Climate 411

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

Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act — Cooperative Federalism and Performance-Based Standards

dv067014One year ago this June, President Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop Carbon Pollution Standards for existing power plants — a key component of his Climate Action Plan.

The President charged EPA with launching the effort "through direct engagement with States, as they will play a central role in establishing and implementing standards for existing power plants."

Congress laid the groundwork for this dynamic federal-state collaboration in 1970 when it provided for national environmental performance standards for sectors that are major sources of dangerous air pollution.

Under this program  (Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act) EPA identifies the "best system of emission reduction" available to address dangerous air pollution from existing pollution sources through performance standards, adopted after public notice and comment, called "emission guidelines." 1

EPA quantifies the emission reductions that can be achieved using this "best system" — and that becomes the performance benchmark for state plans which implement and enforce standards of performance for the existing sources of pollution in each state. 2

Congress provided for state plans to be submitted to EPA to evaluate whether the plan provides for emission reductions that are equivalent to or greater than those under the "best system." 3 Congress made clear that states are not required to use the particular system identified by EPA — they have the flexibility to use other systems, tailored to their state, so long as they achieve an equivalent or greater level of pollution reduction.

Under the timeline set out by President Obama, EPA will propose guidelines for emissions from existing power plants at the beginning of June, and finalize them by June 2015.

Consistent with the long-standing implementation timetable under this Clean Air Act program, states will submit their plans to implement and enforce standards by the end of June 2016.

Section 111(d) standards have long been effective in addressing dangerous air pollution from a variety of source categories and can be designed to provide a flexible and cost-effective framework for reducing carbon pollution from power plants.

For decades, section 111(d) has provided the foundation for pollution cuts from major sources of air pollution. Toward the end of the 1970s, EPA and the states put section 111(d) to work, publishing and implementing emission guidelines for fluorides from phosphate fertilizer plants (1977),4 sulfuric acid mist from sulfuric acid plants (1977),5 sulfur from kraft pulp mills (1979),6 and fluoride from primary aluminum plants (1980).7

These emissions guidelines and the state-devised standards implementing them would achieve dramatic reductions of harmful air pollutants, eliminating 75 percent of overall nationwide fluoride emissions from phosphate fertilizer plants,8 almost 80 percent of sulfuric acid emissions from an uncontrolled sulfuric acid plant,9 82 percent of overall nationwide total reduced sulfur from kraft pulp mills,10 and up to 78 percent of fluoride emissions from the primary aluminum industry.11

The pollution from fossil fueled power plants, one of the single largest sources of dangerous air pollution in our nation, has been subject of clean air standards under section 111 since the advent of the modern Clean Air Act in 1970.12 National standards of performance under section 111 have applied to newly constructed power plants and existing plants that are revamped and reconstructed.

The flexibility that the Clean Air Act provides in establishing and implementing standards of performance for existing sources under section 111(d) is well suited for the regulation of carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants.

Congress created a framework under section 111(d) to address pollution from existing power plants that can be flexible and expansive in scope where such a framework could be more effective in addressing emissions.

The statutory language — "best system of emission reduction" — is broad, and not defined in the statute. The ordinary meaning of the word is expansive — "a complex unity formed of many often diverse parts subject to a common plan or serving a common purpose."13 Throughout the Clean Air Act, Congress has used the word "system" to describe innovative, flexible regulatory approaches such as the acid rain emissions cap and allowance trading program, and marketable permits.14

Indeed, the legislative history of the section over the years is consonant with this broad reading of the term "system," especially for section 111(d).

When Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1977, it altered the definition of "standard of performance" as applied to new sources in order to require new sources to deploy the "best technological system" of emission reduction. But, pointedly, it left the corresponding definition for existing sources intact15 and even explicitly confirmed that "systems" of emission reduction for existing sources were "not necessarily technological."16

In 1990, Congress abandoned this special limitation for new sources and reverted to the broad, unified definition of section 111 "standards of performance" for both new and existing sources.17

Thus, EPA can deploy a systemic approach to reducing carbon pollution from power plants, looking beyond each individual source in isolation to find the "best," most cost-effective system for reducing pollution.

It has done so several times before. In the 1995 emission guidelines for municipal waste combustors, EPA authorized states to create averaging and trading programs in reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides.18

In the context of greenhouse gas emissions, which do not have local effects, an averaging approach allows cost-effective emission reduction opportunities to be captured while rigorous overall emission reduction targets are achieved.

Not only may EPA allow averaging of emissions among existing sources as part of the "best system of emission reduction," but it can also consider pollution-reduction measures that are implemented beyond the source and secure reductions in emissions at the source.

For example, in the 1997 emission guidelines for hospital/medical/infectious waste incinerators, EPA required state plans to include waste management plans, where feasible, to eliminate part of the waste stream going to the incinerator that would produce harmful emissions.19 In that context, part of the "best system of emission reduction" involved measures taken well outside of the source’s boundaries that could reduce harmful emissions from the sources.

EPA could take a similar approach to address carbon pollution from existing power plants — as deploying demand side energy efficiency and renewable energy can be some of the most effective means of reducing harmful emissions from existing plants while capturing the greatest co-benefits in cutting utility bills, creating jobs, making state economies less dependent on price fluctuations in fossil fuels, and stimulating local economies.

States have extensive experience in implementing emission guidelines and other system-wide approaches under the Clean Air Act, and are well positioned for developing and implementing plans to address carbon pollution from existing power plants under Section 111(d).

The next two parts of this series will look at the impressive achievements of states and power companies across the country in in cutting carbon pollution through flexible, cost-effective, demonstrated policies that are reducing utilization of high-emitting plants, expanding renewable energy capacity, and improving the efficiency with which we use energy.

Through the dynamic state-federal collaboration provided by section 111(d), the Carbon Pollution Standards for existing power plants will build on this foundation and help us make further progress along the path toward a cleaner, safer energy future.

  1. 40 C.F.R. § 60.22(b)
  2. Id. § 60.24.
  3. Id.; 42 U.S.C. § 7411(a); id. § 7411(d)(2).
  4. Phosphate Fertilizer Plants, Final Guideline Document Availability, 42 Fed. Reg. 12,022 (Mar. 1, 1977).
  5. Emission Guideline for Sulfuric Acid Mist, 42 Fed. Reg. 55,796 (Oct. 18, 1977).
  6. Kraft Pulp Mills; Final Guideline Document; Availability, 44 Fed. Reg. 29,828 (May 22, 1979).
  7. Primary Aluminum Plants; Availability of Final Guideline Document, 45 Fed. Reg. 26,294 (Apr. 17, 1980).
  8. Final Guideline Document: Control of Fluoride Emissions from Existing Phosphate Fertilizer Plants, Doc. No. EPA-450/2-77-005, at 1-7 (Mar. 1977).
  9. Final Guideline Document: Control of Sulfuric Acid Mist Emissions from Existing Sulfuric Acid Production Units, Doc. No. EPA-450/2-77-019, at 8-2 (Sept. 1977).
  10. Kraft Pulping, "Control of TRS Emissions from Existing Mills," Doc. No. EPA-450/2-78-003b, at 1-6 (Mar. 1979).
  11. Primary Aluminum: Guidelines for Control of Fluoride Emissions from Existing Primary Aluminum Plants, Doc. No. EPA-450/2-78-049b, at 125 tbl. 1-7 (Dec. 1979).
  12. Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources, 36 Fed. Reg. 24,876 (Dec. 23, 1971).
  13. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 2322 (1967).
  14. 42 U.S.C. § 7511a(g)(4)(A); id. § 7651b; id. § 7651c.
  15. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977, Pub. L. No. 95-95, § 109(c)(1)(A), 91 Stat. 685, 699-700.
  16. H.R. Rep. No. 95-564, at 129 (1977) (Conf. Rep.).
  17. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-549, § 403(a), 104 Stat. 2399, 2631.
  18. 40 C.F.R § 60.33b(d)(2).
  19. Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources and Emission Guidelines for Existing Sources: Hospital/Medical/Infectious Waste Incinerators, 62 Fed. Reg. 48,348, 48,359 (Sept. 15, 1997) (codified at 40 C.F.R. §§ 60.35e, 60.55c).

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| 1 Response, comments now closed

Soot Pollution Limits Unanimously Upheld in Court, Continuing Clean Air Victory Streak

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) particulate matter (soot) pollution standard, ruling that EPA’s decision to strengthen the standard in 2012 was firmly grounded in science and the law. The ruling also upheld EPA’s new requirement that states install air quality monitors near heavy traffic roads, where soot pollution levels can spike. The court’s decision is the latest in a string of legal victories for critical health protections on air pollution.

When fossil fuels are burned in an automobile or power plant, they release soot pollution, very fine, ashy particles less than one tenth the width of a human hair. These particles are so small that the air can carry them for long distances. When inhaled, soot particles penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can cross into the bloodstream via the path normally taken by inhaled oxygen. Exposure to soot pollution can inflame and alter our blood vessels, cutting off the oxygen supply to our heart and brain, leading to a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiac event.

The Clean Air Act mandates that EPA revisit its standards on criteria air pollutants – like soot – every five years, so that clean air standards can keep pace with the latest understanding of health science. Since EPA established its 2006 soot standard, hundreds of scientific studies have shown that particle pollution could cause adverse health effects—even in cities that met EPA’s established limits. Based on this information, in 2012, EPA strengthened its soot pollution standard to protect public health. Furthermore, EPA called for states to implement roadside air quality monitors to ensure the standards would likewise protect individuals exposed to significant near-road emissions.

The National Association of Manufacturers and the Utility Air Resources group, a coalition of large power companies and coal companies, filed legal challenges to EPA’s new soot standards, arguing that the 2006 standard was sufficient to protect public health. But the science doesn’t lie. In the D.C. Circuit Court’s unanimous decision, Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote:

Here, we can be brief: Petitioners have not identified any way in which EPA jumped the rails of reasonableness in examining the science. EPA offered reasoned explanations for how it approached and weighed the evidence, and why the scientific evidence supported revision of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

EPA was reasonable in their interpretation of the science—the polluting companies, on the other hand, could not present a credible argument against the updated soot pollution standards, or the need for roadside air quality monitors.

This important victory is critical to protect our families and communities from harmful soot pollution, and it is clear that EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act stands up to both legal and scientific scrutiny.

This post was adapted from EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matters Blog

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Health| 3 Responses, comments now closed

The Many Benefits of Reducing Carbon Pollution from Existing Power Plants

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

The newly-released Third National Climate Assessment has some eye-opening news about climate change.

The report confirms that if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced it is likely that American communities will experience:

  • increased severity of dangerous smog and particulate pollution in many regions[1]
  • intensified precipitation events, hurricanes, and storm surges[2]
  • reduced precipitation and runoff in the arid West[3]
  • reduced crop yields and livestock productivity[4]
  • increases in fires, insect pests, and the prevalence of diseases transmitted by food, water, and insects[5]
  • increased risk of illness and death due to extreme heat[6]

Source: Flickr/Eric Schmuttenmaer

Extreme weather imposes a high cost on our communities, our livelihoods, and our lives.  The National Climatic Data Center reports that the United States experienced seven climate disasters that each caused more than a billion dollars of damage in 2013, including the devastating floods in Colorado and extreme droughts in western states.[7]

These are precisely the type of impacts projected to affect American communities with increasing frequency and severity as climate-destabilizing emissions continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.

Fossil fuel-fired power plants are far and away the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, emitting more than two billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012 — equivalent to 40 percent of U.S. carbon pollution and nearly one-third of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.[8]

Yet there are currently no legal limits on the amount of carbon dioxide power plants can release into the atmosphere.

This June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will, at long last, propose Carbon Pollution Standards for existing power plants.

The solutions we need to achieve significant reductions of carbon pollution from our nation’s largest source are at hand — including changes at existing power plants to reduce emissions, shifting utilization towards lower-polluting generation and away from higher-polluting generation, and deploying renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The health-improving, cost-saving, job-creating benefits of these proven techniques should be shouted from the rooftops.

States and power companies are already capitalizing on opportunities to reduce carbon pollution and other health-harming air pollutants by switching to lower-emitting generation.

Look, for example, at Colorado.

The Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed by Governor Bill Ritter in 2010,[9] will significantly improve air quality while ensuring a reliable supply of electricity.

Under the Act, Xcel Energy plans to replace aging, high-emitting coal-fired units in the Denver metro area with lower-emitting resources, including state-of-the-art efficient combined-cycle natural gas plants that can quickly cycle to complement plentiful wind power and energy efficiency.[10] These changes will help Xcel reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its Colorado fleet by 28 percent by 2020 as well as[11] nitrogen oxide emissions by 86 percent, sulfur dioxide emissions by 83 percent, and mercury emissions by 82 percent.

Reducing emissions of these dangerous pollutants will save lives, reduce the number of nonfatal heart attacks, reduce cases of chronic bronchitis and asthma attacks, and avoid hospital admissions and emergency room visits.[12]

Xcel Energy expects that the projects will inject $590 million into the state’s economy and support 1,500 jobs.[13]

Colorado is also leading the way in renewable energy and energy efficiency.  The state’s renewable energy standard (RES) — which was put in place by a ballot initiative in 2004 — now requires investor-owned utilities to supply 30 percent, and municipal utilities and cooperatives to supply 10 percent, of their retail sales with renewable energy by 2020.[14]  Colorado’s energy efficiency resource standard (EERS) sets a goal for investor-owned utilities of 5 percent savings of 2006 peak demand by 2018 through demand-side management programs for their customers.[15]

The RES is expected to avoid 30 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, create more than 30,000 jobs, and generate $4.3 billion in economic output.[16]

As for energy efficiency, in 2013 Xcel's demand-side management plan saved 384.2 gigawatt hours of electricity (exceeding the goal approved by the Public Utilities Commission)[17] and avoided more than 280,000 tons of carbon dioxide and close to 230,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide from electricity generation.[18]

Renewable energy has taken off in recent months and years, replacing higher-emitting sources of energy and creating jobs.  Between 2011 and 2013, wind generation in the United States increased by 40 percent,[19] and in January 2014, the United States had a record month for wind power with generation of nearly 18,000 gigawatt hours.[20]

Xcel Energy recently announced 700 megawatts of new wind energy in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, which it estimates will save customers up to $590 million in fuel costs.[21]  Xcel says it is adding wind capacity “purely on economics and the savings we can deliver to our customers,” as the price of energy from the new facilities will be less than that from the company’s natural gas-fired plants.[22]

Solar power is on the rise as well.  In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost approximately one percent of what they did 35 years ago,[23] and the cost of solar panels fell by 60 percent from 2011 to 2013.[24]  Since 2008, as the cost of a solar module dropped from $3.40 per watt to 80 cents per watt, solar deployment has jumped by about 10 times.[25]  In 2013 alone, solar photovoltaic installations increased by 41 percent, to a record 4.75 gigawatts, outpacing the industry’s own projections.[26]

Utilities and their customers are also seeing the advantages of solar energy. In March 2014, Austin Energy bought 150 megawatts of solar power at a price just below five cents per kilowatt hour — one of the lowest prices for solar yet which will likely lower rates.[27]  And solar produces high-quality jobs, too, with the industry employing about 143,000 Americans at the end of 2013 and surpassing growth expectations for that year.[28]

Along with renewables, energy efficiency will play a key role in reducing carbon pollution while at the same time saving businesses and families money on their energy bills and creating high-paying jobs.

A recent report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy lays out several policies that states could use to meet their carbon-reduction goals, including energy-efficiency targets, building codes, appliance standards, and new combined heat and power systems.[29]  If adopted, in the year 2030 these policies could:

  • reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by about 600 million tons, of sulfure dioxide by about 980,000 tons, and of nitrogen oxides by about 527,000 tons[30]
  • save 925 million megawatt hours of electricity in 2030,[31] avoiding about $48 billion in energy costs[32]
  • and support 611,000 jobs, creating 6.2 million job-years from 2016 to 2030.[33]

Energy efficiency not only offers a cost-effective way to reduce pollution and positively impact the economy, but also improves comfort and health, increases productivity, and cuts utility bills for homes and businesses, savings that can be spent on other goods and services.[34]

Several organizations have outlined approaches to reducing carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act, and their analysis shows that the Carbon Pollution Standards can protect the climate while at the same time reducing emissions of other dangerous air pollutants.  For example, NRDC estimates that its proposal would reduce harmful sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, saving thousands of lives, preventing 17,000 asthma attacks per year, and avoiding more than 1,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions per year.[35]

Similar health benefits would be provided by Clean Air Task Force’s proposed framework, which would avoid 446,000 tons (31 percent) of sulfur dioxide and 402,000 tons of nitrogen oxide (24 percent) emissions relative to the base case by 2020.[36]

And Resources for the Future projects co-benefits from sulfur dioxide reductions ranging from $17 billion to $22 billion in 2010 dollars by 2020.[37]

Moving forward under the President’s Climate Action Plan to address carbon pollution from power plants couldn’t be more urgent.  In addition to the reductions in harmful air pollution discussed above, the National Climate Assessment explains that without abating climate change:

“Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods.

“Other changes are even more dramatic. Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. . . . Hotter and drier weather and earlier snowmelt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage. . . .”

An upcoming blog will take a closer look at climate change and its impacts on public health in the U.S.  First, though, we will highlight some of the many successes states and power companies have had in deploying clean energy and energy efficiency, and explain the legal foundations for Carbon Pollution Standards that build on this experience and support the expansion of clean energy and energy efficiency programs.

These investments will not only cut emissions of carbon and other pollutants, but also provide homegrown energy, create jobs, and cut utility bills for American homes and businesses.  This is the right path forward for our communities, our kids, and our economy.


[1]  U.S. Global Change Research Program, Climate Change Impacts in the United States, at 222 (2014), available at http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/downloads.

[2]  Id. at 37, 42, 45.

[3]  Id. at 465.

[4]  Id. at 152, 157.

[5]  Id. at 223, 225-26.

[6]  Id. at 224.

[7]  National Climatic Data Center, Billion-Dollar U.S. Weather/Climate Disasters 1980-2013 (2014), available at www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events.pdf.

[8] EPA, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2012, at 2-4 tbl. 2-1 (Apr. 2014), available at http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html.

[9] Press Release, Bill Ritter: Colorado’s Governor, Gov. Ritter Signs Historic Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act (Apr. 19, 2010), http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite%3Fc%3DPage&cid%3D1251573927379&p%3D1251573927379&pagename%3DGovRitter%252FGOVRLayout).

[10] Colorado Clean Air – Clean Jobs Plan, Xcel Energy, http://www.xcelenergy.com/Environment/Doing_Our_Part/Clean_Air_Projects/Colorado_Clean_Air_-_Clean_Jobs_Plan (last visited Apr. 11, 2014).

[11] Id.

[12] Answer Testimony of Leland B. Deck, Before the Pub. Utilities Comm’n of Colo., Docket No. 10M-245E (Sept. 17, 2010), available at https://www.dora.state.co.us/pls/efi/EFI_Search_UI.search.

[13] Id.

[14] Renewable Energy Standard, Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=CO24R&re=0&ee=0 (last visited May 3, 2014).

[15] Energy Efficiency Resource Standard,  Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=CO46R&re=0&ee=0 (last visited May 3, 2014).

[16] Jeff Lyng & Tom Plant, Governor’s Energy Office, Colorado’s 30% Renewable Energy Standard:

Policy Design and New Markets, at 10 (Aug. 2010), available at http://cnee.colostate.edu/graphics/uploads/HB10-1001-Colorados-30-percent-Renewable-Energy-Standard.pdf.

[17] Xcel Energy, Demand-Side Management Annual Status Report:

Electric and Natural Gas:

Public Service Company of Colorado, at 2 (Apr. 2014), available at  https://www.xcelenergy.com/staticfiles/xe/Regulatory/Regulatory%20PDFs/CO-DSM/2013-CO-DSM-Annual-Status-Report.pdf.

[18] Id. at 15, tbl. 6.

[19] Energy Info. Admin., Electric Power Monthly, Table 1.1.A (Feb. 2014), available at http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_1_01_a.

[20] Id.

[21] Xcel Energy, New Mexico and Texas Wind Power: We Are Leveraging the Wind, http://www.xcelenergy.com/Environment/Renewable_Energy/Wind/New_Mexico_and_Texas_Wind_Power (last visited May 1, 2014).

[22] Tom Gray, Citing Low Costs, Xcel Energy Plans ‘Significant Increase’ in Wind Purchases, Into the Wind: The AWEA Blog (July 11, 2013), http://aweablog.org/blog/post/citing-low-costs-xcel-energy-plans-significant-increase-in-wind-purchases.

[23] Dep’t of Energy, Revolution Now: The Future Arrives for Four Clean Energy Technologies, at 4 (Sept. 2013), available at http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/09/f2/Revolution%20Now%20–%20The%20Future%20Arrives%20for%20Four%20Clean%20Energy%20Technologies.pdf.

[24] Ian Clover, US Solar Power Costs Fall 60% in Just 18 Months, pv magazine (Sept. 20, 2013), http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/us-solar-power-costs-fall-60-in-just-18-months_100012797/#axzz2qg0NDEBG.

[25] Dep’t of Energy, Revolution Now: The Future Arrives for Four Clean Energy Technologies, at 4-5 (Sept. 2013), available at http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/09/f2/Revolution%20Now%20–%20The%20Future%20Arrives%20for%20Four%20Clean%20Energy%20Technologies.pdf.

[26] Lucy Woods, GTM and SEIA: 41% Growth in US Solar Market for 2013, PVTECH (Mar. 5, 2014), http://www.pv-tech.org/news/gtm_and_seia_41_growth_in_us_solar_market_for_2013.

[27] Eric Wesoff, Cheapest Solar Ever? Austin Energy Buys PV From SunEdison at 5 Cents per Kilowatt-Hour (Mar. 10, 2014), https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Cheapest-Solar-Ever-Austin-Energy-Buys-PV-From-SunEdison-at-5-Cents-Per-Ki.

[28] The Solar Foundation, National Solar Jobs Census 2013, http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/research/national-solar-jobs-census-2013 (last visited May 1, 2014).

[29] American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Change Is in the Air: How States Can Harness Energy Efficiency to Strengthen the Economy and Reduce Pollution, at iv (Apr. 2014), available at http://aceee.org/research-report/e1401.

[30] Id. at 21 tbl. 7.

[31] Id. at 18 tbl. 3.

[32] Id. at 22.

[33] Id.

[34] McKinsey & Company, Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy, at 13-14 (2009), available at http://www.mckinsey.com/client_service/electric_power_and_natural_gas/latest_thinking/unlocking_energy_efficiency_in_the_us_economy.

[35] NRDC, Issue Brief Update: Cleaner and Cheaper: Using the Clean Air Act to Sharply Reduce Carbon Pollution from Existing Power Plants, Delivering Health, Environmental, and Economic Benefits, at 10 (Mar. 2014), available at http://www.nrdc.org/air/pollution-standards/files/pollution-standards-IB-update.pdf.

[36] Bruce Phillips, The NorthBridge Group, Alternative Approaches for Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Existing Power Plants under the Clean Air Act: Practical Pathways to Meaningful Reductions, at 22 (Feb. 2014), available at http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/NorthBridge_111d_Options.pdf.

[37] Dallas Burtraw et al., The Costs and Consequences of Clean Air Act Regulation of CO2 from Power Plants, at 10 tbl. 1 (Jan. 2014), available at http://www.rff.org/RFF/Documents/RFF-DP-14-01.pdf.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

President Obama Goes to Walmart

I never really expected to be sitting in a Walmart in Mountain View, CA listening to President Obama speak about environmental commitments, but I am excited for the momentum he is generating, particularly in the private sector, to support the EPA announcement on carbon limits on June 2nd.

So why Walmart?

The President is making a point. Walmart gets about 25 percent of its global electricity from renewables. In the United States over all, only about 2 percent of power comes from solar sources. In 2005, Walmart set a goal to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy. To date Walmart has 335 renewable energy projects underway or in development across their global portfolio. Having the president hold Walmart up as a role model is a great way to drive other industry leaders to follow suit.

Obama Walmart

This recognition is great news to EDF since we are a key NGO partner to Walmart and have been working with them on environmental solutions since 2005. (See the full EDF – Walmart partnership timeline). In 2008, EDF and Walmart announced a jointly-developed clean energy project to install and assess next generation solar technology at over 30 Walmart facilities. Today Walmart has 250 solar energy systems installed in the U.S. and has a solar energy capacity of 65,000 kW, top of the Solar Energy Industries Association rankings of U.S. companies.

Are industry leaders following suit?

The private and public sector commitments announced today represent more than 850 megawatts of solar deployed – enough to power nearly 130,000 homes – as well as energy efficiency investments that will lower bills for more than 1 billion square feet of buildings. Additionally, the President announced new executive actions that will lead to $2 billion in energy efficiency investments in Federal buildings.

We are especially excited to see companies step up for the President’s Better Buildings Challenge which will improve energy efficiency of more than 1 billion square feet of new floor space by 20 percent by 2020. New to the President’s roster are General Motors (committing 84 million square feet), MGM Resorts (78 million square feet) and Walmart (850 million square feet).

See the complete listing of private and public sector organizations making commitments today for solar deployment and energy efficiency.

Here at EDF, we believe that companies and business leaders must pave the way to a low-carbon and prosperous economy. Today Walmart committed to double the number of onsite solar energy projects at U.S. Stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers by 2020. This is in addition to their goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their global supply chain by 20 million metric tons by the end of 2015.

We think President Obama’s making his announcement at Walmart today was a clear signal to the public and private sector that business needs to step up and publicly commit to ambitious environmental goals. Walmart continues to do this, and we look forward to many other industry leaders following suit.

This blog originally appeared on EDF Biz.

Posted in Energy, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Partners for Change| 3 Responses, comments now closed

Hundreds of Thousands Support Standards to Ensure a Healthy Low-Carbon Future

This is a fact that always stuns people:

There are currently no national limits whatsoever on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants, the single largest source of this pollution in the country.

But last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposal that could change that fact for future power plants.

EPA’s proposal would set America’s first-ever national carbon pollution standards for future power plants – a major victory in the fight against climate change.

The Carbon Pollution Standards for New Power Plants are an absolutely necessary, common sense step toward limiting the pollution emitted through our country’s power generation. These standards will help protect our children from harmful smog, curb respiratory problems, and shield our communities from extreme weather. They will also drive innovation, so that America can continue to lead the world in the race to develop cleaner, safer power technologies and infrastructure.

About 300,000 EDF activists have sent comments to EPA in support of these vital standards.

(The comment period for these proposed standards ends today — but you still have a few hours to comment, if you haven’t yet! You can write a comment here)

The Carbon Pollution Standards for New Power Plants also have the support of millions of other Americans including moms, and members of health groups, environmental groups, power companies, Latino groups, the NAACP, faith groups and many more.

Here are just a few examples of what people have been saying about the proposed standards:

American Academy of Pediatrics

Children represent a particularly vulnerable group that is likely to suffer disproportionately from both direct and indirect adverse health effects related to climate change. … Because of their physical, physiologic, and cognitive immaturity, children are often most vulnerable to adverse health effects from environmental hazards. Environmental hazards may shift as the climate changes, and children are likely to suffer disproportionately from those changes.

The Clean Energy Group

EPA’s proposed rule for new sources provides the industry with a higher degree of business and regulatory certainty. Based on our review of the proposal, recent projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and current market dynamics, we do not anticipate that the proposed greenhouse gas performance standards for new sources, with the recommendations included here, would adversely affect the reliability of the electric system…We agree that EPA has sufficient scientific and legal basis to regulate greenhouse gases from new EGUs under section 111 of the CAA.

U.S. Conference of Mayors

Over 1,000 mayors have signed USCM’s Climate Protection agreement…But local governments alone cannot shoulder the entire burden or responsibility of limiting GHG emissions and protecting the health of our citizens. A national regulatory framework is required to achieve the substantial and absolutely necessary reduction in GHG emissions. Therefore, we commend the U.S. EPA for its efforts in this regard and encourage final promulgation of these CAA rules.

National Latino Coalition on Climate Change and Green Latinos

It is because Latino and other traditionally under-represented communities are so disproportionately impacted by these harmful pollutants that NLCCC must urge the EPA to adopt the strictest possible carbon pollution standards for new power plants that will adequately protect our communities…These rules are essential to protect the health of our members and necessary to guarantee the safety of the air of Hispanic communities nationwide.

Creation Justice Ministers

I am here today to offer our faith community’s response to the rule on new power plants. We view climate change as the moral issue of our time, and feel we have an obligation to reverse the implications of our careless actions. As Christians, we are called to be stewards of the land that was gifted to us and ensure that we leave this planet better for the next generation.

(You can read more quotes on our fact sheet)

These standards are an important part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to control dangerous carbon pollution, pollution we are seeing all too clearly now that is harming our country and world.

The Third National Climate Assessment released a few days ago finds beyond a reasonable scientific doubt that Americans are being affected by climate change, which is directly affected by the increase of emissions of heat-trapping gasses such as carbon.

The NCA says:

Evidence for climate change abounds …The sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming.

The NCA also finds that Americans now experience respiratory illnesses, heart problems, and water-borne diseases as a result of climate change.

The costs of climate inaction are already with us, and threaten to increase for our children and grandchildren. But the Carbon Pollution Standards for New Power Plants are an excellent step towards a brighter future, a more sustainable infrastructure, and a stronger nation.

(EDF's Charlie Martin helped write this post)

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

The way forward to kicking our carbon addiction

Photo credit: Billy Wilson cc

How would you respond to an upsetting medical diagnosis? Probably first with shock and fear, then you’d ask the doctor about realistic treatment options. That’s how it works for an individual, but what about when seven billion people get the bad news at the same time?

That’s what happened yesterday, when the White House released another troubling National Climate Assessment (NCA). It described a condition that’s going to get significantly worse without intervention – with troubling symptoms already apparent.

Now, to be fair, this NCA wasn’t really news in the “I didn’t see that coming” sense. Just like a patient who has been told to stop smoking for years, there has been plenty of warning that our “unfiltered” smokestacks are causing serious damage to our environment and health. Last month, in fact, the International Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth report, and this is the third National Climate Assessment – each making more specific estimates of the climate dangers ahead. And yet, we can’t quit our pack-a-day habit.

The disturbing news is all here: Threats to agriculture from drought, danger for coastal residents and businesses from rising seas, more frequent intense hurricanes, more asthma attacks for kids, the spread of insect borne disease, and much more.

But the good news is that this disease has a cure. In fact, in just about four weeks, the United States is poised to take a very important step towards improving the currently predicted outcome. On June 2, EPA is planning to announce limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants, which are America’s largest source of climate pollution – about a third of the total we produce.

When EPA announces the new standards, what will probably surprise most people is that the agency doesn’t already have limits on this type of pollution. A recent poll indicates that 56% of Americans assume we currently have these protections. That’s an understandable belief since EPA limits most other forms of air pollution, but up to now utilities have been free to put as much of this stuff as they can crank out in our common atmosphere. And all that pollution has a very real cost borne by society.

Of course, as with all other proposed air pollution rules, there will be a small but powerful group who howl in protest. They did it when EPA limited toxic mercury, sulfur, smog and other dangerous pollutants. I’m sure you’ll hear that ending unlimited carbon pollution will wreck our economy and bankrupt us all. But what those people won’t tell you is that studies have shown that every past air pollution rule has actually helped the U.S. economy, with benefits outweighing costs by a substantial margin.

The new rules alone won’t cure climate change. But, along with actions on cars and trucks that have already been announced, they are a substantial first step. These standards will also push utilities to modernize, help grow clean energy jobs, and give a boost to entrepreneurs who are looking for ways to power our economy more cleanly. (EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said the agency is exploring ways to make the rules flexible, allowing states and companies to find innovative ways to meet the standards.)

Cures are never painless, but they’re usually a lot better than the disease. And everyone knows that the sooner you act, the better the outcome. So let’s take yesterday’s diagnosis seriously, and when EPA announces the new carbon standards on June 2, let’s make sure Congress knows we all want a healthy future.

This post first appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Trucks delivering six miles per gallon won't work in the long haul

Here’s something to think about next time you are stuck in traffic next to an 18-wheeler: The average tractor-trailer can travel only six miles per gallon of diesel.

These heavy trucks travel a lot too; averaging more than 120,000 miles a year or 20 roundtrip drives between Boston and San Francisco. Freight trucks are on the road for one primary purpose: to get goods to all of us. In fact 70% of U.S. freight tonnage is moved by tractor-trailer trucks. Over the coming years, demand for freight services is expected to grow even more. And this is driving up fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

A call for strong fuel efficiency standards

But it is possible and affordable for tractor-trailer trucks to get nearly 11mpg by 2025. The Obama Administration can set new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks that cut fuel consumption by 40% compared to 2010 levels. These standards would also apply for heavy-duty work trucks, such as box delivery trucks, bucket trucks, beverage delivery trucks and refuse trucks.

Strong, new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for our nation’s heavy trucks are achievable, cost-effective and critical to cutting greenhouse emissions and fuel consumption – all while we continue to depend on trucks to deliver the goods we need and want. The slideshow below highlights some of the technology available to meet bold standards as well as the significant cost, oil and emissions savings from such standards.

Bold fuel efficiency standards are good for our economy, environment and energy security. One fact that just jumps out at me is this: These standards will cut our oil consumption by 1.4 million barrels a day. That sounds like a big number and it is. It’s a bit higher than the amount of oil we import daily from Saudi Arabia.

They will also be good for trucking fleets too. These trucks will cost $30,000 less to fuel a year.

Strong fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks are an important part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, and EDF will continue to work towards strong standards through our unique combination of industry engagement, regulatory design expertise and technical know-how.

This post first appeared on our EDF Voices blog

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

New report: How climate change is impacting where you live

The National Climate Assessment (NCA) report, prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, is essentially the U.S. equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Using the best available science, over 300 experts synthesized current understanding of observed and future climate changes and impacts, particularly in the U.S. The third ever NCA was released today, and concludes beyond a reasonable scientific doubt that Americans are being affected by climate change.

Among the findings:

  • U.S. average temperatures have increased by 1.3 to 1.9ºF since record-keeping began in 1895, and most of this warming has occurred since 1970
  • Heavy precipitation has increased in many parts of the country
  • Extremes such as heat waves, droughts, floods, and North Atlantic hurricanes are more frequent and/or intense
  • Summer sea ice in the Arctic has halved since record-keeping began in 1979
  • Sea level rise has increased coastal erosion and storm surge damage

These changing conditions produce a variety of tangible stresses on society by affecting human health, water resources, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and natural ecosystems. The particular impacts vary by region, but no corner of the country is immune to the change.

So what’s happening where you live?

Source: National Climate Assessment

Unless we take immediate action to curb our emissions of heat-trapping gases, the foreseeable future will be plagued by further warming and worsening impacts. The good news is that because we know what the cause is, we also know what is needed in order to stabilize our planet. We must come together now—locally, nationally, and internationally—and work towards a better future.

This post first appeared on our EDF Voices blog

Posted in Arctic & Antarctic, Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Oceans, Science| Comments closed
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