New report: Yes, we can have both clean air and reliable electricity

A new report by M.J. Bradley & Associates – based on an extensive review of data, literature, and case studies – shows that coal-fired power plants are retiring primarily due to low natural gas prices, and that the ongoing trend towards a cleaner energy resource mix is happening without compromising the reliability of our electric grid.

The report follows a highly-publicized order by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry for a review of the nation’s electricity markets and reliability. Perry wanted to determine whether clean air safeguards and policies encouraging clean energy are causing premature retirements of coal-fired power plants and threatening grid reliability.

The Department of Energy (DOE) just released that long-anticipated review — a baseload study that actually confirms that cheap natural gas has been the major driver behind coal retirements.

Now the M.J Bradley report affirms that finding, and offers even more evidence to support it and demonstrate that electric reliability remains strong.

The M.J Bradley report confirms conclusions by multiple studies which demonstrate that, of the three main factors responsible for the majority of the decline in coal generation, the increased competition from cheap natural gas has been by far the major contributor – accounting for 49 percent of the decline.

The two other factors are reduced demand for electricity – accounting for 26 percent – and increased growth in renewable energy – accounting for only 18 percent.

Several case studies featured in the M.J. Bradley report offer further proof that coal retirements are driven by economic factors – specifically low natural gas prices:

For example, PSEG President and COO Bill Levis – referring to the shutdown of Hudson Generating Station — said, “the sustained low prices of natural gas have put economic pressure on these plants for some time.PSEG Senior Director of Operations Bill Thompson also pointed to economic reasons, not environmental regulations, as basis for the decision to retire the plant.

Florida Power & Light (FPL) cited economics and customer savings as the primary reasons for its plans to shut down three coal units. According to FPL, the retirements of Cedar Bay and Indiantown are expected to save its customers an estimated $199 million. FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy said the decision to retire the plants is part of a “forward-looking strategy of smart investments that improve the efficiency of our system, reduce our fuel consumption, prevent emissions and cut costs for our customers.” Retirement of FPL’s St. John River Power Park would add another $183 million in customer savings.

According to the M.J. Bradley report, the overall decline in U.S. coal generation is primarily due to reduced utilization of coal-fired power plants, rather than retirements of those facilities.

Most recently retired facilities were older, smaller units that were inefficient and relatively expensive to operate. On average, coal units that announced plans to retire between 2010 and 2015 were 57 years old – well past their original expected life span of 40 years.

Meanwhile, existing coal plant utilization has declined from 73 percent capacity factor in 2008 to 53 percent in 2016. At the same time, the utilization of cheaper natural gas combined-cycle plants has increased from 40 percent capacity factor to 56 percent.

As a result, M.J. Bradley estimates that less than twenty percent of the overall decline in coal generation over the past six years can be attributed to coal plant retirements, with reduced utilization of the remaining fleet accounting for the rest of the decline.

Implications of coal retirements for electric grid reliability

As coal plants retire and are replaced by newer, cleaner resources, there have been concerns about potential impacts on the reliability of our electric grid. (Those concerns were also the topic of DOE’s baseload study.)

M.J. Bradley examined the implications of coal retirements and the evolving resource mix, looking at extensive existing research including their own reliability report released earlier this year.

These studies conclude that electric reliability remains strong.

These studies also found that flexible approaches to grid management, and new technologies such as electric storage, are providing additional tools to support and ensure grid reliability.

In order to understand that conclusion, consider two factors that are used to assess reliability:

  • Resource adequacy, which considers the availability of resources to meet future demand, and is assessed using metrics such as reserve margins
  • Operational reliability, which considers the ability of grid operators to run the system in real-time in a secure way to balance supply and demand – and is defined in terms of Essential Reliability Services, such as frequency and voltage support and ramping capability.

As many studies have already indicated, “baseload” is an outdated term used historically to describe the way resources were being used on the grid – not to describe the above factors that are needed to maintain grid reliability.

Here is what M.J. Bradley’s report and other assessments tell us about the implications of the evolving resource mix for grid reliability:

There are no signs of deteriorating reliability on the grid today, and studies indicate continued growth in clean resources is fully compatible with continued reliability

In its 2017 State of Reliability report, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) found that over the past five years the trends in planning reserve margins were stable while other reliability metrics were either improving, stable, or inconclusive.

NERC’s report also found that bulk power system resiliency to severe weather continues to improve.

According to a report by grid operator PJM, which has recently experienced both significant coal retirements and new deployment of clean energy resources:

[T]he expected near-term resource portfolio is among the highest-performing portfolios and is well equipped to provide the generator reliability attributes.

DOE’s own baseload study acknowledges that electric reliability remains strong.  A wide range of literature further indicates that high renewable penetration futures are possible without compromising grid reliability.

Cleaner resources and new technologies being brought online help strengthen reliability

Studies show that technologies being added to the system have, in combination, most if not all the reliability attributes provided by retiring coal-fired generation and other resources exiting the system.

In fact, the evolving resource mix that includes retirement of aging capacity and addition of new gas-fired and renewable capacity can increase system reliability from a number of perspectives. For instance, available data indicates that forced and planned outage rates for renewable and natural gas technologies can be less than half of those for coal.

Studies also highlight the valuable reliability services that emerging new technologies, such as electric storage, can provide. Renewable resources and emerging technologies also help hedge against fuel supply and price volatility, contributing to resource diversity and increased resilience.

Clean energy resources have demonstrated their ability to support reliable electric service at times of severe stress on the grid.

In the 2014 polar vortex, for example, frozen coal stockpiles led to coal generation outages – so wind and demand response resources were increasingly relied upon to help maintain reliability.

And just last year, close to 100 megawatts of electric storage was successfully deployed in less than six months to address reliability concerns stemming from the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage leak in California.

Regulators and grid operators can leverage the reliability attributes of clean resources and new technologies through improved market design

A 2016 report by DOE found that cleaner resources and emerging new technologies are creating options and opportunities, providing a new toolbox for maintaining reliability in the modern power system.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has long recognized the valuable grid services that emerging new technologies could provide – from its order on demand response to its order on frequency regulation compensation, FERC recognized the value of fast and accurate response resources in cost-effectively meeting grid reliability needs. More recently, FERC’s ancillary service reforms recognize that, with advances in technologies, variable energy resources such as wind are increasingly capable of providing reliability services such as reactive power.

Grid operators are also recognizing the valuable contributions of cleaner resources and emerging new technologies, as well as the importance of flexibility to a modern, nimble, dynamic and robust grid. For instance, both the California Independent System Operator and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) have created ramp products, and MISO also has a dispatchable intermittent resource program.

It will be increasingly important for regulators, system planners, and grid operators to continue assessing grid reliability needs, and leveraging the capabilities of new technologies and technological advancements, in the future. It is also important to continue market design and system operation and coordination efforts to support the emerging needs of a modern 21st century electric grid.

The facts show clearly that we shouldn’t accept fearmongering that threatens our clean air safeguards. Instead, working together, America can have clean, healthy air and affordable, reliable electricity.

Posted in Energy, News, Policy| Read 1 Response

EPA Safeguards and the Arkema Chemical Plant Disaster – Information You Should Know

Hurricane Harvey over the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior

(This post was co-authored by EDF’s Peter Zalzal)

Like many Americans, we’ve been closely following the story about the Arkema chemical plant that was flooded when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. The resulting explosions there have added a horrifying new dimension to the tragic events in the greater Houston area.

Here’s more information that you might want to know.

The Arkema chemical facility in Crosby, Texas has had previous health and safety violations and has been the subject of enforcement actions.

The Arkema Crosby chemical facility has been the subject of at least two enforcement actions by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

  • In 2006, the facility was subject to penalties because of a fire due to inappropriately stored organic peroxides. The fire led to discharge of 3,200 pounds of volatile organic compounds along with other harmful pollutants.
  • In 2011, the facility was subject to penalties for failure to maintain proper temperatures of the thermal oxidizer.

Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator under President Obama, strengthened the standards governing preparedness for chemical releases during emergency situations.

In January of 2017, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy strengthened key provisions of the Accident Release Prevention / Risk Management Program. Those provisions are designed to help prevent and mitigate chemical accidents. The changes included more protective accident prevention program requirements, emergency response enhancements, and enhanced public transparency and availability of information.

Some of these key improvements, which are jointly known as the “Chemical Disaster Rule,” are summarized below (the final rule is at 82 Fed. Reg. 4594.) These protections were slated to take legal effect on March 14, 2017, and the rule required phased-in compliance with its provisions over the next several years. The rule requirements differ depending on whether the facility is classified as Program 1, 2, or 3, with more rigorous and focused requirements applying to Program 3 facilities due to the types of processes at the facility. The Arkema Crosby plant is a Program 3 facility.

  • Accident Prevention Program Improvement
    • Root Cause analysis: The final rule requires Program 2 or 3 facilities to conduct a “root cause analysis” as part of an incident investigation of a “catastrophic release.” The analysis is meant to look beyond immediate causes to help prevent future disasters by uncovering underlying causes in an incident investigation.
    • Third Party Audit: The rule requires Program 2 or 3 facilities to conduct independent third party audits, or to assemble an audit team led by an independent third party auditor, to perform a compliance audit after a reportable accident. Previously, facilities were allowed to perform self-audits. The revision “is intended to reduce the risk of future accidents by requiring an objective auditing process to determine whether the owner or operator of the facility is effectively complying with the accident prevention procedures and practices.” (82 Fed. Reg. at 4,595)
    • Safer Technology Alternatives Analysis: For Program 3 facilities, the rule requires a Safer Technology Alternatives Analysis to identify the practicability of any inherently safer technology identified.
  • Emergency Response Enhancements
    • The final rule requires all covered facilities to coordinate with local emergency response agencies at least once per year to determine how the facility is addressed in the community emergency response plan, and to ensure that local response organizations are aware of the regulated substances at the facility, their quantities, the risks presented by covered processes, and the resources and capabilities at the facility to respond to an accidental release of a regulated substance. (82 Fed. Reg. at 4,595)
    • The rule also requires Program 2 or 3 facilities to conduct notification exercises to ensure that emergency contact information is accurate and complete, and that certain facilities conduct field or tabletop exercises. From the final rule: “Improved coordination with emergency response personnel will better prepare responders to respond effectively to an incident and take steps to notify the community of appropriate actions, such as shelter in place.” (82 Fed. Reg. at 4,595)
  • Enhanced Availability of Information
    • “The rule requires all facilities to provide certain basic information to the public, upon request. The owner or operator of the facility shall provide ongoing notification of availability of information elements on a company website, social media platforms, or through some other publicly accessible means.” (82 Fed. Reg. at 4,596)

Arkema and its industry trade organization, the American Chemistry Council, filed comments objecting to several of these key improvements.

Arkema filed adverse comments on the proposed improvements to the Chemical Disaster Rule, and also endorsed comments filed by the American Chemistry Council (Arkema is a member company of ACC).

Arkema objected to the third-party audit procedure, objected to the safer technology alternatives analysis as burdensome, and expressed concerns about the requirements to share certain information with emergency responders and the public.

Scott Pruitt immediately obliged and suspended the Chemical Disaster Rule improvements.

One of the immediate actions taken by Trump Administration EPA head Scott Pruitt was to suspend these key improvements to Chemical Risk Program.

On February 28, 2017, an industry coalition including the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Utility Air Regulatory Group asked EPA to reconsider the Chemical Disaster Rule.

Administrator Pruitt quickly obliged by convening a reconsideration proceeding on March 13, 2017 and suspending the Rule for 90-days on March 16, 2017. Both of these initial actions to halt the rule took place without any public process, a pattern continued in many of Pruitt’s actions as EPA Administrator.

Subsequently, on June 14, 2017, Pruitt issued a rule suspending the requirements until February of 2019. Pruitt’s decision to suspend these protections disrupted the implementation of the rule.

Administrator Pruitt’s suspension is now being challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, with a preliminary decision yesterday denying the petitioners’ motion for a stay but granting expedited briefing on the merits. Air Alliance Houston is one of the organizations challenging Pruitt’s damaging actions. 

A closer look at the Arkema facility in Crosby, Texas.

The Arkema facility in Crosby, Texas is a Program 3 facility and is required to submit a Risk Management Plan under the Chemical Disaster Rule.

The envirofacts webpage for the facility notes that the last plan was submitted in June 2014, pursuant to the less stringent requirements that were then in place.

EPA does not publicly post online Risk Management Plans for facilities but they are available for review in the federal reading rooms. On August 31, 2017, EDF examined the 2014 Risk Management Plan for the Arkema facility. According to Arkema’s documents on file:

  • The Arkema facility manufactures liquid organic peroxides, which are primarily used in the production of plastic resins, polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC, and fiberglass.
  • There are two substances on site that are present at or above the minimum threshold quantities for a Risk Management Plan – 85,256 pounds of 2 methylpropene (a flammable substance), and 66,260 pounds of sulfur dioxide (a toxic substance). Both are present in levels that make the facility subject to Program 3 requirements.
  • The site conducted a process hazard analysis on October 31, 2013 and indicated that any errors identified would be corrected by October 30, 2015. The 2013 hazard analysis identified concerns, including: equipment failure; loss of cooling, heating, electricity;  floods (flood plain); hurricane; other major failure identified: power failure or power surge

There have now been explosions reported at the Arkema facility and 15 police officers were taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes from the chemical plant. Because of limited air monitors operating in the region, we do not know the pollutants or their concentrations in the surrounding air.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has led an unprecedented rollback of public health and environmental safeguards for our communities and families.

This is one of many damaging actions by EPA Administrator Pruitt to roll back fundamental safeguards under our health and environmental laws. Pruitt’s actions imperil our communities and families, and increase risks across our nation.

The explosion at the Crosby chemical facility is a terrible tragedy. It is incumbent on those who manufacture and use these dangerous chemicals — and it is the solemn duty of policymakers entrusted with protecting the public – to carry out their responsibilities under our nation’s public health and environmental laws to protect all Americans.

EDF is urging EPA Administrator Pruitt to immediately reinstate the critical Chemical Disaster Rule safeguards that he has suspended, and we are asking all Americans to join us. Please contact EPA and tell them you support these protections.

Posted in EPA litgation, News, Policy| Read 2 Responses

Pruitt six months in: “taking a meat ax to the protections of public health and environment and then hiding it”

In Scott Pruitt’s six-month tenure as President Trump’s EPA Administrator, his administration has firmly established a reputation for secrecy and for glossing over conflicts of interest.

This pattern of making decisions behind closed doors and stocking EPA with industry representatives is problematic for many reasons, but most importantly because so many of those decisions are putting our health at risk.

Former EPA Administrator Bill Ruckelshaus — appointed by Presidents Nixon and Reagan —described Pruitt’s tenure thus far:

[I]t appears that what is happening now is taking a meat ax to the protections of public health and environment and then hiding it.

Pruitt’s troubling pattern of behavior has even caught the interest of the EPA’s Inspector General, who recently opened an investigation into Pruitt’s repeated travel to Oklahoma at taxpayers’ expense. And one of Pruitt’s handpicked appointees, Albert Kelly, was just penalized by a federal banking agency for “unsound practices” in his previous position as a bank CEO.

Weakening safeguards across the board

As we’ve documented, Pruitt has a troubling record of attacking public safeguards without providing any opportunity for public input – including protections against toxic wastewater, oil and gas pollution, climate pollution, and safety risks at major chemical facilities.

Pruitt took aim at limits on smog that would prevent 230,000 childhood asthma attacks every year. He tried to unilaterally delay these standards without any public input on his decision, until eventually he backed down in the face of legal and public backlash.

Pruitt also suspended enforcement of existing standards for pollution from oil and gas facilities without any public input. Pruitt’s announcement did not even mention the harmful health impacts from halting implementation of pollution controls for 18,000 wells across the country. Earlier this month a federal appeals court overwhelmingly rejected Pruitt’s move as illegal after a panel decision that deemed Pruitt’s actions “unlawful,” “arbitrary,” and “capricious.”

Undermining enforcement that holds polluters accountable 

A recent analysis of EPA’s enforcement program showed that penalties against polluters have dropped by a remarkable 60 percent since the Inauguration. Not holding companies responsible for their pollution has tangible impacts in the form of more pollution, more illness, and more avoidable, early deaths.

The Trump Administration’s proposed budget calls for a 40 percent cut to EPA’s enforcement office, which would further hamper EPA’s ability to hold polluters accountable. Meanwhile, EPA overall would face a 30 percent cut, which also puts public health at risk.

Pruitt sometimes tries to mask his focus on rolling back important EPA initiatives. For example, he claims to be concentrating on cleaning up contaminated land through EPA’s Superfund program, yet the Trump Administration’s budget proposal would cut Superfund by more than 30 percent.

Pervasive conflicts of interest

In Pruitt’s former role as Oklahoma Attorney General, he was exposed for cutting and pasting industry requests and sending them to EPA on his official stationary. He shamelessly responded by calling his conduct “representative government in my view.”

At EPA, Pruitt and his most senior advisors are now driving vital decisions about public health notwithstanding clear, severe conflicts of interest.

As just one example, Dr. Nancy Beck, the senior political appointee in EPA’s toxic chemicals office, recently left her prior position at the chemicals industry’s main trade association. In her current role at EPA, she has a key role in implementing the new reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act passed last year. In this capacity, Dr. Beck is making decisions that directly affect the financial interests of companies she represented in her previous position on issues on which she advocated for the chemical industry as recently as earlier this year. The unsurprising result? Important protections are being weakened or reversed.

Pruitt’s lax approach to ethics may also extend to his travel schedule. Pruitt’s travel records show that he traveled repeatedly to Oklahoma at taxpayer expense, straining EPA’s limited resources. (Some sources have speculated that Pruitt’s extensive travel may be a run up to a future Pruitt campaign for political office in Oklahoma.) As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, EPA’s Inspector General has now opened an investigation into the matter

Pruitt’s appointment of Albert Kelly is another example of how he seems to tolerate behavior that other administrations would find unacceptable. Pruitt appointed the former banking CEO to lead a task force on Superfund cleanup sites. As we mentioned earlier, just this week Kelly was sanctioned by the FDIC, which issued a lifetime bar against his participation in any future banking-related activities and noted violations that involved Kelly's "willful or continuing disregard for the safety or soundness of the bank" where he was CEO. Nonetheless, Pruitt continues to entrust Kelly with the responsibility for leading efforts to reform management of the billion-dollar hazardous waste clean-up program.

Pruitt’s pattern of secrecy

This summer Pruitt won the Golden Padlock Award, given by investigative reporters and editors to recognize the most secretive U.S. agency or individual.

Robert Cribb, chair of the Golden Padlock committee, noted:

Judges were impressed with the breadth and scope of Pruitt’s information suppression techniques around vital matters of public interest.

Pruitt has overseen the elimination of important climate science resources that EPA previously made publicly available on its website. EDF recently received more than 1,900 items from EPA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request for climate-related information and data deleted from, or modified on, EPA websites.

Even the basics of how Pruitt spends his business hours, and with whom he spends them, are hidden from the public. Contravening a bi-partisan EPA transparency practice, Pruitt no longer makes senior management calendars — including his own — available to the public. The website comparison below highlights this sudden change:

EPA’s website on January 19, 2017

And the same page today

The start of Scott Pruitt’s term as EPA Administrator has been marked by continuous attacks on our public health safeguards and government transparency. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that Pruitt is keeping Americans in the dark about his actions, because the more we learn, the more we see reasons to be outraged. The American public deserves better from the senior leader in charge of protecting our health and welfare from dangerous pollution.

Posted in News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Read 2 Responses

Torrential rains and violent storm surge: Why hurricane impacts are getting worse

Wikimedia

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

As Hurricane Harvey barreled toward the coast of Texas last week with increasing intensity, forecasters were issuing dire warnings about life-threatening storm surge and torrential rain in addition to the dangerous winds that hurricanes bring.

It was no coincidence. As our climate warms, we’re experiencing ever-more devastating storm surges and record rainfalls during hurricane season – which is also why these storms are becoming more destructive and costly.

Evaporation means storms carry more water

Harvey, which formed quickly in an abnormally warm Gulf of Mexico, is dumping historic amounts of rain – 30-plus inches in the Houston area so far – with more expected, leading to catastrophic flooding in America’s fourth largest city.

So why do hurricanes bring more rain in a warmer climate? Evaporation intensifies as temperatures rise, increasing the amount of water vapor that storms pull into their systems as they travel across warm oceans. That makes for higher rainfall and more flooding when they hit land.

Unfortunately for Texas, Harvey has stalled out as a tropical storm, now drenching parts of Texas and Louisiana.

Sea level rise makes storm surges worse

Storm surge occurs when waters rise above their normal levels and are pushed inland by wind.

With Katrina, which hit land as a Category 3 hurricane, it was the storm surge that caused the levees to fail, leading to destruction to the New Orleans area. Storm surge was also responsible for an extra $2 billion in damage to New York City after Sandy hit that area in 2012, according to a Rand report.

This increasing phenomena is due, in large part, to sea level rise, which is triggered by human-caused global warming as warmer ocean water expands and land ice melts. The average global sea level has already increased by more than half a foot since the Industrial Revolution.

Storm-related flooding is on the rise

The devastating flooding we’re seeing in Houston is unusual because of its scale, but heavy rains and bad flooding are becoming the new normal in parts of our country as temperatures rise. Intense single-day rain events that cause flooding are on the rise.

Historic weather data measured since 1910 shows that in the contiguous 48 states, nine of the top 10 years for extreme one-day rain events have occurred since 1990.

We don’t yet know what kind of damage Harvey or future hurricanes will cause. But they should serve as a reminder that today, more than ever before, we need to be guided by science to help us prepare for, and act, on climate change.

Posted in News| Comments are closed

The Trump Administration outlines its plans for EPA – and it’s bad news for our health

Across Republican and Democratic administrations alike, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regularly identified and shared with the public a detailed list of the agency’s upcoming priority policy actions – safeguards that will help protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, assure the safety of chemicals in everyday products, and provide for proper handling of hazardous wastes.

But the Trump Administration unveiled its first such blueprint last week – and it takes dead aim at fundamental public health and environmental safeguards that are essential to protecting our communities and families. It’s an agenda that would lead to more pollution, fewer common sense safeguards, and more asthma attacks and premature deaths in communities across the country.

Here are a few key targets in the Trump Administration’s plan to dismantle vital public health and environmental safeguards:

Imperiled: the Clean Power Plan. The blueprint reiterates the Trump Administration’s intention to withdraw the Clean Power Plan. The agenda indicates no intent to provide a replacement program to limit dangerous climate pollution from existing power plants – one of America’s largest sources of this harmful pollution – despite the growing urgency of climate disruption, and despite three separate Supreme Court decisions underscoring EPA’s duty to protect Americans from this harmful pollution. The agenda’s justification for rolling back the Clean Power Plan rests on faulty legal reasoning that has been forcefully rejected by legal experts and is at odds with EPA’s past practices.

  • What’s at stake? The Clean Power Plan is one of the most significant actions America has ever taken to combat climate change. EPA estimates that when fully implemented, it would prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and up to 90,000 asthma attacks per year.

Imperiled: limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. The Trump Administration also underscored its plans to end existing limits on carbon pollution from new power plants – an important complement to the Clean Power Plan. Yet again, this announcement includes no intention for a replacement safeguard.

  • What would be the result? New fossil fuel-fired power plants, which have lifespans in the decades, and emit staggering quantities of carbon pollution over their lifetimes, could be built with needlessly outdated, lower performing technologies.

Imperiled: pollution controls for oil and gas facilities. The Trump Administration’s plan also commits EPA to review pollution limits on new oil and gas facilities. These limits include measures for leak detection and repair – measures that save otherwise wasted natural gas, reduce pollution in surrounding communities, and create well-paying jobs. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has already taken steps to suspend these protections. His actions meant that more than 18,000 natural gas wells across America were no longer required to fix pollution leaks. While Administrator Pruitt’s suspension was recently found unlawful by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the threat remains that EPA may fully revoke these important safeguards.

Imperiled: protections for Americans from smog. The Trump Administration’s plan also highlights Administrator Pruitt’s decision to suspend his duty to identify the regions that are failing to meet national air quality standards for ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog. Smog is a dangerous air pollutant linked to premature deaths, asthma attacks, lower birth weight in infants, and serious heart and lung diseases. EPA analysis indicates that Administrator Pruitt’s announced one-year suspension alone will lead to as many as 230,000 more asthma attacks among children.

Imperiled: protections for downwind communities from interstate air pollution. EPA has a long-standing responsibility to ensure that upwind facilities are good neighbors and do not discharge pollution that imperils public health in downwind states. The Trump Administration’s blueprint recognizes that there are six separate petitions pending before EPA in which downwind states are seeking the agency’s assistance to protect themselves against pollution drifting into their communities from dozens of upwind power plants. It is crucial that EPA carry out this responsibility to ensure that all Americans can breathe easier – but the agency is currently failing to act, and its blueprint provides no commitment to act despite clear legal responsibility under our nation’s clean air laws.

Changes to underlying EPA transparency protections

At the same time that the Trump Administration’s blueprint outlines a host of rollbacks for important pollution controls, it also identifies that the administration will be moving ahead with changes to underlying, fundamental EPA procedures and operational practices.

Here’s just one example:

  • Under review: EPA’s open records requirements. Under the Freedom of Information Act, EPA is required to share public records with the public. The Trump Administration’s agenda notes that EPA will be updating its own policies for implementation of the agency’s requirements under this vital transparency law. During Administrator Pruitt’s tenure as Oklahoma Attorney General, he had an extensive, troubling record of stonewalling these types of open records requests.

These changes are just as important to watch carefully, to ensure essential transparency and rigor in the administration’s conduct. So far, Administrator Pruitt has given ample reason for concern: shutting the public out of key decisions; refusing to share how he spends his time and with whom he meets; and a long history of intertwined relationships with the industries he’s supposed to oversee.

Are more rollbacks possible? President Trump and Administrator Pruitt signal yes

The above summary is hardly complete. The Trump Administration’s blueprint also highlights a host of harmful potential rollbacks for important protections for water, hazardous waste, and beyond.

Moreover, this blueprint may not reflect the full scope of future attacks. In other contexts, President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have taken aim at even more EPA protections against air pollution. For instance, President Trump has signaled his willingness to reconsider standards for emissions from cars and trucks – despite their record of saving consumers money, driving auto innovation, and reducing pollution. And Administrator Pruitt’s EPA has moved to pause litigation over mercury protections while the agency evaluates its position. (In the past, Pruitt even expressed doubt about mercury pollution’s well-established harmful impacts on brain development in kids.)

These risks are critical. But together we can turn back these threats, ensure healthier lives for all Americans, address dangerous climate pollution, and grow our clean energy economy.

Here at EDF we will be working to stop these rollbacks. Please join us, and take action! Click here to let EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt know that you support America’s public health and environmental protections.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Health, News, Policy| Comments are closed

Electric vehicles enter the here and now

A Ford at an electric car charging station in Buffalo, NY. Photo by Fortunate4now

The high level of confidence that automotive industry leaders have in the future of electric vehicles (EV’s) has been on full display recently.

In just the past few weeks:

This spurt of corporate announcements has been paired with a bevy of statements of international leadership:

These developments are more than just excitement about an emerging solution. They are indicators that the market for EVs is developing faster than anticipated even just last year.

Consider the findings of a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It found that:

[L]ithium-ion cell costs have already fallen by 73 percent since 2010.

The report updated its future cost projections to reflect further steep cost reductions in the years ahead, with a price per kilowatt-hour in 2025 of $109 and in 2030 of $73.

Cost reductions on this order would result in EVs achieving cost parity with some classes of conventional vehicles by 2025 – and across most vehicle segments by 2029, according to the report. EV sales are expected to really take off once they achieve cost parity with conventional vehicles, as the vehicles are significantly less expensive to fuel and maintain.

The acceleration in the EV market is great news for climate protection too. A recent assessment found that zero-emission vehicles, such as EVs, need to comprise 40 percent of new vehicles sold by 2030 in order for the automotive sector to be on a path to achieve critical mid-century emissions targets. With the momentum in the EV market, we have a critical window to further boost this market by ensuring greater access of electric vehicles and a cleaner electric grid to power them.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has not demonstrated the same appetite for national leadership on EVs as other countries. Even worse, we are going in the wrong direction – with serious implications for our health, climate and economy.

Instead of leading, the Trump Administration is undermining critical clean air and climate protections including the landmark clean car standards for 2022 to 2025. The actions of individual automakers, however, tell a very different story from the “can’t do it” mantra put forth by the Administration.

In their commitments, investments and new product introductions, automotive manufacturers and their suppliers are clearly telling us that low emissions vehicles can play a much bigger role in the near future.

The fact is that automakers can meet the existing 2022 to 2025 federal greenhouse gas standards through deployment of current conventional technology alone. Now, in addition to the robust pathway automakers have through existing technologies, EV adoption rates in the U.S. will be 10 percent in 2025 if the Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts hold true. This is further proof that the existing standards are highly achievable. Rather than weaken the standard, the Administration should be pursuing options to further scale EVs over the next decade.

Investing in clear car solutions is sound economic policy. These investments enhance the global competitiveness of the U.S. automotive sector.

This is why the UAW in a letter supporting the existing 2022 to 2025 clean car standards, noted:

UAW members know firsthand that Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas (GHG) standards have spurred investments in new products that employ tens of thousands of our members.

Like other key aspects of the potential of the emerging EV marketplace, the role it can play as an employer has been in the news recently too.

An AM General assembly plant in northern Indiana was acquired by electric vehicle manufacture SF Motors. The company announced that it will make a $30 million investment in the facility and keep on all the 430 employees.

Fittingly, most of the 430 jobs that were saved to manufacture an emerging, clean technology are represented by UAW Local 5 – the oldest continuously operating UAW Local in the country.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Energy, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, News, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed
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