Climate 411

EPA’s Authority to Limit Carbon Pollution from Power Plants Is Well Established and Widely Recognized

Gavel_iStock000003633182Medium(This post was written by EDF attorney Megan Ceronsky and legal fellow Peter Heisler)

The bedrock legal authority underlying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan is broadly recognized — by our nation’s highest court, states, power companies, academic experts and the EPA General Counsel serving during the President George H.W. Bush administration.

Our recent Climate 411 post chronicles the Supreme Court’s decisions affirming EPA’s authority to address carbon pollution from power plants under section 111 of the Clean Air Act.

In Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), the Court held that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.  Then, in AEP v. Connecticut (2011), the Court explicitly recognized EPA’s authority to limit emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants pursuant to section 111, and acknowledged the agency’s ongoing efforts to do so.

Even before AEP was decided, however, legal researchers and academics had identified section 111 as a promising avenue for regulating carbon pollution from power plants and industrial facilities:

  • A 2009 report by the Congressional Research Service found that “Section 111 appears to provide a strong basis for EPA to establish a traditional regulatory approach to controlling greenhouse gas emissions from large stationary sources.”
  • A 2010 paper by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions observed that “[S]ection 111 appears to provide the EPA with the best means to create a system that … implements a cost-effective program that delivers meaningful emissions reductions, is consistent with both the statutory language of the Act and legal precedent, and is politically viable.”
  • A 2011 survey of the academic community found “widespread agreement” that “[section] 111 authorizes the use of many types of flexible approaches” to regulating carbon pollution.

Indeed, states, power companies, and other stakeholders have all recently analyzed and supported EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants:

  • Kentucky recognized EPA’s role in setting the benchmark that states will have to meet under section 111.
  • Pennsylvania said that section 111 was the “most appropriate” provision for regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
  • The nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative “recommend[ed] that EPA use its authority under section 111 of the Clean Air Act to ensure significant overall reductions in carbon emissions."
  • Fifteen states from across the country agreed that “EPA needs to seize [the] opportunity [for pollution reduction] because Section 111(d) standards are to be based on the ‘best system of emission reduction,’” including energy efficiency and renewable energy.
  • The Clean Energy Group, whose members include some of the largest generators of electricity in the country, noted that “EPA has significant discretion under section 111(d) in determining both the appropriate level of the standards for existing power plants, as well as the form of the regulations.”

Environmental law experts have also analyzed and endorsed EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution from power plants:

  • UCLA Law Professor Ann Carlson said “[I]t is important to be clear here: the President is required to issue the rules, required by law and by the interpretation of the law by the highest Court in the land.”
  • Harvard Professor Jody Freeman called critics’ claims to the contrary “weak,” explaining that “[t]he record clearly shows that Congress intended to ensure that harmful pollutants from existing power plants could not entirely escape regulation. These emissions qualify for regulation under 111(d) because they are not covered elsewhere in the law and account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s total emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal driver of global warming.”
  • E. Donald Elliott, EPA General Counsel under President George H.W. Bush, noted that “the Supreme Court and other courts have upheld EPA’s authority to address this issue,” and “[a] system-wide approach provides needed flexibility and reduces costs, as well as encouraging investment in lower-emitting generation. EPA has wisely left the states a lot of discretion rather than mandating specific measures as some had wanted…”
  • Carol Browner, EPA Administrator during the Clinton administration, wrote that “EPA has authority under the 1990 Clean Air Act, an authority affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, to set these public health protections against carbon pollution.”

Finally, Leon G. Billings, who was the principal staff author of the Clean Air Act of 1970, shared his personal knowledge of the statute:

Critics of the move say that President Obama is making an end run around Congress, stretching the law to achieve by executive action what he could not accomplish through the legislative branch … This is flat wrong. More than four decades ago, Congress expressed its clear desire to regulate pollution from power plants, in the form of the Clean Air Act. I know, because I worked on the legislation, including the key part of the act — Section 111 — that the Obama administration is using to justify its move.

The legal community broadly recognizes EPA’s authority and obligation to address carbon pollution emitted by power plants. This is perhaps unsurprising, as all these statements simply echo what the Supreme Court has already held — that EPA’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution from power plants are firmly grounded in the law.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation| 3 Responses, comments now closed

The cheapest way to cut climate pollution? Energy efficiency

This blog post was co-authored by Lauren Navarro, California Senior Manager, Clean Energy and Kate Zerrenner, an EDF project manager and expert on energy efficiency and climate change.

On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a historic announcement that will change how we make, move and use electricity for generations to come.

For the first time in history, the government proposed limits on the amount of carbon pollution American fossil-fueled power plants are allowed to spew into the atmosphere.

There are two clear winners to comply with the plan while maintaining commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response.

We’re already seeing pushback from some of our nation’s big polluter states, such as West Virginia and Texas. But the truth is that while the proposed limits on carbon are strong, they’re also flexible.

In fact, the EPA has laid out a whole menu of options in its Clean Power Plan – from power plant upgrades, to switching from coal to natural gas and adopting more renewable energy resources. States can choose from these and other strategies as they develop their own plans to meet the new standards.

That said, there are two clear winners on the EPA’s menu that offer low-cost options for states that seek to comply with the plan while maintaining their commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response.

Energy efficiency our lowest-hanging fruit

Simply saving energy is the most cost-effective way to reduce demand and carbon pollution from power plants. The cheapest, cleanest and most reliable electricity, after all, is the electricity we don’t use.

The benefits of energy efficiency are vast. It helps people and businesses save money, it boosts job creation (as many as 274,000, one source estimates), and it reduces harmful power plant pollution.

From a utility perspective, energy efficiency improves the reliability of our electric grid and lowers costs for infrastructure maintenance.

Plus, in states such as Texas and California, which face extreme drought, energy efficiency can save scarce water sources. Remember that coal-fired power plants are thirstyand less water is consumed when these plants are used less (or not at all).

Half of the states already have mandatory energy-efficiency targets, so we have the knowledge and experience across the country to advance this undeniably beneficial resource.

Same as taking all cars off road

McKinsey & Co. estimates that by 2020, the United States could reduce its annual energy consumption by 23 percent by adopting energy-efficiency measures. This could save us more than $1 trillion dollars and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than a gigaton—the equivalent of taking the entire U.S. fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the road.

That’s why Environmental Defense Fund is working with policymakers, investors and utilities throughout the country to understand the full benefits of energy efficiency, and to explore paths for implementation, for when they’re crafting state plans under EPA’s new Clean Power Plan.

Demand response: everyone wins

Demand response is another way to introduce greater efficiency into the nation's electricity system and help reduce carbon emissions. It’s an invaluable tool that can help conserve electricity when supplies run thin, and to bring more clean energy onto the grid.

On a hot summer day, for example, when electricity demand is high, utilities can ask permission of select customers to lower their thermostats a couple of degrees. In exchange, these customers receive credit on their next electricity bill.

It also helps utility companies better manage stress on the electric grid and it can help them integrate wind, solar and other renewables to replace aging coal-fired power plants.

Demand response relies on people, not power plants, to meet energy demand and reduce carbon pollution from our electricity sector.

Proven strategies

In Southern California, for example, they’re about to replace a large chunk of electric capacity – at least 550 megawatts – from the recently closed San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station with renewable energy, energy storage – and demand response. This will help minimize a need for gas-fired plants and other polluting facilities that might replace the nuclear plant.

Best of all, demand response is more affordable than building new power plants. In fact, if just 50 percent of Southern California Edison’s customers participated in time-of-use rates – a type of demand response program – energy demand would plummet so much that 66 percent of San Onofre’s former generating capacity would no longer be needed.

As a bonus, customers across the territory would also collectively see cost savings of $357 million, a 15-percent decrease.

As a result of smart decisions such as the one involving the San Onofre plant, California’s utility sector’s greenhouse gas emissions have and will continue to decline. This proves that demand response can and should be a core tenet in the nation’s push to diversify its energy mix and cut pollution in order to usher in a clean, sustainable and healthy future.

As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy noted last week, these clean energy solutions are not new ideas. They’re based on proven technologies and approaches that "are already part of the ongoing story of energy progress in America."

"We're not doing cutting-edge work here, folks," she said. "We are just opening the door to cutting-edge.”

This post first appeared on EDF Voices

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| 3 Responses, comments now closed

Saving Billions While Cutting Climate Pollution

More fuel efficient, lower emission heavy trucks are good for business, good for consumers, and good for combating climate change. By deploying existing and emerging technologies to improve truck efficiency, the U.S. can save billions in fuel expenses while cutting harmful climate pollutions by millions of tons.

EDF is calling on the Obama Administration to set new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks that cut fuel consumption by 40 percent compared to 2010 levels. These standards would apply for freight trucks and heavy-duty work trucks, such as box delivery trucks, bucket trucks, beverage delivery trucks and refuse trucks.

Analysis by leading environmental and energy efficiency advocates, including EDF, demonstrates that bold heavy truck standards are technically feasible and will be effective in cutting oil consumption and climate pollution.

Strong standards will be good for American business and consumers too.

EDF and Ceres examined how strong standards would affect the cost of moving freight by trucks. The results are unequivocal — strong standards will save companies money.

For example, an owner of a new tractor-trailer unit stands to save between $21,000  and $36,000 during the first year the truck is in service.

By 2030, the combination of both phases of standards will cut fuel use by 1.4 million barrels per day and reduce carbon pollution by 270 million metric tons, compared to the fuel use and emissions that would occur without fuel efficiency improvements.

Companies stand to save nearly $8 billion dollars in 2030 too, as the cost-per-mile to move freight will decrease by $0.07 a mile as a result of the second phase rules alone.

By 2040, these savings could grow to $25 billion annually, as the net effect of the second phase of the standard alone could be to reduce the per-mile cost of moving freight by 21 cents.

Our finding of significant financial benefits of strong fuel efficiency and GHG standards is consistent in magnitude with previous analysis. A recent report by the Consumer Federation of America looked at similar Phase 2 standards and found net savings of $250 to consumers, rising to $400 per household in 2035 as fuel prices and transportation services increase.

With such savings at hand, a natural question is why do we need new standards in the first place? We need new standards because well-designed federal standards foster the innovation necessary to bring more efficient and lower emitting trucks to market.

Strong standards break down barriers that keep technologies from moving from the test track to the assembly line.

Manufacturers need to be confident in market demand in order to develop and launch efficiency improvements. Strong standards give them the certainty they need.

Fleets are often weary of investing in advanced technologies; as such capital investments could put them at a disadvantage if fuel prices drop suddenly, like they did in 2008. For-hire trucking fleets also directly pass on a large percentage of their fuel bill through fuel surcharges to their customers, thus distorting the economic incentive to invest in efficiency.

Manufacturers and fleets can benefit significantly from strong standards. As the EDF analysis demonstrates, manufacturers will have a market for more valuable equipment; while fleets will achieve significant overall savings.

In fact, this is just the type of impact we are seeing from the first phase of heavy trucks standards, which went into effect at the start of this year. Fleets and Manufacturers are praising the rule and new, cost-effect offerings have come onto the market.

Moving forward on strong heavy-truck efficiency and emissions standards is a step that our country needs to take.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, News| Comments closed

A First Look at the Clean Power Plan: Protecting Public Health and Cutting Carbon Pollution

Source: Flickr/ Rupert Ganzer

Source: Flickr/Rupert Ganzer

Earlier this week, our nation took a ground-breaking step by proposing to finally establish carbon pollution limits on existing power plants — the single largest source of climate-destabilizing pollution in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world.

We have national limits on the other air pollutants emitted by these plants, including mercury and arsenic and smog-forming pollutants — and we urgently need to secure strong limits on carbon pollution.

Here’s a first look at the proposed Clean Power Plan and its “building blocks” — the opportunity for state leadership, the profound public health benefits for our communities and families, and the good news about cost savings for customers.

The Proposed Pollution Reductions

The Clean Power Plan would reduce carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants by approximately 30 percent by 2030, and could curb emissions by as much as 27 percent by 2020.

EPA looked at the existing power plants in each state, and evaluated four time-tested, cost-effective emission reduction pathways:

  1. The potential to improve power plant efficiency
  2. The potential to rely more on lower-emitting power plants such as combined cycle natural gas and less on higher-emitting power plants
  3. The potential to deploy zero emitting generation resources like wind and solar
  4. The potential to capture end-use energy efficiency opportunities.

EPA then added up these four “building blocks” to calculate the reduction that a State could achieve on average in its overall emission rate over 2020-2029 (the “interim” target), and what rate could be achieved in 2030:

 

State

2012 Emission Rate
(Fossil, Renewable, and 6% Nuclear) (lbs/MWh)

2020-2029 Interim Goal (lbs/MWh)

2030 State Goal (lbs/MWh)

Percent change from 2012 rate

Alabama

1,444

1,147

1,059

-27%

Alaska

1,351

1,097

1,003

-26%

Arizona

1,453

735

702

-52%

Arkansas

1,640

968

910

-45%

California

698

556

537

-23%

Colorado

1,714

1,159

1,108

-35%

Connecticut

765

597

540

-29%

Delaware

1,234

913

841

-32%

Florida

1,200

794

740

-38%

Georgia

1,500

891

834

-44%

Hawaii

1,540

1,378

1,306

-15%

Idaho

339

244

228

-33%

Illinois

1,895

1,366

1,271

-33%

Indiana

1,923

1,607

1,531

-20%

Iowa

1,552

1,341

1,301

-16%

Kansas

1,940

1,578

1,499

-23%

Kentucky

2,158

1,844

1,763

-18%

Louisiana

1,466

948

883

-40%

Maine

437

393

378

-14%

Maryland

1,870

1,347

1,187

-37%

Massachusetts

925

655

576

-38%

Michigan

1,696

1,227

1,161

-32%

Minnesota

1,470

911

873

-41%

Mississippi

1,130

732

692

-39%

Missouri

1,963

1,621

1,544

-21%

Montana

2,245

1,882

1,771

-21%

Nebraska

2,009

1,596

1,479

-26%

Nevada

988

697

647

-34%

New Hampshire

905

546

486

-46%

New Jersey

932

647

531

-43%

New Mexico

1,586

1,107

1,048

-34%

New York

983

635

549

-44%

North Carolina

1,646

1,077

992

-40%

North Dakota

1,994

1,817

1,783

-11%

Ohio

1,850

1,452

1,338

-28%

Oklahoma

1,387

931

895

-35%

Oregon

717

407

372

-48%

Pennsylvania

1,540

1,179

1,052

-32%

Rhode Island

907

822

782

-14%

South Carolina

1,587

840

772

-51%

South Dakota

1,135

800

741

-35%

Tennessee

1,903

1,254

1,163

-39%

Texas

1,298

853

791

-39%

Utah

1,813

1,378

1,322

-27%

Virginia

1,297

884

810

-38%

Washington

763

264

215

-72%

West Virginia

2,019

1,748

1,620

-20%

Wisconsin

1,827

1,281

1,203

-34%

Wyoming

2,115

1,808

1,714

-19%

State Flexibility & Innovation

Under the Clean Power Plan, states will control their own future.

States have the flexibility to deploy the emission reduction policies and pathways that make the most sense for them, maximizing cost-effectiveness and co-benefits for their citizens, so long as they achieved the required emission reductions.

Some states might choose to build their compliance plans around existing Renewable Energy Standards and energy efficiency programs. Others might choose to put in place an emission reduction trading program between power plants. Still others might choose to collaborate with other states to submit joint plans and capture the cost-effective emission reduction opportunities available across state boundaries.

Public Health Benefits

The public health benefits of the Clean Power Plan are extensive and will help ensure healthier and longer for our loved ones who suffer from heart and lung ailments, and for our children.

EPA’s analysis shows that the reductions in carbon pollution and the associated reductions in sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter that will happen as a result will generate health benefits of $55 to $93 billion per year in 2030.

The pollutants that contribute to the soot and smog that make people sick will be reduced by more than 25 percent in 2030 — avoiding 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks per year.

From the soot and smog reductions alone — ignoring the important reductions in carbon pollution achieved — Americans will see 7 dollars in health benefits for every dollar invested through the Clean Power Plan.

Cleaner power will ensure healthier and longer lives for millions of Americans.

Electricity Rates & Reliability

EPA’s analysis also shows that there will be sufficient power generation capacity across the United States under this framework to meet demand.

The flexibility provided to States will allow them to design plans to secure reductions in carbon pollution without any risk to power reliability.  As has been true for the past 40 years, we will reduce air pollution and maintain reliable power.

Because the Clean Power Plan will spur investments in demand-side energy efficiency, in 2030 electricity bills are expected to be 8 percent lower than they would have been without the plan.

Under the Clean Power Plan we will have cleaner, safer power, lower electricity bills, cleaner air, and healthier lives.

Cleaner power for a stronger America.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Power plant rule a tipping point for clean energy economy

By Cheryl Roberto, Associate Vice President, Clean Energy Program

For those of us (and all of you) who’ve been urging the government to implement meaningful climate policy, the release yesterday of a plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants has been a long time coming. But it finally came.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution rule for existing fossil-fueled power plants – also known as the Clean Power Plan – are a huge win for our climate.

We also think it could go down in history as the tipping point in our nation’s transition to a clean energy economy. Here’s why:

Old, dirty power plants will be retired

The nation’s fleet of coal-fired power plants is the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world. Placing carbon regulations on this source of electricity for the first time in history will transform our energy system.

Utilities have acknowledged that it doesn’t make economic sense to pour money into retrofitting and retaining older, less-reliable coal-fired power plants when they need to focus investments on newer and more reliable plants.

This means that many of the most highly-polluting coal-fired power plants that provide electricity to our homes and businesses today will be retired. It presents a unique opportunity for clean energy solutions to fill the gap in generating capacity.

It may be one of the largest market opportunities in history to drive…clean energy on a national level.

Increasing our use of homegrown, renewable power sources and investing in proven tools such as energy efficiency, smart grids and demand response (which compensates electricity customers for conserving energy) will help fill this gap while reducing our reliance on fossil fuels that pollute the environment and contribute to climate change.

States will lead the way

EPA’s approach provides clear guidance for what limits and metrics must be met, but leaves states the flexibility to design solutions to meet those requirements as they see fit. This will encourage all states (even those which do not embrace the climate challenge) to look at clean energy technology as an attractive option when they seek to comply with the law.

Federal limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants are exactly the clarity states need to lead us to clean, reliable and affordable energy for all Americans – now and in the future.

Entrepreneurs, investors ready to jump in

What’s more, the new EPA plan – once it's final – will give entrepreneurs, corporations and venture capitalists the market signal they need to go full steam ahead with low-carbon innovations. It may be one of the largest market opportunities in history to drive the development and implementation of clean energy on a national level.

At Environmental Defense Fund, we’re right in the middle of many of these promising solutions, working with state legislators and regulators to clear outdated rules that mire us in the past and discourages innovators.

Paving the way for a cleaner, healthier future

We’re working with financial institutions to develop new funding opportunities for clean energy investments that will help raise the estimated $10.5 trillion needed over the next two decades to transition our world to a clean energy economy.

We’re working with energy research pioneer Pecan Street Inc.in Austin, TX to test customer energy management solutions such as rooftop solar, home energy storage, learning thermostats and time-of-use energy pricing (which incentivizes people to use electricity during periods of low, or “off-peak” energy demand).

And we’re pushing to make energy efficiency a cornerstone of America’s energy policy.

It may not be as sexy as fuel cells and solar panels, butbuilding a more efficient energy system — from power plants to transmission lines to homes and buildings — is the most affordable and cleanest path forward.

The United States is expected to spend about $2 trillion over the next two decades to replace our outdated electric infrastructure. These new regulations are a step in the right direction toward ensuring that these investments are spent on our future and not entrenching us in our past.

EPA's proposed rule means good jobs, economic development and a healthier planet.

And as a pioneer at the forefront of this movement, EDF is determined to make sure we stay on track.

This blog first appeared on EDF Voices

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 1 Response, comments now closed

Study: Climate change may push hurricanes farther north, south

A satellite image of Irene, a Category 1 hurricane, as it made landfall in North Carolina in August of 2011. Source: NASA/NOAA GOES project

The hurricane season of 2014 just kicked off, and with two devastating storms wreaking havoc along the northeastern United States coast over the last few years, it’s no wonder everyone’s on edge.

We’re concerned about hurricanes becoming more frequent and intense, and about the worsening storm surge caused by a rise in sea levels. But flying under the radar is a fourth link between hurricanes and climate change: how climate change affects the location of hurricanes.

new study led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University found that hurricanes have been shifting pole-ward at a rate of 30 to 40 miles per decade over the last 30 years.

It means they are moving closer to major population centers such as Washington, New York and Boston.

The likely cause? Human-caused climate change.

The migration of hurricanes has “potentially profound consequences for life and property,” the authors of the study warn in an article published recently in the journal Nature.

Increasing hazard exposure and mortality risk from tropical cyclones may be compounded in coastal cities outside the tropics, while being offset at lower latitudes.”  

Linking climate change to hurricane location

This finding is an important advancement in scientists’ understanding of how climate change has already contributed to extreme weather events. Research shows that the rise in global temperatures already causes more warm days, heat waves, and heavy rainfall.

Detecting trends in hurricane activity has been difficult, however, due to inconsistent and often unreliable historical data.

To get around this data challenge, the scientists at NOAA, MIT and Princeton developed a new technique that relies on a dependable subset of the data, and which teases out natural events such as El Niño to detect a distinct relationship between hurricane activity and climate change.

Their conclusion: Hurricanes are drifting toward the poles most likely due to an expansion of the Hadley Cell, a permanent atmospheric circulation feature that carries heat from the tropics to the Earth’s temperate zones.

Scientific understanding is that the Hadley Cell expansion is a result of the increase in heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere from human activities. So as we continue to drive cars, generate electricity at fossil-fueled power plants, cut down trees, and farm – we are indirectly pushing hurricanes farther north and south.

The new study is groundbreaking not only because it uses a novel technique, but also because it links a hurricane trend to climate change.

What we know so far

So where are we today with hurricanes and climate change?

Scientists studying hurricanes:

  • Have found no observed trend in frequency
  • Have not been able to detect trends in intensity  and duration
  • Are confident that human-caused sea level rise is contributing to storm surge
  • Expect the frequency of intense storms to increase in the future
  • Have now detected a robust trend in location shifts that is likely due to human activity

This new research presented in Nature suggests that hurricanes are migrating toward the poles and may devastate densely populated coastal regions that had previously, for the most part, been spared such storms.

It’s yet another reason why we must act now to curb carbon pollution and limit climate change.

This post first appeared on EDF Voices

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Power Plan, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 2 Responses, comments now closed

EPA Hands Over the Keys with Clean Power Plan, California Already on Cruise Control

EPA’s Clean Power Plan, proposed today, is a roadmap for cutting dangerous pollution from power plants, and as with any map, there are many roads to follow. For this journey, states are in the driver’s seat and can steer themselves in the direction most beneficial to their people and to the state’s economy, as long as they show EPA they are staying on the map and ultimately reaching the final destination.

As usual, California got off to a head start, explored the territory, blazed a lot of new trails, and left a number of clues on how states can transition to a lower carbon future, and California’s successes are one proven, potential model for other states to follow. The state’s legacy of clean energy and energy efficiency progress is a big reason the White House and EPA could roll out the most significant national climate change action in U.S. history.

Way back in the mid-1970s, when Governor Jerry Brown did his first tour of duty, California pioneered what remains one of the most effective tools for cutting pollution and saving money:  energy efficiency. The state’s efficiency standards, largely aimed at buildings and appliances, have saved Californians $74 billion and avoided the construction of more than 30 power plants. All those energy savings have translated into California residential electricity bills that are 25% lower than the national average.  What’s more, California produces twice as much economic output per kilowatt hour of electricity usage as the national average.

While energy efficiency has done yeoman’s work pulling costs down, reducing the need for dirty energy, and supercharging the state’s clean energy economy, California has also brought bold approaches to cleaning up its power supply. The California Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires 33% of all electricity sold in California to come from renewable sources by 2020, the most aggressive of the 29 states with RPS measures on the books.

In 2006, California enacted Senate Bill 1368, a groundbreaking law that set the nation’s first greenhouse gas emissions standard for power plants, a forerunner of EPA’s Clean Power Plan announced today. The same year, the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) instituted a statewide limit on greenhouse gas emissions, requiring California to return to 1990 levels by 2020. Power plants are capped under AB 32’s successful cap-and-trade program, another precedent that set the table for EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which establishes a national limit on power plant pollution for the first time. This robust suite of policies resulted in California cutting carbon pollution from in-state and imported electricity by 16% between 2005 and 2010-2012.

Given this track record, it’s no surprise that Californians strongly support pollution limits on power plants. According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) 2013 survey, 76% of Californians support “stricter emissions limits on power plants,” and 65% of survey respondents say that California should act immediately to cut emissions and not wait for the economy to improve, a record-high level of support. The survey also shows that Californians believe the economy will improve because of strong environmental regulations, and that you don’t have to have one or the other. Data corroborating this view continues to pile up:  the state now has its lowest unemployment rate since 2008 even with increasingly stringent environmental policies.

California is proof positive that states can fashion creative policies that improve their environmental and economic bottom line, and that’s exactly what will be needed to make EPA’s Clean Power Plan a durable and resounding success. California’s roadmap includes a variety of alternative routes, giving other states a chance to adopt or adapt them to meet the needs of their own unique journeys toward a healthier future.

This post first appeared on our California Dream 2.0 blog.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| 1 Response, comments now closed

New EPA rule for dirty power plants fuels strange debate

Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.

In the downside-up Alice in Wonderland world of Congress, we are about to begin a debate about whether unlimited pollution is a good thing.

It will be triggered by the Obama administration's historic announcement today that for the first time, America’s fossil-fueled power plants will not be allowed to release limitless amounts of carbon pollution – a policy that will improve the chances our children and grandchildren will have a safe and healthy future.

No one, of course, will stand up and say they love pollution.

But you're about to hear elected officials and industry lobbyists talk very loudly about the calamity that will occur if we impose any restriction at all on carbon pollution from power plants.

Learn how you can support carbon limits

Never mind that power plants are the largest source of this pollution, or that they cause major damage to our environment and our health. And don’t worry that up until now, there have been no national limits on them at all.

According to these folks, unless we allow companies to pollute as much as they want, we will face catastrophe.

Pollution is bad – period

The new rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would establish standards for carbon pollution from existing power plants, just as they have standards for soot and mercury and other pollutants. The rule is based on decades of science, and will be proposed under authority granted by Congress through the Clean Air Act.

More importantly, it’s based on two pieces of basic common sense:

  1. When there is no limit on pollution, you get a lot of pollution.
  2. Pollution is bad.

It doesn’t seem to reassure the unlimited pollution crowd that every past effort to reduce air pollution has resulted in a net benefit for our economy as well as for our health. In fact, the benefits of most EPA Clean Air Act rules outweigh the costs by 30 to 1.

But as reliably as a humid summer in Washington, critics of the law will wildly over-estimate the cost of complying with new pollution reduction rules.

The impacts of unlimited pollution are scary, as outlined in two recent scientific reports that outline the situation globallyand in the United States. Kids will have more asthma attacks, storms will be more destructive, drought more severe, and lots of other dangerous problems.

Compare that future to one in which we have reasonable limits on carbon pollution. They won’t solve all of our problems, but they are a significant step forward. The new EPA rule will kick-start a transition to a clean-energy and low-carbon future, which will lead to economic and health benefits for everyone.

So next time someone tells you that limits on carbon emissions are a bad idea, ask if he (or she) thinks unlimited pollution is a responsible policy – and watch the person change the subject in a hurry.

It’s how these conversations usually end.

This blog first appeared on EDF Voices

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Comments closed

The Supreme Court Has Been Clear – EPA Has Authority to Address Carbon Pollution from Power Plants

(This post was written by EDF General Counsel Vickie Patton and EDF Senior Attorney Peter Zalzal)

This upcoming Monday, June 2nd, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will announce proposed standards to reduce harmful, climate-destabilizing carbon pollution from our nation’s fleet of existing fossil fuel fired power plants.

EPA has clear authority to address this harmful pollution, authority that is manifest in our nation’s clean air laws, that has been confirmed time and again by the United States Supreme Court, and that has been recognized even by those who continue to obstruct climate progress in the courts.  And the agency has a responsibility to exercise that authority through science-based actions to address climate pollution in a way that protects public health and welfare.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court held that EPA had clear authority under the Clean Air Act to address Greenhouse Gas emissions:

[b]ecause greenhouse gases fit well within the Act's capacious definition of ‘air pollutant.’

             549 U.S. 497, 532 (2007)

The Court continued:

The Clean Air Act's sweeping definition of “air pollutant” includes “any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical . . . substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air . . . . " § 7602(g) (emphasis added). On its face, the definition embraces all airborne compounds of whatever stripe, and underscores that intent through the repeated use of the word "any." Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons are without a doubt "physical [and] chemical  . . . substance[s] which [are] emitted into . . . the ambient air."  The statute is unambiguous.

             Id. at 528-29 

The Court emphasized that EPA’s responsibility to exercise this authority was grounded in science and the agency’s duty to protect public health and welfare.  In rejecting various policy reasons for inactions, the Court concluded that EPA must move forward with standards if it found climate pollution endangered human health and welfare, noting that:

[T]here is nothing counterintuitive to the notion that EPA can curtail the emission of substances that are putting the global climate out of kilter.

             Id. at 531

In 2011, the Supreme Court directly addressed EPA’s authority to establish carbon pollution standards for existing power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act – the foundational provisions for Monday’s announcement.

In American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, the Court found:

And we think it equally plain that the Act “speaks directly” to emissions of carbon dioxide from the defendants’ plants.

Section 111 of the Act directs the EPA Administrator to list “categories of stationary sources” that “in [her] judgment . . . caus[e], or contribut[e] significantly to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” §7411(b)(1)(A). Once EPA lists a category, the agency must establish standards of performance for emission of pollutants from new or modified sources within that category. §7411(b)(1)(B); see also§7411(a)(2). And, most relevant here, §7411(d) then requires regulation of existing sources within the same category.7 For existing sources, EPA issues emissions guidelines, see 40 C. F. R. §60.22, .23 (2009); in compliance with those guidelines and subject to federal oversight, the States then issue performance standards for stationary sources within their jurisdiction, §7411(d)(1).

             131 S. Ct. 2527, 2537 (2011) 

Our nation’s highest court, then, has twice affirmed EPA’s authority to address climate destabilizing pollution from the power sector.  First, in Massachusetts, by confirming that greenhouse gases fall squarely within the Clean Air Act’s definition of “air pollutant,” and then again in American Electric Power, where the Court found that the Clean Air Act authorizes EPA to address carbon pollution from existing power plants using the precise provision that is basis for EPA’s action this Monday.

EPA’s authority in this area is so unequivocal that, in an oral argument before the Supreme Court in a recent case concerning a distinct, separate climate program, the attorney arguing for industry challengers conceded:

I think most critically, Your Honor, [EPA’s authority] includes the new source performance standards program of Section 111 that this Court discussed in Connecticut v. AEP. And this is a very important point, because this case is not about whether EPA can regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources. This Court held that it could under this program in Section 11 [sic].

            (see Supreme Court transcript page 22).

EPA has determined that six greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride – endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations.  And this determination has been upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court declined to review it – meaning it is firmly the law of the land.

This endangerment determination along with EPA’s manifest authority under the Clean Air Act to address greenhouse gas emissions – twice affirmed by the Supreme Court – form an unshakeable legal foundation for EPA’s action to cut carbon pollution from power plants,  the nation’s single largest source of carbon pollution and one of the largest in the world.

Moving forward swiftly to address climate pollution could not be more urgent to protect the health of our communities and families.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, News| 4 Responses, comments now closed

Why you only get 25% of the electricity you pay for

By Ronny Sandoval

What would you say if I told you that about three-quarters of what you spend on electricity every month is wasted? Considering that Americans spend about $350 billion on electricity annually, I hope you’ll find this as shocking as I do.

From generation to delivery to consumption, inefficiencies at every step of electricity’s journey add up to a lot of waste. Fortunately, these same conditions present us with opportunities to substantially reduce inefficiencies and their associated economic, social, and environmental impacts.

Generation: Energy is wasted at the source

Today, the majority of the electricity produced in the United States originates from fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, these plants are only about 33 percent efficient, and “two-thirds of the energy in the fuel is lost — vented as heat — at most power plants in the United States.”

There are limits to what can be done to address this problem as this loss is largely due to the thermal process of large power plants, since heat is a by-product of this sort of generation and it has to be released somehow.

Some plants, however, achieve higher efficiencies by capturing wasted heat energy and putting it to meaningful work, raising the total efficiency to somewhere within the 60-80 percent (or greater) range.

One example of this kind of technology is combined heat and power, which burns a fossil-fuel like natural gas to make electricity, but reroutes the heat generated as a by-product (often vented out of the chimney stack) back to the customer’s premise and used to heat hot water or a space.

Today, this technology is mostly limited to large buildings or complexes, but it has proven to be very successful in places such as New York City, where these types of structures are prevalent.

Delivery: Energy is lost en route to homes and businesses

Adding to our energy loss, another seven percent of the electricity that’s ultimately generated is later lost in the delivery path to homes and businesses.

Available and emerging technologies show us it doesn’t have to be this way. “Voltage optimization’” technologies and strategies, for example, can lower the amount of energy lost in the delivery process while also reducing the associated environmental impacts.

Consumption: Old appliances, bad habits = a little more waste

Try to think of all the old and inefficient appliances and equipment that use more electricity than is necessary. For example, incandescent (traditional) light bulbs can use four times as much electricity as energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. Most of the energy these traditional bulbs use generates heat, not light.

Similarly, inefficient refrigerators can use 15 percent more electricity (or much more depending on the age) than efficient alternatives.

Now, also think of all the things that are simply left on or running that don’t have to be (lights, computers, TVs, phone chargers, etc.) and you really start to get a picture of the amount of inefficiency based on our ingrained habits of consumption.

Smart solutions

But don’t be discouraged! Abundant and cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities mean we can reduce this waste – and ultimately pollution. By simply improving the way we use energy at home and at work we can realize big energy savings across the whole electricity supply chain.

When an unused appliance is powered off, the electric system doesn’t just save on the energy the appliance would have used, it also avoids all the extra energy (and greenhouse gas emissions) the system would have generated to compensate for its inefficiencies.

Fortunately, more and more solutions (such as “smart’ thermostats” and “smart” power strips) are providing consumers with the tools to automate and maximize energy savings at home.

Commercial buildings can also benefit from these intelligent energy control devices by implementing operating schedules, occupancy sensors, and other forms of building automation to ensure that lighting or heating and cooling systems aren’t running when not needed.

Abundant and cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities mean we can reduce this waste.

Collectively, we can improve this part of the supply chain through an increasing variety of actions – such as using more efficient appliances, energy conservation, and the automation of energy use.

A rare opportunity

I think it’s safe to say that most Americans would like to see more bang for their electricity buck, but the argument for efficiency is not just a financial one. Energy efficiency has the added benefit of protecting our finite natural resources and reducing harmful, greenhouse gas emissions that affect our health.

Much of the inefficiencies in the electric system are a product of decisions made along the supply chain and the policies and incentives that drive them.

The U.S. is expected to spend about $2 trillion over the next two decades to replace our aging, inefficient and polluting energy infrastructure. This presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionize how we make, move, manage, and use electricity.

It's an opportunity we cannot afford to waste, the way we've been wasting so much electricity.

This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| 4 Responses, comments now closed
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