cities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congress Backs Down from Harmful Environmental Rollbacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Votes Reveal Increasing Senate Support for Clean Power Plan — Resolutions to Block It Are Going Nowhere

US_Capitol_Building_at_night_Jan_2006

Courtesy: Wikipedia

It can be hard to interpret political maneuvering inside the Washington Beltway, and today’s Senate votes on the U.S. Clean Power Plan are no exception. So take it from someone who keeps a close eye on these votes in Congress — this was a good day for the Clean Power Plan, for U.S. climate leadership, and for a clean energy future.

Why?

Because today’s votes showed that the Clean Power Plan has gained support in the Senate since a test vote earlier this year.

More importantly, today’s votes demonstrated that the Senate is well short of what is needed if Senators truly want to stop the Clean Power Plan from taking effect.The measures that were passed narrowly today (52-to-46) are going nowhere. President Obama will veto these efforts to undo the Clean Power Plan, and there are more than enough supporters of the plan in Congress to sustain the veto.

The Clean Power Plan is a Clean Air Act initiative to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants and spur growth in clean energy. It is an important part of America’s leadership strategy on climate change, which is helping not only to accelerate the transition to clean energy here at home but also to inspire actions by other nations, including China. With world leaders set to convene global talks on climate change in the coming weeks, it’s important to put today’s votes in context.

For two years — even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was developing the Clean Power Plan — Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been promising to block the rules any way he could. In March, he launched a symbolic attack on the Clean Power Plan that passed the Senate 57-43.

In today’s vote, which was based on an infrequently used procedure called the Congressional Review Act, McConnell’s margin of victory grew smaller. Three Republicans (Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois) broke from McConnell and supported the Clean Power Plan.

Since the rule’s release this summer, public support for limits on carbon pollution have only increased. According to a Public Policy poll done this month, 60 percent of voters in Iowa support the Clean Power Plan, while 70 percent of voters in Illinois and 64 percent in Virginia support it.

The Clean Power Plan comes at a time when shifts in technology are opening new pathways to clean energy. Even utility companies recognize that a fundamental shift has taken place. The CEO of one of America’s largest coal burning power companies, AEP, recently said he views the Clean Power Plan as a:

catalyst for the transformation that’s already occurring in our industry

The Clean Power Plan is also just one element of a bigger turning point in American policy on clean energy and climate in recent years. The adoption, a few years ago, of dramatically increased gas mileage standards and greenhouse gas limits for cars is no longer a matter of controversy. States like California and a consortium of nine northeastern states are demonstrating that market-based climate pollution limits are good for economic growth.

The bottom line is that today’s votes to “overturn” the Clean Power Plan were all about political theater. Everyone involved knows the congressional resolutions will ultimately fail, so it’s a free vote for politicians who want to appeal to a relatively narrow slice of the electorate.

The larger narrative, which is the transformation of the United States into a global leader to protect the next generation from climate pollution, is the real story.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Climate Change Legislation, International| Comments are closed
  • About this blog

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

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Categories

  • Meet The Bloggers