Climate 411

A Great Day for Clean Air: Court Upholds EPA Actions to Reduce Climate Pollution

Today is a great day for climate progress in America.

Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a unanimous, strong and clear opinion affirming the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) historic measures to reduce harmful climate pollution. 

The court’s opinion held that EPA’s climate protections are firmly rooted in science and the law, and grounded in more than 18,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications.  

The court didn’t mince words. The decision says:

EPA’s interpretation of the governing CAA provisions is unambiguously correct.

Even sharper was this part of the decision, in which the court noted that EPA properly relied on comprehensive scientific assessments by authorities such as the National Academies of Science and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: 

This is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.

(Read more on EDF’s website, in our press release and our highlights page, and in our Texas Clean Air Matters blog)

But even in the wake of a compelling court opinion, some continue to focus on the politics of delay, deny and obstruct.  

Responding to the court’s decision, a representative of the National Association of Manufacturers indicated today that it will continue to invest in lawyers and lobbyists to block clean air progress, telling AP:

[w]e will be considering all of our legal options when it comes to halting these devastating regulations.

Fortunately, there are many more who are investing in America’s future. Business leaders, numerous states, and policy makers are working together to reduce harmful carbon pollution. 

America’s automakers defended EPA’s common sense measures to make our cars more efficient, which will save families’ hard-earned money at the gas pump, help break our addiction to imported oil, and reduce climate pollution.

In filings in federal court, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers have characterized these important standards as:

valid, mandated by law, and non-controversial.

Similarly, a dozen states – California, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – have intervened in defense of EPA’s clean car standards. 

And small business voices spoke out today in support of EPA’s clean air measures, saying these measures:

are strongly supported by small business owners because they will boost their bottom lines and help secure our nation’s position in the emerging clean energy economy. 

The court’s decision today reaffirms that a strong, diverse set of voices stand ready to work together, building from the bedrock foundation of this historic decision to reduce climate pollution and build a stronger America.

Our EDF experts are poring through all 82 pages of the decision. Stay tuned for more in-depth analysis about what it means, and where we go next.

But for right now, we should all take a moment to celebrate this great news.

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

EPA’s Historic Proposal to Limit Carbon Pollution from Power Plants

Today we are making history. 

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first-ever nationwide emission standards to limit dangerous carbon pollution from new coal- and gas-burning power plants. 

Today we take the first critically important step towards addressing the climate-destabilizing pollution emitted by power plants. 

Today we take a vital step towards protecting Americans’ health and strengthening our economy.

With these standards and EPA’s landmark clean car standards, we’re beginning to address the clear and present danger of carbon pollution from the two largest emission sources in our nation.

Power plants are responsible for 40 percent of the carbon pollution emitted in America. U.S. power plants are one of the largest sources of carbon pollution in the world. 

Power plants are responsible for 40% of carbon pollution emitted in the U.S.

We have the technology and the know-how to change this.

The carbon pollution emission standards proposed by EPA today would halve the carbon emissions from a new coal-fired power plant over its lifetime. 

These standards will help further the progress we are making towards a cleaner, more secure future for energy in America. We will use our nation’s electricity resources more efficiently to cut energy costs for families and businesses, mobilize Made in the USA technologies and fuels for cleaner energy generation, and ensure that America will lead the global race to a clean energy economy.

States, communities and businesses across our nation are already leading the way:

  • 29 states have adopted policies to expand reliance on cost-effective clean energy resources.
  • States including Washington, Montana, Oregon, Minnesota, New York and California have adopted (or are now putting in place) limits on dangerous carbon pollution from fossil-fueled power plants.
  • A McKinsey & Company report found that we could meet our nation’s growing electricity needs by using existing resources more wisely — and could cut energy costs for American families and businesses at the same time.
  • Innovative businesses like Solar City are creating new solutions and technologies to deliver cleaner, safer energy. Solar City, founded in 2006, is installing solar systems that lower utility bills with no upfront investment by the customer. Solar City has 20,000 projects in 14 states that are either completed or underway– including a one billion dollar project to put solar systems on military housing.
  • Hundreds of U.S. companies are capitalizing on new, multibillion-dollar market opportunities to make our electric grid as smart, flexible, and innovative as the internet — enabling a wholesale shirt to clean, community-based energy resources.

There are also fundamental shifts in the energy market that are driving a change in our electricity supply.

Much has been written about the structural market shift to natural gas, which has been enabled by new drilling technologies. Some have tried to deny this market shift and claim that EPA’s clean air protections are stopping new coal plants, but the truth is that basic economics — low natural gas prices— are driving these decisions.  But don’t take our word for it. Check out these quotes.

  • Jim Rogers is the CEO of Duke Energy, which provides electricity to the Carolinas, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. He told the National Journal:

The new climate rule is in line with market forces anyway. We’re not going to build any coal plants in any event. You’re going to choose to build gas plants every time, regardless of what the rule is.

  • Thomas Fanning, CEO of Southern Company, recently told investors on an earnings call on January 25, 2012:

Four years ago…we were about 70% of our energy from coal and about, I don’t know, 16% from nuclear, about 12% from gas and the balance from hydro.  In the fourth quarter — this was really surprising to me, maybe not surprising considering how cheap gas is now – our energy production was 40% coal, 39% gas. … Now moving forward, given where gas prices are, we will continue to see much more gas production.

Inexpensive natural gas is the biggest threat to coal. Nothing else even comes close.

The immense natural gas resources recently made commercially accessible in the United States must be developed responsibly if we are to protect our water and ecosystems, and prevent wasteful leakage that will undermine the carbon pollution advantages of natural gas.  But America can meet this urgent challenge.

We also know how to harness the power of the wind, the sun, and geothermal resources. By making the energy foundation of our economy cleaner and more diverse, we will improve our national security, improve public health, and protect our climate.  Today we took a big step down that road.

The stakes are high.

Climate impacts are already affecting American communities, and scientists tell us that the impacts will intensify as atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions rise.

The United States Global Change Research Program has determined that if carbon pollution emissions are not reduced, it is likely that American communities will experience increasingly severe impacts, including:

  • Rising levels of dangerous smog in cities — which will lead to an increased risk of respiratory infections, more asthma attacks, and more premature deaths
  • Increased risk of illness and death due to extreme heat
  • More intense hurricanes and storm surges
  • Increased frequency and severity of flooding
  • Increases in insect pests and in the prevalence of diseases transmitted by food, water and insects
  • Reduced precipitation and runoff in the arid West
  • Reduced crop yields and livestock productivity
  • More wildfires and increasingly frequent and severe droughts in some regions

I mentioned earlier that American states, communities and businesses are already taking steps to address these threats. Starting today, they don’t have to do it alone. With today’s announcement, our entire country will fight the widespread and varied threats we face from climate change.

I think EPA deserves a standing ovation for that.  

Please join me in supporting EPA’s efforts to protect our families, our communities, and our economy from these threats. 

The resistance to these standards by entrenched fossil fuel-dependent industries will likely be fierce, but together our voices can move these vitally important policies forward. 

Posted in Clean Air Act, Economics, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy / Read 1 Response

State of the Union Address: A Nation “Built to Last” on Clean Energy

President Obama delivered his State of the Union Address last night, and energy issues played a starring role in the speech.

 Here are some of the comments that caught my attention:

 The President drew some firm lines in the sand.

The address was a strong defense of the importance of clean energy to America’s long-term economic prosperity. The President said:

 “I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.”

In the speech, the President called for Congress to pass a clean energy standard and extend clean energy tax credits, while ending a century of tax subsidies for oil companies. 

The President again rejected the false choice between a clean environment and jobs.

He said:

“We don’t have to choose between the environment and our economy.”

His description of the remarkable comeback of American vehicle manufacturers, which are rapidly innovating to meet aggressive fuel economy standards, proved his point.

A mixed bag on natural gas.

On natural gas, the President committed to full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing on federal lands.

 But — he missed an opportunity to lay out the bargain that must be struck.

We can help revolutionize America’s energy picture with our newly abundant supplies of gas, but to do so responsibly, we must get the environmental rules right to protect our air, land and water wherever “fracking” wells are drilled. 

Getting the environmental rules right means disclosure of the chemicals used in drilling. It also means reasonable standards to ensure high-integrity well design, safe water and chemical management, and methane gas containment to prevent additional harm to our climate.

With those kinds of safeguards in place, gas can reduce our environmental problems instead of increasing them.

The blueprint for action already exists in the recommendations of the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board. They must be swiftly implemented.

Standing by new mercury standards

The President ended 2011 with historic action to reduce mercury in our air, water, and food. 

As you probably remember, EDF was a strong advocate for those groundbreaking new standards.

Last night, the President stood by his action, declaring:

“I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury poisoning, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean.”

Last night’s speech wasn’t the only time President Obama has talked about a clean energy future recently.

Earlier this month, he spoke to EPA staff and told them:

“We don’t have to choose between dirty air and dirty water or a growing economy. We can make sure that we are doing right by our environment, and, in fact, putting people back to work all across America.

He’s right about that, but make no mistake — in the weeks and months ahead, there will still be efforts in Washington to block efforts to change the environmentally-destructive and irresponsible course on which the nation, and the world, are bound.  

We at EDF will continue working to remind our lawmakers, and all Americans, that the science of climate change is clear and so are the economics. 

The fact is that we can build a more sustainable future using market-based approaches that preserve public health and the environment while creating new businesses and new jobs for American workers.

Posted in News, Policy / Read 1 Response

New Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Will Protect Children and Save Lives

This is one of the best weeks I’ve had in a long time.

Right on the heels of today’s landmark court decision upholding European laws to reduce airplane pollution, we got another historic moment for the environment and public health.

Today, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson unveiled the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which will place our country’s first-ever national limits on mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

Every decade or so, the United States takes a giant step forward on the road to cleaner, healthier air. Getting the lead out of gasoline was one. Reducing acid rain was another.

Today’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, 21 years in the making, are a new giant step forward.

Power plants are responsible for half of all manmade mercury emissions, as well as 75 percent of acid gases, and 60 percent of arsenic.

Mercury exposure can cause brain damage in infants, and can affect children’s ability to walk, talk, read and learn. Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of babies are born each year with potentially unsafe levels of mercury in their blood.

Many of the other toxic pollutants also controlled by the new rules — such as chromium, arsenic, dioxin and acid gases — are known or probable carcinogens and can attack the brain, lungs, liver, and kidneys.

Cost-effective and tested technology solutions are available to reduce mercury pollution and other toxic air contaminants from power plants by more than 90 percent. Many states have already led the way in adopting policies to control mercury emissions, helping to drive investment in technology solutions, but this is the first time we’ll have a national standard.

According to EPA, the new rules will:

  • Prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths each year
  • Prevent up to 4,700 heart attacks each year
  • Prevent up to 130,000 asthma attacks each year
  • Prevent up to 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits each year
  • Prevent up to 540,000 missed work or school days each year

The rules will also provide employment for thousands. The updating of older power plants with modern air pollution control technology will support:

  • 46,000 new short-term construction jobs
  • 8,000 long-term utility jobs

The value of the air quality improvements for human health alone will be as much as $90 billion each year.

I can’t overstate the importance of these new standards. We should all thank President Obama, Administrator Jackson, and everyone at EPA for protecting our air – and our health.

This is the perfect holiday gift for America.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Jobs, News, Policy / Comments are closed

House Votes for TRAIN Act – and Against Cleaner, Healthier Air

Today was an exceptionally bad day in the history of environmental legislation.

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401) by a vote of 249 to 169.

The TRAIN Act is a sweeping anti-clean air bill that blocks many critical public health safeguards. Among its worst offenses is that it indefinitely delays two important and long-awaited air pollution standards – the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

The TRAIN Act would delay those two standards until 2018 at the earliest, and cost about 125,000 American lives.

And as I mentioned earlier, the delay could be indefinite.

This was no less than a fight about the integrity of the Clean Air Act, and clean air lost.

The air pollution standards in question would reduce the amount of smog, soot, mercury and acid gases that are in the air we all breathe.

Opponents of these common-sense rules make the patently false argument that we can’t have both clean air and a strong economy. Actually, analysis has shown that the economic benefits of enforcing the Clean Air Act outweigh the costs 30 to 1. The same protections that the TRAIN Act strips have been widely supported by responsible corporations. Companies across the country are eagerly waiting to supply the equipment to achieve these new clean air goals – and create jobs in the process — while utilities are sitting on billions in cash that could be put to work

But today, the House showed that it has bought the false argument that we need to choose between protecting lives and creating jobs. House members made a stark choice, and put pollution over children’s health.

Some of the House members voting against healthy air today may really believe the misleading notion that public health protections kill jobs. But many are old enough to know better – because they voted in favor of these same common-sense environmental rules two decades ago. And they saw that smart regulations cut pollution ahead of schedule and at a fraction of the estimated cost – and create jobs in the process. Yet these same members are now voting against the successful regulations they championed in 1990.

Now it is up to the Senate to stop this destructive bill. Hopefully, our Senators will understand that clean air saves American lives.

But just in case, you should call your Senators and remind them how much clean air means to you.

Posted in Clean Air Act, News, Policy / Read 2 Responses

The New Path Forward on Climate Change

This was originally posted on the Huffington Post.

Every major reform in our nation’s history has suffered defeats on the path to victory. From free trade to civil rights, setbacks have been a part of progress. But ultimate victory comes to those who learn from their defeats and press forward with new determination and perseverance.

The failure of the United States Senate to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation this year was a serious setback for America, and for the world. The continuing cascade of scientific evidence shows that we are dangerously changing our climate, and the urgent need to act remains. So what do we do?

Our view is that we must be much more aggressive in pursuing pollution reductions under existing law, through America’s never-ending ability to innovate, and through partnerships with companies that can transform the marketplace. There are many companies making real change, and we intend to work with them.

However, we have well-financed enemies in this fight, and it is time to sharpen the nation’s focus on the businesses that obstruct vital progress.

For EDF, that means our historic interest in cooperation over confrontation will be recalibrated. We will always negotiate where possible, and we will continue to look for collaborative opportunities and flexible solutions. That is who we are, and we will continue to pursue those goals.

But there are companies that continue to choose short-term profits over public health, and who feel they are better off opposing progress. These companies have friends in the Congress, and they believe they will have more political leverage against the Environmental Protection Agency as the balance of power shifts in Washington next year.

Meanwhile, they are already marching into the courts to challenge virtually every breath EPA takes in this area. Our view is that the public and the investor community need to have far greater awareness of the companies engaged in indiscriminate obstructionism. We will look for ways to hold them accountable through every reasonable lever at our disposal. We will learn to be as tough with them as they have been with us.

We are evaluating everything from engaging more actively in corporate governance — the annual meeting of shareholders and outreach to boards of directors — to more active involvement in state Public Utility Commissions where the rubber meets the road on the scope of pollution — or pollution reductions — associated with major capital investments. And we are looking at a variety of ways to involve the public more actively in a conversation about who the big emitters are, where they operate, and what steps they are taking to reduce their pollution.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and we would rather spend our time working on smart policy and win-win solutions. But we have no choice. We cannot allow the efforts of a few powerful companies to block necessary progress for the rest of us.

At the same time, we must accept the reality that climate change has a political problem. For too many people, opposing a solution to climate change has become a political and ideological dogma. As long as many in Congress feel required to oppose any measure in this area, we will not succeed.

If we are going to de-carbonize our economy, we have to de-polarize the politics surrounding the conversation. It is worth remembering that no major environmental law has ever passed without substantial bipartisan support. This has always been the case — but the incoming Congress is a fresh reminder that bipartisanship must be the foundation of future progress.

In short, while being more aggressive and vigorously fighting to achieve critical emissions reductions, we — the environmental community — must be more open. Our response to this political problem must be to engage more widely and listen more carefully, not dismiss or belittle those with whom we disagree.

We will have to reach out to new partners, make new allies, and engage new constituencies. We have done so with a large part of the business community, and we will learn to do so with others.

We cannot expect that the public will support change without understanding the reasons for it. But we cannot browbeat our way to a broader understanding of the science behind climate change and the benefits of taking action. We need to start with the real problems people face in America today – from jobs and energy security to clean air and water — and work with them to find answers to those problems and the common challenge that faces all of us.

Fortunately, even in this difficult year, there is a path emerging that will allow us to begin to solve climate change, and there is a foundation upon which to build.

Within the last year, a controversial and overly complex but important climate bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives and received serious consideration among a number of Senate offices. Even where substantive disagreements remained, a new and significant understanding of policy issues and solutions was achieved — which is essential to move forward.

More broadly, public support for action on climate change, energy security, and clean energy remains strong. Just last month, in the largest public referendum on environmental policy, millions in California voted to keep the state’s landmark climate law on the books, saying that clean energy jobs are a path forward through a difficult economic climate. Californians rejected polluter-funded attempts to overturn the law by a 22 percent margin despite 12 percent unemployment in the state.

Meanwhile, the level of business support for meaningful climate and energy policy has reached new heights. A number of cities, states and regions across the country remain committed to moving forward. Plans for 130 new coal burning power plants have been canceled. The Administration moved forward with national greenhouse gas standards for vehicles, and talks are beginning for the next phase in 2016.

In order to continue to make progress, a new openness to different solutions will be essential. For our part — long standing advocates of a cap and trade approach — we need to accept that whether policies are cap and trade or something else is less important than whether they collectively provide a clear guarantee that emissions go down. More broadly, every entity looking for solutions to climate change will need to embrace flexibility and creativity in their policy approaches.

We will be guided by three principles as we work toward our pollution reduction goal:

  • We will judge ideas and policies by their potential to produce results. Performance is what matters.
  • Our approaches should be cost effective. This will lead to maximum pollution reduction returns for our investments and broader and durable public support.
  • We will involve as many sources of pollution, and methods for reducing and absorbing pollution, as possible.

How do we actually achieve the goal? National pollution limits established by Congress are still necessary for long term success, but in the short term we can take steps that move us in the same direction.

Our first priority must be to defend the pollution limits already in law, at the federal and state level. EPA has the responsibility under existing law to protect us from pollution, including the carbon emissions that cause global warming. It has done so thoughtfully over the years when regulating other air pollutants, and it can do so here. In fact, there may be no greater governmental success story than the Clean Air Act. We must encourage our neighbors in cities and in the countryside, to understand and protect the benefits of that law to our economy and our health, which have outweighed costs by more than 30 to 1; and to tell the stories of avoided premature deaths and childhood asthma attacks, and the shroud of smog lifted from our cities.

As with every pollution limit ever proposed, there will be some who will work to block, weaken, or delay any rules EPA tries to put on paper. We will fight them at every turn, making their full agenda clear to the American public: they seek not only to allow unlimited carbon pollution, but to derail limits on toxic mercury, lethal particulates, and other harmful contaminants in our air. We must remind America that obstructionists are attacking the fundamental public health protections of a bipartisan law that has stood for 40 years.

At the same time, we will encourage forward-thinking utilities and other businesses to reduce their pollution, and work with them to do so. And we will work on policies and programs that will allow for improved efficiency in the ways that we use and distribute energy — work that will save money as well as energy, and making our overall economy more competitive. Many businesses have already seen the benefits — lower energy bills, reduced regulatory issues, greater competitive advantage — and are making real, measurable strides.

These stories of what the world can be, both profitable and sustainable, are essential to return to a useful discussion about national limits for greenhouse gases. These examples will be more persuasive, because they are more concrete, than any other approach. There may be no more critical work that we will do over the next few years.

And we will continue to make the case that America will be stronger when we change the way we make and use energy. We cannot depend on hostile nations for so much of our energy, or slip further behind the Chinese and Europeans in creating new energy technology and jobs. Many of the issues about which we care the most — jobs, dependence, and competitiveness — are directly related to the issues of energy and pollution. But America will not support protective pollution limits or a transition to a cleaner energy economy if it does not believe that the solutions under consideration are solutions to these concerns.

In the long run we believe the path forward will be built from a continuing focus on solutions, and an aggressive approach combined with willingness to find new answers to the challenges we face. We must listen as well as speak, though speak we must. When we take this approach, we can seek out and work with people across the political and cultural spectrums with different approaches to solving our energy or climate challenges, and we can travel the path forward, together.

Posted in Climate Change Legislation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed