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The Mercury Standards, Post-Supreme Court – Still in Effect, Still Protecting Americans

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Supreme Court of the United States

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first proposed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards back in 2011, at a news conference at Children’s Hospital with cheering children and families surrounding the speakers.

They were cheering because the Mercury Standards were the single most important clean air measure of our generation – designed to protect Americans from some of the worst, most dangerous types of air pollution.

They still are.

This week’s disappointing Supreme Court decision, remanding the standards back to the D.C. Circuit Court for further analysis, has distracted from that fact.

But the fact remains – the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a suite of life-saving protections against some of the most health-harming substances emitted by coal and oil-fired power plants, including mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals, and acid gases.

Here’s What Happened

Coal- and oil-fired power plants are by far the largest emitters of these pollutants, which are dangerous to human health even in small doses. Mercury causes brain damage in children, metal toxics like chromium and nickel cause cancer, and acid gases cause respiratory problems.

This week, the Supreme Court held that EPA should have considered the costs of regulation when it made a threshold determination under section 112 of the Clean Air Act that it is “appropriate and necessary” to move forward with the first-ever national limits for these noxious emissions. It is now up to EPA to determine the best way to respond to the decision.

(The case was Michigan v. EPA. EDF was a party to the case. You can read the decision and the sharp dissent here.)

What does the Supreme Court ruling mean for the Mercury Air Toxics Standards?

Here are three important things you should know.

First — there is every reason to believe EPA can quickly amend its “appropriate and necessary” finding to address the Supreme Court’s decision, without affecting the substance of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards themselves.

Importantly, the Court left it up to EPA to determine how to evaluate costs and how to weigh those costs against the benefits of regulation. As the Court’s opinion acknowledged, EPA has already conducted an extensive review of both the costs and benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards as part of the regulatory analyses most agencies carry out under Executive Order 12866. That analysis contains overwhelming evidence showing that the benefits of MATS far outweigh its costs.

According to EPA, the monetized benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics are expected to be up to $90 billion per year.

That amount reflects the enormous health benefits Americans will get from the standards. EPA estimates that they will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, up to 4,700 heart attacks, and up to 130,000 asthma attacks each year.

There are substantial and additional non-monetized benefits associated with reduced exposure to mercury and other harmful pollutants regulated by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Moreover, in spite of the power industry’s claims, reducing these emissions has proven much less expensive than initially projected. Major power companies such as AEP, NRG, and FirstEnergy have been reporting to their investors that the costs of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are as much as 70 percent lower than they first estimated.

The bottom line is that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are an extraordinarily beneficial public health measure and are providing healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans at a fraction of the costs predicted.

Second — the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards can and should continue to be implemented while EPA amends its “appropriate and necessary finding.”

The Supreme Court’s opinion did not prohibit the implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – and in the past, the appellate courts have often allowed Clean Air Act regulations to remain in place while EPA amends them to address technical or legal issues.  

In this case, a large majority of American power plants are already in compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — in many instances because they have been upgrading pollution controls to comply with state emission standards or other Clean Air Act requirements.  M.J. Bradley & Associates recently estimated that about 70 percent of the U.S. coal fleet had installed pollution controls to comply with the standards by the April 2015 deadline. In addition, a substantial number of plants have received one-year extensions to this compliance deadline and are now working to install pollution controls by April 2016.

Given the importance of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to public health, and the overwhelming likelihood that EPA will be able to quickly address the Court’s decision, there is no reason that power plants should be allowed to delay installing pollution controls or cease operating already-installed pollution controls.

Third – the Supreme Court decision has no adverse implications for EPA’s Clean Power Plan – despite the wild claims being made by some opponents of these vital limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Clean Power Plan are based on entirely separate Clean Air Act authorities that reside in separate parts of the statute. The authority EPA is acting on to develop the Clean Power Plan expressly provides for the consideration of costs, and EPA has carefully taken costs into account in the Clean Power Plan in the manner required by the statute. Thus, claims that the ruling on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards should somehow cast doubt on the legality of the Clean Power Plan are severely misguided.

Summing It Up

Marian Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, summed it up perfectly back in 2011, when the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were first proposed:

Dirty air makes children sick … If you think it's an expensive process to put a scrubber on a smokestack, you should see how much it costs over a lifetime to treat a child with a preventable birth defect.

That’s why hundreds of thousands of Americans sent comments to EPA in support of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

It’s why EDF and so many other health, environmental, and social justice groups will go back to the D.C. Circuit Court to defend the standards.

We’ll keep fighting to make sure the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are fully implemented so we can realize the promise of the Clean Air Act — and make sure all Americans have safe, healthy air to breathe.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Health, News| Comments are closed

Pope Francis and climate change: Thoughts from a Catholic environmentalist

Source: Flickr/Catholic Church

It’s not often that my Catholic faith intersects with my work communicating about international climate change issues.

That’s changed now that Pope Francis is expected to release a statement of official church teaching this summer on the environment and climate change. It’s making headlines again this week, as the pope convenes a summit on climate change.

Known as an encyclical, it’s expected to reflect on Catholic teaching as it applies to the world today, and focus on the moral obligation to protect creation and humankind – especially the world’s most vulnerable people.

That Pope Francis – dubbed the “rock star pope” – will make such a statement on environmental protection is not surprising to those familiar with his and the Catholic Church’s position on the environment, the latter of which has long taught the importance of humans taking care of the Earth.

Caring for Earth part of our faith

The encyclical will formally be on “ecology,” with climate change playing a central role.

Climate touches everything, including people. Pollution that causes global warming also triggers asthma. Warmer temperatures mean crops and people’s livelihoods are jeopardized, while diseases such as West Nile and Lyme disease spread. Sea-level rise means people lose their homes.

These effects can still make climate change seem unrelated to the faith, far in the future and overwhelming. But Pope Francis is calling on us to see that it’s none of those.

Similarly, when I taught Sunday school to young children, we didn’t address the complexities of Catholic theology. We focused on Catholics’ belief that God provided humans with nature and its animals, trees and air for us to enjoy and protect.

The poor feel brunt of climate change

As an environmentalist, I’ve helped bring attention to my Environmental Defense Fund colleagues’ work with people who are feeling the impact of climate change first-hand.

In Brazil, the country with the world’s largest Catholic community, indigenous groups are already experiencing changes in the Amazon’s rainfall and river levels, fire patterns and climate systems they used to depend on for growing crops. And in India, farmers and rural women are already experiencing weather events consistent with a changing climate.

We know there are solutions to climate change. The United States and the world made important advances on climate and energy in the past year, and we believe we can stop the rise in greenhouse gas emissions and see them begin to decline in thenext five years.

Timing of pope’s document critical

The encyclical is a call to action for all of us to read the document and think more deeply about our relationship with the world. It asks us to consider what we can do – personally, in our community and parish, at the state and national level, and internationally.

The release of the encyclical comes in advance of international climate negotiations in Paris this December, where countries will seek to build an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

By staking out the Vatican’s position on climate change, the pope is telling the world that protecting the environment is not a niche issue – it’s a human, personal and moral issue.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Partners for Change, Setting the Facts Straight, What Others are Saying| Comments are closed

NERC's Report is Flawed: We Can Reduce Climate Pollution and Ensure Electric Reliability

power-poles-503935_1920If reducing climate pollution from power plants were a football game, the U.S. team would be halfway to the goal line while fans were still singing the national anthem.

That is, we have already gotten about halfway to the expected goals of the Clean Power Plan – before the rule is even final.

The Clean Power Plan is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) historic effort to place the first-ever limits on climate pollution from our country’s existing fleet of fossil fuel-fired power plants. When it’s finalized this summer, it’s expected to call for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions compared to 2005 levels — but U.S. power plant emissions have already fallen 15 percent compared to 2005 levels.

That’s because renewable energy, energy efficiency resources, and natural gas generation have been steadily deployed and growing for years. Even conservative estimates forecast continued growth of these resources — which makes last week’s report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) seem really strange.

NERC’s report about the Clean Power Plan’s impacts on electric grid reliability makes predictions that starkly contrast from the progress we’re already seeing.

How did this departure from reality happen?

It’s due in large part to severely flawed assumptions underlying NERC’s analysis, which yield unrealistic results.

Those flawed assumptions cause NERC to greatly overstate the generation mix changes required to meet the Clean Power Plan. The NERC Assessment’s assumptions regarding energy efficiency, renewable energy deployment, and retirement modeling are at odds with both recent experience and current trends.

Unrealistically Low Energy Efficiency Gains

NERC assumes that demand for electricity will grow at an average of one percent per year through 2030, even after accounting for growth in energy efficiency investments. That growth rate is more than 40 percent higher than the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts.

It also fails to reflect likely energy efficiency growth. An analysis by McKinsey & Company found that implementing only those efficiency measures that pay for themselves would reduce the nation’s total end-use energy consumption by 23 percent by 2020.

Arbitrary and Unrealistic Projections on Wind and Solar Expansion  

NERC predicts expansions of wind and solar power that are far below those observed in recent years.

U.S. solar capacity stood at 20.5 gigawatts at the end of 2014. The NERC Assessment predicts an addition of 13 to 20 gigawatts of solar energy between 2016 and 2030 — when solar capacity is expected to grow by 20 gigawatts over the next two years alone.

The U.S. wind industry is also expected to add 18 gigawatts of new capacity in the next two years.

NERC’s low-ball assumptions greatly limit renewable energy deployment in their study. This in turn greatly increases the burden on other compliance options, namely coal-to-gas generation shifting.

Failure to Account for Dynamic Grid Reliability Management Tools

NERC assumes that the Clean Power Plan will drive coal power plant retirements over its entire life-span. However, numerous studies — including one by the Brattle Group and three by the Analysis Group, show that total output and emissions from coal units can decrease without retiring units that are needed to operate on occasion in order to maintain electric reliability.

There are also numerous tools and processes available to grid operators to ensure reliability in light of dynamic market, technological and regulatory change, including capacity and energy markets, resource adequacy forecasting, and reliability must-run contracts.

These instruments, for example, have worked well to maintain adequate capacity during the recent wave of coal-fired power plant retirements, so much so that the electric grid has added an average of roughly 30 gigawatts of total power every year since 2000. The NERC Assessment, however, finds only 11 to12 gigawatts of total power will be added every year – a significant departure from the past 15 years of evidence.

A History of Inaccurate Assessments

This report is not the first time that NERC has issued an inaccurate assessment of threats to reliability.

NERC has assessed previous public health and environmental safeguards, each time raising reliability concerns that were not borne out in reality.

  • In 2011, NERC issued its Long-Term Reliability Assessment, which looked at the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, the Clean Water Act Cooling Water Intake Structures rule, and the Coal Combustion Residuals rule. NERC raised numerous reliability concerns about these protections, which the EPA noted at the time were flawed and exaggerated. None of NERC’s concerns have manifested during implementation of these standards.
  • In a 2011 companion study, NERC issued its Potential Impacts of Future Environmental Regulations about the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and a number of other regulations. NERC again raised reliability concerns, none of which have occurred in practice.
  • In its 2007 Long-Term Reliability Assessment, NERC predicted several regions, including New England and New York State, would drop below target capacity margins, threatening reliability. NERC’s prediction was based on a number of factors, including proposed environmental protections. Some power generators used the report to oppose to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. NERC’s predicted reliability shortfalls did not occur, nor has the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative caused reliability issues – even while emissions fell almost 50 percent below the region-wide emissions cap.
  • In 2000, NERC drafted a review of EPA’s nitrogen oxide emissions standards for eastern power plants, knows as the NOx SIP Call. Yet again, NERC predicted a number of reliability concerns that did not occur after the rule was implemented.

NERC has repeatedly produced analyses indicating that public health and environmental safeguards will come at the expense of electric reliability – and these analyses have consistently been contradicted by reality. In fact, emission standards have never caused a reliability problem in the more than four decades that EPA has been administering the Clean Air Act.

NERC’s newest report is no better. It gives no solid reasons to doubt that the Clean Power Plan will be compatible with a reliable electric grid.  

For a clearer picture of the link between reliability and environmental protections, read this post by my colleague Cheryl Roberto, a former Commissioner of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission and electric system operator.

You might also like EDF’s fact sheet about the Clean Power Plan and the latest flawed NERC report.

The progress made in the past demonstrates that our nation is already approaching the goal line under the Clean Power Plan. The tremendous flexibility that the Clean Power Plan provides to states and power companies alike, together with time-tested grid management tools, provides the framework we need to reach the goal line — protecting our communities and families from dangerous carbon pollution, strengthening our economy, and providing a steady flow of cost-effective electricity.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

A Win for Cleaner Air and a Stronger Economy: Court Dismisses Challenges to Fuel Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Standards for Big Trucks

Source: Flickr/MoDOT Photos

Source: Flickr/MoDOT Photos

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington D.C. Circuit dismissed challenges to America’s historic, first-generation standards to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from large trucks and buses.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT)  standards are based on common sense, highly cost-effective technologies that will make our nation’s fleet of large trucks and buses more efficient while also reducing harmful, climate-destabilizing pollution, limiting our dependence on foreign oil, and saving money for both truckers (in the form of lower fuel costs) and all Americans (in the form of lower shipping costs).

These cross-cutting benefits have won broad-based support for the standards — including support from America’s truck and engine manufacturers, from states, and from public health and environmental groups.

In response to President Obama’s announcement of these first generation standards in 2011, many of these organizations sent letters of support. Here are just a few examples:

Cummins Inc. recognizes the benefits for the country of a National Program to address greenhouse gases (OHOs) and fuel efficiency from medium and heavy-duty trucks and buses. Cummins fully supports the adoption of such a National Program and welcomes this opportunity to be a partner in helping to advance that goal.
Cummins Inc.

[Daimler] is committed to working with EPA and NHTSA, the states, and other interested parties to help address three of the most pressing issues facing the U.S. today and into the future: greenhouse gas reductions, fuel efficiency improvements, and increased energy security.
Daimler Trucks North America

These standards apply to vehicles manufactured between 2014 and 2018. That means they are now in their second year of effectiveness, and they are driving technological innovations that are cleaning our air and helping American truck manufacturers to thrive. Through October of 2014, sales of fuel efficient trucks were 20 percent higher than their 2013 levels. 2015 is projected to be even stronger, with forecasts suggesting it will be the third strongest year ever for truck sales.

Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, put it succinctly:

[These standards] are very good examples of regulations that work well.

That is very good news, because the President has announced that EPA and DOT will soon issue second-generation greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for large trucks. We anticipate that those standards will be proposed late this spring or early in summer.

Many of the same companies that stood with the President in announcing a blueprint to develop the second phase standards also collaborated on the first generation clean trucks standards. Among those supporting the President’s announcement of second phase standards are major U.S. manufacturers and fleets such as Conway, Cummins, Eaton, Wabash National, Waste Management and the American Trucking Association.

The second generation standards will create an important opportunity to further reduce greenhouse gases and enhance the fuel economy of our nation’s trucks.

EDF is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation to set new standards for heavy trucks that cut fuel consumption by 40 percent in 2025 compared to 2010. That equates to an average of 10.7 miles per gallon for new tractor-trailer trucks. Technology solutions are available today to meet the goal, and strong standards will further drive innovation.

In fact, Daimler Trucks North America may have provided the best example yet of our future potential with its entry in the Department of Energy Super Truck program. Daimler announced that its team has:

[A]chieved 115 percent freight efficiency improvement, surpassing the Department of Energy program’s goal of 50 percent improvement.

Daimler’s truck registered 12.2 miles per gallon recently – a leap above the six miles per gallon typical of pre-2014 trucks.

Rigorous second generation standards will also secure critical benefits:

When Americans stand together, we can forge big gains in strengthening our economy and protecting our environment.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News| Comments are closed

Top policies to help Americans breathe easier, and what you can do

Source: Flickr/Kate Gardiner

A year ago, we joined our partners at the League of United Latin American Citizens on Twitter to ask U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy about the impacts of air pollution on our health.

Many of the questions participants raised focused on the connection between air quality and asthma.

In a follow-up to the event, McCarthy reminded us that while there’s no known cure for asthma, “understanding how indoor and outdoor air pollutants can trigger an asthma attack or episode is an important step in managing this condition.”

Fortunately, decision-makers are now considering several new policies that would decrease the number of asthma attacks and the severity of symptoms.

Cutting climate and air pollution

As global temperatures rise, more ground-level ozone, a key component of smog, builds up. This, in turn, leads to more frequent and intense asthma attacks.

To address these problems, the EPA is working on several measures to limit the pollution that causes climate change, worsens air quality and threatens our health. The agency is:

  • finalizing a rule to reduce emissions from power plants, the largest source of climate pollution in the United States.
  • working on a rule to limit climate pollution from oil and gas production. It would also reduce toxic chemical releases during the energy extraction process.
  • proposing a stronger ozone standard to reduce smog pollution and restore healthy air.
Reducing the threat of toxic chemicals

Many chemicals found indoors are also known or suspected “asthmagens,” environmental agents that cause or exacerbate asthma. These chemicals can affect us in our homes – or in any of the indoor areas where Americans spend about 90 percent of their time.

Today, we’re exposed to chemicals in everyday household products in large part because of a 40-year old chemical safety law that has failed to protect us. The law is so weak, in fact, that EPA can’t even regulate chemicals known to cause cancer.

Congress is therefore considering reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act. If a new bill passes, we will have better safeguards against many asthmagens.

Get involved

Asthma affects nearly 26 million people in the U.S., including 1 in 10 Latino children who currently suffer from asthma. An even higher proportion of Latino kids, 14 percent, have been diagnosed with asthma at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, this illness presents a particular concern for Latinos in our country.

Studies have also shown that Latino-Americans are less likely than non-Latino whites to be diagnosed with asthma, have an asthma management plan, or use a controller medication. As a result, Latino children are 40 percent more likely than non-Latino white children to die from this condition.

If you’d like to hear more about these topics, you can join us for our Latino Health and the Environment Twitter Town Hall Series.

First up is an Earth Day Twitter Town Hall, where McCarthy will be answering questions about environmental issues and human health, why the Latino community is disproportionately affected by climate change, and what we can all do to protect ourselves.

Then stay tuned in May for our second Twitter Town Hall, which will focus on the health impacts of toxic chemicals.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Health, News| Comments are closed

Electric Reliability and the Clean Power Plan: Perspectives of a Former Regulator

1024px-Wind_Turbines_and_Power_Lines,_East_Sussex,_England_-_April_2009

Source: Wikimedia Commons

There is no great disagreement that the U.S. energy system is transforming. With or without additional environmental regulations, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan, this transition is occurring. Our history and experience have demonstrated that we can weather it without threatening our uniform and non-negotiable commitment to reliability.

But to do that, we need to tap all of the tools at our disposal to ensure a robust, reliable, and integrated energy system that is no longer dependent exclusively upon centralized, fossil fuel generation. Done right, the resulting change can deliver benefits to customers, the economy, the environment, electric companies, innovators, and workers alike.

EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan would place national limits on carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel power plants for the first time ever. In doing so, it would create long-term market signals that will help drive investments in energy efficiency, demand response, and renewable energy for years to come – not only reducing carbon pollution from the power sector to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, but also by putting us on a path to a more reliable and resilient energy system.

As a former Commissioner of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission and electric system operator, I understand preserving the reliability of electric service is a paramount public responsibility for energy and environmental regulators, and for the power companies they oversee. As a Commissioner, I served as vice chair of the Critical Infrastructure Committee, a member of the Electricity Committee, and on the Task Force for Environmental Regulation and Generation within the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). I co-chaired the National Electricity Forum 2012 to modernize the nation’s electricity infrastructure. At the request of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, I have provided testimony on reliability of the bulk power system before both of those bodies.

Prior to my appointment to the Commission, I served for six years as the Deputy Director and then Director of the City of Columbus, Ohio Department of Public Utilities. My duties there included running the City’s electric distribution utility. This hands-on experience meeting the daily needs of electricity customers as both a regulator and a system operator – while protecting the financial integrity of the system – gives me a keen appreciation for the real-world demands and importance of system reliability.

From that perspective, perhaps the most critical feature of the proposed Clean Power Plan is the flexibility it provides to states and power companies to craft individualized compliance plans that reduce pollution while preserving and strengthening electric reliability. EPA’s approach gives clear guidance on what limits and metrics must be met, but leaves states the flexibility to design solutions that will boost the economy and meet those requirements as they see fit.

That flexibility acts as a built-in “safety valve,” affording each state multiple pathways for compliance and providing leeway for states to make plans that are appropriate to their unique circumstances. Moreover, this flexibility complements the robust framework of operating practices, market instruments, and planning processes that already exist to address short-term and long-term reliability issues.

Leading experts on energy policy and electric reliability have recently weighed in to confirm reducing carbon pollution goes hand in hand with electric reliability, thanks to the flexible structure of the Clean Power Plan and our existing reliability tools and processes. According to a recent report by The Brattle Group, the combination of the ongoing transformation of the power sector, the steps already taken by system operators, the large and expanding set of technological and operational tools available, and the flexibility under the Clean Power Plan are likely sufficient to ensure compliance will not come at the cost of reliability.

And, just last week, Dr. Susan Tierney – a former Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Energy and former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities— joined two other energy policy experts in sending a letter and report to the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) concluding:

Evidence does not support the argument that the proposed CPP will result in a general and unavoidable decline in reliability.

The report provides examples of recent instances in which grid operators, FERC, and other entities have effectively used existing processes and tools to deftly address other kinds of reliability challenges in recent years, some of which were significant and unanticipated.

In 45 years of implementing the Clean Air Act, clean air standards have never caused the lights to go out. And nothing about the proposed Clean Power Plan – with all of its tremendous flexibility – will alter that record.

That’s a remarkable testament to the institutions and processes that exist to protect reliability, as well as the careful process EPA uses in developing clean air standards – and it is great news for families and communities who want and deserve clean air in addition to reliable, affordable electricity. The Clean Power Plan, like our other vital clean air standards, will help deliver both.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Setting the Facts Straight| Read 1 Response
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