Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and several others are introducing a resolution that links the current denial of climate science to the campaigns by tobacco companies and chemical and lead companies to deny the now well-known harms of tobacco and lead products (primarily lead paint and leaded gasoline). Today and tomorrow, nineteen senators are taking to the Senate floor to speak out on the network of climate denial groups. Follow and support the effort with #WebofDenial and #TimetoCallOut.

You can become a citizen co-sponsor of the resolution here.

Here’s my statement on the effort:

We applaud Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and others who are calling attention to the web of denial surrounding the harms from fossil fuels. They are right to draw parallels between the campaign of deception on climate science and those on tobacco and lead products. Climate denial follows a script written by Big Tobacco and the chemical and lead industries: Fund a network of phony think tanks, research institutes and policy shops to sell lies and distortions, foster doubt and stall solutions to clear, immediate dangers to public health.

There is one major difference. If left unchecked, climate change will be far more terrible. Tobacco and lead products have killed or poisoned millions. Today’s climate deniers risk much more terrible harm: heat, drought, famine, disease, mass migration and violent conflict on a scale that threatens human civilization as we know it. If the deniers have their way, they even risk human extinction.

We wholly support senators who are calling out climate denial as the despicably immoral action that it is – and those who are working to mitigate catastrophic climate change by moving the U.S. quickly to a 21st century, zero-carbon energy infrastructure. That shift will create jobs, stimulate the economy, lower energy prices for consumers and, most important, help us preserve our own habitats and civilization.

There may be no greater patriotism in American today than fighting climate change, and no greater disservice than denying the problem and stalling solutions.

And here’s a shareable graphic from our patriotic friends at Desmogblog:


Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Queen Victoria commissioned a celebratory painting of Manchester, citadel of the Industrial Revolution, which featured factories billowing sunlit pillows of smoke. Today we might forgive this romantic view of pollution as rooted in the ignorance that the smoke was a regrettable toxic byproduct that poisoned countless people in England.

Yet today, such misplaced celebration of industrial ills persists in the promiscuously large paychecks awarded to energy company executives. That’s according to a report just released by the Institute for Policy Studies.

“Money to Burn,” authored by Sarah Anderson, a veteran CEO compensation observer, critic and reform activist, surveys and analyzes executive pay at the leading fossil fuel companies. She finds that executive pay at the 30 largest firms average $14.7 million, about 10 percent more than average pay for CEOs at the S&P 500. But Anderson exposes a dystopian dynamic. “Our contemporary executive pay incentives . . . directly encouraged the reckless behavior of Wall Street executives that led to the 2008 financial crisis,” she writes. “These same misplaced incentives are today encouraging the recklessness of fossil fuel executives — and deepening our global climate crisis.”

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Yesterday, House and Senate Republicans revealed a new tactic in their war against the Clean Power Plan, the EPA proposal to curb carbon pollution: Pass legislation permitting states to “just say no” to the rule, as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been urging the states to do. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) each released legislation that would let states opt out of the Clean Power Plan, purportedly to protect their electricity consumers (among other reasons).

Is this the same party that just proposed slashing support for public housing, food assistance, and home energy bills? Yes, and it hasn’t suddenly decided to help struggling American families. These new pieces of legislation are every bit as anti-consumer.

Whitfield released a “discussion draft” that would exempt a state  from the Clean Power Plan if the governor determines that complying would “have a significant adverse effect” on ratepayers by raising electricity rates or on reliability of the state’s electricity grid. Portman filed an amendment to the Senate budget resolution suggesting that states should be allowed to opt out of the Clean Power Plan if, among other things “ a Governor or legislative body of a State determines that the requirements of that section [section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, which authorizes the Clean Power Plan] would increase retail electricity prices with a disproportionate impact on low-income or fixed-income households . . . .”*

Both pieces of legislation reflect major misunderstandings of the Clean Power Plan, and they would harm consumers considerably. Here’s why:

The Clean Power Plan will benefit consumers by mitigating climate change. Climate change poses a severe threat to American consumers, and in particular to vulnerable populations. A few of the most salient risks include:

  • higher taxes and market prices to cover the costs of widespread damage to infrastructure and other property from extreme weather;
  • diminished quality and higher prices for food and water, heightening food insecurity for America’s most vulnerable populations; and
  • increased illness and disease from extreme heat events, reduced air quality, and increased food-borne, water-borne, and insect-borne pathogens.

The Clean Power Plan will benefit consumers by curbing carbon pollution, which will mitigate these harms. The Plan will also reduce other forms of pollution from the nation’s dirtiest power plants, like emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury. As a result, it will boost public health further, reducing both premature deaths and non-fatal cardiovascular disease.

The Clean Power Plan will lower consumers’ electricity bills. The Clean Power Plan should lower consumer costs, not raise them, because it will spur improvements in energy efficiency. Although electricity prices may rise modestly under the Plan, consumers will use less electricity, resulting in lower bills overall. The EPA projects that the Plan will lower consumer bills by 8.4 percent by 2030. A Public Citizen analysis suggests that the EPA  estimate is conservative, overestimating the cost of efficiency programs and underestimating how much progress the states can make on efficiency. Consumer costs are likely to decline by even more than the agency projects.

States should serve their consumers and protect vulnerable populations. If these consumer benefits don’t materialize, then it is likely the states, not the EPA, that will bear responsibility. The states can take a lead role in implementing the Clean Power Plan by writing their own compliance plans. State policymakers can choose to implement the Plan in a manner that benefits or harms consumers and protects or burdens vulnerable populations. State governments have a responsibility to serve their citizens and protect vulnerable communities. The amendment is wrong to excuse the states from those duties and suggest that the responsibility for harming consumers lies with section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, a statute that protects the public by safeguarding our health.

What’s really going on here is a familiar story: Congressional Republicans are using consumer protection as an excuse to advance the interests of fossil-fuel companies. Undermining the Clean Power Plan would harm American families, making them sicker and raising the cost of basic household needs like food and electricity.

*Technically, the Portman amendment would permit the Chairman of the Budget Committee to revise the allocations in the budget resolution in light of later legislation permitting states to opt out of the Clean Power Plan for the reasons above. Members of Congress often discuss these matters as if they actually make law rather than just contemplate hypothetical future legislation.


On Monday we submitted our comments to the EPA on its draft Clean Power Plan. Roughly two million people told the EPA they support the plan, which aims to cut carbon emissions from power plants 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. We strongly support the plan, and we think the agency should make it much stronger and even more consumer friendly. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, we can advance those two goals at the same time. Fighting climate change is good for consumers. Fighting it more aggressively—with a focus on low-cost solutions—is even better. The short  version of our recommendations is that the Clean Power Plan should use much more energy efficiency and renewables, much less natural gas (if any), and likely no nuclear power.

We care about climate change because it will be devastating to consumers—to all Americans, that is—and especially  to the poor, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations. We also care about protecting consumer budgets—again particularly those of low-income households. Consumers usually pay for upgrades or other changes in electricity infrastructure on their utility bills, and for this reason opponents of climate change policy have been arguing that the Clean Power Plan will hurt consumers. Cutting carbon emissions will cost money, they argue, straining household budgets.

We found the opposite. The strongest tools to reduce carbon emissions from power plants are actually the least expensive and the most beneficial to consumers. If the EPA were to craft the rule using a simple organizing principle—cut carbon incrementally by using the lowest-cost strategy to displace the most carbon-intensive electricity generation—the rule would be much stronger and less expensive. Here are the key points:

  • Treat efficiency and renewables as replacing fossil-fuels, in order of the most carbon intensive. The proposal assumes that new natural gas generation will replace coal. But it treats energy efficiency and renewables as merely adding to the pool of available power rather than displacing coal or natural gas. That doesn’t make sense. The point of boosting efficiency and renewables is to displace fossil fuels—and in fact that’s what usually happens in the market because fossil-fuel generation usually has higher operating costs. This simple common sense change would strengthen the rule a great deal.
  • Strengthen the efficiency targets significantly. Energy efficiency is by far the lowest-cost way to cut carbon emissions, but the EPA overestimates its cost by 60 to 100 percent. It also sets its targets too low. The agency expects us to increase efficiency by just 1.5 percent annually even though the best states are already pursuing gains of 2 percent or more. And it considers only utility efficiency programs like weatherization of homes, leaving out things like 1building codes and appliance standards. Boost the efficiency targets, and you get a much more powerful, less expensive rule.
  • Strengthen the renewables targets significantly. As UCS has demonstrated, the EPA makes similar mistakes with renewables. States can add nearly double the amount of renewables that the proposal projects, at much lower cost.
  • Curb the use of natural gas. The plan’s reliance on natural gas is misplaced for multiple reasons. First, because of methane emissions, switching from coal to natural gas may not have any climate benefit for more than 100 years. We need to fix the problem well before then. Second, the proposal’s reliance on natural gas will lead to more environmentally hazardous fracking, which the EPA should not be encouraging, and put additional pressure on natural gas prices, which are already projected to rise 23 percent by 2030, straining household budgets. Finally, the EPA underestimates the cost of using natural gas to replace coal because it overlooks that we need to phase out natural gas soon too. Natural gas emits less carbon than coal, but still very significant amounts, and we need to reduce carbon emissions to zero as quickly as possible. The real cost of switching to natural gas is the cost of the current change plus the expense of moving to renewables in a few years. We would save a lot of money by going straight to renewables.
  • Curb (likely eliminate) the use of nuclear power. Nuclear power is usually an exorbitant boondoggle that consumers get stuck subsidizing through their electricity bills. The EPA’s proposal gets the cost of nuclear power wrong in nearly every way. It underestimates the costs of subsidizing existing nuclear plants that can’t make money. It omits the multi-billion-dollar cost of completing nuclear generators currently under-construction. (These projects nearly always run way behind schedule and cost billions more than budgeted; we would save a lot of money by scrapping them even mid-construction.) It also fails to account for the cost of storing nuclear waste, a problem we still haven’t solved but which will cost billions, and ignores the possibility of catastrophic accidents. As of late 2012, Tokyo Electric Power Co. was estimating that the cleanup from the Fukushima disaster would cost up to $137 billion. It’s hard to find space for nuclear power in sound climate policy when every other option is cheaper and efficiency and renewables can accomplish so much.

The Clean Power Plan already represents a significant step in fighting climate change, and it will make consumers far better off. For those reasons, we told the EPA that we strongly support the plan. But we need to do better—and we can.

Today the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a fantastic study finding that the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan underestimates how much progress we can make on renewable energy. The agency could nearly double the amount of renewables in its carbon-reduction targets for states, from 12 percent of 2030 electric generation to 23 percent. The UCS analysis isn’t just wishful thinking. It’s based on the actual pace of renewables growth in the recent past, as well as state laws in place that require particular increases in renewables. As the National Wildlife Federation points out in its comment on the UCS study, the EPA’s targets for renewables fall short of what the U.S. Energy Information Agency projects will happen under a business-as-usual scenario. Why do less, when we can do much more?

The best news in the study is that by raising the targets for renewables, EPA can dramatically boost the efficacy of the Clean Power Plan overall. Rather than reduce carbon emissions just 30 percent from 2005  levels by 2030, the Plan could achieve a 40 percent reduction. That’s because the Plan works primarily by replacing coal with another fossil fuel — natural gas. If we go further and replace some of that natural gas with renewables (and reduce the need for electricity with energy efficiency measures), we can make much more significant, sustainable reductions in carbon emissions.

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