Category Archives: Policy

America's coal-producing states weigh their options

A coal train rolls through a town in West Virginia, which produces more coal than any other state except for Wyoming.

Nobody was surprised to hear political foes of President Obama and leaders from several coal-dependent states blast EPA’s proposal to limit carbon pollution from America’s power plants.

The Clean Power Plan, released June 2, represents a big change in the way America will generate and use energy in the coming decades. We understand: Big changes are scary.

So it’s interesting to ponder which political leaders in states dependent on coal-fired power will, in the end, seize this historic opportunity.

Who will use the flexible policy tools offered in the Clean Power Plan to diversify their energy economies and unleash innovation to help their states grow? Who will show political courage?

Clean(-er) power for Texas

Just imagine if a state like Texas, my home state, used the plan to fully leverage its robust natural gas, wind and solar resources. It would be a game changer.

Texas power plants, and the state as a whole, continue to lead the nation in carbon dioxide emissions.

Texas also leads the nation in producing more than 12,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy. That’s impressive.

According to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, however, this represents less than 1 percent of Texas' onshore wind potential.

What’s more, Texas is at the top in solar potential, yet solar energy in Texas lags far behind wind at 213 MW of installed capacity. This spells tremendous opportunity.

So does Texas’ natural gas industry, which may be the biggest winner under EPA’s plan. The American Natural Gas Association predicts the new emission standards will increase natural gas demand by 45 percent – much of which will be produced by Texas with little impact to electricity prices.

In fact, the flexibility of EPA’s proposed plan offers Texas and other states dozens of ways to comply while improving public health and the state economy.

West Virginia: Rich in energy

Take West Virginia, where king coal has reigned for decades. It's among several coal-producing states that got a break by the Clean Power Plan.

West Virginia only needs to cut emissions from power plants by 20 percent by 2030, when the overall target for all 491 plants nationwide is 30 percent, and some states face cuts of 40 percent or more.

This has not kept West Virginia from threatening to sue the EPA over the rules, even as several of the state’s utilities said they’re already well on their way to meeting EPA’s rules.

But amid such noise there’s also optimism. The West Virginia University College of Law has already teamed up with a consulting firm to analyze EPA’s plan and to develop strategies some West Virginians hope will help the state transition to a cleaner future.

“West Virginia has an abundance of energy resources – including coal, natural gas, biomass, wind, solar and energy efficiency,” noted James Van Nostrand, director of the university’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development.

Finding the right mix, he said, will be the main challenge.

Meanwhile, other states enjoy a head start thanks to politically courageous decisions taken years ago. Colorado, a purple state and the seventh largest coal-producer in the country, is one such state.

Colorado blasts ahead

Voters in the Rocky Mountain State approved a renewable energy standard a decade ago and in 2010, the legislature adopted the “Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act.” It requires utility companies to get 20 percent of their energy from cleaner sources by 2020, speeding up the retirement of aging coal-fired plants.

Then in late 2013, Colorado became the first state in the nation to propose new methane limits for its oil and gas operations.

By reining in this highly potent greenhouse gas, and thanks to the steps it took over the past decade, Colorado may already be ahead of the curve when it comes to meeting EPA’s proposed standards.

And what does all this energy progress cost? According to one Colorado utility, Xcel Energy, the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act will cost the company $1 billion, with an annual rate impact of only about 2 percent over the next decade.

Yet the benefits to Coloradans are significant: $590 million in averted health costs and 1,500 construction jobs.

My guess is that not even in states such as Texas or West Virginia will they be able to deny for long the billions in cost-savings, millions in health benefits, and hundreds of new jobs that the Clean Power Plan promises.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 2 Responses, comments now closed

EPA’s Authority to Limit Carbon Pollution from Power Plants Is Well Established and Widely Recognized

Gavel_iStock000003633182Medium(This post was written by EDF attorney Megan Ceronsky and legal fellow Peter Heisler)

The bedrock legal authority underlying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan is broadly recognized — by our nation’s highest court, states, power companies, academic experts and the EPA General Counsel serving during the President George H.W. Bush administration.

Our recent Climate 411 post chronicles the Supreme Court’s decisions affirming EPA’s authority to address carbon pollution from power plants under section 111 of the Clean Air Act.

In Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), the Court held that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.  Then, in AEP v. Connecticut (2011), the Court explicitly recognized EPA’s authority to limit emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants pursuant to section 111, and acknowledged the agency’s ongoing efforts to do so.

Even before AEP was decided, however, legal researchers and academics had identified section 111 as a promising avenue for regulating carbon pollution from power plants and industrial facilities:

  • A 2009 report by the Congressional Research Service found that “Section 111 appears to provide a strong basis for EPA to establish a traditional regulatory approach to controlling greenhouse gas emissions from large stationary sources.”
  • A 2010 paper by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions observed that “[S]ection 111 appears to provide the EPA with the best means to create a system that … implements a cost-effective program that delivers meaningful emissions reductions, is consistent with both the statutory language of the Act and legal precedent, and is politically viable.”
  • A 2011 survey of the academic community found “widespread agreement” that “[section] 111 authorizes the use of many types of flexible approaches” to regulating carbon pollution.

Indeed, states, power companies, and other stakeholders have all recently analyzed and supported EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants:

  • Kentucky recognized EPA’s role in setting the benchmark that states will have to meet under section 111.
  • Pennsylvania said that section 111 was the “most appropriate” provision for regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
  • The nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative “recommend[ed] that EPA use its authority under section 111 of the Clean Air Act to ensure significant overall reductions in carbon emissions."
  • Fifteen states from across the country agreed that “EPA needs to seize [the] opportunity [for pollution reduction] because Section 111(d) standards are to be based on the ‘best system of emission reduction,’” including energy efficiency and renewable energy.
  • The Clean Energy Group, whose members include some of the largest generators of electricity in the country, noted that “EPA has significant discretion under section 111(d) in determining both the appropriate level of the standards for existing power plants, as well as the form of the regulations.”

Environmental law experts have also analyzed and endorsed EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution from power plants:

  • UCLA Law Professor Ann Carlson said “[I]t is important to be clear here: the President is required to issue the rules, required by law and by the interpretation of the law by the highest Court in the land.”
  • Harvard Professor Jody Freeman called critics’ claims to the contrary “weak,” explaining that “[t]he record clearly shows that Congress intended to ensure that harmful pollutants from existing power plants could not entirely escape regulation. These emissions qualify for regulation under 111(d) because they are not covered elsewhere in the law and account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s total emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal driver of global warming.”
  • E. Donald Elliott, EPA General Counsel under President George H.W. Bush, noted that “the Supreme Court and other courts have upheld EPA’s authority to address this issue,” and “[a] system-wide approach provides needed flexibility and reduces costs, as well as encouraging investment in lower-emitting generation. EPA has wisely left the states a lot of discretion rather than mandating specific measures as some had wanted…”
  • Carol Browner, EPA Administrator during the Clinton administration, wrote that “EPA has authority under the 1990 Clean Air Act, an authority affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, to set these public health protections against carbon pollution.”

Finally, Leon G. Billings, who was the principal staff author of the Clean Air Act of 1970, shared his personal knowledge of the statute:

Critics of the move say that President Obama is making an end run around Congress, stretching the law to achieve by executive action what he could not accomplish through the legislative branch … This is flat wrong. More than four decades ago, Congress expressed its clear desire to regulate pollution from power plants, in the form of the Clean Air Act. I know, because I worked on the legislation, including the key part of the act — Section 111 — that the Obama administration is using to justify its move.

The legal community broadly recognizes EPA’s authority and obligation to address carbon pollution emitted by power plants. This is perhaps unsurprising, as all these statements simply echo what the Supreme Court has already held — that EPA’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution from power plants are firmly grounded in the law.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation| 3 Responses, comments now closed

The cheapest way to cut climate pollution? Energy efficiency

This blog post was co-authored by Lauren Navarro, California Senior Manager, Clean Energy and Kate Zerrenner, an EDF project manager and expert on energy efficiency and climate change.

On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a historic announcement that will change how we make, move and use electricity for generations to come.

For the first time in history, the government proposed limits on the amount of carbon pollution American fossil-fueled power plants are allowed to spew into the atmosphere.

There are two clear winners to comply with the plan while maintaining commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response.

We’re already seeing pushback from some of our nation’s big polluter states, such as West Virginia and Texas. But the truth is that while the proposed limits on carbon are strong, they’re also flexible.

In fact, the EPA has laid out a whole menu of options in its Clean Power Plan – from power plant upgrades, to switching from coal to natural gas and adopting more renewable energy resources. States can choose from these and other strategies as they develop their own plans to meet the new standards.

That said, there are two clear winners on the EPA’s menu that offer low-cost options for states that seek to comply with the plan while maintaining their commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response.

Energy efficiency our lowest-hanging fruit

Simply saving energy is the most cost-effective way to reduce demand and carbon pollution from power plants. The cheapest, cleanest and most reliable electricity, after all, is the electricity we don’t use.

The benefits of energy efficiency are vast. It helps people and businesses save money, it boosts job creation (as many as 274,000, one source estimates), and it reduces harmful power plant pollution.

From a utility perspective, energy efficiency improves the reliability of our electric grid and lowers costs for infrastructure maintenance.

Plus, in states such as Texas and California, which face extreme drought, energy efficiency can save scarce water sources. Remember that coal-fired power plants are thirstyand less water is consumed when these plants are used less (or not at all).

Half of the states already have mandatory energy-efficiency targets, so we have the knowledge and experience across the country to advance this undeniably beneficial resource.

Same as taking all cars off road

McKinsey & Co. estimates that by 2020, the United States could reduce its annual energy consumption by 23 percent by adopting energy-efficiency measures. This could save us more than $1 trillion dollars and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than a gigaton—the equivalent of taking the entire U.S. fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the road.

That’s why Environmental Defense Fund is working with policymakers, investors and utilities throughout the country to understand the full benefits of energy efficiency, and to explore paths for implementation, for when they’re crafting state plans under EPA’s new Clean Power Plan.

Demand response: everyone wins

Demand response is another way to introduce greater efficiency into the nation's electricity system and help reduce carbon emissions. It’s an invaluable tool that can help conserve electricity when supplies run thin, and to bring more clean energy onto the grid.

On a hot summer day, for example, when electricity demand is high, utilities can ask permission of select customers to lower their thermostats a couple of degrees. In exchange, these customers receive credit on their next electricity bill.

It also helps utility companies better manage stress on the electric grid and it can help them integrate wind, solar and other renewables to replace aging coal-fired power plants.

Demand response relies on people, not power plants, to meet energy demand and reduce carbon pollution from our electricity sector.

Proven strategies

In Southern California, for example, they’re about to replace a large chunk of electric capacity – at least 550 megawatts – from the recently closed San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station with renewable energy, energy storage – and demand response. This will help minimize a need for gas-fired plants and other polluting facilities that might replace the nuclear plant.

Best of all, demand response is more affordable than building new power plants. In fact, if just 50 percent of Southern California Edison’s customers participated in time-of-use rates – a type of demand response program – energy demand would plummet so much that 66 percent of San Onofre’s former generating capacity would no longer be needed.

As a bonus, customers across the territory would also collectively see cost savings of $357 million, a 15-percent decrease.

As a result of smart decisions such as the one involving the San Onofre plant, California’s utility sector’s greenhouse gas emissions have and will continue to decline. This proves that demand response can and should be a core tenet in the nation’s push to diversify its energy mix and cut pollution in order to usher in a clean, sustainable and healthy future.

As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy noted last week, these clean energy solutions are not new ideas. They’re based on proven technologies and approaches that "are already part of the ongoing story of energy progress in America."

"We're not doing cutting-edge work here, folks," she said. "We are just opening the door to cutting-edge.”

This post first appeared on EDF Voices

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 3 Responses, comments now closed

A First Look at the Clean Power Plan: Protecting Public Health and Cutting Carbon Pollution

Source: Flickr/ Rupert Ganzer

Source: Flickr/Rupert Ganzer

Earlier this week, our nation took a ground-breaking step by proposing to finally establish carbon pollution limits on existing power plants — the single largest source of climate-destabilizing pollution in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world.

We have national limits on the other air pollutants emitted by these plants, including mercury and arsenic and smog-forming pollutants — and we urgently need to secure strong limits on carbon pollution.

Here’s a first look at the proposed Clean Power Plan and its “building blocks” — the opportunity for state leadership, the profound public health benefits for our communities and families, and the good news about cost savings for customers.

The Proposed Pollution Reductions

The Clean Power Plan would reduce carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants by approximately 30 percent by 2030, and could curb emissions by as much as 27 percent by 2020.

EPA looked at the existing power plants in each state, and evaluated four time-tested, cost-effective emission reduction pathways:

  1. The potential to improve power plant efficiency
  2. The potential to rely more on lower-emitting power plants such as combined cycle natural gas and less on higher-emitting power plants
  3. The potential to deploy zero emitting generation resources like wind and solar
  4. The potential to capture end-use energy efficiency opportunities.

EPA then added up these four “building blocks” to calculate the reduction that a State could achieve on average in its overall emission rate over 2020-2029 (the “interim” target), and what rate could be achieved in 2030:

 

State

2012 Emission Rate
(Fossil, Renewable, and 6% Nuclear) (lbs/MWh)

2020-2029 Interim Goal (lbs/MWh)

2030 State Goal (lbs/MWh)

Percent change from 2012 rate

Alabama

1,444

1,147

1,059

-27%

Alaska

1,351

1,097

1,003

-26%

Arizona

1,453

735

702

-52%

Arkansas

1,640

968

910

-45%

California

698

556

537

-23%

Colorado

1,714

1,159

1,108

-35%

Connecticut

765

597

540

-29%

Delaware

1,234

913

841

-32%

Florida

1,200

794

740

-38%

Georgia

1,500

891

834

-44%

Hawaii

1,540

1,378

1,306

-15%

Idaho

339

244

228

-33%

Illinois

1,895

1,366

1,271

-33%

Indiana

1,923

1,607

1,531

-20%

Iowa

1,552

1,341

1,301

-16%

Kansas

1,940

1,578

1,499

-23%

Kentucky

2,158

1,844

1,763

-18%

Louisiana

1,466

948

883

-40%

Maine

437

393

378

-14%

Maryland

1,870

1,347

1,187

-37%

Massachusetts

925

655

576

-38%

Michigan

1,696

1,227

1,161

-32%

Minnesota

1,470

911

873

-41%

Mississippi

1,130

732

692

-39%

Missouri

1,963

1,621

1,544

-21%

Montana

2,245

1,882

1,771

-21%

Nebraska

2,009

1,596

1,479

-26%

Nevada

988

697

647

-34%

New Hampshire

905

546

486

-46%

New Jersey

932

647

531

-43%

New Mexico

1,586

1,107

1,048

-34%

New York

983

635

549

-44%

North Carolina

1,646

1,077

992

-40%

North Dakota

1,994

1,817

1,783

-11%

Ohio

1,850

1,452

1,338

-28%

Oklahoma

1,387

931

895

-35%

Oregon

717

407

372

-48%

Pennsylvania

1,540

1,179

1,052

-32%

Rhode Island

907

822

782

-14%

South Carolina

1,587

840

772

-51%

South Dakota

1,135

800

741

-35%

Tennessee

1,903

1,254

1,163

-39%

Texas

1,298

853

791

-39%

Utah

1,813

1,378

1,322

-27%

Virginia

1,297

884

810

-38%

Washington

763

264

215

-72%

West Virginia

2,019

1,748

1,620

-20%

Wisconsin

1,827

1,281

1,203

-34%

Wyoming

2,115

1,808

1,714

-19%

State Flexibility & Innovation

Under the Clean Power Plan, states will control their own future.

States have the flexibility to deploy the emission reduction policies and pathways that make the most sense for them, maximizing cost-effectiveness and co-benefits for their citizens, so long as they achieved the required emission reductions.

Some states might choose to build their compliance plans around existing Renewable Energy Standards and energy efficiency programs. Others might choose to put in place an emission reduction trading program between power plants. Still others might choose to collaborate with other states to submit joint plans and capture the cost-effective emission reduction opportunities available across state boundaries.

Public Health Benefits

The public health benefits of the Clean Power Plan are extensive and will help ensure healthier and longer for our loved ones who suffer from heart and lung ailments, and for our children.

EPA’s analysis shows that the reductions in carbon pollution and the associated reductions in sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter that will happen as a result will generate health benefits of $55 to $93 billion per year in 2030.

The pollutants that contribute to the soot and smog that make people sick will be reduced by more than 25 percent in 2030 — avoiding 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks per year.

From the soot and smog reductions alone — ignoring the important reductions in carbon pollution achieved — Americans will see 7 dollars in health benefits for every dollar invested through the Clean Power Plan.

Cleaner power will ensure healthier and longer lives for millions of Americans.

Electricity Rates & Reliability

EPA’s analysis also shows that there will be sufficient power generation capacity across the United States under this framework to meet demand.

The flexibility provided to States will allow them to design plans to secure reductions in carbon pollution without any risk to power reliability.  As has been true for the past 40 years, we will reduce air pollution and maintain reliable power.

Because the Clean Power Plan will spur investments in demand-side energy efficiency, in 2030 electricity bills are expected to be 8 percent lower than they would have been without the plan.

Under the Clean Power Plan we will have cleaner, safer power, lower electricity bills, cleaner air, and healthier lives.

Cleaner power for a stronger America.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Power plant rule a tipping point for clean energy economy

By Cheryl Roberto, Associate Vice President, Clean Energy Program

For those of us (and all of you) who’ve been urging the government to implement meaningful climate policy, the release yesterday of a plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants has been a long time coming. But it finally came.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution rule for existing fossil-fueled power plants – also known as the Clean Power Plan – are a huge win for our climate.

We also think it could go down in history as the tipping point in our nation’s transition to a clean energy economy. Here’s why:

Old, dirty power plants will be retired

The nation’s fleet of coal-fired power plants is the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world. Placing carbon regulations on this source of electricity for the first time in history will transform our energy system.

Utilities have acknowledged that it doesn’t make economic sense to pour money into retrofitting and retaining older, less-reliable coal-fired power plants when they need to focus investments on newer and more reliable plants.

This means that many of the most highly-polluting coal-fired power plants that provide electricity to our homes and businesses today will be retired. It presents a unique opportunity for clean energy solutions to fill the gap in generating capacity.

It may be one of the largest market opportunities in history to drive…clean energy on a national level.

Increasing our use of homegrown, renewable power sources and investing in proven tools such as energy efficiency, smart grids and demand response (which compensates electricity customers for conserving energy) will help fill this gap while reducing our reliance on fossil fuels that pollute the environment and contribute to climate change.

States will lead the way

EPA’s approach provides clear guidance for what limits and metrics must be met, but leaves states the flexibility to design solutions to meet those requirements as they see fit. This will encourage all states (even those which do not embrace the climate challenge) to look at clean energy technology as an attractive option when they seek to comply with the law.

Federal limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants are exactly the clarity states need to lead us to clean, reliable and affordable energy for all Americans – now and in the future.

Entrepreneurs, investors ready to jump in

What’s more, the new EPA plan – once it's final – will give entrepreneurs, corporations and venture capitalists the market signal they need to go full steam ahead with low-carbon innovations. It may be one of the largest market opportunities in history to drive the development and implementation of clean energy on a national level.

At Environmental Defense Fund, we’re right in the middle of many of these promising solutions, working with state legislators and regulators to clear outdated rules that mire us in the past and discourages innovators.

Paving the way for a cleaner, healthier future

We’re working with financial institutions to develop new funding opportunities for clean energy investments that will help raise the estimated $10.5 trillion needed over the next two decades to transition our world to a clean energy economy.

We’re working with energy research pioneer Pecan Street Inc.in Austin, TX to test customer energy management solutions such as rooftop solar, home energy storage, learning thermostats and time-of-use energy pricing (which incentivizes people to use electricity during periods of low, or “off-peak” energy demand).

And we’re pushing to make energy efficiency a cornerstone of America’s energy policy.

It may not be as sexy as fuel cells and solar panels, butbuilding a more efficient energy system — from power plants to transmission lines to homes and buildings — is the most affordable and cleanest path forward.

The United States is expected to spend about $2 trillion over the next two decades to replace our outdated electric infrastructure. These new regulations are a step in the right direction toward ensuring that these investments are spent on our future and not entrenching us in our past.

EPA's proposed rule means good jobs, economic development and a healthier planet.

And as a pioneer at the forefront of this movement, EDF is determined to make sure we stay on track.

This blog first appeared on EDF Voices

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 1 Response, comments now closed

EPA Hands Over the Keys with Clean Power Plan, California Already on Cruise Control

EPA’s Clean Power Plan, proposed today, is a roadmap for cutting dangerous pollution from power plants, and as with any map, there are many roads to follow. For this journey, states are in the driver’s seat and can steer themselves in the direction most beneficial to their people and to the state’s economy, as long as they show EPA they are staying on the map and ultimately reaching the final destination.

As usual, California got off to a head start, explored the territory, blazed a lot of new trails, and left a number of clues on how states can transition to a lower carbon future, and California’s successes are one proven, potential model for other states to follow. The state’s legacy of clean energy and energy efficiency progress is a big reason the White House and EPA could roll out the most significant national climate change action in U.S. history.

Way back in the mid-1970s, when Governor Jerry Brown did his first tour of duty, California pioneered what remains one of the most effective tools for cutting pollution and saving money:  energy efficiency. The state’s efficiency standards, largely aimed at buildings and appliances, have saved Californians $74 billion and avoided the construction of more than 30 power plants. All those energy savings have translated into California residential electricity bills that are 25% lower than the national average.  What’s more, California produces twice as much economic output per kilowatt hour of electricity usage as the national average.

While energy efficiency has done yeoman’s work pulling costs down, reducing the need for dirty energy, and supercharging the state’s clean energy economy, California has also brought bold approaches to cleaning up its power supply. The California Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires 33% of all electricity sold in California to come from renewable sources by 2020, the most aggressive of the 29 states with RPS measures on the books.

In 2006, California enacted Senate Bill 1368, a groundbreaking law that set the nation’s first greenhouse gas emissions standard for power plants, a forerunner of EPA’s Clean Power Plan announced today. The same year, the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) instituted a statewide limit on greenhouse gas emissions, requiring California to return to 1990 levels by 2020. Power plants are capped under AB 32’s successful cap-and-trade program, another precedent that set the table for EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which establishes a national limit on power plant pollution for the first time. This robust suite of policies resulted in California cutting carbon pollution from in-state and imported electricity by 16% between 2005 and 2010-2012.

Given this track record, it’s no surprise that Californians strongly support pollution limits on power plants. According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) 2013 survey, 76% of Californians support “stricter emissions limits on power plants,” and 65% of survey respondents say that California should act immediately to cut emissions and not wait for the economy to improve, a record-high level of support. The survey also shows that Californians believe the economy will improve because of strong environmental regulations, and that you don’t have to have one or the other. Data corroborating this view continues to pile up:  the state now has its lowest unemployment rate since 2008 even with increasingly stringent environmental policies.

California is proof positive that states can fashion creative policies that improve their environmental and economic bottom line, and that’s exactly what will be needed to make EPA’s Clean Power Plan a durable and resounding success. California’s roadmap includes a variety of alternative routes, giving other states a chance to adopt or adapt them to meet the needs of their own unique journeys toward a healthier future.

This post first appeared on our California Dream 2.0 blog.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News| 1 Response, comments now closed

New EPA rule for dirty power plants fuels strange debate

Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.

In the downside-up Alice in Wonderland world of Congress, we are about to begin a debate about whether unlimited pollution is a good thing.

It will be triggered by the Obama administration's historic announcement today that for the first time, America’s fossil-fueled power plants will not be allowed to release limitless amounts of carbon pollution – a policy that will improve the chances our children and grandchildren will have a safe and healthy future.

No one, of course, will stand up and say they love pollution.

But you're about to hear elected officials and industry lobbyists talk very loudly about the calamity that will occur if we impose any restriction at all on carbon pollution from power plants.

Learn how you can support carbon limits

Never mind that power plants are the largest source of this pollution, or that they cause major damage to our environment and our health. And don’t worry that up until now, there have been no national limits on them at all.

According to these folks, unless we allow companies to pollute as much as they want, we will face catastrophe.

Pollution is bad – period

The new rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would establish standards for carbon pollution from existing power plants, just as they have standards for soot and mercury and other pollutants. The rule is based on decades of science, and will be proposed under authority granted by Congress through the Clean Air Act.

More importantly, it’s based on two pieces of basic common sense:

  1. When there is no limit on pollution, you get a lot of pollution.
  2. Pollution is bad.

It doesn’t seem to reassure the unlimited pollution crowd that every past effort to reduce air pollution has resulted in a net benefit for our economy as well as for our health. In fact, the benefits of most EPA Clean Air Act rules outweigh the costs by 30 to 1.

But as reliably as a humid summer in Washington, critics of the law will wildly over-estimate the cost of complying with new pollution reduction rules.

The impacts of unlimited pollution are scary, as outlined in two recent scientific reports that outline the situation globallyand in the United States. Kids will have more asthma attacks, storms will be more destructive, drought more severe, and lots of other dangerous problems.

Compare that future to one in which we have reasonable limits on carbon pollution. They won’t solve all of our problems, but they are a significant step forward. The new EPA rule will kick-start a transition to a clean-energy and low-carbon future, which will lead to economic and health benefits for everyone.

So next time someone tells you that limits on carbon emissions are a bad idea, ask if he (or she) thinks unlimited pollution is a responsible policy – and watch the person change the subject in a hurry.

It’s how these conversations usually end.

This blog first appeared on EDF Voices

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Comments closed

Why you only get 25% of the electricity you pay for

By Ronny Sandoval

What would you say if I told you that about three-quarters of what you spend on electricity every month is wasted? Considering that Americans spend about $350 billion on electricity annually, I hope you’ll find this as shocking as I do.

From generation to delivery to consumption, inefficiencies at every step of electricity’s journey add up to a lot of waste. Fortunately, these same conditions present us with opportunities to substantially reduce inefficiencies and their associated economic, social, and environmental impacts.

Generation: Energy is wasted at the source

Today, the majority of the electricity produced in the United States originates from fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, these plants are only about 33 percent efficient, and “two-thirds of the energy in the fuel is lost — vented as heat — at most power plants in the United States.”

There are limits to what can be done to address this problem as this loss is largely due to the thermal process of large power plants, since heat is a by-product of this sort of generation and it has to be released somehow.

Some plants, however, achieve higher efficiencies by capturing wasted heat energy and putting it to meaningful work, raising the total efficiency to somewhere within the 60-80 percent (or greater) range.

One example of this kind of technology is combined heat and power, which burns a fossil-fuel like natural gas to make electricity, but reroutes the heat generated as a by-product (often vented out of the chimney stack) back to the customer’s premise and used to heat hot water or a space.

Today, this technology is mostly limited to large buildings or complexes, but it has proven to be very successful in places such as New York City, where these types of structures are prevalent.

Delivery: Energy is lost en route to homes and businesses

Adding to our energy loss, another seven percent of the electricity that’s ultimately generated is later lost in the delivery path to homes and businesses.

Available and emerging technologies show us it doesn’t have to be this way. “Voltage optimization’” technologies and strategies, for example, can lower the amount of energy lost in the delivery process while also reducing the associated environmental impacts.

Consumption: Old appliances, bad habits = a little more waste

Try to think of all the old and inefficient appliances and equipment that use more electricity than is necessary. For example, incandescent (traditional) light bulbs can use four times as much electricity as energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. Most of the energy these traditional bulbs use generates heat, not light.

Similarly, inefficient refrigerators can use 15 percent more electricity (or much more depending on the age) than efficient alternatives.

Now, also think of all the things that are simply left on or running that don’t have to be (lights, computers, TVs, phone chargers, etc.) and you really start to get a picture of the amount of inefficiency based on our ingrained habits of consumption.

Smart solutions

But don’t be discouraged! Abundant and cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities mean we can reduce this waste – and ultimately pollution. By simply improving the way we use energy at home and at work we can realize big energy savings across the whole electricity supply chain.

When an unused appliance is powered off, the electric system doesn’t just save on the energy the appliance would have used, it also avoids all the extra energy (and greenhouse gas emissions) the system would have generated to compensate for its inefficiencies.

Fortunately, more and more solutions (such as “smart’ thermostats” and “smart” power strips) are providing consumers with the tools to automate and maximize energy savings at home.

Commercial buildings can also benefit from these intelligent energy control devices by implementing operating schedules, occupancy sensors, and other forms of building automation to ensure that lighting or heating and cooling systems aren’t running when not needed.

Abundant and cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities mean we can reduce this waste.

Collectively, we can improve this part of the supply chain through an increasing variety of actions – such as using more efficient appliances, energy conservation, and the automation of energy use.

A rare opportunity

I think it’s safe to say that most Americans would like to see more bang for their electricity buck, but the argument for efficiency is not just a financial one. Energy efficiency has the added benefit of protecting our finite natural resources and reducing harmful, greenhouse gas emissions that affect our health.

Much of the inefficiencies in the electric system are a product of decisions made along the supply chain and the policies and incentives that drive them.

The U.S. is expected to spend about $2 trillion over the next two decades to replace our aging, inefficient and polluting energy infrastructure. This presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionize how we make, move, manage, and use electricity.

It's an opportunity we cannot afford to waste, the way we've been wasting so much electricity.

This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 4 Responses, comments now closed

Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act — Cooperative Federalism and Performance-Based Standards

dv067014One year ago this June, President Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop Carbon Pollution Standards for existing power plants — a key component of his Climate Action Plan.

The President charged EPA with launching the effort "through direct engagement with States, as they will play a central role in establishing and implementing standards for existing power plants."

Congress laid the groundwork for this dynamic federal-state collaboration in 1970 when it provided for national environmental performance standards for sectors that are major sources of dangerous air pollution.

Under this program  (Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act) EPA identifies the "best system of emission reduction" available to address dangerous air pollution from existing pollution sources through performance standards, adopted after public notice and comment, called "emission guidelines." 1

EPA quantifies the emission reductions that can be achieved using this "best system" — and that becomes the performance benchmark for state plans which implement and enforce standards of performance for the existing sources of pollution in each state. 2

Congress provided for state plans to be submitted to EPA to evaluate whether the plan provides for emission reductions that are equivalent to or greater than those under the "best system." 3 Congress made clear that states are not required to use the particular system identified by EPA — they have the flexibility to use other systems, tailored to their state, so long as they achieve an equivalent or greater level of pollution reduction.

Under the timeline set out by President Obama, EPA will propose guidelines for emissions from existing power plants at the beginning of June, and finalize them by June 2015.

Consistent with the long-standing implementation timetable under this Clean Air Act program, states will submit their plans to implement and enforce standards by the end of June 2016.

Section 111(d) standards have long been effective in addressing dangerous air pollution from a variety of source categories and can be designed to provide a flexible and cost-effective framework for reducing carbon pollution from power plants.

For decades, section 111(d) has provided the foundation for pollution cuts from major sources of air pollution. Toward the end of the 1970s, EPA and the states put section 111(d) to work, publishing and implementing emission guidelines for fluorides from phosphate fertilizer plants (1977),4 sulfuric acid mist from sulfuric acid plants (1977),5 sulfur from kraft pulp mills (1979),6 and fluoride from primary aluminum plants (1980).7

These emissions guidelines and the state-devised standards implementing them would achieve dramatic reductions of harmful air pollutants, eliminating 75 percent of overall nationwide fluoride emissions from phosphate fertilizer plants,8 almost 80 percent of sulfuric acid emissions from an uncontrolled sulfuric acid plant,9 82 percent of overall nationwide total reduced sulfur from kraft pulp mills,10 and up to 78 percent of fluoride emissions from the primary aluminum industry.11

The pollution from fossil fueled power plants, one of the single largest sources of dangerous air pollution in our nation, has been subject of clean air standards under section 111 since the advent of the modern Clean Air Act in 1970.12 National standards of performance under section 111 have applied to newly constructed power plants and existing plants that are revamped and reconstructed.

The flexibility that the Clean Air Act provides in establishing and implementing standards of performance for existing sources under section 111(d) is well suited for the regulation of carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants.

Congress created a framework under section 111(d) to address pollution from existing power plants that can be flexible and expansive in scope where such a framework could be more effective in addressing emissions.

The statutory language — "best system of emission reduction" — is broad, and not defined in the statute. The ordinary meaning of the word is expansive — "a complex unity formed of many often diverse parts subject to a common plan or serving a common purpose."13 Throughout the Clean Air Act, Congress has used the word "system" to describe innovative, flexible regulatory approaches such as the acid rain emissions cap and allowance trading program, and marketable permits.14

Indeed, the legislative history of the section over the years is consonant with this broad reading of the term "system," especially for section 111(d).

When Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1977, it altered the definition of "standard of performance" as applied to new sources in order to require new sources to deploy the "best technological system" of emission reduction. But, pointedly, it left the corresponding definition for existing sources intact15 and even explicitly confirmed that "systems" of emission reduction for existing sources were "not necessarily technological."16

In 1990, Congress abandoned this special limitation for new sources and reverted to the broad, unified definition of section 111 "standards of performance" for both new and existing sources.17

Thus, EPA can deploy a systemic approach to reducing carbon pollution from power plants, looking beyond each individual source in isolation to find the "best," most cost-effective system for reducing pollution.

It has done so several times before. In the 1995 emission guidelines for municipal waste combustors, EPA authorized states to create averaging and trading programs in reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides.18

In the context of greenhouse gas emissions, which do not have local effects, an averaging approach allows cost-effective emission reduction opportunities to be captured while rigorous overall emission reduction targets are achieved.

Not only may EPA allow averaging of emissions among existing sources as part of the "best system of emission reduction," but it can also consider pollution-reduction measures that are implemented beyond the source and secure reductions in emissions at the source.

For example, in the 1997 emission guidelines for hospital/medical/infectious waste incinerators, EPA required state plans to include waste management plans, where feasible, to eliminate part of the waste stream going to the incinerator that would produce harmful emissions.19 In that context, part of the "best system of emission reduction" involved measures taken well outside of the source’s boundaries that could reduce harmful emissions from the sources.

EPA could take a similar approach to address carbon pollution from existing power plants — as deploying demand side energy efficiency and renewable energy can be some of the most effective means of reducing harmful emissions from existing plants while capturing the greatest co-benefits in cutting utility bills, creating jobs, making state economies less dependent on price fluctuations in fossil fuels, and stimulating local economies.

States have extensive experience in implementing emission guidelines and other system-wide approaches under the Clean Air Act, and are well positioned for developing and implementing plans to address carbon pollution from existing power plants under Section 111(d).

The next two parts of this series will look at the impressive achievements of states and power companies across the country in in cutting carbon pollution through flexible, cost-effective, demonstrated policies that are reducing utilization of high-emitting plants, expanding renewable energy capacity, and improving the efficiency with which we use energy.

Through the dynamic state-federal collaboration provided by section 111(d), the Carbon Pollution Standards for existing power plants will build on this foundation and help us make further progress along the path toward a cleaner, safer energy future.

  1. 40 C.F.R. § 60.22(b)
  2. Id. § 60.24.
  3. Id.; 42 U.S.C. § 7411(a); id. § 7411(d)(2).
  4. Phosphate Fertilizer Plants, Final Guideline Document Availability, 42 Fed. Reg. 12,022 (Mar. 1, 1977).
  5. Emission Guideline for Sulfuric Acid Mist, 42 Fed. Reg. 55,796 (Oct. 18, 1977).
  6. Kraft Pulp Mills; Final Guideline Document; Availability, 44 Fed. Reg. 29,828 (May 22, 1979).
  7. Primary Aluminum Plants; Availability of Final Guideline Document, 45 Fed. Reg. 26,294 (Apr. 17, 1980).
  8. Final Guideline Document: Control of Fluoride Emissions from Existing Phosphate Fertilizer Plants, Doc. No. EPA-450/2-77-005, at 1-7 (Mar. 1977).
  9. Final Guideline Document: Control of Sulfuric Acid Mist Emissions from Existing Sulfuric Acid Production Units, Doc. No. EPA-450/2-77-019, at 8-2 (Sept. 1977).
  10. Kraft Pulping, "Control of TRS Emissions from Existing Mills," Doc. No. EPA-450/2-78-003b, at 1-6 (Mar. 1979).
  11. Primary Aluminum: Guidelines for Control of Fluoride Emissions from Existing Primary Aluminum Plants, Doc. No. EPA-450/2-78-049b, at 125 tbl. 1-7 (Dec. 1979).
  12. Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources, 36 Fed. Reg. 24,876 (Dec. 23, 1971).
  13. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 2322 (1967).
  14. 42 U.S.C. § 7511a(g)(4)(A); id. § 7651b; id. § 7651c.
  15. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977, Pub. L. No. 95-95, § 109(c)(1)(A), 91 Stat. 685, 699-700.
  16. H.R. Rep. No. 95-564, at 129 (1977) (Conf. Rep.).
  17. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-549, § 403(a), 104 Stat. 2399, 2631.
  18. 40 C.F.R § 60.33b(d)(2).
  19. Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources and Emission Guidelines for Existing Sources: Hospital/Medical/Infectious Waste Incinerators, 62 Fed. Reg. 48,348, 48,359 (Sept. 15, 1997) (codified at 40 C.F.R. §§ 60.35e, 60.55c).

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 1 Response, comments now closed

Soot Pollution Limits Unanimously Upheld in Court, Continuing Clean Air Victory Streak

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) particulate matter (soot) pollution standard, ruling that EPA’s decision to strengthen the standard in 2012 was firmly grounded in science and the law. The ruling also upheld EPA’s new requirement that states install air quality monitors near heavy traffic roads, where soot pollution levels can spike. The court’s decision is the latest in a string of legal victories for critical health protections on air pollution.

When fossil fuels are burned in an automobile or power plant, they release soot pollution, very fine, ashy particles less than one tenth the width of a human hair. These particles are so small that the air can carry them for long distances. When inhaled, soot particles penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can cross into the bloodstream via the path normally taken by inhaled oxygen. Exposure to soot pollution can inflame and alter our blood vessels, cutting off the oxygen supply to our heart and brain, leading to a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiac event.

The Clean Air Act mandates that EPA revisit its standards on criteria air pollutants – like soot – every five years, so that clean air standards can keep pace with the latest understanding of health science. Since EPA established its 2006 soot standard, hundreds of scientific studies have shown that particle pollution could cause adverse health effects—even in cities that met EPA’s established limits. Based on this information, in 2012, EPA strengthened its soot pollution standard to protect public health. Furthermore, EPA called for states to implement roadside air quality monitors to ensure the standards would likewise protect individuals exposed to significant near-road emissions.

The National Association of Manufacturers and the Utility Air Resources group, a coalition of large power companies and coal companies, filed legal challenges to EPA’s new soot standards, arguing that the 2006 standard was sufficient to protect public health. But the science doesn’t lie. In the D.C. Circuit Court’s unanimous decision, Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote:

Here, we can be brief: Petitioners have not identified any way in which EPA jumped the rails of reasonableness in examining the science. EPA offered reasoned explanations for how it approached and weighed the evidence, and why the scientific evidence supported revision of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

EPA was reasonable in their interpretation of the science—the polluting companies, on the other hand, could not present a credible argument against the updated soot pollution standards, or the need for roadside air quality monitors.

This important victory is critical to protect our families and communities from harmful soot pollution, and it is clear that EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act stands up to both legal and scientific scrutiny.

This post was adapted from EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matters Blog

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Health| 3 Responses, comments now closed
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