Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

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.

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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.

A fossil-fuel-industry front group that calls itself the “60 Plus Association” has released a “study” claiming that the EPA’s proposal to curb carbon pollution, known as the Clean Power Plan, would raise utility costs for seniors. Don’t buy it.

The group relies on a sleight-of-hand to make its claim: It cites only the EPA’s projection that electricity prices will increase under its rule (Clean Power Plan Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) Table 3-21) while ignoring the projection, just a few pages later in the very same document, that electricity bills will actually decline. The rule includes efficiency measures that will result in consumers using significantly less power. (RIA Table 3-24). So raw electricity prices will go up a bit, but we will use less power—and pay less overall.

Also, 60 Plus looks only at the agency’s analysis for 2020, rather than its longer-term projections. What happens in the long term is obviously more important. It’s also much more favorable.

Here is a chart that shows projected electricity prices and bills under one of two main scenarios that the EPA analyzes:

Projected Retail Electricity Prices Under EPA’s Option 1, State Compliance Scenario Projected Change in Utility Bills
Cents/kWh Without Rule Cents/kWh Under Rule Percent Change
2020 10.4 11.1 6.5% 3.2%
2025 10.8 11.1 2.9% -5.3%
2030 10.9 11.3 3.1% -8.4%
Source: RIA Tables 3-21, 3-22, 3-23, 3-24.

 

60 Plus points out that electricity prices will rise 6.5 percent in 2020, but it ignores that actual bills will rise by less than half that (3.2 percent) in 2020 and will decline 5.3 percent by 2025 and 8.4 percent by 2030. The numbers are even more favorable under the EPA’s other major scenario, in which states band together and comply in regional groups rather than comply separately. There, bills would fall by 8.7 percent by 2030. (RIA Table 3-24).

Media outlets should ignore this kind of junk from 60 Plus. But at least one local TV station was duped by this release. WDBJ 7 in Virginia not only reported the study, but misreported in just the way 60 Plus wants: by saying it shows that electricity bills will increase under the EPA plan.

Let’s hope no one else picks it up.

It’s been a big week for climate change. Here’s a roundup of the news in case you’ve had trouble keeping up:

Yesterday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hosted a UN Summit on climate change in New York, convening leaders in government, business, finance and civil society to “galvanize and catalyze climate action.” The idea was that world leaders would announce major new initiatives. To some extent it was a success, although it didn’t prompt major announcements from the U.S. or China, the 800-pound carbon emitters in the room.

President Barack Obama spoke at the summit, urging aggressive action, particularly from China. He announced an executive order requiring federal agencies to “factor climate resilience” into foreign aid and development decisions. Regarding major actions on climate change, he simply referred to the EPA’s proposed rule to curb carbon emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, which Public Citizen strongly supports and seeks to strengthen. He also noted that the U.S. is on target to meet its pledge to cut emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. For its part, China said it would try to peak its carbon emissions “as early as possible.”

Just last week, the U.S. made two other announcements:

  • The Department of Energy proposed a rule that would require hotels to use more efficient heating and cooling equipment. The rule could reduce carbon emissions by 11.29 metric tons, which is like taking 2.3 million cars off the road. It’s also another example of how climate change policy makes good economic sense. DOE estimates that the rule would cost businesses up to $9.39 million per year but save them up to $13.1 million per in energy costs. Those benefits are in addition to $7.2 million annual savings from reduced carbon emissions.
  • The White House announced that it secured voluntary commitments from some large chemical manufacturers and retailers to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, more quickly than the law requires. This is an important development, as HFCs are 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in causing climate change.

There were several other important developments around the summit as well:

  • The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate issued a blockbuster report concluding that stopping climate change might not cost us anything. The crux of the analysis: Over the next 15 years, we’ll spend $90 trillion on new infrastructure world-wide anyway. Ambitious measures to combat climate change would add just 5% to that figure. When you factor in the benefits – like better public health from reduce air pollution – the measures will likely be net-positive for the economy.
  • New York City announced a major plan to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, which will set the city on target to curb its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels. That’s the reduction that the UN has said industrialized countries must make to prevent catastrophic climate change.
  • The World Bank announced that 73 countries, 22 states, and over 1,000 businesses have pledged support for putting a price on carbon. The list includes the European Union and China, but not the U.S. It doesn’t provide any specifics on what anyone will do. Nor is it legally binding. But it’s a start.
  • The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, originally launched with Standard Oil money, led 180 institutions and hundreds of individuals in announcing that they will divest $50 billion in assets from fossil fuels.
  • Over 340 institutional investors worldwide that control at least $34 trillion in assets called on governments to put a price on carbon.
  • Google announced that it would sever ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) because of the group’s opposition to sound climate change policy. “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place,” Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said. “And so we should not be aligned with such people — they’re just, they’re just literally lying.” Public Citizen pointed out that by the same reasoning, Google should leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well. Facebook soon announced that it too was leaving ALEC.

Ahead of the UN Summit, over 300,000 – and possibly as many as 400,000 – people joined the People’s Climate March in New York City. It was the largest climate demonstration in history, shattering the organizers’ goal of 100,000 participants. In addition to the march in New York, activists held 2,808 other events in 166 countries.

We also learned some bad news last week:

  • The Global Carbon Project reported that greenhouse emissions grew by 2.3 percent in 2013, demonstrating that we still have a long way to go in fighting climate change. We need to start moving in the opposite direction, quickly.
  • This past August was the hottest in recorded history. May and June also set new records, and April tied the record set in 2010.

So we have our work cut out for us. But we can solve this problem – and evidence is mounting that stopping climate change will benefit consumers and the economy, not hurt us. We just need to convince our governments to act. You can start by telling the EPA that you support its proposal to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, an opponent of Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, is convening a “Jobs 1st Summit” in Pittsburgh this week.

Pennsylvania currently ranks 48th out of the 50 states in job growth. Despite the abundance of evidence that regulations can create jobs, Corbett often echoes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce talking point about “job-killing regulations.”

An instructive item on the summit agenda is an energy industry panel moderated by Chris Abruzzo, secretary of Pennsylvania’s EPA.

Abruzzo claimed during confirmation hearings to be unaware that climate change is harmful. And Pennsylvanians are supposed to trust this official to protect our air, water and public lands?

Abruzzo’s appointment and role at the summit as moderator of a discussion among executives of polluting industries shows the absurd degree Corbett’s administration is willing to distort the priorities of government agencies that are supposed to protect the public interest.

Such a summit of CEOs begs the question: Does giving corporations everything they want translate to prosperity to the rest of us?

The obvious answer: Of course it doesn’t.

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