Selected category: Policy

Saving Thousands of Lives, Preventing Millions of Asthma Attacks – And Rising Above the Hair Salon Rhetoric

Go Fly a Kite!

If you had the chance to save 7,900 lives every year and prevent 1.8 million annual asthma attacks in children, would you take it?

That is the very question before the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House now as we are nearing the final deadline for updated national health-based smog air quality standards.

Smog is a deadly pollutant that contributes to asthma attacks, early deaths, missed school days for kids and more harmful impacts to human health.

  1. Strong, health-based smog standards would save the lives of 7,900 Americans each year.
  2. Strong, health-based smog standards would prevent 1.8 million annual asthma attacks in children.
  3. Strong, health-based standards are essential to ensure that all Americans know whether the air in their neighborhoods and communities is safe to breathe – through the “truth in labeling” that links our nation’s air pollution monitoring system with air quality standards anchored in medical science.

It is well established that our nation’s health-based standards are the very bedrock of our nation’s clean air laws – saving lives and empowering communities with critical air quality information.

What is standing in the way of saving lives and ensuring healthier air for our families and children? A well-funded “sky is falling” campaign by polluters and other naysayers. These big emitters claim that our nation cannot afford protective smog standards. These opponents also attack the science that shows the need for a stronger smog standard, in direct opposition to the more than one thousand peer-reviewed studies that EPA considered while working on updating the health-based standard.

Unfortunately, these “sky is falling” claims are all too familiar. Claims questioning science and fear mongering over economic impacts have been made almost every time we talk about the need for stronger clean air protections – and they have never borne out. Clean air benefits outweigh costs of implementation by about 30 to one, according to a landmark study assessing the Clean Air Act.

It’s worth recalling the outlandish claims made by opponents of the 1997 smog standard. A key Senator from Michigan warned that health-protective smog standards would cause hair salons to go out of business. You’ve probably noticed that we still have a lot of hair salons in America. We also have a lot less smog – and that has saved a lot of lives.

But we could do much better. That’s why I hope that EPA and White House will take this opportunity to lead on clean air — and to ensure longer, healthier lives for millions of Americans in this generation and the next. Let’s save lives. Let’s protect our children and our communities. Let’s rise above the “sky is falling” rhetoric and work together to ensure the sky is clearing — putting medical science, healthy families and health communities first.

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

The Rev. Sally Bingham: Pope Francis' climate message speaks to all faiths

By Rev. Sally G. Bingham,  president and founder of Interfaith Power & Light. Rev. Bingham has served on EDF’s board of trustees since 1986.

Source: Wikimedia

It’s unfortunate that discussions about climate change, which should focus on solutions and our responsibility to act, often become political arguments. That’s why it’s so refreshing and important that Pope Francis, who will address Congress this month, is bringing us all back to what really matters.

The climate change debate should be about what kind of world we want to leave our children, and how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

I’m an Episcopal priest and have been working at the crossroads of religion and climate change for 15 years. I deeply respect Pope Francis’ powerful, moral voice.

All of us, Catholic or not, Christian or not, must recognize our responsibility and obligation to act in the face of human-induced climate change.

Pope Francis has reminded us that everyone has a moral responsibility to be a caretaker of God’s creation. At the very least, he says, we must not leave a damaged and unhealthy world to future generations.

We don’t want our children to ask, “You knew and you continued to pollute?”

We don’t want to leave the poor of the world – who will be hardest hit by extreme weather, instability, disease and other impacts of climate change – to suffer for our failure to act. We all have a responsibility to care for one another, but people of faith have an obligation to do so.

Do unto others…

Most religions have a version of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s the message we should convey to everyone, everywhere.

Right now we are leaving a great burden to our children and grandchildren, even with overwhelming evidence of the consequences. Would we want that done to us?

As a person of faith, I cannot say I love God and love my neighbor (two of the Bible’s Ten Commandments) without doing all that I can to preserve creation – to act out of love for what God loves.

We must look after our garden, Planet Earth

As Pope Francis says, God put us here with the purpose of looking after “the garden” and each other. We have a particular responsibility for vulnerable communities that are hurt first and worst by a changing climate.

In the end, it is about this fragile Earth, our island home, and all who live on it.

Environmental Defense Fund, on whose board I serve, is working with people across the political spectrum and both parties to find answers to this challenge.

Our scientists and economists are focused on finding practical pathways to a cooler planet. But nothing brings people together like a moral call from someone who’s above politics, which makes the pope’s message so profoundly important.

Pope Francis is helping us live up to our responsibility and to finally do something about this catastrophic threat to our common home.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health| Comments are closed

Why Should Moms (and Dads) Care about Climate Change?

My daughter on a hike in the Texas Hill Country.

My daughter on a hike in the Texas Hill Country.

I am a mom. It’s not the only descriptor I use for myself, but it’s up there at the top. My daughter is three years old. She loves to play outside and hug trees and chase birds and go fishing with her daddy.

I am also a clean energy and climate advocate. My weekdays consist of trying to convince Texas policymakers to take action on climate change, and I sometimes think negotiating with statewide officials is harder than negotiating with a “threenager.”

As parents, our daily lives consist of a million things we have to do to keep the kids fed, dressed, and out of harm’s way. Can’t someone else worry about climate change? The problem with that perspective is, although moms and dads may differ politically, our desire to see our kids grow up happy and healthy is universal. But if enough of us make small changes in our lives and raise our voices on climate and clean energy issues, those actions can add up to a big solution.

Climate change and life as we know it

When a problem seems overwhelming, as climate change often does, it’s helpful to break it down into relatable pieces. Let’s think about how climate change affects our everyday activities with our children.

For example, my daughter and I start the day with breakfast. She has oatmeal with blueberries every day. Oats and blueberries are generally grown in cooler climates (Russia is by far the largest oat producer in the world). Crops depend on specific climatic conditions, and as the climate changes, we will likely have to move our centers of production, disrupting ecosystems and making further changes to our natural environment. It’s a complicated issue to break down because, in some cases, increased levels of carbon dioxide could increase crop yields, but at the expense of other crops. And as temperatures increase, we are likely to see more droughts and extreme weather, risking damage to our agricultural system. The fate of their favorite breakfast food relies on a healthy, dependable climate.

In the summer, sometimes we go to the pool. Will cities be able to justify keeping public pools open when there is chronic drought?

Other afternoons we may go the playground. Before heading out, I check the weather. In Texas that means hot and dry in the summer, but I also have to be concerned about Ozone Action Alerts – that is, days when air quality is dangerous for vulnerable populations, which includes children, whose lungs are still developing. Multiply that effect on children who are already suffering from health problems, such as asthma. On those days, it’s better for us to play inside. Climate change – which is closely tied to and influenced by air pollution and ozone – may mean we see more dangerous air quality days, and less opportunity to enjoy the playground.

These are just a few examples of how a changing climate spells differences for our kids’ everyday lives.

What action can you take?

  • Choose 5 reasonable actions: Parents can make choices that are less carbon-intensive – EPA has a great, practical webpage on things you can do to help with your impact on climate change. My advice: take a quick look and pick five things you and your family can do that are reasonable. Once you’ve got those nailed, try another five. It all adds up.
  • Show your political support: Your elected officials and their appointees need to know that parents are concerned about the air their children breathe and the water they drink and play in. Unfortunately, politicization of climate change has made every forward-moving action a struggle. But parents are constituents, and political leaders will listen if enough of their constituents come to them. For instance, you can support the Clean Power Plan, new standards that place limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants in the U.S. for the first time ever. Phasing out coal would be a positive step for the cardiovascular and respiratory health of our children.
  • Get organized with other parents who care: You can join Moms Clean Air Force, a special project of Environmental Defense Fund and a community of parents that organize and support action to protect little lungs from pollution. Moms Clean Air Force recently opened a Texas chapter, and you can find out more here.

Even though it is my job, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of climate change. Then I look at my three year old, full of hope, energy, and imagination, and it is crystal clear to me why I should continue to care and fight for action on climate change. I need to show her that – even in the face of such odds – we all have an obligation to think bigger than ourselves.

Let this be the moment that you take action on issues that threaten your kids’ health and the health of the planet, whether through lifestyle changes, support of advocacy organizations like Moms Clean Air Force, or support of government action, like the Clean Power Plan.

Lately my daughter has been very interested in learning about space. When we ask her what her favorite planet is, she says, “Earth. Because it is our home and it has lots of water.” I owe it to her – and I believe every parent owes it to our children and all the children of this planet to protect it.

This post originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

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

4 undeniable signs we're making progress on climate change

Seven months ago, I made a strong statement that may have left some people shaking their heads. I said that we can turn the corner on climate change – end the centuries-long rise in greenhouse gas emissions and see them peak and begin to decline – in just five short years.

As it turns out, 2015 is shaping up to be a year of giant steps toward that goal.

In a deeply reported New York Magazine piece, political writer Jonathan Chait calls it “the year humans finally got serious about saving themselves.” Says Chait, “The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with – by the standards of its previous behavior – astonishing speed.”

I agree. Here are four reasons I believe we’re headed in the right direction:

1. America is tackling greenhouse gas pollution

The United States remains among the world’s largest per-capita emitters of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants. But thanks to this year’s action by the Environmental Protection Agency, America now has a Clean Power Plan that will cut emissions from power plants, our single largest source of carbon, by 32 percent over the next 15 years.

The era of unlimited climate pollution is over.

On the heels of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan came a proposed rule to cut methane from newly built facilities in the oil and gas industry. More needs to be done, but this is an important step in dealing with a potent greenhouse gas that accounts for 25 percent of Earth’s current warming.

These climate laws will help the U.S. meet our target to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, a commitment we made to the international community that is key to getting other large polluters to do their share.

We’ll need further reductions, but this is a very significant start.

2. China is building momentum for global action

The world’s No. 1 greenhouse gas emitter, China submitted its climate plan to the United Nations in June, confirming it will let emissions peak by 2030 – and possibly sooner. I know from my colleague Dan Dudek in China that “sooner” is possible because this is a country that’s serious about climate action.

Pollution is choking Chinese cities and threatening economic growth, but the country’s leaders also see opportunity in the emerging clean energy industry. China has pledged to have 20 percent of its energy come from wind, solar and other non-fossil energy sources within 15 years – a massive investment in a nation of 1.4 billion.

This year alone, China is expected to add 18 gigawatts of new solar capacity. By comparison, the U.S. recently surpassed 20 gigawatts total.

To have China and the U.S. making such significant commitments has transformed the dynamic going into the U.N. climate summit in Paris. Instead of making excuses for inaction, the leading emitters have launched a virtuous cycle of increasing ambition.

That changes everything.

3. Clean energy is lifting people out of poverty

One billion people worldwide still have no energy, and more than 1 billion live in extreme poverty. Turning the corner on climate cannot mean that economies can’t develop.

But just as some developing economies adopted cellular technology without ever having land lines, some will leap-frog the dirty energy phase of economic development and go straight to clean.

In fiscal 2014, the World Bank more than doubled lending for renewable energy projects to nearly $3.6 billion – or 38 percent of its total energy lending.

As Rachel Kyte, the bank’s vice president and special envoy for climate change, recently said, what poverty-stricken people of the world need now is a “a low-carbon revolution.”

And this is starting to happen. In 2014, the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil and South Africa invested $131 billion in clean energy, just 6 percent less than the developed world did.

4. Pope Francis is galvanizing world opinion 

When Pope Francis released his much-anticipated encyclical on environmental stewardship in June, he made an urgent moral appeal to the world.

As my colleague Paul Stinson noted at the time, “A leading voice without political boundaries, the pope has the ability to reach people who previously could not or would not face the reality of climate change.”

Pope Francis called on us to push harder to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy sources – and people are listening.

The day he speaks to Congress later this month, a climate rally is expected to draw many thousands to the nation’s capital in a unified call for action. Environmental Defense Fund will be there, too.

The momentum is growing. We’re on our way to turn the corner on climate change – and the race of our lives is on.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, International, Science, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

How the Clean Power Plan Can Benefit Latino Communities

rp_CPP-Latinos-Final-300x300.jpgEarlier this month, the United States announced a major step forward in addressing air quality concerns and climate change threats to Latinos.  I’m talking about the Clean Power Plan, which establishes the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from powerplants and places us on a path to heed Pope Francis’s call to protect our planet.

Unfortunately, critics began attacking the plan even before it was final.  Some of these attacks have targeted the Latino community in particular, arguing that the Clean Power Plan will disproportionately and negatively harm Latinos.  These are baseless claims and arguments that have been debunked by experts.

When the Clean Power Plan takes full effect, Latinos will be among the many Americans who will share in the benefits of a cleaner, healthier future that also affords us good jobs and energy savings.

Cleaner energy, less cost

Let’s start with the question on everyone’s mind: Will the Clean Power Plan make my electric bill more expensive?

According to analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Power Plan will reduce electric bills by about $7 per month by 2030.  (It will also provide up to $54 billion dollars in public health and climate benefits.)  Latinos are likely to feel these positive impacts directly because the benefits of clean energy, which replace polluting energy sources like coal, can reach us through health, environmental, and economic avenues – and sometimes all of these at once.

Take solar power, for example.  The price of solar has fallen 80 percent since 2008, and rooftop solar is now being deployed in middle class neighborhoods in places like Arizona and California where the median income ranges from $40,000 to $90,000.

Technologies like solar keep our air clean and our kids healthy.  This is key for the Latinos who work outdoors as roughly 1 in 4 workers in the construction and agriculture industries, and for the 14 percent of Latino children who have ever been diagnosed with asthma.

Solar power can also save us money on our bills.  This is especially true when they are coupled with incentives like net metering, which allows solar customers to receive a credit on their bill for sending excess energy they don’t use back to the grid.  Solar power is also becoming increasingly accessible to all Americans. Thanks to new financing models like solar leasing programs (if you do not want to pay a large up-front cost) and community solar programs (if your rooftop is not suitable for solar panels or you rent your home), you don’t have to be rich to get in on the clean energy revolution.

More jobs

The Clean Power Plan will also help Latinos by creating tens of thousands of good, new jobs in the clean energy sector by 2040.  This is part of a broader trend: In 2014, the solar industry added jobs nearly 20 times faster than the national average and is poised to add another 36,000 jobs in 2015.

According to a 2013 report by National Council of La Raza, many of the jobs in this sector are highly accessible to Latinos, and Latinos are already engaging in the growing clean energy economy in locations across the country.  In some places, like McAllen, Texas, Latinos are overrepresented in some of the top clean economy occupations; in others, like Albuquerque, New Mexico, Latinos could benefit from higher wages by transitioning to jobs in the clean economy.  Most “green jobs” pay higher median wages than traditional Latino occupations, and this wage advantage holds true even outside of these traditional jobs.

Prioritizing low-income communities

What about the most disadvantaged communities, those who are most in need of cost savings, cleaner energy, and protections from climate change?  The Clean Power Plan aims to prioritize the deployment of energy efficiency improvements in low-income communities through the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP).  By providing a mechanism to award states extra compliance credit for efficiency programs that provide energy savings to low-income communities, the CEIP is designed to help lower electricity bills and bring jobs to people in these communities.

A report by Environmental Defense Fund demonstrates that savings to families could be significantly greater with more widespread deployment of energy efficiency—securing a 15 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2030 and generating annual average household savings of $157.  Measures like the CEIP, along with strong stakeholder engagement requirements and other measures, will help ensure the Clean Power Plan benefits all Latinos – and all Americans – in transitioning to a clean energy economy.

Setting the record straight

Claims that the Clean Power Plan will hurt Latinos, drive up energy bills, and disadvantage low-income communities are simply false.  Rather, these are the very claims that spread harmful misinformation to our communities and create the most serious barriers to accessing clean air, affordable energy, and good paying jobs.

At the same time, as with any ambitious challenge, our work is not done.  States must finalize and deliver implementation plans to meet their pollution-reduction goals.  This is where the rubber hits the road, and the states that get out of the gate quickly to achieve these goals will more swiftly capture the benefits.

We must be engaged in this process, urging states to accelerate the transition to cleaner energy for all communities. First, we must tell our decision makers in Washington to support the Clean Power Plan.  Then, Latino communities must demand a place at the table and advocate for states to act now – as should everyone who wants to ensure the benefits of America’s Clean Power Plan are shared by all.

This post originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Green Jobs| Comments are closed

Legal Experts Affirm the Strong Legal Basis for the Clean Power Plan

rp_Gavel_iStock000003633182Medium1-300x199.jpgLike other major Clean Air Act standards protecting our climate and public health, the Clean Power Plan will likely be subject to numerous legal attacks.

EPA has a long history of successfully defending its rules against such attacks – and the Clean Power Plan is on similarly strong legal footing.

Leading law enforcement officials, former EPA officials, and prominent legal scholars have concluded that the Clean Power Plan is firmly within EPA’s long-standing authority under the Clean Air Act:

Statements on the Final Clean Power Plan

We are in the process of reviewing the rules but fully anticipate standing with EPA to defend these necessary emission standards if they are challenged in court…The rules are also firmly grounded in the law. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to regulate emissions of climate change pollution from new and existing power plants. Furthermore, the rules set reasonable limits on these sources as a result of a multi-year stakeholder process that drew heavily on strategies states have used to successfully cut power plant emissions while growing our economies. — Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, and the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, Letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, August 3, 2015

The new rules set reasonable limits on emissions of climate change pollution from new and existing power plants and are firmly grounded in law. My office stands ready to support and assist the EPA throughout the implementation of the plan, including in any legal challenges that may be filed in the courts. — George Jepsen, Attorney General of Connecticut, August 3, 2015

North Carolina's Clean Smokestacks Act, our renewable energy standard and other forward-thinking efforts were forged by collaboration among interested parties such as utilities, environmentalists, businesses and consumer advocates. Our state is in a great position to bring these and other stakeholders together once again to work with the EPA to devise our own plan to protect North Carolina's air and promote economic growth… I encourage the [North Carolina General Assembly] to avoid the path of litigation and instead work on a cooperative effort we can all be proud of. – Roy Cooper, Attorney General of North Carolina,letter to leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly, Aug. 7, 2015

[T]he government is on solid legal footing to defend the Clean Power Plan. — Profs. Jody Freeman and Richard J. Lazarus, Harvard Law School, The Biggest Risk to Obama's Climate Plan May Be Politics, Not the Courts, The Guardian, August 5, 2015

[T]here is no question that in the final plan, the government has shored up its legal vulnerabilities and put itself in a far better position to defend its ambitious rule. — Prof. Jody Freeman, Harvard Law School,How Obama Plans to Beat His Climate Critics, Politico, August 3, 2015

Every president since [the late 1980s], whether a Democrat or Republican, has taken meaningful steps to slash pollution from existing plants, in most cases relying not on new legislation but on previously neglected provisions of the Clean Air Act itself… The Clean Power Plan follows in this bipartisan tradition… [T]he rule is the latest chapter in a decades-long effort to clean up our oldest, dirtiest power plants and at last fulfill the pledge that Congress made to the American people back in 1970: that the air we all breathe will be safe. — Prof. Richard Revesz and Jack Lienke, New York University School of Law, Obama Takes a Crucial Step on Climate Change, The New York Times, August 3, 2015

Statements on the Proposed Clean Power Plan

The 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. — Carol M. Browner, former EPA Administrator under President Bill Clinton, and Alex Laskey, With New Power Plant Rules, Energy Efficiency Checks All the Boxes, The Hill, June 2, 2014

Critics of the [Clean Power Plan] 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. — Leon Billings, former Chief of Staff to Sen. Edmund Muskie and staff director of the Senate Environment Subcommittee during the drafting of the Clean Air Act, The Obscure 1970 Compromise That Made Obama’s Climate Rules Possible, Politico, June 2, 2014

Limiting Greenhouse Gas emissions from existing power plants is the next logical step after the Supreme Court and other courts have upheld EPA’s authority and obligation to address this issue. 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. — E. Donald Elliott, EPA General Counsel under President George H.W. Bush, Obama’s Section 111d Plan Has Support From George H.W. Bush’s EPA General Counsel, Utility Executives, Legal Planet, June 1, 2014

[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. — Prof. Ann Carlson, UCLA School of Law, Obama Has To Issue Climate Change Rules — The Law Says So,Talking Points Memo, May 30, 2014

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