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President-Elect Trump has repeatedly claimed that climate change is a “hoax,” and has appointed notorious climate denier Myron Ebell to run the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). During the campaign, Trump advocated for “scrapping” the Clean Power Plan – the nation’s first limits on harmful climate pollution from existing power plants, which are among the United States’ very largest sources of these contaminants.
Lost in this campaign rhetoric was the reality that states and companies across the country are already making cost-effective investments in transformative clean energy technologies that are rapidly reducing emissions of climate pollution across the power sector. These investments are helping deliver a more reliable and affordable electricity grid, yielding tremendous public health benefits by reducing emissions of soot and smog-forming pollutants, and driving job growth in communities around the country.
The Clean Power Plan builds on all of these trends and helps ensure they will continue for years to come, but the Trump Administration will be hard pressed to stop the progress underway in its tracks.
If Trump does try to roll back the Clean Power Plan, he will find himself on the wrong side of history, the law, and public opinion. The Clean Power Plan is firmly rooted in our nation’s clean air laws, and there are millions of Americans across the country – along with a broad and diverse coalition of states, cities, businesses, faith organizations, consumer advocates, and other leaders – who support these protections and will fight to preserve them.
Large Majorities of Americans Support the Clean Power Plan.
Donald Trump did not get elected with a mandate to dismantle important climate protections supported by large majorities of Americans. Poll after poll shows that Americans all across this country — in red and blue states alike — broadly support clean air, clean energy, and climate progress. This includes strong, diverse support for the Clean Power Plan, even in states currently suing over the standards. More than two-thirds of voters favor federal action to reduce emissions of pollutants that cause climate change.
If the new administration tries to take steps to roll back these important measures, they will have to do so knowing that they are woefully out of touch with the majority of the American people.
Weakening or rescinding the Clean Power Plan, or other public health and environmental protections, also won’t do anything to address the economic concerns that did figure prominently in Trump’s campaign.
As recent analyses by respected energy experts have demonstrated, the coal industry has been experiencing declining production and employment due to factors that have nothing to do with the Clean Power Plan – including intense competition from natural gas, the falling cost of renewables, and a slew of bad investment decisions. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently expressed doubt that attacking environmental regulations will cause a turnaround for the coal industry.
At the same time, undoing the Clean Power Plan could adversely and needlessly affect long-term growth in America’s vibrant clean energy industry – which currently supports hundreds of thousands of manufacturing and construction jobs around the country, and employs far more people than the coal or oil and gas industries.
Leading Businesses, Cities of All Sizes and in All Regions Support the Clean Power Plan
In addition to enjoying the support of millions of Americans, limits on carbon pollution represent good business and good governance. Our cities, states, and companies support limits on climate pollution and investments in new, clean energy technologies that bring jobs and economic opportunity to our communities.
The week after the election, more than 360 of the nation’s leading businesses — including DuPont, General Mills, Levi Strauss, Nike, and Starbucks — signed a remarkable statement urging Trump to honor the United States’ commitments in the Paris Agreement to reduce dangerous climate pollution. These companies declared that “Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk,” and that the “right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness.”
Power companies that together own or operate one of every ten megawatts of the nation’s generating capacity – including some of the nation’s largest operators of fossil fuel powered plants – are supporting the Clean Power Plan in court.
So are many large energy users. Leading businesses that employ tens of thousands of people in all regions of the country — including Adobe, Apple, Amazon, Google, IKEA, Mars, and Microsoft — recognize the importance of the Clean Power Plan to their economic growth and are also supporting the rule. More than 100 of America’s top companies signed a public statement this spring calling for “swift implementation” of the Clean Power Plan.
Adding to this groundswell of support, 18 States, 60 cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National League of Cities are supporting the these standards in court. These municipalities include major cities in states that are litigating against the Clean Power Plan, such as Houston, Grand Rapids, and Miami. Many of these cities are on the front lines of climate change and they know their citizens don’t want leaders who put politics above their safety and well-being.
Our Nation’s Clean Air Laws Require EPA to Protect the Public from Harmful Pollutants that are Destabilizing Our Climate
EPA has a legal responsibility to protect the public from dangerous climate pollution that threatens our prosperity, security, and public health.
The Supreme Court has affirmed EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act three times since 2007, including EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act provision that is the basis for the Clean Power Plan.
As so many Americans around the country recognize, the Clean Power Plan is a common-sense and cost-effective step towards fulfilling this bedrock legal obligation. Many companies and states also recognize that it provides unprecedented compliance flexibility that may not be replicated in another regulatory approach. Although Congress could attempt to modify or roll back the Clean Power Plan by amending the Clean Air Act, such action would be extremely controversial and encounter especially stiff opposition. Americans across the country — and the numerous states, municipalities, businesses, consumer advocates, faith organizations, and other leaders who support the Clean Power Plan — will vigorously oppose any attempt to weaken these vital, hard-fought protections for climate and public health.
The Incoming Administration Cannot Simply Dismantle the Clean Power Plan by Fiat
In addition to deep support, proponents of a safer climate have America’s bipartisan bedrock clean air laws on our side.
Any attempt to withdraw or modify the Clean Power Plan or other clean air protections would first have to go through the same rigorous, inclusive public notice and comment process that EPA carefully followed in adopting them. Such changes would also be subject to judicial review in the federal courts, and would be set aside if they are contrary to the Clean Air Act or do not rest on sound technical and policy foundations.
Previous Administrations that have attempted to make sweeping changes to Clean Air Act protections – including the George W. Bush Administration – abandoned these efforts in the face of strong public opposition and defeat in the federal courts.
The Clean Power Plan Builds on and Accelerates the Transition to a Clean Energy Future that is Already Under Way in the Power Sector
Perhaps the biggest reason opponents shouldn’t expect to overturn the Clean Power Plan overnight is that this important rule is only cementing the direction our energy system has been moving for years.
States and power companies across the country recognize this transition is the best way to provide ratepayers with affordable, reliable, and low carbon electricity – and they understand that the Clean Power Plan provides a common-sense, flexible, cost-effective framework for achieving those goals.
Even without the Clean Power Plan targets in effect, the Energy Information Administration has reported that power sector carbon emissions have fallen by 21 percent since 2005 –almost two-thirds of the way towards meeting the Clean Power Plan’s 2030 emission reduction targets.
Wind and solar are expected to account for almost two-thirds of the electric generating capacity added to the grid in 2016. Many states are on track to fully meet their Clean Power Plan reduction targets. Meanwhile, retail electricity prices actually fell in 2016 for the first time in many years.
That doesn’t mean the Trump Administration can’t attack the Clean Power Plan. We fully expect a fight, and we know it won’t be easy. But we are ready to fight – and we hope you’ll join us.
The transition to a clean energy future is already well underway, and it cannot and will not be stopped. The health and prosperity of America’s families and communities depend on it.
(This post originally appeared on EDF Market Forces)
How can we ensure that a carbon tax delivers on its pollution reduction potential? An innovative, new idea could provide greater certainty over the environmental outcome.
As momentum intensifies around the world for action to fight climate change, the United States is emerging as a leader in the new low-carbon economy. But if we are going to reduce climate pollution at the pace and scale required — cutting emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 and at least 83% by 2050, on a path to zero net emissions —we need to roll up our sleeves on a new generation of ambitious climate policies that harness the power of the economy and American innovation. An emerging idea could be a game-changer for the prospects of a carbon tax to help tackle climate pollution.
Economics 101 teaches us that market-based policies, including cap-and-trade programs as well as carbon taxes, are the most cost-effective and economically efficient means of achieving results. Both put a price on carbon emissions to reduce dangerous pollution. Cap-and-trade programs place a “cap” on the total quantity of allowable emissions, directly limiting pollution and ensuring a specific environmental result, while allowing prices to fluctuate as pollution permits are traded. The “guarantee” that the cap provides is a primary reason this tool has been favored by EDF and other stakeholder s focused on environmental performance. That U.S. targets are based on quantities of pollution reductions also speaks to the need for policy solutions tied to these pollution limits.
In comparison, a carbon tax sets the price per unit of pollution, allowing emissions to respond to the changes in behavior this price encourages. The problem, from an environmental standpoint, is that a carbon tax lacks an explicit connection to a desired pollution reduction target — and therefore provides no assurance that the required reductions will actually be achieved. We know that a carbon tax will impact emissions, but even the most robust modeling cannot provide certainty over the magnitude of that impact. Furthermore, fundamental factors like energy or economic market dynamics can change over time, affecting the performance of a tax. Because greenhouse gas pollution accumulates in the atmosphere over time, even being slightly off the desired path over several decades can produce significant consequences for cumulative emissions, and thus climate damages.
A new approach: Environmental Integrity Mechanisms (EIMs)
Two recently-released papers by the Nicholas Institute at Duke University and Resources for the Future (RFF) directly address this key concern with a carbon tax —and suggest an innovative path forward. They illustrate how a suite of provisions – we’ll call them “Environmental Integrity Mechanisms” or “EIMs,” though each paper uses different terminology – could provide greater levels of certainty regarding the emissions outcome, by allowing for adjustment of the carbon tax regime over time to course-correct and keep us on track for meeting our targets.
EIMs – if carefully designed – can play an important role in connecting a carbon tax to its performance in reducing pollution. They are a type of built-in insurance mechanism: they may never be triggered if the initial price path achieves its projected impact, but provide a back-up plan in case it does not.
These mechanisms are analogous to well-studied “cost containment” provisions in cap-and-trade that are designed to provide greater certainty over prices. Cost containment provisions are included in several successful cap-and-trade programs around the world. For example, California’s cap-and-trade program includes a price collar that sets a floor as well as a ceiling that triggers the release of a reserve of allowances.
EIMs are a parallel effort to introduce greater emissions certainty into a carbon tax system. With the recent publication of these two papers, EIMS are beginning to receive well-deserved greater attention. These provisions help bridge the gap between caps and taxes, merging the strengths of each to create powerful hybrid programs.
How EIMs might work
Let’s take a closer look at how these “EIMs” could work.
• First, the initial tax level and/or growth rate could be adjusted depending on performance against an emissions trajectory or carbon budget benchmark. This could occur either automatically via a simple formula built into the legislation, by Congressional intervention at a later date based on expert recommendations, or by delegation of authority to a federal or independent agency or group of agencies.
There are clear advantages to including an automatic adjustment in the legislation. This avoids having to go back to a sluggish Congress to act; and there is no guarantee that Congress would make appropriate adjustments. Moreover, Congress is likely to be loath to relinquish its tax-setting authority to an executive agency — and such delegation could even face legal challenges. Delegating tax-setting authority to an executive agency could also introduce additional political uncertainty in rate setting.
In designing such an automatic adjustment, policy makers will need to consider the type, frequency and size of these adjustments, as well as how they are triggered. The RFF paper in particular discusses some of the resulting trade-offs. For example, an automatic adjustment will reduce the price certainty that many view as the core benefit of a tax. On the other hand, by explicitly and transparently specifying the adjustments that would occur under certain conditions, a high degree of price predictability can still be maintained – with the added benefit of increased emissions certainty.
• Second, the Nicholas Institute brief discusses regulatory tools that could be employed if emission goals were not met –including existing opportunities under the Clean Air Act, or even new authority. The authors point out that relative to automatic adjustment mechanisms, regulatory options are more difficult to “fine-tune.” Nevertheless, they could provide a powerful safeguard if alternatives fail.
• Finally, as the Nicholas Institute brief discusses, a portion of tax revenue could be used to fund additional reductions if performance goals were not being met. This approach could tap into cost-effective reductions in sectors where the carbon tax might be more challenging to implement (e.g. forestry or agriculture). The revenue could also be used to secure greater reductions from sectors covered by the tax — for example, by funding investments in energy efficiency. In a neat twist, the additional revenue needed to fund these emissions reductions would be available when emissions were higher than expected — that is, precisely when more mitigation was needed.
Our goal is to reduce the amount of carbon pollution we put into the atmosphere in as cost-effective and efficient a manner as possible. This means putting a limit and a price on carbon pollution.
Even at this preliminary stage in the exploration of EIM design, one takeaway is clear: all carbon tax proposals should include an EIM with an automatic adjustment designed to meet the desired emissions path and associated carbon budget.
More work is needed to develop and evaluate the range and design of EIMs. And while a cap is still the most sure-fire means of guaranteeing an emissions outcome, this growing consideration by economists and policy experts opens a new path for the potential viability of carbon taxes as a pollution reduction tool in the United States.
The bottom line is this: The fundamental test of any climate policy is environmental integrity. For a carbon tax, that means an EIM.
Our nation is making great progress in reducing the environmental impact of trucking.
This is tremendous news, of course, as trucking – the main method of transporting the goods and services we desire – is critical to the fabric of our society.
Consider these facts:
- New trucks have 95 percent fewer emissions of diesel particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are linked to increases in asthma attacks and respiratory illnesses, than 1988 trucks did.
- New truck engines are about 20 percent better in fuel economy than engines made in 2010, which drives down per-vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
We’re making major progress because of a team effort from truck and equipment manufacturers, fleets, policymakers, and clean air and human health advocates. With protective, long-term emission standards in place, manufacturers are investing in developing cleaner solutions and bringing them to market. Truck fleets are embracing new trucks because of lower operating costs and improved performance.
We must continue this team effort to make further necessary improvements in the years ahead.
Despite our recent progress, diesel trucks continue to be a leading source of NOx emissions, which is why a number of leading air quality agencies across the nation, health and medical organizations, and more than 30 members of Congress are calling for more protective NOx emission standards.
Trucks are also a large and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Thankfully, the new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards mentioned above – which were released this past August and just published in the Federal Register today – will cut more than a billion tons of emissions.
Manufacturers are developing solutions to further improve the environmental footprint of trucking.
In the past few weeks alone:
- Cummins unveiled a 2017 engine that cuts NOx emissions 90 percent from the current emission standard.
- Volvo Trucks North American showcased its entry to the DOE SuperTruck program, which is a concept truck capable of surpassing 2010 efficiency levels by 70 percent and exceeding 12 miles per gallon.
- Navistar also revealed its SuperTruck, the CatalIST, which hit a remarkable 13 mpg.
The progress we’ve made to date does more than just improve conditions within the U.S. Our strong standards push U.S. manufacturers to develop solutions that will resonate with international markets. For example, the European Union, Brazil, India, Mexico, and South Korea all are exploring new fuel efficiency and greenhouse standards for big trucks. U.S. manufacturers will be well positioned to compete in markets that put a premium on fuel efficiency.
In the coming years, we will need to continue to advance protective emission standards to protect the health of our communities and safeguard our climate. When the time comes, we will be building upon an impressive record of progress and cooperation.
Earlier today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument on the Clean Power Plan — America’s first-ever limits on climate pollution from power plants, which are our single largest source of this harmful pollution.
For the first time, these vital safeguards are being reviewed on the merits. Ten active judges on the D.C. Circuit presided over today’s argument.
I was at the courthouse today. Here’s my read out:
Judges’ probing questions reflected their active engagement and preparation as anticipated in such a high profile case — as well as a skeptical view of opposing arguments
The judges today were prepared and engaged. They asked sharply probing questions of all sides.
But the big news is that a majority of judges appeared receptive to arguments in support of the Clean Power Plan.
The court understood that EPA was carrying out long-established legal authority — affirmed in three separate Supreme Court opinions — to tackle the urgent threat of climate change by addressing our nation’s largest source of climate pollution.
Judge Millett characterized petitioners’ arguments against EPA’s authority as a “bait and switch”— one that would gut the Supreme Court’s conclusion in an earlier groundbreaking case, American Electric Power, which concluded that Section 111(d) “speaks directly” to EPA’s authority regulate greenhouse gases from existing power plants. (564 U.S. 410, 424, 2011)
Judges also recognized that the Clean Power Plan’s approach reflects familiar, time tested strategies to reduce pollution — strategies that the Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit have upheld in numerous past Clean Air Act programs adopted under administrations of both parties.
The judges’ questions demonstrated their keen understanding of how the power sector works. Several judges underscored the unique nature of the interconnected electricity grid system —which distinctly enables sources to reduce emissions cost-effectively through shifting generation to lower-emitting sources — in discussing EPA’s inclusion of generation shifting as part of the best system of emissions reduction reflected in the Clean Power Plan. Judge Tatel, for example, expressly recognized the point that generation-shifting strategies incorporated in the Clean Power Plan are “business as usual” for power companies.
Meanwhile, the judges expressed skepticism towards petitioners’ claims. In one exchange, Judge Pillard questioned why petitioners’ arguments would not entirely “immunize” highly polluting sources from pollution control.
Legal experts representing a wide variety of perspectives forcefully and effectively argued in support of the Clean Power Plan
A diverse and impressive suite of presenters argued in support of the Clean Power Plan.
Seasoned U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys articulated the clear and compelling legal and technical basis for the Clean Power Plan, which was informed by an unprecedented level of public and expert input including more than four million public comments. The DOJ attorneys underscored how the Clean Power Plan’s approach carefully respects statutory limits on EPA’s authority and embodies well-established, proven strategies to reduce pollution.
The attorney representing power companies supporting the Clean Power Plan — a robust coalition that represents almost ten percent of America’s electricity generation capacity —emphasized that the power sector is already reducing its carbon pollution by shifting to low-cost cleaner generation, making Clean Power Plan targets eminently achievable. For these companies, the carbon reduction strategies EPA recognized in the Clean Power Plan are “business as usual” — the phrase that was then raised by Judge Tatel later during the day. The power company attorney’s remarks also emphasized that petitioners’ approach would ask EPA to ignore the widespread strategies that power companies are already using to reduce carbon pollution cost-effectively through shifting generation to lower and zero emitting resources.
Counsel for the numerous states and cities across the country that are supporting the Clean Power Plan spoke on behalf of their citizens on the urgent need for protections against climate pollution. The state attorney’s remarks highlighted how the rule’s flexible approach echoes other traditional, successful Clean Air Act programs, and properly respects states’ role in the interconnected electricity grid system.
Sean Donahue, counsel for public health and environmental organizations including Environmental Defense Fund, forcefully articulated the clear basis for EPA’s authority and the urgent need to protect our communities, our families, and our economy against climate change. In particular, Donahue underscored that Clean Power Plan opponents seek to fundamentally obstruct any progress in addressing the most pressing environmental challenge of our time – climate change. Indeed, opponents of the Clean Power Plan have, in previous statements, conceded that EPA has authority to issue the Clean Power Plan — entirely undercutting their current claims to the contrary.
It’s challenging to predict an outcome from oral argument
It’s difficult to guess a case’s outcome from any oral argument. That’s even more true in today’s case, which was heard by an en banc court – all ten active judges on the court, aside from Judge Merrick Garland who recused himself. With ten judges to observe and interpret, each with an individual perspective and background, prognostications are particularly challenging.
Nonetheless, we have many reasons for optimism after today’s rigorous review of petitioners’ claims. Most of all, the rock solid legal and technical foundation for the Clean Power Plan gives us confidence that climate protection can win the day.
Now, the judges deliberate
The judges now turn to deliberation and discussion. In a typical case, the D.C. Circuit can take several months to issue an opinion. Here, there is a true sense of urgency in resolving EPA’s clear authority to combat climate change — earlier in the case, judges issued an order for expedited consideration — but there will also be ten judges’ opinions to resolve. Our nation’s biggest step to protect the health and well-being of our communities from climate pollution hangs in the balance.