Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

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.

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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.

by David Arkush

Next week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold field hearings in Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., on the carbon pollution rule it proposed on June 2. The EPA calls it the Clean Power Plan. We care a lot about the rule, and you’ll be hearing more about it in the coming year. Also, Public Citizen members, activists and staff will be attending and speaking at the hearings. You’ll hear more about that next week.

Right now, I just wanted to note something odd in this story from The Hill: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky.) is complaining about the ID requirements to get into the federal buildings in which the hearings will take place. The ID requirements mean that some of his constituents won’t be able to attend!

Ahem. Voter ID laws, anyone? It’s really rich to hear a Republican leader complaining about ID requirements in a disenfranchisement-y way. Also, the requirements are from the 2005 REAL ID Act, passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a Republican president.

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When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its relatively modest carbon emission limits proposal, preemptively opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it was reported that many Chamber members and utilities didn’t actually stand with the Chamber on its opposition to climate progress.

A new survey of small businesses, “Small Business Owners’ Views on Climate & Energy Policy Reform,” indicates the U.S. Chamber is even more isolated in its regressive anti-science position. Especially considering the Chamber’s frequent attempts to claim small businesses as a part of its constituency, the clear call by small business owners to address climate change, evidenced in this report, is remarkable.

Among the major findings:

  • 87 percent of business owners named consequences of climate change as potentially harmful to their businesses;
  • 64 percent of businesses believe government regulation is needed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants; and
  • 57 percent of businesses said that the biggest carbon emitters should make the biggest reductions in carbon emissions and bear most of the costs of reduction efforts.

The findings came from a scientific, national phone survey of 555 small business owners (2 to 99 employees). Significantly, more respondents identified as Republican or independent-leaning Republican (43 percent total) than as being or leaning toward any other group. The report was produced by the American Sustainable Business Council.

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Domestic Fossil Fuel Abundance Fails to Deliver Cheap Energy For Americans

House Republicans plan votes before July 4 on at least three bills (HR 6, HR 3301, HR 4899) to increase domestic fossil fuel production and facilitate their export, with a “Drill Baby Drill” mantra designed to inspire a return to lower gas prices. Political parties can be forgiven for failing to update their rhetoric in the face of changing market dynamics. But the antiquated bombast designed during a period of relative energy scarcity is downright silly in today’s era of energy abundance. Domestic fossil fuel production is at record highs, and in less than two years we’ll be the largest oil producer in the world. Despite the fact we’re awash in domestically-produced fossil fuels, Americans continue to pay more for gasoline. That’s because petroleum prices are set by energy traders based on global events—so our prices will go up even if these GOP bills pass as long as Chinese demand and Middle East unrest fuel speculation. Particularly problematic is HR 6, which will make it easier to export natural gas, threatening higher prices for American consumers.

Lost in the House effort to reduce regulations over oil drilling is their willful amnesia of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy: why on earth is the House GOP trying to relax offshore drilling safety and environmental standards that the bipartisan commission found to be too weak? And of course none of the legislation recognize the need to deal with greenhouse gas emissions.

Eviscerating regulations over fossil fuel production and encouraging their export is a poor excuse for an energy policy. Progressively pricing carbon and investing billions into a sustainable energy infrastructure is the most cost-effective path to get our energy system working for families.

Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum

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