Monthly Archives: February 2013

EDF, Allies Ask Court to Defend Historic Mercury Pollution Rules

The court battle over our historic and life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards has now taken another step forward.

A coalition of  21 states, three cities, 19 medical, environmental, and civil rights organizations, and a number of energy companies filed briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new standards for toxic pollution from power plants.

Last week’s filings are the latest step in a decades-long effort to protect public health from burning coal and oil.

Here’s the history behind the long fight to clean up mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants:

EPA first concluded in 2000 that regulating toxic pollutants, including mercury, from power plants is “appropriate and necessary.”

It was hardly a surprise. Power plants are responsible for half of the mercury pollution, two-thirds of the arsenic emissions, and three quarters of the acid gases emitted in America.

More than a decade of political maneuvering then passed before EPA finally issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in 2012.

The standards limit the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, and other gases that can be spewed into the atmosphere when coal and oil are burned for power.

The standards provide public health benefits that outweigh costs by a factor of nearly nine to one. They also allow flexibility and time needed for the standards to be implemented in an orderly manner.

But in spite of the overwhelming benefits of the standards, and the widespread support for them, some utility interests sued to stop them.

EPA filed briefs in support of its rules at the end of January. The standards’ supporters – including EDF — also joined the effort to protect them in court.

Why are so many different entities willing to fight in court to protect the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards?

Here are some of their reasons, in their own words, from the court briefs.

The health impacts of toxic pollution from power plants are serious. More than 300,000 newborns face the risk of learning disabilities due to prenatal exposure to mercury. These health risks also fall unevenly:

The health damage caused by air toxics is borne disproportionately by communities of color and the poor. Members of these disadvantaged groups are exposed to more hazardous air pollutants than other Americans because they are more likely to live in close proximity to coal-fired power plants. Their health suffers as a result.

Because of the long delay in setting standards at the federal level, many states have set their own limits on mercury from power plants. But states can’t control the air pollution from beyond their borders, as they told the court in their brief:

While many states … have enacted controls on EGU mercury emissions, those controls cannot rein in emissions originating outside our state borders. EGU mercury emissions have continued to pollute our waters, making fish consumption unsafe for pregnant women and children, and making local fish advisories our last option to protect our residents.

We have the technology to limit toxic pollutants from power plants — but not every power plant is using it, as the industry supporters of the rule point out:

Less than two-thirds of EGUs have scrubbers, and fewer still have configured their scrubbers to remove hazardous pollutants … Furthermore, much of the control equipment installed in response to Title IV [Acid Rain Program] and other programs fails to reduce hazardous pollutants reliably because it is not operated consistently.

(You can find more details and read the briefs themselves on our website)

Opponents have argued that EPA provided insufficient process in its nearly 15-year effort to issue the MATS standards.

They also argue that regulation of toxic pollution from power plants isn’t appropriate or necessary.

EPA, EDF, and many other health, economic, and legal experts have strongly rebutted these arguments before – and now, the legal briefs they’ve filed do as well.

America has been hard at work limiting air pollution for more than forty years. We’ve made significant gains, and that progress has paid major benefits in terms of improved health and increased economic development.

EPA’s analysis found that Clean Air Act protections saved an estimated 160,000 lives between 1990 and 2012. By 2020, the economic value of those protections is expected to reach $2 trillion.

Another series of studies — An economic analysis of the benefits and costs of the Clean Air Act 1970 to 1990: Revised report of results and findings — found that U.S. GDP in 2010 was up to 1.5 percent higher because of the health-protective benefits of the Clean Air Act.

Limiting toxic pollution from power plants is one more example of just the type of environmental protection that works in everyone’s interest.

We’ll bring you updates on the court case as it goes forward.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health / Read 1 Response

Capping Pollution from Coast to Coast

(Originally posted earlier today on EDF’s Market Forces blog)

As the second auction in California’s landmark cap and trade program approaches, a coalition of states on the opposite side of the country – that have been cost-effectively reducing their carbon pollution while saving their consumers money – announced plans to strengthen their emission reduction goals.  Last week, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) – the nation’s first cap and trade program which sets a cap on carbon dioxide pollution from the electric power sector in 9 Northeastern states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) – released an updated Model Rule containing a number of improvements to the program, primarily a significantly lower (by 45%) overall cap, realigning it with current emissions levels.

Since the program took effect in 2009, emission reductions in the RGGI region have occurred faster and at lower cost than originally expected.  This has primarily been the result of increased electric generation from natural gas and renewables which have displaced more carbon-intensive sources like coal and oil, as well as investments in energy efficiency that lower overall electricity demand.  These reductions have been accompanied by lower electricity prices in the region (down 10% since the program began) and significant economic benefits:  a study from the Analysis Group estimated that electric consumers would save $1.1 billion on their bills over 10 years from the energy efficiency improvements funded by allowance revenue, and further, that these savings would generate over $1.6 billion in economic benefits for the region.

The new lower cap allows RGGI to secure the reductions already achieved, and push forward towards more ambitious pollution reduction goals.  The changes to the program are the result of a transparent and comprehensive program review process set in motion through RGGI’s original Memorandum of Understanding – a mechanism that is successfully fulfilling its original intention by allowing the states to evaluate results and make critical improvements.

While the changes will go a long way to fortify the program, there is room in the future for the RGGI states to look to California’s strong program design for additional enhancements.  For example, RGGI’s updated Model Rule creates a Cost Containment Reserve (CCR) – a fixed quantity of allowances which are made available for sale if allowance prices exceed predefined “trigger prices”.  A CCR is a smart design feature which provides additional flexibility and cost containment – however, RGGI’s CCR allowances are designed to be additional to the cap, rather than carved out from underneath it as in CA’s program (ensuring the overall emission reduction goals will be met).  California’s program has displayed enormous success already, with a strong showing in their first auction.

In the meantime, the RGGI states should be commended for their success thus far, and for their renewed leadership as they take important steps to strengthen the program.  These states have achieved significant reductions in emissions of heat-trapping pollutants at lower costs than originally projected, all while saving their citizens money and stimulating their economies, transitioning their power sector towards cleaner, safer generation sources, and laying a strong foundation for compliance with the Carbon Pollution Standards for power plants being developed under the Clean Air Act.  Such impressive achievements provide a powerful, concrete example of how to tackle harmful carbon pollution and capture the important co-benefits of doing so.

The bottom line is that cap and trade is alive and well on both coasts as the states continue to lead the charge on tackling climate change in the U.S. while delivering clear economic benefits.

Posted in Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed

New Report: Ambition Is the Key to Reaching Climate Goals

Ambition matters.

We all know this, because America is a nation of strivers — innovative, creative people who understand that ambition and drive can make the difference between success and failure. It’s true in business. It’s true in life.  And it’s true in environmental protection.

Today the World Resources Institute (WRI) released a report that shows how crucial national ambition is when it comes to charting an effective pathway for climate action.

The report — Can the U.S. Get There From Here?is a searching examination of the potential for reducing carbon pollution under existing federal laws and with state leadership.

It finds that, with ambitious action by the federal government and the states to curb carbon pollution, the United States can cut its emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

That hopeful news comes not a moment too soon, because the bad news about climate change is all around us.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently announced that 2012 was the tenth warmest year on record for the planet, continuing the trend of rising global temperatures in which each decade has been hotter than the one before.

In the continental United States, 2012 was the warmest year on record, with the second most extreme weather — record-breaking high temperatures, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, widespread drought, rising corn prices, and grim wildfires. Eleven weather disasters in 2012 carried a greater than $1 billion price tag, with the recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy expected to top $60 billion. And while our cities are flooding, crops are dying, and forests are burning, Congress is fiddling.

So let’s look more closely at WRI’s hopeful news about what we can achieve under existing laws.

The new report finds that progress in four key areas will be essential:

  1. Implementing rigorous federal carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants, transitioning the power sector towards a cleaner, more modern, and more resilient electricity generation system
  2. Eliminating use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, extremely potent heat-trapping gases
  3. Developing comprehensive federal emission standards to stop the methane leaks in oil and gas extraction and transport processes
  4. Improving the energy efficiency of our economy

Leadership by states to cut emissions and invest in clean energy and efficiency will be needed to compliment and amplify action at the federal level.

The analysis also demonstrates that no matter how rigorous our nation is in carrying out existing laws to cut carbon pollution, we will need new legislation to achieve the deeper emission reductions climate science demands by mid-century.

In the meantime, there is much that we can do. Now. And with these actions, we can start to transform our aging energy infrastructure and forge a prosperous clean energy, low-carbon future.

This is my favorite sentence of the report:

[T]he single most important factor influencing emissions reductions is political and policy ambition.

Ambition matters. So let’s be ambitious here, where it matters so very much to our future, our children’s futures, and our planet’s future.

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Partners for Change, Policy, What Others are Saying / Read 1 Response