Monthly Archives: April 2011

California Victory: Court of Appeals Backs Improved Pollution Standards for Cars

Earlier today, a federal court rejected a legal attack on new clean car standards that will help protect our air quality and our pocketbooks.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C. ruled in favor of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) green light for clean car standards adopted by California and 13 other states and the District of Columbia.

Environmental Defense Fund intervened in defense of EPA’s action, supporting California’s pioneering leadership.

“This is a major victory not only for California but for the millions of Americans who are working together to unleash smart policies that will save families money at the gas pump, reduce dangerous pollution and break our dependence on imported oil,” said EDF president Fred Krupp.

California adopted the new standards in 2004. They were later adopted by Arizona, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

The federal government, the involved states, the U.S. auto industry and the United Auto Workers Union reached an agreement on the standards last year. The EPA finalized a national clean car program on April 1, 2010 that built on the foundation forged by the state clean car standards, creating integrated national standards to provide benefits across the country.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Automobile Dealers Association sued to to block EPA’s green light for the California clean car standards but the court ruled that neither have legal standing to challenge EPA’s action.

According to the Court’s decision, “[b]ecause the Chamber has not identified a single member who was or would be injured by EPA’s waiver decision, it lacks standing to raise this challenge.”

The Court also relied on the overarching national standards, writing, “[e]ven if EPA’s decision to grant California a waiver for its emission standards once posed an imminent threat of injury to the petitioners — which is far from clear — the agency’s subsequent adoption of federal standards has eliminated any independent threat that may have existed.”

“It is time for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to stop obstructing made in America clean air solutions that are a trifecta for saving money, energy security, and a safer environment,” Krupp added.

“This is a major victory for Americans who are tired of pouring out their hard-earned money at the gas pump,” said Vickie Patton, EDF’s General Counsel. “Cleaner cars will save their owners money – as much as $3000 over the life of their vehicles. Cleaner cars also reduce dangerous air pollution, and help break our nation’s dependence on imported oil.”

Posted in General / Comments are closed

Dramatically Cleaner Air Within Reach For New York City

Source: Inhabitat

At a standing-room-only speech in Harlem yesterday,  Mayor Bloomberg launched the update to New York City’s sustainability initiative PlaNYC.  That plan has two bold goals:  achieving the cleanest air of any big city in America and cutting greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2030.

I’m thrilled that the Mayor announced a dramatic step forward for clean air. The Clean Heat Campaign will phase out New York City’s most polluting heating fuels – heating oil no. 6 and no. 4 – through a combination of clear deadlines and a campaign to encourage buildings to upgrade to cleaner fuels and efficiency.

The stakes for public health are high.  About 10,000 buildings burn heating oil so dirty that it causes more soot pollution than all of the cars and trucks in New York City combined.  The new regulation finalized yesterday will eliminate the dirtiest of the fuels, number 6 oil, by 2015 and the next-dirtiest grade by 2030. 

We think the health and business case for upgrading to clean heat is so compelling that these deadlines can be beat.  To get information into the market, EDF launched a web page that maps the buildings in the city burning dirty oil, provides a step-by-step guide to upgrading to clean fuels, identifies incentives, and tells success stories from  individual buildings.  We’re committed to do what we can to make the transition to clean fuels as quick and affordable as possible. 

Though clean heat got a lot of well-deserved media attention, PlaNYC includes other big steps forward:

– Commitments to clean energy, including one to “develop a smarter and cleaner electric utility grid for New York
City” – an idea that we think holds real promise to help expand the market for solar, efficiency and other clean energy sources;

– A new energy efficiency finance non-profit, using federal stimulus dollars to make local loans; and

– For the first time, the plan addresses food, recycling, and solid waste. 

Around the world, cities are struggling with soot, smog, and climate impacts from how we make and use energy.  Just two years ago, the planet’s population switched from primarily rural to more than 50% urban – by 2030, nearly 5 billion people (60% of the world’s population) will be living in cities.  How those cities make and use energy will define our planet’s ability to solve climate change – and will dramatically affect public health.   Today, with this announcement, I see hope for the future.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, New York / Tagged | Comments are closed

Mixed News Coverage Of Report On Climate Pollution From Natural Gas Underscores The Need For Better Data

I blogged last week about the implications of the findings of a paper by Professor Robert Howarth and colleagues at Cornell University.  The paper compares the carbon footprints of natural gas and coal and concludes that – because of methane leakage – natural gas contributes to global warming as much as coal, or even more, when assessed on a life-cycle basis.  While I have questions about the emissions estimates in the paper, it has brought attention to an important fact.

Namely, that we need better data to accurately characterize air pollution from natural gas development and determine with confidence the associated health and climate implications. 

Media coverage over the past week was extensive.  A Washington Post editorial hit the bull’s eye.  Unfortunately, not all the coverage has been 100% accurate – perhaps owing to the technical nature of the issue and the paucity of solid data about methane emissions associated with natural gas systems.

In particular, I want to clarify a reference in a New York Times column to Environmental Defense Fund “estimates of methane gas emissions that are 75 percent lower than Howarth’s.”

Though we appreciate Joe Nocera’s consideration of our work, the statement in the Times’ column is misleading in two ways.  First, the estimates EDF relies on are not our own, but rather taken from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which  just finalized its 2009 inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.   From EPA’s inventory, we estimate that at least 2.2% of gross natural gas produced in the U.S. is released to the atmosphere.   This estimate is highly uncertain, as evidenced by EPA’s recent revision that doubled its estimates from as recently as last year. 

Second, Professor Howarth’s paper uses a different metric:  how much methane is leaked as a percent of the total methane produced over the life of an unconventional gas well.  The paper reports this value to be 3.6% and 7.9% as the low- and high-end estimates.  Assuming these different metrics can be directly compared, EDF’s estimate of the methane leak rate is 39% lower than Professor Howarth’s paper’s low-end estimate and 72% lower than the high-end estimate.  It is unfortunate that the Times’ column only made the comparison with the paper’s high-end estimate.

The only way we can gain confidence about the climate benefits of natural gas relative to other fuels is by obtaining more accurate data about the amount of methane released during the production and distribution of natural gas.  And as I have said before, this is something the natural gas industry – which claims to provide the “low-carbon” fossil fuel – should support.

Posted in Natural Gas / Comments are closed

Some Bad Ideas We Can All Agree On

Source: Bellona

EDF believes that, done right, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) can be a safe and effective tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  We also think it will be a necessary tool – especially for natural gas, which is poised to make up an increasing share of our national energy portfolio.

The environmental community doesn’t have a monolithic view of CCS, though.  Some groups are skeptical about its need.  Others have concerns about whether it can really work.  Fair enough!  We welcome debate and opportunities to learn from each other.

There are certain things, though, on which we can all agree.  More than 50 organizations recently came together to express our unanimous opposition to a couple of very bad ideas about how CCS projects should be treated – ideas that could lead to sloppy projects and put public health and the environment at risk.

The first is so-called “liability relief.”  Believe it or not, on the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil-spill disaster, some in the coal and utility industries continue to call for a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for CCS projects.  They are basically saying that once a CCS project is sealed up, operators shouldn’t be held responsible if carbon dioxide (CO2) starts to leak or if displace formation fluids pollute ground water.  We believe this is a set-up for dangerous short cuts in project planning and implementation.  It boggles my mind that, at the same time Congress is struggling to lift liability caps for offshore drilling, anyone would entertain the idea of taking steps that would reduce incentives to properly manage CCS projects.

The second bad idea might be even more perplexing than the first – and we’re especially disappointed that it’s coming from the good folks at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Our environmental watchdogs at the agency are considering a proposal to exempt CCS projects from hazardous waste requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, our nation’s landmark law that keeps us safe from the most toxic substances.  If CO2 streams at CCS projects get this exemption, it will eliminate important protections for clean-ups and remediation and for public participation.

EDF is helping lead the charge against these bad ideas – meeting with members of Congress and agency officials, sounding the alarm with the media, and working with other environmental groups to present a united front.  For more details, read our letter to the Administration, and stay tuned to the Energy Exchange.

Posted in Washington, DC / Comments are closed

Smart Meter Best Practice: Proactively Address Public Concerns

A well-designed smart grid will drive the clean energy revolution we need – securing our energy independence, increasing our ability to compete in the global clean energy market and empowering consumers – all while protecting our air, water and the health of our children.

Yet in a few places, there has been a backlash against smart meters, which are key pieces of the infrastructure needed to make our 100-year old electricity grid ‘smart.’  Wireless smart meters are now the subject of considerable media attention in California for their use of radio frequencies (RF) – a type of energy that is used in cell phones, microwaves and other every day products. 

As we invest billions of dollars to upgrade the infrastructure that literally powers our economy, utilities and policymakers need to address the disconnect between the grid’s huge potential public health benefits and some individuals’ concerns over the wireless technology that smart meters  use to transmit data between customers and utilities. 

Let’s start with the public health benefits.  America’s outdated energy system is wasteful, expensive and a major source of pollution. Once a smart grid is in place, it will improve air quality and the health of millions of Americans affected by pollution that is often too dangerous to breathe

A smart grid will:

  1. Help consumers save money by enabling them to see and manage their energy use while reducing harmful air pollution. As a result, consumers will be able to shift their demand for energy to when it is cheaper, which will save them money during ‘peak’ times when utilities have to run the dirtiest and most expensive types of power plants.  With greater use of this “demand response” option, California alone could avoid building or running more than 100 of these ‘peaker’ power plants, which we pay for with our dollars and our health. Nationally, demand response could avoid up to 2,000 peaker plants
  2. Make it possible to adjust demand to follow variable wind and solar supplies and thus enable us to use more clean, renewable, home-grown energy.  This will reduce the environmental damage done by mining and burning coal and natural gas and cut harmful and costly air pollution.
  3. Facilitate the switch to clean electric vehicles by allowing drivers to “smart charge” them at night when energy, including pollution-free wind power, is abundant and cheap – cutting foreign oil imports and the environmental damage done by domestic oil drilling.
  4. Make the transmission and distribution grid more efficient.  For example, the ability to optimize voltage on power lines will save three percent of all of the power generated in the U.S., worth roughly $10 billion a year.

The lesson from this disconnect in California isn’t to stop smart meters from being installed altogether: it is that the effort should be undertaken with the customer foremost in mind. Customers need to better understand the benefits of the smart grid and the critical role that smart meters play in achieving them. They also need to know what the studies show about the wireless technology they use. 

Utilities can easily provide consumers with key findings from many of the studies done on radio frequencies since they’ve become commonplace.  A recent in-depth review of the scientific literature by the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.”  The review states that “in the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation, approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. Despite the feeling of some people that more research needs to be done, scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals.” As is the case with chemicals, EDF supports continuing research as wireless technology becomes even more popular.

Since exposure is determined by signal strength and proximity to the device emitting the signal, there will likely be unique situations that require special attention.  For example, multi-family dwellings may have many smart meters grouped together in one location. This concentration could expose residents who live close to those meters to higher levels of RF energy.  One way utilities can address concerns raised in those situations and keep meters working as planned would be to use steel shielding and partner with companies that can provide RF absorbers or reflectors to households.

Additionally, some individuals describe themselves as having electromagnetic hypersensitivity, which they believe causes them to have headaches, fatigue, nausea and insomnia.  Utilities can work with these customers by facilitating options that address their concerns. 

What will utilities get in return for their proactive customer service? At minimum, they stand to gain a customer base that is comfortable with the technology. At best, a loyal community that understands the benefits of the smart grid and takes an active role in transforming the way we use energy and protecting not only the environment but everyone’s quality of life.  What will we all gain? At the micro level, more reliable service and lower electric bills. At the macro level, a stronger economy, energy independence, cleaner air and a healthier environment for our children.

Posted in California, Grid Modernization / Read 2 Responses

“The World Is Watching” – Will Texas Set The Standard For Mandatory Disclosure Of Frac Fluid Chemicals?

As early as tomorrow, the Texas House of Representatives Energy Resources Committee could approve HB 3328, a measure that is intended to be the most effective law in the country requiring public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid.

Last Wednesday night in a hearing room at the Texas Capitol, Representative Jim Keffer (R-Eastland), the Committee’s Chairman and author of the bill, told members of his committee that “the world is watching” to see whether Texas will require oil and gas drillers to tell the public what chemicals are added to hydraulic fracturing fluid. He declared that “the time has come” to mandate public disclosure of all chemical ingredients subject only to reasonable protection for trade secrets. Where trade secrets are concerned, he wants regulatory agencies and health care professionals to have the information on a confidential basis.

Keffer isn’t kidding. He and a growing number of supporters hope to create a model that can settle the issue once and for all, if followed in other jurisdictions as well.

EDF strongly supports Keffer’s mandatory disclosure legislation. So do others in the environmental community. Sierra Club and the Texas League of Conservation Voters were among those testifying for the bill at the hearing last week. Also heartening is the fact that Keffer’s initiative is attracting industry support.  Kudos to the half-dozen gas industry leaders who stepped forward at the hearing to support the bill: Apache, El Paso Production, Petrohawk Energy, Pioneer Natural Resources, Southwestern Energy, and Talisman Energy. These are companies that understand what it takes to earn the public’s trust. Additional industry support is likely to appear in the coming days and weeks.

Posted in Natural Gas, Texas / Read 1 Response