Climate 411

Clean Power Plan Litigation: An End Run around the Clean Air Act and the Democratic Process

This Thursday, April 16, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument in three related cases — West Virginia v. EPA (No. 14-1146) and In re Murray Energy Corporation (No. 14-1112, 14-1151)involving challenges to EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which will establish the nation’s first limits on carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants.

EDF is a party to the cases, and will be in court on Thursday.

These cases have attracted media attention in large part because these are the first legal challenges to a high-profile national rulemaking that will establish critical public health protections for the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases.

But these cases are also drawing notice because they involve highly unorthodox attempts to stop an ongoing rulemaking process. EPA is still considering more than four million public comments received between June and December 2014 on its proposed standards, and the Agency is not expected to issue a final rule until this summer.

From a legal perspective, the petitioners’ case is fatally flawed on both procedural and substantive grounds.

Turning first to the procedural issues:

The timing of these legal challenges blatantly disregards the most basic principles of federal administrative law.

Although the three petitions before the D.C. Circuit have different procedural postures, all of them seek to block or overturn EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards. But under federal administrative law, standards developed by agencies such as EPA must go through a transparent and participatory process in which proposed standards are published, the public has an opportunity to comment on those standards, and agencies then issue final standards that respond to those comments. Both the Clean Air Act and the Administrative Procedure Act clearly provide that legal challenges can only be filed after this process is complete, and the agency has taken final action.

This long-standing rule against premature legal challenges serves a number of compelling purposes:

  • It prevents parties from doing an “end run” around the public comment process.
  • It gives administrative agencies the opportunity to ensure that final rules are firmly grounded in law and fact.
  • It ensures that reviewing courts have before them the agency’s full and definitive decisions and analyses.
  • It protects courts and agencies from wasting valuable time litigating proposals that may change as a result of public comments.

Those purposes clearly apply here. EPA is months away from taking final action on the Clean Power Plan — and is still weighing millions of public comments filed on almost every aspect of the proposed rule, including the same legal issues raised by the D.C. Circuit petitioners (who have simultaneously filed voluminous comments with EPA making the very arguments they are making in court).

The petitioners attempt to short-circuit this careful, deliberative rulemaking process is radical and would – if successful – open the door to endless litigation over agency proposals. Petitioners have pointed to no case in which the D.C. Circuit or any other federal court has ever entertained such an anticipatory challenge to an administrative rulemaking. Indeed, in the last two years, the federal courts have twice dismissed similar lawsuits that were filed against EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants — Las Brisas Energy Center LLC v. EPA, 12-1248 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 13, 2012) and Nebraska v. EPA, No. 4:14-CV-3006 (D. Neb. Oct. 6, 2014). On procedural grounds alone, the petitioners’ case should similarly be dismissed.

The petitioners’ substantive claim — that EPA is prohibited from regulating carbon dioxide from the power sector under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act — is equally unfounded.

Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act requires EPA to regulate harmful pollution from existing sources, where that pollution is not regulated under other provisions of the Clean Air Act relating to national ambient air quality standards (sections 108-110) and hazardous air pollutants (section 112). For more than forty years, section 111(d) has been understood to serve a vital gap-filling role in the Clean Air Act – ensuring the protection of human health and welfare from harmful air pollution that is not addressed under other key Clean Air Act programs.

Because carbon dioxide from the power sector is not regulated under section 108 or 112, EPA has logically proposed that it must be regulated under section 111(d). This conclusion not only follows from a long-standing interpretation of section 111(d), it also is consistent with the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in American Electric Power v. Connecticut – which stated that section 111(d) “speaks directly” to the problem of carbon pollution from existing power plants, and held that EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution under section 111(d) displaces federal common law.

Indeed, attorneys for some of the nation’s largest power companies specifically supported this interpretation at oral argument before the Supreme Court, and urged the “comprehensive” coverage of the Clean Air Act, including section 111(d)’s applicability to carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, as a reason why federal courts should not recognize a non-statutory remedy for power plant carbon pollution under the federal common law.

The petitioners nonetheless contend that EPA is categorically forbidden from regulating carbon dioxide from the power sector under section 111(d) because EPA has already issued standards for different pollutants (mercury, other toxic metals, and acid gases) from the power sector under a different section of the Clean Air Act.

As EPA explained in its brief in West Virginia, this theory amounts to a “pick your poison” approach to the Clean Air Act – arbitrarily limiting EPA to regulating either pollutants like mercury under section 112 or pollutants like carbon dioxide under section 111(d) for any given source, but not both.

Such a result would be completely out of step with the Clean Air Act, which consistently recognizes that different air pollutants pose different risks to the public, so that controlling one pollutant from a source does not eliminate the need to control other pollutants. The petitioners’ theory would radically alter the structure of the Clean Air Act, transforming what is now a seamless regulatory framework into one with potential gaping loopholes.

Neither the text nor the structure and history of the Clean Air Act support these claims. The petitioners’ theory rests entirely on a strained interpretation of a technical amendment to section 111(d) that the House of Representatives passed as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. But as EPA and other parties describe in more detail in their briefs to the DC Circuit, the text of the House amendment has multiple interpretations – and is most reasonably read to support the traditional “gap-filling” role of section 111(d) and EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide from the power sector.

Moreover, the petitioners call on the court to disregard a contemporaneous Senate amendment to section 111(d) that — as even they admit — unambiguously preserves EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution.

The Senate amendment, like its House counterpart, was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. It is the law of the land and cannot simply be read out of the Clean Air Act.

The petitioners’ theory also represents bad statutory interpretation because it would dramatically change the structure of the Clean Air Act in a way that Congress could never have intended – making it difficult or even impossible for EPA to protect the public from harmful pollutants from the dozens of industrial source categories whose emissions of hazardous air pollutants are regulated under section 112. In all of the extensive debate, committee reports, and other legislative history that led up to the enactment of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, there is not a shred of evidence that Congress intended to create loopholes in section 111(d) as the petitioners claim.

Faced with this reality, the petitioners insist – without any supporting evidence — that Congress wanted to avoid “double regulation” of source categories under sections 111(d) and 112. But it is not “double regulation” for EPA to regulate different health-harming pollutants from the same source category under different provisions of the Clean Air Act. In fact, the Clean Air Act has always permitted and even required such regulation. Many facilities in the power sector, for example, are currently regulated under multiple Clean Air Act programs addressing different air pollution problems that are associated with a variety of adverse health effects.

Further, the 1990 amendments include a provision stating that standards under section 112 must not be “interpreted, construed or applied to diminish or replace” more stringent requirements under section 111. This is a strong indication that Congress intended for section 112 to work seamlessly with, not displace, section 111(d).

EPA’s proposed interpretation of section 111(d) also has a long and bipartisan history – further supporting the reasonableness of the agency’s view and underscoring the bizarre and opportunistic nature of the petitioners’ theories.

As documented in a compelling brief filed by NYU’s Institute for Policy Integrity, EPA has adopted the view that section 111(d) applies to any pollutant not regulated under section 112 or section 108 in multiple rulemakings since 1990 — not just in the Obama Administration, but also the George W. Bush Administration, the Clinton Administration, and the Administration of George H.W. Bush, who actually signed the 1990 amendments.

Ultimately, the petitioner’s flimsy substantive claims only underscore the wisdom of the procedural bar against premature challenges to agency proposed rules.

EPA undoubtedly possesses the authority to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. That's good news for the families and communities that are afflicted by mercury and carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants — the nation's single largest source of both health-harming contaminants.

Congress did not intend for our children to have to "pick their poisons," but instead created a seamless framework – which Republican and Democratic administrations alike have long carried out — to safeguard our health and our children's health from all harmful air pollution.

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

Let There Be No Doubt: We Can Cut Truck Emissions & Fuel Use Today

(This post originally appeared on our EDF+Business blog)

The can-do spirit of American automotive engineers has been on full display over the past few weeks, as truck manufacturers unveil innovation after innovation to boost the efficiency of heavy trucks that move companies' freight cross-country.

It is crystal clear that we possess— today— the know-how to dramatically cut fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from heavy trucks. Moreover, we can do this while saving consumers hundreds of dollars annually and giving trucking companies the high-quality, affordable equipment they require.

DTNA Super Truck HighSome of the recently-announced advances include:

All of these fuel-saving solutions are available today thanks to the acumen of engineers at these leading manufacturers. The first round of well-designed federal fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards are also driving innovations like these to the market.

Even so, the strides we are making today should only be the beginning.

Daimler's Super Truck Doubles Efficiency

The team at Daimler Trucks North America provided the best example yet of our future potential with its entry in the Department of Energy Super Truck program. DTNA announced its team has “achieved 115 percent freight efficiency improvement, surpassing the Department of Energy program’s goal of 50 percent improvement.” Its truck registered 12.2 mpg recently – a leap above the 6 MPG typical of pre-2014 trucks.

Improvements where made across the platform, including electrified auxiliaries, controlled power steering and air systems, active aerodynamics, a long-haul hybrid system, and trailer solar panels. Engine efficiency advancements were particularly noteworthy – given the permanence of such solutions.  The Detroit Diesel engine reported a 50.2 percent engine brake thermal efficiency which was combined with further improvements from engine downspeeding and the use of a waste-heat recovery system.

Daimler’s fantastic results demonstrate that – when given a goal anchored in science, economics and innovation – our engineers can deliver phenomenal results.    Daimler should now lead the way in driving these solutions to national and global scale.

Setting the Bar Higher on Fuel Efficiency and Emissions

The time has come to give our engineers a new goal.

EDF is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation to set new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks that cut fuel consumption by 40 percent in 2025 compared to 2010.  This equates to an average of 10.7 mpg for new tractor-trailer trucks.

President Obama has called for new standards. These are expected to be announced late spring and were sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review this past week.

The first generation standards have created a strong, industry-supported foundation on which the coming standards can be built. These standards push improvements in all aspects of trucks through complementary engine and vehicle standards.  In fact, Daimler – a leading manufacturer of heavy trucks with the engineering prowess to set the high bar of 12.2 mpg for the Super Truck program – has recognized these standards as “very good examples of regulations that work well.”

We Have The Technology

Let there be no doubt that if we set a bold goal for 2025 we will meet it:

Setting a bold goal will help us take these technologies from the test track to the highway over the next decade, helping companies reduce both their costs and carbon risks, while delivering benefits for communities' air quality and the climate.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments are closed

Half a Million People across America Support Stronger Protections against Smog Pollution

Our friends at Moms Clean Air Force dropping off their smog comments at EPA

The comment period has now closed for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to strengthen our national health-based smog standards, and we know one thing already:

Support for cleaning up our air has been tremendous and far-reaching.

More than half a million people from across our nation sent comments urging EPA to strengthen America’s health-based smog protections. And we’re so grateful to our dedicated members and activists for helping EDF collect more than 130,000 of those comments.

EDF strongly supports strengthening our public health standards for ground-level ozone—more commonly known as smog.

Smog contributes to a variety of health problems, including increased risk for asthma attacks, long-term lung damage, other heart and lung diseases, and even premature death. The most susceptible groups are young children and elderly adults.

But it isn’t just EDF – and it isn’t only environmental organizations — calling for cleaner air.

Leading medical associations, states, moms, and environmental justice organizations have highlighted the challenges their constituencies face from this pollution — and have voiced their support for tighter smog protections.

Here are just a few examples:

WE ACT for Environmental Justice said improved smog standards are urgently needed to protect the children in Harlem afflicted by smog pollution:

According to the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in 2012, children aged 0 to 4 in the Harlem [sic] visited the emergency room 280 times because of asthma. There is no doubt that children in Northern Manhattan are suffering disproportionately from asthma, which is exacerbated by the formation of Ozone and other social stressors.

Mom’s Clean Air Force also weighed in:

Parents have a right to know the truth about whether the air is safe to breathe… Smog standards that reflect current science will protect children from harmful air pollution.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said smog standards must be improved for the sake of children:

Simply put, children are different. They breathe faster. They spend more time outdoors, playing and being physically active. These combined differences mean that, at a given concentration of air pollution, children will be exposed to a higher dose. But their lungs are not fully developed until about 18 years of age. Children are thus at greatest risk from air pollution, because their increased physical activity, plus greater time spent outdoors, means that they are exposed to a higher dose of air pollutants.

In a 2014 joint letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget, Attorneys General  from New York, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Rhode Island all expressed support for strengthening our nation’s smog standards, stating that smog pollution has been a persistent problem for their states:

The States [listed above] have been battling ozone pollution (smog) for decades… Although we have made strides to reduce smog levels that harm public health in areas such as New York City and that harm our natural resources in areas such as the Adirondacks, smog remains a persistent threat. Much of this pollution is generated in upwind states and carried by prevailing winds into our States.

Dozens of organizations, including EDF, submitted a letter urging EPA to issue strong standards:

EPA must protect the health of children, people with asthma and other lung diseases, older Americans and other sensitive and vulnerable populations.

The American Lung Association and the March of Dimes wrote an op-ed for CNN that discussed the serious health issues at stake and voiced support for strengthened smog standards:

Over the past several years, a number of studies have indicated a likely link between higher levels of maternal ozone exposure and poor health outcomes in infants, including changes in lung structure and function, low birth weight and neuro-behavioral abnormalities. Many of these health effects can be expected to have lifelong consequences… ​Strengthening the ozone standard to reflect the best current science will help save lives and protect our families, including pregnant women and their babies.

This broad support for stronger smog standards shows how much is at stake for all of us.

Our nation has proven time and again that, by working together, we can achieve pollution reductions in a cost-effective manner. Strengthening these life-saving standards now will help us continue, and build on, progress made in the past that has provided healthier and longer lives for millions of Americans.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

Vote-a-Rama Reveals Senators’ Environmental Agenda

It’s been a big news day in the U.S. Senate, with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid announcing he won’t run for another term.

But that's not the only news.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

Courtesy: Wikipedia

We have had our eyes on the Senate’s marathon “Vote-a-Rama” budget process that wrapped up around three-thirty this morning.

A number of environmental and energy votes came and went in a flurry of two-minute debates. While the votes mean little in terms of law (the budget bill doesn’t even go to the president for signature), Senators on both sides of the aisle brought up measures as trial balloons to find out where Senators stand on issues that could resurface when Congress takes up other legislation in the future.

Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, polluter lobbyists were hard at work and Senators filed dozens of amendments attacking the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, and other environmental measures.

Others fought back with their own amendments calling for more — not less — action to protect our environment and health.

Incredibly, many of these quick attacks on the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other bedrock measures were supported by a majority of Senators. This despite overwhelming public support — across party lines — for environmental laws, standards, and enforcement to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the planet we leave our kids.

Only a handful of the environmental amendments that were filed were actually voted on. But expect more attacks this year and next.

The most dangerous attack was launched by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has made it a top priority to undermine EPA’s Clean Power Plan and give electric utilities a free pass on smokestack carbon pollution. His attack on the Clean Power Plan passed on a vote of 57-43.

(You can see the votes on the McConnell amendment #836 here. “Nay” is the pro-environment vote.)

Nevertheless, there are some positive takeaways.

Our pick for the most promising development was a climate amendment from Sen. Michael Bennet. The amendment promotes “national security, economic growth, and public health by addressing human-induced climate change through increased use of clean energy, energy efficiency, and reductions in carbon pollution.”

The Bennet amendment #1014 passed by a vote of 53-47, with all Democrats and seven Republicans supporting it — Sens. Ayotte, Collins, Graham, Heller, Murkowski, Kirk and Portman. (You can see how any Senator voted by clicking here. “Yea” is a pro-environment vote.)

Another positive takeaway — not all is lost with the Clean Power Plan or other actions EPA and President Obama are taking on climate. To the contrary, most environmental attacks require 60 votes to pass, not 40, in the Senate. So the 43 Senators who stood up to McConnell’s effort can be sufficient to beat back similar legislation or amendments down the road.

But clearly the margin is too thin, and it’s up to all of us to let our Senators know that we are paying attention and that we oppose these sneak attacks on America’s environmental and climate laws and rules.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Climate Change Legislation, News, Policy| Comments are closed

EDF and Many Others Defend the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards at the Supreme Court

Source: Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On Wednesday (March 25th) EDF and a large group of allies will be at the U.S. Supreme Court as the Justices hear oral arguments on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

EDF has been helping defend these life-saving standards since they were first challenged ­– and upheld – in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Why is EDF fighting for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards?

Because they will save lives and protect our families and communities from the harmful effects of toxic air pollutants (including mercury, arsenic, and acid gases) emitted by the single largest source of such pollution in the U.S.: coal-fired power plants.

If you want to get all the legal details, you can read EDF’s brief – and all the other briefs in the case – on our website.

If not, here are two things you should know – points that jumped out at me from reading the many briefs filed in this case in support of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards:

  • By significantly reducing toxic air pollution from its single largest source, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will help ensure that the air we breathe and the fish we eat are cleaner and safer.
  • These pollution reductions absolutely can be achieved. In fact, most of the power sector has already installed pollution control technology to comply with the standards.

This is an incredibly important case for public health. One sign of that is the unusually large number of groups who have submitted briefs in support of these life-saving clean air protections.

In addition to EDF, a broad coalition of states, cities, power companies, medical associations, and clean air advocates are parties to the case in support of the EPA.

And that doesn’t include many more leading experts and affected organizations that have filed amicus curiae briefs.

For those who don’t speak Latin, amicus curiae means “friend of the court.”

A Supreme Court case is not a popularity contest, and the Justices focus first and foremost on the facts and applicable law. But their consideration of a case is often helped when interested citizens or organizations file “friend of the court” briefs. These briefs can offer insights on important technical or scientific issues, show how a particular community might be affected by the Court’s decision, or provide differing perspectives than those offered by the parties to the case.

Fortunately, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have many “friends.”

They include: the American Thoracic Society (a group of more than 15,000 physicians, research scientists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals); leading pollution control experts; the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU Law School; the Constitutional Accountability Center; the Union of Concerned Scientists; companies that manufacture technology for reducing air toxics from power plants; the National Congress of American Indians and a coalition of tribes and inter-tribal fish commissions; and a coalition of preeminent public health scientists led by Dr. Lynn Goldman, Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

Here’s a small sample of what these friends of the court have to say about the health effects of mercury and other air toxics from power plants:

Power plants emit acid gas, metals including mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, nickel, and chromium, and particulate matter that can penetrate deep into human lungs. All humans are susceptible to adverse health effects from these emissions, but pregnant women, fetuses, infants, children, elderly people, and people with preexisting health conditions are especially vulnerable.

(Amicus brief of American Thoracic Society at pages 2 and 3)

[I]t is reasonable to believe that any reductions in exposure that can be achieved will have benefits across the population. Even at low exposure levels, methylmercury can lead to reductions in IQ for developing children.  These deficits in IQ may not be clinically apparent in individual children, but on a population level they have cumulative impacts with large public health and economic consequences.

(Amicus brief of Health Scientists, Dr. Lynn Goldman, et al. at page 13)

The emissions harm Indian health, putting tribal members at unusually high risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune deficiencies, and other adverse health effects from methylmercury exposure. In addition, mercury emissions harm Indian culture, threatening longstanding traditions of fishing and fish consumption that are central to many tribes’ cultural identity. Finally, mercury emissions harm Indian subsistence, contaminating food sources that many tribal members depend on for survival.

(Amicus brief of National Congress of American Indians, et al. at page 4)

And here’s what other friends of the court say about the feasibility of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and its implications for the power sector:

The experience of the states that have implemented mercury rules demonstrates that control of mercury emissions is possible with available technology and can be accomplished on a cost-effective basis and without compromising reliability. . . . [N]early 70 percent of total coal-fired capacity was either in compliance with the MATS or already had plans in place to achieve compliance at the end of 2012.

(Amicus brief of Experts in Air Pollution Control at page 32 and 34)

[Overturning MATS] would penalize those who responsibly sought to comply with the impending Rule and might be unable to recover their expenses for doing so, and would reward those who dragged their heels at the expense of public health.

(Amicus brief of Emission Control Companies at page 23)

This is a tremendous show of support for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards from a broad and compelling group of leading experts and affected organizations.

In fact, this case is so important and involves so many parties that the Supreme Court has extended the usual amount of time allowed for argument. On Wednesday, the lawyers – including U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli for EPA – will have 90 minutes to argue the case, instead of the usual hour.

We at EDF are proud to stand with EPA, with all our allies, and with the many “friends of the court” to present a forceful case for cleaner, healthier air to the nation’s highest court.

Posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Health, News, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

Carbon Pollution Standards that Begin by 2020: Vital for Climate Security, Human Health

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hard at work right now on the Clean Power Plan – the first ever national carbon pollution standards for power plants.

Among the many important aspects of this historic plan, we believe this: It is critical that EPA finalize carbon pollution standards for the power sector that include protective, well-designed standards beginning in 2020. 

Power plants account for almost 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, making them the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the nation and one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the world.

The Clean Power Plan will be finalized this summer. When fully implemented, it is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector to 30 percent below 2005 levels. That makes these eminently achievable and cost-effective standards integral to climate security, human health and prosperity.

The Clean Power Plan will phase in over a 15-year period, with interim standards commencing in 2020, and final standards taking effect in 2030 – and there is strong reason to believe that the interim standards covering the period 2020 to 2029 should be strengthened in the final rule.

Interim standards can help the U.S. secure near-term low-cost opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while generating the market signals necessary to achieve the deeper reductions required in the years ahead. They also can deliver important public health benefits for our families by providing healthier and longer lives for millions of Americans. And EPA has designed the interim standards in a manner that provides considerable flexibility to states and power companies to comply while deploying their own unique solutions.

Carbon Pollution Limits that Begin by 2020 are Essential for Driving Near-term Actions to Reduce Dangerous Emissions and to Advance Climate Security

As proposed, the Clean Power Plan’s interim standards could deliver cumulative emissions reductions of more than 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That approaches the total annual carbon dioxide emissions for the entire United States. Protective interim standards that require states and power companies to take near-term action to reduce carbon pollution are essential to secure these climate benefits.

Interim standards are essential for mobilizing the full range of near-term cost-effective opportunities to cut pollution, as they are the only way to ensure that investments in activities that reduce carbon pollution are fully recognized and properly rewarded. This is true whether the investments are new renewable generation, customer-friendly demand side energy efficiency programs, or other low-carbon solutions.

As the cost of clean energy decreases and the heavy burden of carbon pollution increases, a near-term limit on carbon emissions helps ensure these vital solutions are deployed without delay.

Interim standards can also help drive sustained investments in one especially important area – energy efficiency. Investments in energy efficiency can lead to direct financial benefits for customers – families and businesses alike – in the form of lower electric bills.

23 states are already implementing mandatory efficiency savings targets. These efforts have been overwhelmingly successful, regularly delivering two dollars of savings to customers for every one dollar invested – and in some cases up to five dollars for every one dollar invested.

Even in those states that have been implementing these programs for a while, there is little reason to believe that they have come anywhere close to exhausting the available potential. For example, analysis by McKinsey & Company found that implementing only those efficiency measures that pay for themselves would reduce the country’s total end-use energy consumption by 23 percent by 2020 relative to a business-as-usual scenario.

Analysis by the National Academy of Sciences found that the building sector could reduce energy consumption by 25 to 30 percent between 2030 and 2035, at a cost of just 2.7 cents per kilowatt hour saved. In addition, they found that cost-effective measures could reduce industrial demand 14 to 22 percent by 2020.

For all these reasons, electricity bills are actually expected to decrease as a result of efficiency investments power companies and states make to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

Near-Term Reductions are Essential to Ensure Healthier, Longer Lives for Millions of Americans

The interim emission standards are expected to drive significant near-term public health benefits across America.

In 2020 the proposed standards are expected to prevent:

  • Up to 4,300 premature deaths
  • Up to 100,000 asthma attacks in children
  • Up to 2,100 heart attacks
  • Up to 1,500 hospital admissions
  • Up to 290,000 missed school and work days

Even greater benefits are anticipated in later years.

That’s because power plants are major sources of emissions for a range of pollutants that contribute to ground-level ozone, better known as smog, and dangerous particulate pollution, better known as soot. Power plants are also a major source of emissions for pollutants that have neurotoxic or carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects.

Power plants account for about 70 percent of U.S. total sulfur dioxide emissions and 46 percent of mercury emissions, and are important sources of nitrogen oxides. Steps taken to reduce carbon pollution under the Clean Power Plan will have the co-benefit of reducing emissions of these and other harmful air pollutants.

EPA estimates that these human health benefits outweigh the costs of compliance by a factor of seven to one.

Each year they are in effect, these important safeguards provide healthier and longer lives for Americans.

Protective Interim Standards are Flexible and Achievable

The goals of the Clean Power Plan are eminently achievable, as they are based on proven and cost-effective methods for reducing carbon pollution that many states and power companies are already demonstrating.

In addition, the Clean Power Plan provides an extraordinarily flexible structure in which states are able to craft their own path forward for reducing carbon pollution, so long as they meet the 10-year average interim target over the period 2020-2029 and then achieve the final reduction target in 2030. This flexibility provides states with the opportunity to harness their own unique opportunities and solutions in light of their own policy preferences.

When evaluating the feasibility of the standards, it is important to consider how quickly the nation’s grid is already decarbonizing. Emissions of carbon pollution from the power sector fell 15 percent from 2005 to 2014. As proposed, the Clean Power Plan only requires them to fall another 15 percent by 2030. Analysis by EIA suggests that the U.S. could cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector about four times faster.

Here’s more evidence that the grid is decarbonizing at a considerably faster rate than what is required by EPA – in the five year period from 2007 to 2012, the Northeastern states reduced their carbon dioxide emissions from large power plants by 37 percent to 42 percent below 2005 levels. The reductions were due to a wide range of factors, including the adoption of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, shifting natural gas prices, and efficiency investments. That demonstrates the dynamic flexibility and adaptability of which the grid is capable.

This is all happening in the context of a continuously evolving and decarbonizing electric system. Since 2000, the U.S. has installed roughly 30 gigawatts of new generation capacity per year, the vast majority of which was natural gas and renewables. According to EIA, more than 20 gigawatts of utility scale renewables, natural gas, and nuclear generation are already scheduled to come online in 2015, almost half of which is wind.

Meanwhile, we continue to build new infrastructure – which can help unlock even greater opportunities.

For example, according to the Department of Energy, during the last several years more than 2,300 circuit miles of new transmission additions were constructed annually. According to FERC, there are almost 10,000 miles of proposed new transmission projects in various stages of development that have a “high probability of completion” by January 2017.

Protective interim standards will align our nation’s major investments in new infrastructure with climate security – providing lasting protections and smart investments.

Interim Standards Can Help Promote Investments that Drive Even Deeper Reductions in the Years Ahead 

The cost of zero carbon generation is rapidly falling. Wind and solar are cheaper than coal – and even natural gas in a growing number of markets.

Renewable prices are expected to continue their meteoric decline. The price for photovoltaic modules has fallen 80 percent since 2007, and wind prices have fallen 64 percent since 2009.

As a result, the solar industry is expecting to build another 20 gigawatts of new generation over the next two years alone. That’s roughly equivalent to the generation of 13 mid-sized coal plants. (The average capacity factor for new utility scale solar array is around 20 percent, while the average monthly capacity factor for the coal fleet was 61 percent in 2014.)

While EPA’s building blocks assume only modest growth in renewable generation over the next 15 years, recent shifts in price dynamics suggest that the actual market opportunity could be considerable. For this opportunity to materialize, however, power companies and investors need a clear signal about the value of reducing carbon pollution from the power sector.

Providing the clear investment signal beginning in 2020 can shape the broader range of infrastructure investments expected in the coming years, and ensure that they are consistent with the low carbon future we will need if we are to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

That broader range of infrastructure investments includes the vast miles of electric transmission and natural gas pipelines that are expected to be built in the coming years, as well as investment decisions in today’s generation fleet. More than 30 percent of coal plants are 50 years old, and approximately one in four plants do not contain controls for sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides.

In total, utilities appear poised to invest up to $2 trillion in new generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure between 2010 and 2030 in order to modernize aging generating facilities and grid systems. Any delay in establishing carbon pollution standards for the power sector increases the uncertainty and increases the risk that investments could become stranded in the future.

All of this suggests that well-designed interim standards are both achievable and essential. If anything, the standards should be strengthened given the urgency of the climate challenge, the scale of change we have seen in the power sector to date, and the significant public health and economic benefits the standards can provide.

We have an opportunity as a nation to take advantage of the fact that the economics of power generation are rapidly changing. The best way for both companies and states to position themselves for a competitive advantage in the future is to think long-term and to get on the leading edge of these emerging trends. Otherwise, there is a risk of reinvesting in assets that will be left behind by a changing market, leaving shareholders and ratepayers on the hook.

The Clean Power Plan presents a real opportunity. Let’s all work together to strengthen the program, and work to deliver a vibrant low-carbon economy for the United States.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health| Read 1 Response
  • About this blog

    Expert to expert commentary on the science, law and economics of climate change.

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Categories

  • Meet The Bloggers