Monthly Archives: September 2013

Today’s IPCC Report is A Grim Reminder that We Must Find Solutions to Climate Change

People who are fond of conspiracy theories or enjoy rejecting mainstream science might want to stop reading now. What follows is solid, well-researched science based on mountains of peer-reviewed evidence. You have been warned.

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued their latest report, and the picture they paint is grim.

Hundreds of scientists from countries all over the world assessed the most recent research. The result – they are more certain than ever that climate change is caused by human activity. The report says it is extremely likely that humans are the main cause for our increase in global temperatures since the mid-twentieth century.

More greenhouse gas emissions will lead to more warming, and the consequences will be felt all over the globe.

And the worst part is IPCC’s predictions may have been conservative.

The international organization, which is one of the world’s foremost authorities on climate change, reports:

  • They are 95 percent certain human activity is responsible for the rise in global temperatures from the latter half of the twentieth century to the present.
  • The chances of an extreme heat wave have more than doubled, and heavy rainfall events are expected to intensify and occur more often.
  • Ocean levels may rise by three feet by the end of this century if emissions are not curbed.

That last prediction may sound like a worst-case scenario, but other experts warn sea-level rise could actually be much worse.

As reported in the Washington Post, the Climate Change Commission predicts the oceans may rise as much as six feet by the year 2100, depending on factors such as glacial ice melting. Sea level rise at that level would be catastrophic, especially when considering its impact on storm surges.

As scary as these predictions are, there are reasons for hope. As communities across the United States and the world increasingly face extreme weather events and other consequences of climate change, we are beginning to see our leaders take more action.

Just last week the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first nationwide limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. That’s the latest development in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, a bold mission to take meaningful steps toward a climate change solution.

The release of the IPCC report will no doubt lead climate deniers to spread the usual disinformation. You can find almost anything on the Internet if you Google long enough, but that doesn’t make it true.

Legitimate scientific debate is a good thing — when we stick to facts that are backed by evidence and reviewed by independent experts in the field.  It’s understandable when citizens with busy lives don’t know all the facts on a complex issue like climate change, but there’s no excuse for politicians and talking heads to spread false information. Solving this problem will require a discussion grounded in science, which is why the IPCC report is so valuable.

It’s time to recognize that the billions of tons of carbon pollution we put in our atmosphere every year are causing dangerous changes to our climate — and then work together to find the best solutions.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Science / Comments are closed

Widespread Support for Proposed New Carbon Pollution Limits on Power Plants

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its historic standards to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, helping ensure cleaner power for the future that will help us meet our climate goals.

These proposed standards will serve as the first ever national limit on carbon pollution from the nation’s largest source of emissions.

The reality of climate change has driven broad and diverse constituencies to raise their voices in support of action to reduce carbon pollution. Health groups, power companies, environmental justice groups, Latino groups, businesses, labor, moms, environmental groups, investors, and the NAACP have expressed support for EPA’s carbon pollution standards for new power plants.

Here is a round-up of just a few statements made on last week’s historic announcement:

Addressing carbon pollution will help protect public health. Higher temperatures can enhance the conditions for ozone (smog) formation. Even with the steps that are in place to reduce smog, evidence warns that changes in climate are likely to increase the risk of unhealthy smog levels in the future in large parts of the United States. More smog means more childhood asthma attacks and complications for others with lung disease.

These updated standards to limit carbon pollution from new power plants will help fight climate change; spur our economy to innovate and move to cleaner, renewable sources of energy; and help the American economy become more energy efficient in the years to come. The rules are an important part of President Obama’s comprehensive plan for responding to the threat of climate change that will create and maintain jobs all across the economy.

…Calpine supports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) efforts to regulate GHG emissions as mandated under the Clean Air Act. The newly proposed GHG New Source Performance Standard for new electric generating plants is an important first step in the EPA’s plans to address climate change.

Climate change could add as much as 10% to portfolio-wide risk in the next two decades, putting trillions of dollars of institutional investors’ assets at risk…These new standards will reinforce what forward-looking investors already know: that climate change poses real financial risks and opportunities and that the future of the electric power sector depends on investing in cleaner technologies and more efficient resources – investments that create jobs and economic benefits.

This is another major step forward to protect future generations from deadly pollution… Forty percent of all energy-related emissions of greenhouse gases in 2012 came from power plants, and most of that came from coal-burning power plants. This pollution has the most harmful effect on low-income communities and communities of color.

Generations of Latino ranchers, farmers and farmworkers have played a fundamental role in our agricultural economy… As farmers and ranchers, we have experienced the ravages of climate change first-hand. Droughts and floods have devastated our crops and land, threatening our livelihoods and our ability to continue to provide healthy fruits and vegetables to households across the U.S… The EPA’s announcement today is a first step in combatting the real consequences of climate change that are impacting our communities and we are ready to be a part of the solution.

While we would have preferred that Congress enact legislation limiting greenhouse gas emissions, today’s action by EPA takes an important first step in establishing standards for new electric power plants that will provide certainty for the industry and the framework for Agency action on existing plants.

The new standards will reinforce what forward-looking companies already know: that climate change poses real financial risks and opportunities and that the future of the electric power sector depends on investing in cleaner technologies and more efficient resources – investments that create jobs and economic benefits.

The far-reaching effects of climate change will be felt throughout our society, in our economy and day-to-day lives.

The health impacts of climate change are apparent as temperatures rise. Higher temperatures mean more deadly ozone pollution.

The costs of extreme weather, from Hurricane Sandy to recent flooding in Colorado, provide a glimpse of the threat to human life and the economic costs associated with these events — which are more likely to occur and be worsened by climate change.

It is clear that the human and economic costs of climate change are growing.

Please send a note to EPA supporting these new historic standards.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, What Others are Saying / Comments are closed

New Carbon Pollution Standards Will Protect Health, Drive Innovation

Source: The Guardian

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the nation’s first-ever carbon pollution standards for new power plants this morning—a major victory in the fight against climate change. Right now, there are no limits at all on carbon pollution from power plants, the single largest source of this pollution in the United States.

These standards are a necessary, common sense step that will ensure cleaner power generation that helps protect our children from dangerous smog and 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.

Anticipated direct health consequences of climate change include injury and death from extreme weather events and natural disasters, increase in climate-sensitive infectious disease, increases in air pollution-related illness, and more heat related, potentially fatal, illness. Within all of these categories, children have increased vulnerability compared with other groups.

Scientists warn that the buildup of greenhouse gases and the climate changes caused by it will create conditions, including warmer temperatures, which will increase the risk of unhealthful ambient ozone levels. Higher temperatures can enhance the conditions for ozone formation. Even with the steps that are in place to reduce ozone, evidence warns that changes in climate are likely to increase ozone levels in the future in large parts of the United States.

If physicians want evidence of climate change, they may well find it in their own offices. Patients are presenting with illnesses that once happened only in warmer areas. Chronic conditions are becoming aggravated by more frequent and extended heat waves. Allergy and asthma seasons are getting longer. . . . Rising air and water temperatures and rising ocean levels since the late 1960s have increased the severity of weather, including hurricanes and droughts, and the production of ground-level ozone. That means more asthma and respiratory illnesses, more heat stroke and exhaustion, and exacerbation of chronic conditions such as heart disease.

Cost-effective, low-carbon energy solutions are already helping spur the economy, create good jobs and reduce harmful pollution in red and blue states across the country. Industries are recognizing that these smart power solutions are not only good for people and the environment, but also very good for business.

Many major power companies have recognized the need to address carbon. When these standards were initially proposed, the CEO of PSEG, Ralph Izzo, said, “[t]he Agency’s action establishes a logical and modest standard for new electric power plants and provides the industry with much needed regulatory certainty. The EPA provides a framework for the industry to confront this problem in a cost effective manner.” And the CEO of American Electric Power, Nick Akins, said in June that the new Climate Action Plan can be carried out “without a major impact to customers or the economy.”

Wind topped all new power deployed in 2012, with especially strong growth in Kansas, Texas, Iowa, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota and Oklahoma.  So-called “microgrids”—local generation networks that can run independent of the grid—are unlocking on-site clean power that expands clean energy choices for communities and consumers. And new financing models are driving more efficient use of energy at scale, cutting pollution while saving businesses and families money.

We know we must act now.

The costs of climate inaction are hitting home across the country as extreme weather events batter our communities. From the recent heartbreaking severe floods in Colorado to last year’s devastation from Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast, from crippling drought to terrible wildfires in the West, extreme weather is here and made worse by rising temperatures. The two million Americans who supported the EPA’s initial proposal last year know that doing nothing about climate change is not free. We are paying costs now and will inflict even greater costs on our children and future generations if we do not begin taking aggressive action to reduce carbon emissions.

As Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said earlier this week, “every ton we emit you can check it off against our children and grandchildren.” The naysayers, as always, are out in force and will do everything they can to derail action on climate. Please join Americans across our nation and lend your voice of support during this crucial time. Together with health and environmental groups, businesses, parents and states – red and blue – we can work together to meet this challenge.

Posted in Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Policy / Comments are closed

Setting the Record Straight: EPA Has Ample Authority To Protect us from Carbon Pollution

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

By Megan Ceronsky, Tomas Carbonell and Peter Heisler.

Source: evanbrennan/flickr

Even though they account for 40 percent of U.S. emissions of harmful carbon pollution, fossil fuel-fired power plants are currently subject to no national limits on the amount of such pollution they emit. Drawing on the same Clean Air Act tools it has previously used to regulate other pollutants, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to put in place common-sense standards for carbon pollution from new and existing power plants.

Recently, a group of state attorneys general[1] issued a White Paper challenging EPA’s authority to establish minimum emission performance standards for carbon pollution from existing power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, and to issue rigorous standards for new power plants that are based on advanced technologies such as carbon capture and storage. This attack on EPA’s well-established authority to administer the Clean Air Act is legally unfounded and a misguided attempt to obstruct urgently-needed and long-delayed limits on carbon pollution from our nation’s largest source.


On June 25, 2013, President Obama called on EPA to exercise well-established authority under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act to establish common-sense limits on carbon pollution from both new and existing power plants. A proposed rule that would implement the nation’s first limits on carbon pollution for new plants under Section 111(b) is due to be released for public comment by September 20th. At the same time, EPA has been reaching out to a diverse group of stakeholders—including state policy makers and energy regulators, industry, and the environmental community—to seek input as they begin to develop proposed emission guidelines for existing power plants under Section 111(d). These emission guidelines will set out the environmental performance criteria that state plans to implement Carbon Pollution Standards for existing power plants must meet to satisfy the Clean Air Act.

EPA’s authority to establish environmental performance criteria for state plans under Section 111(d) is firmly grounded in the statute and no longer open to legal attack.

The argument that Section 111(d) authorizes EPA to issue only procedural requirements for state plans to implement emission standards for existing pollution sources is not new; it revives an industry interpretation of the Act that EPA considered and rejected in 1975, when the Agency first undertook a rulemaking to implement Section 111(d). There, EPA carefully analyzed the language, purpose and legislative history of Section 111(d),[2] and concluded that all of these authorities supported its responsibility to ensure that states plans meet environmental performance targets.  The Agency has consistently adhered to this interpretation for almost 40 years while putting in place Section 111(d) emission guidelines for a number of major sources of harmful air pollution including municipal solid waste landfills, municipal waste combustors, and sulfuric acid plants.[3]  EPA’s authority to issue environmental performance requirements for state plans is no longer open to question or legal attack.[4]

EPA’s longstanding interpretation of Section 111(d) as providing for EPA to establish substantive criteria for state plans is firmly anchored in the statutory language and the structure of Section 111.  The White Paper’s assertion that States select the “best system of emission reduction” misreads the plain language of section 111(a)(1) of the statute, which specifically directs the EPA Administrator to identify the most effective (“best”) system of emission reduction that has been “adequately demonstrated,” considering cost, effects on energy, and other environmental effects.  The Act further provides that the standards of performance for existing sources must “reflect[] the degree of emission limitation achievable” under that best system.[5]

Under Section 111(d), EPA is directed to review state plans to determine whether or not the plans are “satisfactory.”  EPA’s assessment during this review is based on whether the state plans meet the statutory criteria of establishing a “standard for emissions” that “reflects the degree of emission limitation achievable” under the “best system of emission reduction” that “the Administrator determines has been adequately demonstrated.”[6]  The emission guidelines issued by EPA lay out the information States will need to establish plans and standards of performance that will satisfy the statutory criteria, identifying the “best system of emission reduction” and the emission reductions achievable through application of that system. Although states have the flexibility to use other systems, they must achieve equal or greater emission reductions as the “best” system would achieve.  Section 111(d) sets up a carefully balanced framework of cooperative federalism, in which EPA establishes emission guidelines and works with states to achieve emission reductions consistent with those guidelines.  As the Supreme Court recently explained, States issue Section 111(d) standards “in compliance with [EPA] guidelines and subject to federal oversight.”[7]

Section 111(d)’s direction that EPA put in place a process like that in Section 110 for the submittal and review of state plans likewise confirms EPA’s role in setting emission reduction performance requirements.  Under Section 110, States submit state implementation plans to achieve National Ambient Air Quality Standards for specified pollutants.  The safe level of ambient pollution is an expert, science-based determination made by EPA, and the efficacy of state plans in achieving that safe level of air quality is the critical basis for EPA review and approval of state implementation plans.[8]  EPA’s long-standing role under Section 111(d) in establishing the environmental performance criteria for state plans parallels the structure of Section 110, consistent with the statutory cross-reference to that provision.  And under both of these provisions, States are granted considerable flexibility to determine how best to meet those criteria.[9]

EPA has broad flexibility in assessing systems of emission reduction, including cutting-edge technologies that Section 111 was designed to stimulate.

The White Paper asserts that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not yet widely deployed and that it therefore cannot be the “best system of emission reduction” for new coal-fired power plants.  But as the Senate committee that voted on Section 111 stated, Section 111 was designed to promote “constant improvement in techniques for preventing and controlling emissions from stationary sources,[10] and an emerging technology used as the basis for standards of performance need not “be in actual routine use somewhere.”[11]  In the 1970’s, Section 111 standards for sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants played a key role in driving the development and deployment of flue gas “scrubbers” — which was a novel technology installed at only three power plants at the time those standards were established.[12]  Projects such as Southern Company’s Plant Barry, Plant Daniel, and Kemper County facilities,[13] as well as AEP’s Mountaineer plant,[14]  have shown that CCS is a viable control technology in the power sector.  Indeed, the core technologies involved in CCS have been applied in other industries for decades.

Furthermore, contrary to the assertions of the White Paper, a “best system of emission reduction” for new power plants need not be identical to that for existing power plants – and EPA has flexibility to consider a variety of “systems,” not just technological end-of-pipe solutions, in crafting emission guidelines under section 111(d).   Although EPA was at one time limited to considering “technological” systems when setting standards for new sources, Congress has consistently used broad, flexible language in describing systems of emission reduction for existing sources.  It is consistent with this flexible language for EPA to consider cost-effective systems that reflect the unified nature of the electric grid by treating all fossil fuel fired power plants as an interconnected group, averaging emissions across plants, and recognizing changes in plant utilization that reduce emissions.  These strategies are not only valid “systems of emission reduction” under Section 111, they are also “adequately demonstrated” by the tremendous success that states and companies across the country have already shown in reducing carbon pollution through investing in low-carbon generation, harvesting demand-side energy efficiency, and utilizing lower-emitting fossil fuel-fired units.


We agree with the attorneys general that the States have a vital role in achieving emissions reductions under Section 111.  So does the Environmental Protection Agency.  Indeed, the leadership of both EPA and the states will be essential in cutting carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel power plants, EPA in establishing protective emission reduction requirements for carbon pollution and the States in deploying innovative solutions to secure these emission reductions.  EPA’s fulfillment of its long-overdue statutory responsibilities will establish the foundation for a vibrant partnership between EPA and the states, consistent with the Clean Air Act’s time-tested model of cooperative federalism, to finally place limits on the carbon pollution emitted by power plants and support the transition to cleaner, safer power for our nation, our states and our communities.

[1] The group included the Attorneys General from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin and the Commissioner from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

[2] 40 Fed. Reg. 55,340, 53,342-44 (Nov. 17, 1975).

[3] See Final Guideline Document Availability, 42 Fed. Reg.  12,022 (Mar. 1, 1977) (phosphate fertilizer plants); Emission Guideline for Sulfuric Acid Mist, 42 Fed. Reg. 55,796 (Oct. 18, 1977) (sulfuric acid plants); Kraft Pulp Mills, Final Guideline Document, Notice of Availability, 44 Fed. Reg. 29,828 (May 22, 1979) (kraft pulp mills); Primary Aluminum Plants, Availability of Final Guideline Document, 45 Fed. Reg. 26,294 (Apr. 17, 1980) (primary aluminum reduction plants); Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources and Guidelines for Control of Existing Sources: Municipal Solid Waste Landfills, 61 Fed. Reg. 9,905 (Mar. 12, 1996) (municipal solid waste landfills);  Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources and Emission Guidelines for Existing Sources: Municipal Waste Combustors, 56 Fed. Reg. 5523 (Feb. 11, 1991) (Municipal Waste Combustors); 60 Fed. Reg. 65,387 (Dec. 19, 1995) (same); Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources and Emission Guidelines for Existing Sources: Hospital/Medical/Infectious Waste Incinerators, 62 Fed. Reg. 48,348 (Sept. 15, 1997) (Hospital/Medical/Infectious Waste Incinerators); Emission Guidelines for Existing Small Municipal Waste Combustion Units, 65 Fed. Reg. 76,378 (Dec. 6, 2000); Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources and Emission Guidelines for Existing Sources: Commercial and Industrial Solid Waste Incineration Units, 65 Fed. Reg. 75,338 (Dec. 1, 2000); Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources and Emission Guidelines for Existing Sources: Other Solid Waste Incineration Units, 70 Fed. Reg. 74,870 (Dec. 16, 2005); Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources and Emission Guidelines for Existing Sources: Sewage Sludge Incineration Units, 76 Fed. Reg. 15,372 (Mar. 21, 2011)

[4] See 42 U.S.C. § 7607(b) (barring challenges to Clean Air Act rulemakings more than 60 days after promulgation).

[5] Section 111(d) further provides that States are allowed to consider “remaining useful life” when applying performance standards to particular sources, but delegates to EPA the authority for delineating its consideration.

[6] 42 U.S.C. §§ 7411(d), 7411(a)(1).

[7] Am. Elec. Power Co. v. Connecticut, 131 S. Ct. 2527, 2537 (2011).

[8] 42 U.S.C. § 7410(k)(3).  Section 110 requires, inter alia, State plans to provide for “implementation, maintenance, and enforcement of” National Ambient Air Quality Standards, § 7410(a)(1), the use of emissions monitoring equipment as prescribed by EPA, § 7410(a)(2)(F), and any air quality monitoring requirements prescribed by EPA, § 7410(a)(2)(k).

[9] Section 116 of the Clean Air Act, which prohibits the States from adopting emission standards less stringent than those established under Section 111, further reinforces EPA’s central role in establishing substantive standards under Section 111(d).

[10] S. Rep. No. 91-1196, at 17 (1970).

[11] Id. at 16.  The D.C. Circuit has confirmed the appropriate role of section 111 standards in deploying innovative technologies on multiple occasions.  In Sierra Club v. Costle, 657 F.2d 298, 364 (D.C. Cir. 1981), the court stated: “[W]e believe EPA does have authority to hold the industry to a standard of improved design and operational advances, so long as there is substantial evidence that such improvements are feasible.”  In Portland Cement Association v. Ruckelshaus, 486 F.2d 375, 391 (D.C. Cir. 1973), the court “reject[ed] the suggestion of the cement manufacturers that the [Clean Air] Act’s requirement that emission limitations be ‘adequately demonstrated’ necessarily implies that any cement plant now in existence be able to meet the proposed standards.”   Indeed, the D.C. Circuit has explained that as EPA fulfills its innovation-forcing mandate, the Agency should be forward-looking when determining what systems of emission reduction are available: “Section 111 looks toward what may fairly be projected for the regulated future, rather than the state of the art at present.”[11]  To this end, EPA may make a reasonable “projection based on existing technology”[11] in identifying the “best system of emission reduction.”

[12] See Larry Parker & James E. McCarthy, Cong. Research Serv., R40585, Climate Change: Potential Regulation of Stationary Greenhouse Gas Sources Under the Clean Air Act 17-19 (2009) (noting Section 111 has been used to authorize control regimes that extended beyond the merely commercially available to those technologies that have only been demonstrated, and thus are considered by many to have been “technology-forcing.”).

[13] Southern Company Q2 Earnings Call (July 27, 2011), transcript available at

[14] American Electric Power Q2 2011 Earnings Call (July 29, 2011), transcript available at (AEP’s former CEO stated in this call that “carbon capture and storage is in fact a viable technology for the United States and quite honestly for the rest of the world going forward.”).

Posted in Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed