Selected category: Science

The Clean Power Plan’s enormous climate benefits – in one graphic

In addition to the vital public health benefits it offers, the Clean Power Plan is the nation’s most significant action to date to address climate change’s number one culprit – heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions.

Now, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is trying to revoke the Clean Power Plan. Here’s a look at the enormous benefits we could lose.

When the Clean Power Plan is fully in place by 2030, the avoided annual carbon dioxide emissions relative to business-as-usual (350 million metric tons) are equivalent to preventing:

  • 40 billion gallons of gasoline consumed, or
  • 380 billion pounds of coal burned, or
  • 810 million barrels of oil consumed, or
  • 850 billion miles driven by an average car.

In order to get the same climate benefits that the Clean Power Plan would deliver, we would need to:

  • Replace 12 billion incandescent light bulbs with LEDs, or
  • Take 75 million cars off the road

Click to enlarge

 

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News| Read 1 Response

Five takeaways from Scott Pruitt’s reported proposal to revoke the Clean Power Plan

Today, a draft proposal emerged of the latest step in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s attack on clean air and climate security – a proposal to revoke the Clean Power Plan, America’s only nationwide limit on carbon pollution from power plants.

The proposal offers no commitment to do anything to address dangerous carbon pollution from existing power plants – our nation’s largest industrial source of this harmful pollution.

Here are five key takeaways from the proposal that emerged today.

1. Devaluing the health and well-being of all Americans

The Clean Power Plan would deliver tremendous benefits to American communities by reducing harmful pollution. For example, EPA estimates the Clean Power Plan will prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 childhood asthma attacks every year once it is fully implemented.

But in a vivid example of how little Administrator Pruitt prioritizes public health, this proposal uses discredited methods to justify the view that premature deaths and other significant health impacts from harmful air pollution don’t exist and don’t matter. It even undercuts the harms we face from carbon pollution by using methods at odds with leading experts, including the National Academy of Sciences.

Administrator Pruitt is trying to paint over the fact that undoing the Clean Power Plan will expose Americans to dirtier air, and will delay urgently needed action to address climate change.

Asthma attacks, heart attacks, floods and storm surges, wildfires, droughts, and heat waves hurt real people. EPA has a responsibility to protect the public — but Pruitt has made a priority of protecting the fossil fuel interests that have propelled his political career.

2. Repeal-without-replace

Across America, the past weeks of extreme weather have provided a tragic reminder of the threats we face from climate change. Hurricanes exacerbated by climate change – like Maria, Harvey, and Irma – have left millions reeling, with lives lost and communities profoundly disrupted for years to come.

Yet the draft proposal makes no commitment to protect Americans from dangerous climate change. Instead it “continues to consider” whether to protect Americans from carbon pollution from existing power plants (ignoring settled law that EPA must issue safeguards against climate pollution under the Clean Air Act – as the Supreme Court has already concluded three times.)

Administrator Pruitt chastised others for asking about climate change after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit, saying the timing was “insensitive.” But at that same time, he was working to roll back our nation’s most significant effort to protect Americans from climate change.

3. America should be moving ahead on clean power – not going backwards

Power market trends are moving towards cleaner power sources, creating jobs and shared economic prosperity across the country.

More and more evidence shows that achieving the Clean Power Plan’s goals will be even cheaper than expected. Yet Administrator Pruitt’s draft uses accounting gimmicks to claim costs would somehow be higher than originally anticipated.

If anything, the Clean Power Plan’s targets should be stronger. But Administrator Pruitt now seems to be pulling out the stops to shield polluting power plants from taking any steps to reduce their harmful impacts.

4. Who benefits? Pruitt’s political allies

Scott Pruitt built his political career by suing relentlessly to block EPA safeguards, including the Clean Power Plan.

Pruitt’s campaigns and political organizations received extensive contributions from Clean Power Plan opponents, including $25,000 from coal company Murray Energy just one month before the Clean Power Plan oral argument.

Those Clean Power Plan opponents now stand to benefit from this draft proposal – at the expense of the health and safety of American families.

5. Americans speak out for the Clean Power Plan

When President Trump issued an executive order in March that threatened to roll back the Clean Power Plan, Americans across the country responded with an outpouring of support.

Groups supporting the Clean Power Plan included: faith organizations; health associations; at least 75 mayors, state governors, and attorneys general representing nearly half the U.S. population; power companies; and leading companies like Apple, General Electric, and Walmart.

A similarly broad and diverse coalition has been defending the Clean Power Plan in court –including eighteen states and sixty municipalities across the country; power companies that own and operate nearly ten percent of the nation’s generating capacity; consumer and ratepayer advocates; and many others.

In a recent nationwide poll, almost 70 percent of Americans expressed support for strict limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants – including a majority of Americans in every Congressional district in the country.

Please join us to fight for the Clean Power Plan. You can take action here.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Extreme Weather, News, Policy| Comments are closed

Puerto Rico a tragic reminder of why climate action cannot wait

Source: FEMA

The disaster unfolding in Puerto Rico is heartbreaking – and a call for action.

Our focus as a nation must be to help our fellow citizens as quickly as possible, but also to do what we can to prevent similar catastrophic events in the future.

With three Category 4 hurricanes – undoubtedly worsened by climate change – making landfall and wreaking havoc in the United States in just a few weeks, we’ve had three wake-up calls. Climate change is an urgent issue that must be addressed now.

By continuing to ignore the fundamental threat that global warming poses today, however, the Trump administration is setting up Puerto Rico and the rest of the Hurricane Alley region for more disasters and tragedies.

It’s akin to a doctor who treats the symptoms of a patient while ignoring a dangerous, underlying disease. It makes for a bad doctor – and America expects more than that.

Puerto Ricans are living climate change

Considered a “canary in the coal mine” for climate change, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has been feeling the consequences of a warming world for some time already.

Its beaches are retreating with some homes in the capital of San Juan and in Rincón, a popular surfing town, actually falling into the ocean amid rising seas – and coastal flooding is getting worse.

That’s not all: The island is also challenged by intensifying tropical heat, heavier downpours and – as we just saw with Hurricane Maria – its location in the path of stronger hurricanes.

When rebuilding Puerto Rico, we need to help the island become more resilient to such impacts of climate change – while doubling down on curbing emissions that cause the problem in the first place.

Roofless homes in Puerto Rico after the storm. Photo: FEMA

Island’s economy hangs in balance

A vast majority of the Puerto Rico’s population of 3.4 million, more than 85 percent, lives within five miles of a coast that is threatened by the rising ocean.

Like islands in the South Pacific, it’s seeing sea level rise of about half a foot on average from melting land ice and warmer ocean waters. This trend, which is accelerating, has made roads, ports and other infrastructure that are key to Puerto Rico’s economy more vulnerable.

As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, sea level rise compounds the impacts of hurricanes when worsened storm surge causes flooding in communities along the coast. The resulting damage from this and other climate impacts has a direct effect on Puerto Rican daily life as well as on tourism, which accounts for 8 percent of the island’s economy.

Climate impacts are getting worse

Scientists predict Puerto Rico will see a sea level rise of 22 inches by 2060. That translates into a lot more storm surge, more destroyed property and even bigger hits to the nation’s tourist economy.

Research also suggests more heat, rainfall, and stronger hurricanes are in the future [PDF] for Puerto Rico.

The science is clear: Rising temperatures and heavier rainfall both play a key role in intensifying hurricane strength and destruction.

Ninety percent of excess heat is absorbed by the oceans and this warming water energizes hurricanes and evaporates more water into the atmosphere, increasing the amount of rainfall in storms – just like we’ve seen in recent weeks.

All these challenges will escalate in coming decades.

These fellow Americans deserve our help

As we see in Puerto Rico today, it’s the most vulnerable among us who feel the impacts of climate change the most. They need our help to build a better and stronger future.

Treating the symptoms of climate change is absolutely essential. We must come together quickly as a nation and help our fellow Americans through this crisis.

But treating the underlying disease – heat-trapping gas emissions – is equally essential. Or the devastation we’re witnessing in Puerto Rico will keep happening.

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health| Comments are closed

Why are the networks ignoring a major cause of stronger storms?

The two-fisted gut punch of Harvey and Irma devastated Caribbean islands, swamped major American cities, blacked out power for millions, and exposed who-knows-how-many people to toxic soup of polluted floodwaters. But one thing these immensely powerful storms could not do was move the television networks to talk about how these storms got to be so strong.

The Sunday morning news shows, which still help determine the narrative for the Capital, failed to mention the clear connection between these more powerful storms and climate change. The hurricanes were covered, of course, but the scientifically established link between our warming climate and their increased destructive power was raised on only one of the four* major talk shows (CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper), according to the non-profit group Media Matters.

More broadly, the study found that two broadcast networks, ABC and NBC, failed to air a “single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows” on the link between climate change and the storms.

The reality is that warmer waters fuel big hurricanes, warmer air holds more water, and rising sea levels surge higher and father. In short, climate change puts storms on steroids. A point NASA drove home as Irma approached Florida with this tweet:

Without serious coverage of this connection, we are left with only political propaganda from the White House and its allies. President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have repeatedly denied or downplayed the facts of climate science, even though every major American scientific organization has recognized this reality.

These attempts to deny the science are, not surprisingly, backed up by voices like Rush Limbaugh, who claimed last week that the discussion of stronger hurricanes was based on a “desire to advance this climate change agenda” – and then promptly evacuated his Florida studio.

Pruitt is trying to bury the views of the scientific community on climate change generally. The latest climate assessment by government scientists sheds light on the topic of climate change and hurricanes. But Pruitt is sitting on the report because there is apparently never a time he wants people thinking about climate change.

According to the “final draft” of the report, which was provided to the New York Times by authors worried about Pruitt’s political interference, it is “likely” that hurricanes’ maximum wind speeds and rainfall rates will increase. Pruitt has said that he is going to review the report, and it hasn’t been seen since.

The failure to inform the public about the link between more climate pollution and stronger storms – along with more wildfire, droughts, increasing flows of refugees, and other climate costs – means we are more likely to continue down the path toward a more dangerous future. Already, we are paying billions to clean up and rebuild after these storms; Citigroup has estimated that the total bill for unchecked climate change will be more than $40 trillion.

The networks have a lot on their plate covering Washington these days. There’s no shortage of misinformation to correct, and many serious stories to cover. But it’s hard to think of many that are a bigger threat to public health and well-being than the continued rampage of climate change. And just as with any other big story, the causes – not just immediately visible impacts – must be part of the reporting.

*Meet the Press was pre-empted.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Read 2 Responses

Scott Pruitt’s relentless distortions of climate science and law

This summer was anything but quiet for climate policy.

In June, President Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit blocked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt's attempt to suspend protections from climate-destabilizing oil and gas pollution, calling the move “unauthorized” and “unreasonable.”

In August, two judges of the same court reminded EPA of its “affirmative statutory obligation to regulate greenhouse gases,” citing longstanding Supreme Court precedent.

Now, the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and the record strength of Hurricane Irma are showing us what’s at stake, as sea level rises and extreme weather becomes more frequent.

Meanwhile, Administrator Pruitt has continued his pattern of deeply misleading statements about climate change and EPA’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment.

Pruitt uses these statements in an attempt to justify rolling back vital public health and environmental safeguards. In just his first four months in office, he took action against more than 30 health and environmental protections, including the Clean Power Plan — our first and only national limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

As America’s proven, life-saving environmental protections come under attack, here are four facts about climate law and science to help cut through Pruitt’s distortions.

  1. EPA has an affirmative statutory obligation to regulate climate pollution

Administrator Pruitt frequently questions EPA’s ability and authority to regulate climate pollutants under the Clean Air Act. But contrary to Pruitt’s claims, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the Clean Air Act covers climate pollution.

  • In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court held that climate pollutants “without a doubt” and “unambiguous[ly]” meet the definition of “air pollutant” under the Clean Air Act.
  • In its subsequent American Electric Power v. Connecticut (AEP) opinion, the Supreme Court found that section 111 of the Clean Air Act — the section under which EPA issued the Clean Power Plan — “speaks directly” to the regulation of climate pollution from existing power plants. (Even opponents of climate protections conceded that point during oral argument.)
  • The Court again recognized EPA’s authority to regulate climate pollution in a third decision, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (UARG).

Former EPA administrators serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations have recognized that “Congress has already made the policy decision to regulate” air pollutants that EPA determines — based on scientific factors — endanger the public health or welfare.

That’s why we now enjoy protections from air pollutants like cancer-causing benzene, brain-damaging lead, and lung-impairing particulates. We may not have had those protections if former EPA Administrators had shared Pruitt’s myopic view of the agency’s responsibility under the Clean Air Act.

As the Supreme Court stated in Massachusetts v. EPA, Congress:

underst[oo]d that without regulatory flexibility, changing circumstances and scientific developments would soon render the Clean Air Act obsolete. The broad language … reflects an intentional effort to confer the flexibility necessary to forestall such obsolescence.

In issuing the Clean Power Plan and other climate protections, EPA scrupulously fulfilled the mandate with which Congress entrusted it. The Clean Power Plan also reflected the Supreme Court’s finding in AEP that climate pollution from existing power plants was covered by section 111.

Administrator Pruitt has seriously misconstrued judicial rulings that conflict with his policy goals.

For example, he claimed that the Supreme Court’s UARG decision “said the authority the previous administration was trying to say that they had in regulating carbon dioxide wasn’t there.”

Pruitt overlooks the fact that the UARG opinion upheld the vast majority of what EPA had done, including the requirement that sources subject to certain permitting obligations under the Clean Air Act utilize “best available control technology” for climate pollution. The Supreme Court only took issue with EPA’s potential regulation of a subset of sources constituting a small percentage of total emissions, which did not implicate EPA’s fundamental obligation to regulate climate pollution.

2. EPA’s obligation to regulate climate pollution is based on scientific factors, not the Administrator’s policy preferences

Administrator Pruitt’s most dangerous Supreme Court misinterpretation might be his twist on Massachusetts v. EPA, a landmark decision that set the foundation for many of the climate protections that followed.

In Pruitt’s reading, when it comes to climate pollution, the Supreme Court held only that EPA “must make a decision whether [to] regulate or not.”

But the Supreme Court actually held that EPA was required to determine — again, based on scientific factors — whether climate pollution endangers public health or welfare.

In 2009, EPA concluded that climate pollution indeed poses a clear danger to public health and welfare, based on an exhaustive review of an expansive array of published studies and surveys of peer-reviewed literature prepared by the U.S. government’s Global Change Research Program, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The D.C. Circuit upheld this Endangerment Finding against a barrage of legal attacks, finding that it was based on “substantial scientific evidence.”

After issuing the Endangerment Finding, EPA was statutorily obligated to follow the Clean Air Act’s process for regulating the dangerous pollution.

Administrator Pruitt’s position more closely resembles the losing argument in Massachusetts v. EPA. The George W. Bush Administration had justified its decision not to regulate climate pollution based on factors completely unrelated to public health or welfare. But the Supreme Court brushed aside EPA’s “laundry list of reasons not to regulate” and ruled that the agency was not free to — in Pruitt’s words — “make a decision” not to regulate. Rather, EPA must conduct a science-based evaluation of the risks that climate pollution poses to public health and welfare, and if the science supports an Endangerment Finding, regulation must follow.

3. The scientific evidence of climate change is overwhelming

Climate change is happening now. As climate pollution continues to accumulate in the atmosphere, it will bring melting sea ice and glaciers, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather including heat waves, floods, and droughts.

Administrator Pruitt attempts to minimize this threat by focusing on uncertainty. In Pruitt’s parlance, we still have more to learn about “the precision of measurement” when it comes to the effects of climate pollution. But the fact that there are still productive areas for research doesn’t mean we should disregard the vast amount that we already know.

As the American Meteorological Society recently told a different Trump Administration official:

[S]kepticism and debate are always welcome,” but “[s]kepticism that fails to account for evidence is no virtue.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court held that EPA cannot decline to regulate climate pollution due to:

some residual uncertainty … The statutory question is whether sufficient information exists to make an endangerment finding.

EPA answered that question in its 2009 Endangerment Finding, and since then, the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change has continued to grow.

In the final draft of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s latest Climate Science Special Report — which is currently under review by political officials in the Trump Administration — climate scientists determined that, in the last few years:

stronger evidence has emerged for continuing, rapid, human-caused warming of the global atmosphere and ocean.

The year 2016 marked the third consecutive year of record-high global surface temperatures, and 2017 marked the third consecutive year of record-low winter Arctic sea ice. Meanwhile, the rate of sea level rise is increasing.

In contrast to the extensive scientific research demonstrating the role of climate pollution in destabilizing our climate, Administrator Pruitt has proposed a (possibly televised) “red team/blue team” exercise in which opposing teams of government-selected experts debate climate science.

Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA Administrator under President George W. Bush, characterized the red team/blue team exercise as “a shameful attempt to confuse the public into accepting the false premise that there is no need to regulate fossil fuels.”

Pruitt has acknowledged that he is “not a scientist” but nonetheless suggested that his red team/blue team exercise would represent “what science is all about.” Anticipating that some scientists might be reluctant to participate, he taunted:

If you’re going to win and if you’re so certain about it, come and do your deal.

But for most scientists, their “deal” is a careful process of observation, experimentation, and peer review — even when it doesn’t fit between commercial breaks.

However Pruitt manages his red team/blue team exercise, it can’t alter the conclusions of the massive body of climate research developed by thousands of scientists over decades of conscientious inquiry.

4. The American public supports policies to address climate change

One argument that Administrator Pruitt advanced for his red team/blue team exercise is that “the American people would be very interested in consuming that.”

Actually, Americans in every state have already shown an appetite for addressing climate change.

A recent survey found that large majorities of Americans support regulating greenhouse gases as a pollutant, setting strict carbon dioxide limits on existing coal-fired power plants, and requiring utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

In fact, each of those policies garnered majority support in every Congressional district in America.

A majority of Americans opposed the decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, as did the CEOs of many prominent businesses.

And the Clean Power Plan was supported in court by a broad and diverse coalition of 18 states, 60 cities, public health experts, leading business innovators (including Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft), leading legal and technical experts, major consumer protection and low-income ratepayer organizations (including Consumers Union and Public Citizen), faith groups, more than 200 current and former members of Congress, and many others. (You can read their legal briefs on EDF’s website.)

Administrator Pruitt’s legal and scientific distortions show no sign of abating, and neither does his destructive rollback of public health and environmental protections. But his efforts have been rife with legal deficiencies. As EDF President Fred Krupp recently wrote, Pruitt “may have finally met his match: the law.”

Shortly after the D.C. Circuit blocked Pruitt from suspending protections from oil and gas pollution, and in the face of legal challenges from EDF and many others, Pruitt withdrew his unlawful delay of another Clean Air Act protection – the implementation of a national health-based smog standard.

EDF will continue to demand that Pruitt fulfill his solemn responsibility to protect the health of our communities and families under our nation’s bipartisan and time-tested environmental laws.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

Nothing stood in Irma's way – that's why she turned into a monster storm

Hurricane Irma continued to wreak havoc in the Caribbean Sept. 8 en route to Miami as a mass evacuation continued into the weekend.

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

I’m watching with concern and awe at the power of Hurricane Irma as it continues to batter the Caribbean with 150 mph winds. If it hits Florida as a category 4 or 5 hurricane as forecast, it will be the first time that two hurricanes of such a magnitude have made landfall in continental United States during a single hurricane season.

This, in and of itself, is astonishing – but Irma also happens to be a storm unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

It’s as if Earth is running a controlled scientific experiment to isolate the relationship between warming of the Atlantic Ocean temperatures and hurricane intensity – with the goal of showing us, with terrifying detail, what happens when rising global temperatures fuel powerful storms.

Warm ocean water drove this storm

Hurricanes thrive on two things: Low wind shear and warm ocean temperatures. Wind shear is a rapid change in wind speed and direction, which keeps hurricanes from gaining strength, and Irma has encountered virtually none.

This hurricane, in other words, formed and moved through an area of extremely warm ocean temperatures with nothing to slow her down.

What can that tell us about the future Atlantic hurricanes?

The current state of the science suggests that, on average, uncertainties in the direction of future wind shear may not cause more hurricanes to occur, but models suggest that the intensity of storms will continue to increase as the Atlantic Ocean gets warmer.

Irma strongest Atlantic hurricane in history

As a pragmatic climate scientist and former NOAA research meteorologist, it’s my job to take all factors into account when considering the link between weather extremes and climate change.

While there are several natural and human-caused factors to consider in a given extreme event, I am nevertheless struck by the fact that we are witnessing the impacts of the strongest hurricane to form in the Atlantic Ocean since record keeping began.

It is not just that Irma achieved such an ominous milestone, but the length of time that it has maintained this incredible strength – longer than any other storm of its magnitude. It has all the signs of a record-breaking hurricane, and this is worrisome.

I called an old friend in Fort Lauderdale yesterday to see how he was doing. He asked me, “What should I do?” My response: “Finish preparing for the storm and then get out as fast as you can.”

Also posted in Extreme Weather, News| Read 1 Response
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