climate legislation

Low-Carbon Business Innovation: A Call for U.S. Leadership

Will U.S. companies be ready to compete in the world markets of the future? Global clean energy markets pose a $2.3 trillion opportunity over the next 10 years, providing enormous potential for innovation in new technologies, products and business models. These opportunities will help us achieve the greenhouse gas emission reductions that scientists say are needed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. 

Yet the United States’ commitment to developing these markets for innovation is lagging. While the Pentagon is calling for improved energy security, the U.S. House of Representatives is proposing funding cuts for energy innovation that would reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. After surviving the FY 2011 federal budget battle by receiving $180 million out of the $300 million requested by the President, on June 15 the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to cut FY 2012 funding to $100 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The President had requested $550 million for the agency, which funds transformational energy technology research.

Time to Face the Facts on EPA Regulation

A witty observer of the human condition Mark Twain wrote, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” He likely would have had a few choice quips about opponents of greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation who have a lot to put up with these days. They continue claiming that new regulations are a de facto construction moratorium, a burden on the economy, the illegal act of unelected bureaucrats, and doomed to be overturned by Congress. Yet the facts themselves provide overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began regulating GHGs this January, there were claims that these regulations would shut down entire industries and create a construction moratorium on new projects. In reality, the New Source Review program requires new sources of pollution and major modifications to existing sources of pollution, like power plants, refineries, and factories, to install the best available control technology to reduce GHG emissions. EPA’s guidelines for implementing these requirements focused mainly at increasing energy efficiency of facilities without requiring expensive add-on controls or fuel switching.

Despite these dire warnings, there are plenty of examples of how this scenario did not occur. Even before the regulations were in place, Calpine voluntarily and successfully underwent a determination of the best available control technology for its new natural gas power plant in the Bay Area. In a more recent example, one of the most vociferous industrial opponents of the regulations, Nucor Steel, came to Congress to testify at a hearing about the impossibility of compliance with the regulations, but the company had by that point already received a permit under that program for a facility in Louisiana. More permits have also been issued, and others are on the way.

Other attacks have fixated on the legality of the new regulations. Yet, in the 2007 case Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled explicitly that EPA had the authority to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act if the Agency determined that they posed a significant threat to public health and welfare. This threat was overwhelmingly demonstrated in the 2009 endangerment finding, which documented the risks of climate change posed by GHGs. This endangerment finding was issued by the Obama Administration, but the Bush Administration had come to exactly the same conclusions. A Supreme Court ruling in favor of regulation is a hard example to be confronted with, but that hasn’t stopped opponents.

Although there has been little problem with implementation of these new requirements, it has taken the political rhetoric some time to catch up with the facts. Some on Capitol Hill have remained fixated on these regulations. This debate came to a head, as votes were taken to repeal or delay the EPA regulations. In the Senate, votes on four different permutations failed to meet the required 60-vote majority. The Baucus Amendment would have codified EPA’s tailoring rule and exempted agricultural sources from EPA GHG regulations. It failed 7-93. The Stabenow Amendment would have allowed EPA to continue work on drafting regulations, but it would have delayed implementation of existing GHG rules (except for the existing transportation standards) for two years, excluded the agriculture sector, and expanded some manufacturing tax credits. It also failed 7-93. The Rockefeller Amendment would have delayed the implementation of all EPA GHG regulations (except for car rules) by two years. It failed 12-88. The McConnell Amendment was a version of the Whitfield-Upton-Inhofe proposal that would have explicitly prohibited any GHG regulation using Clean Air Act authorities and repealed the EPA’s scientific finding about the dangers of climate change. The preferred bill of the Minority, it failed 50-50. In the House, a standalone bill (The Energy Tax Prevention Act) mirroring the McConnell amendment passed by a substantial, largely partisan majority, but with the failure of all four proposals in the Senate, it was clear that there was no hook to conduct a House-Senate conference on the legislation. For those who wanted a Congressional rebuke for action on climate, these votes should have served as an example of political opposition to repeal of regulatory authority.

In the face of those votes, opponents tried one more political maneuver: holding the federal budget hostage to the inclusion of the failed McConnell Amendment. After threatening a shutdown of the federal government to oppose regulations that have been shown not to prevent new facilities from being permitted, not to lead to economic destruction, and which were upheld by the Senate just days earlier, opponents eventually relented and withdrew their demands.

It has been tough to put up with these examples, but some opponents of the regulations are finally accepting the results. “I think this is probably the end of our EPA little session here,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). “I’m not going to be pushing for another vote,” echoed Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI). After everything that has occurred on this matter, and regardless of other attempts that might be made, it’s clear that the existing regulations are here to stay and the path forward for future reasonable regulations has strong economic, legal, and political foundations. In the coming months, EPA will turn to the next step in its legally-required regulatory process, proposing New Source Performance Standards for the utility and refining sectors.

Our leaders should use their energies to ensure that these regulations result in low-cost emissions reductions rather than continuing to fight battles for which the outcomes are already known. There is a real possibility for positive engagement in this process but only if one is willing to take a rational look at the challenges and potential policy tools available. For those that want to continue to fight past battles in the face of all that has happened, another Twain quote comes to mind: “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

Michael Tubman is the Congressional Affairs Fellow

Lessons from Extreme Weather: A Minnesota Farmer Gets the Point

Throughout this year I have posted a number of blogs on the record-breaking extreme weather events of recent years, particularly 2010. Events ranged from unprecedented blizzards on the U.S. East Coast to the cataclysmic Russian heat wave and flooding in Pakistan. The key message I’ve tried to communicate is that, rather than debating whether these particular events are being caused by climate change – an interesting academic question that is unanswerable on a practical level – we should learn from these events about our individual and societal vulnerabilities and the real costs of climate change.

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Jack Hedin, a Minnesota farmer, offers an excellent example of the type of practical learning I’m talking about:

“The past four years of heavy rains and flash flooding here in southern Minnesota have left me worried about the future of agriculture in America’s grain belt. For some time computer models of climate change have been predicting just these kinds of weather patterns, but seeing them unfold on our farm has been harrowing nonetheless.”

Mr. Hedin’s family has farmed the soils of southern Minnesota since the late 19th century. Today he runs a small farm in Rushville, where an onslaught of extreme weather events over several years forced him to retreat to higher ground. This is an example of forced adaptation where abandonment was the best choice. But even in the new location, his farm lost $100,000 worth of crops to excessive soil moisture this summer.

Notice that Hedin doesn’t waste time worrying about whether particular weather events were caused by human-induced climate change:

“The weather in our area has become demonstrably more hostile to agriculture, and all signs are that this trend will continue. Minnesota’s state climatologist, Jim Zandlo, has concluded that no fewer than three “thousand-year rains” have occurred in the past seven years in our part of the state. And a University of Minnesota meteorologist, Mark Seeley, has found that summer storms in the region over the past two decades have been more intense and more geographically focused than at any time on record.”

Climate scientists know the climate is changing, that many mid-latitude locations are becoming wetter as a result (see figure below), and that we can expect that trend to continue. What does it matter whether a particular storm on a particular day in a particular year was caused by human intervention with the climate system? After all, it isn’t one particular event that has Mr. Hedin worried about the future of farming in America’s grain belt; it’s the preponderance of evidence that the climate is already shifting and the common sense realization that farming is getting harder because of that shift.

Please read Jack Hedin’s op-ed in The New York Times. He has the right idea about learning from extreme weather events. 

Jay Gulledge is Senior Scientist and Director of the Science and Impacts Program

The Days After

For many of us in the climate world, these days feel a bit like being in the movie The Day After, where nuclear winter had descended and John Lithgow was on the HAM radio calling out, “…Is there anybody out there? Anybody at all…?”

OK. So it’s not quite that bad.  But as we all know, Congress has been reshaped, and some long-time supporters of climate action (and coal) such as Rick Boucher (D-VA) are out, while others who ran ads literally shooting a rifle at a cap-and-trade bill, are in. And the number of actual climate deniers walking the halls of Congress has also increased.

So with the picture seemingly so bleak, and the chances of comprehensive climate legislation highly unlikely in at least the next couple of years, it would be natural for many in the corporate community to relax and think that they no longer have to think about climate change.

I think this would be dead wrong.  And lest you wonder about my grasp on reality, let me explain why.

First, let’s look to California.  Voters forcefully rejected Proposition 23, a measure that was a full-frontal assault on the nation’s most aggressive climate bill.  They also rejected a gubernatorial candidate who had promised to postpone AB32 for at least a year, and instead elected a governor who campaigned on aggressively implementing the same law.

California is the world’s 8th largest economy and typically leads the nation in environmental protection. The fact that it will soon be implementing a cap-and-trade system and other aggressive measures to reduce GHGs should be an indication that the issue is not going to quietly disappear into the night.  It is also remarkable that much of the financial support for the “No on Prop 23” campaign came from the venture capital and tech industries, which understand the market opportunities that clean energy and energy efficiency provide.

And while the political landscape may have changed this week, the businesses' case for taking climate action has not.  Leading companies should continue to keep climate and sustainability as an element of their core corporate strategies, and in my conversations over the past few weeks, they are. Regardless of whether federal climate legislation is adopted, “climate change” is a proxy for a number of critical operational issues such as energy, water, waste, and supply chain efficiency.  Companies that have a comprehensive plan to reduce their impacts in these areas realize not only bottom-line benefits, but reputational benefits as well.

And finally, let’s not forget the climate science.  The reality is that regardless of the state of policy, the climate continues to change, impacts are already being felt in our own backyards, and by not acting we continue to load the dice in favor of deeper floods, longer droughts, and bigger wildfires.  While politicians move at one pace, nature does not react to polls or get voted out of office.  And as one of my favorite cartoons of the last year points out, even if this were all just an elaborate hoax, the biggest risk of investing in clean energy, energy efficiency, water and waste management is that we would have created a healthier, safer world all for “nothing.”

Tim Juliani is Director of Corporate Engagement

Ambitious GHG Targets for California Drivers

On September 23, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced the adoption of ambitious, though aspirational, greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets associated with the total miles traveled by California drivers. This is the latest step in the process of implementing Senate Bill 375, signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2008. The significant increase in stringency of the CARB target levels over recommendations made by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) last May was surprising and although praised by some, has received significant criticism.

The law provides incentives, not mandates, for MPOs to use regional transportation strategies that encourage smart growth. Incentives for MPOs, which meet the GHG targets, can include easier access to federal funding and exemption from certain environmental review requirements. Although called ‘precedent setting’ by the media, it establishes growth policies considered similar to others that have already been implemented in California, and this law would not have a strong impact without stringent GHG reduction targets. SB 375 required CARB to set the targets, giving it the power to determine how seriously MPOs would have to invest in new development plans if they wish to take advantage of the incentives. Using 2005 as a baseline, the GHG emissions per capita reduction targets set by CARB for 2020 and 2035 were, respectively:


Region2020 Target2035 Target
San Diego Area7%13%
Sacramento Region7%16%
Bay Area Region7%15%
Southern California8%13%
San Joaquin Valley (to be revisited in 2012)5%10%
Targets for the remaining six MPOs making up 5 percent of the population match or improve upon their current plans for 2020 and 2035

The targets CARB defined were more ambitious than what the largest MPOs recommended in May. For example, recommendations for the Bay Area were 5 percent per capita for 2020 and 5 percent for 2035 (the same to account for projected population growth, which would make higher targets more difficult to achieve in 2035). Critics complained that these targets were “hijacked” by environmentalists, as CARB did not provide an explanation for the increase.

While more stringent targets are a victory for champions of climate change policy, some Californians have claimed CARB’s numbers as irresponsible because MPOs cannot afford to implement the plans needed to meet the targets. Given the state’s budget deficit and lingering impacts from the global economic recession in 2008 and 2009, budget crises for transit agencies have resulted in decreased service and increased fares. To combat expected costs, CARB has promised to help seek out more state and federal funding, although CARB member and San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts is pessimistic about their chances. Business groups angrily predict that such funding will have to come from increased transportation taxes such as vehicle miles traveled fees, parking fees, and congestion pricing. Critics (Example 1, Example 2) also cite the prediction by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) of San Francisco that gas would reach a cost of $9.07 per gallon if there were a carbon or ‘vehicle miles traveled’ (VMT) tax.

CARB could address these concerns by clarifying the rationale for its decision and exposing half-truths propagated by some of its critics. For example, whether or not targets are too ambitious, SB 375 requires CARB to review them regularly and consider revisions based on economic and demographic conditions, as well as actual results achieved. The critics’ references to the MTC’s $9.07 per gallon gas are disingenuous warnings. The MTC’s gas price forecast is actually for 2035, not the immediate future, and the MTC considers a carbon or VMT tax as just one of multiple policy options. Only when this tax is added to the MTC’s unlikely forecast of gas prices (a linear extrapolation based on gas prices in 2008, the highest price ever, hitting $7.47 per gallon by 2035) does the cost of one gallon reach $9.07 in 2035. This forecast is significantly different from that of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which, as of 2010, expects a national average of $3.91 per gallon gas in 2035. In addition, sustainable development experts Calthorpe Associates’ ‘Vision California’ study highlights attainable smart growth savings for Californians that would provide a significant boost to the economy. It quantifies savings, potentially achievable through SB 375, at $6,400 per year per household by 2050, among other significant opportunities.

While it is natural to be wary of the ambitious goals, California has previously defied naysayers and achieved ambitious policy goals at lower costs than initially predicted, as happened with Title 24 building energy efficiency standards in 1978. Furthermore, it is worth noting that SB 375 will remain intact no matter the fate of Proposition 23, which seeks to suspend the Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill 32, in the upcoming elections. By providing incentive-based aggressive targets, MPOs now have greater reason to invest significantly in future transportation and land use plans. With such an investment, Californians can look forward to a more comfortable life with shorter commutes, reduced air pollution, and long-term economic growth.

Sam Wurzelmann is the Innovative Solutions intern

The long-term impacts of “one-year” riders

Most Americans can recall from social studies class and Schoolhouse Rock that a bill becomes a law through a process of introduction, committee work, and votes in both chambers of Congress before being signed by the President. Yet in reality, Congress influences policy decisions and administrative actions in ways that are more complex and potentially less transparent.

The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse over government. Congress passes annual appropriations bills that fund the various programs of the federal government, and the necessity for Congress to pass these bills every year makes them an attractive target to attach riders – legislative provisions not directly related to the bill at hand. Appropriations riders are added to a bill by a small number of Congressmen to avoid an open debate on the merits of a particular policy, relying instead on the political and practical necessity to pass the larger funding bill.

Several rider efforts have succeeded in prohibiting funding or delaying environmental programs, much as some are talking about doing to prevent EPA from implementing greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act. Unlike policy decisions set in authorizing legislation, funding restrictions only apply for the year of appropriations covered and must be renewed on an annual basis. Unfortunately, once the precedent is set, it is common for riders to reappear for multiple years, usually without an up-or-down vote on that specific policy decision.

When it comes to climate change, Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) took a bill that failed to gain any traction in the committee process and turned it into a barrier to productive climate work through the appropriations process. Reacting to the Kyoto Protocol, drafted in December 1997, Rep. Knollenberg introduced HR 3807, in May 1998, which would have prohibited the use of funds for “for rules, regulations, or programs designed to implement, or in contemplation of implementing, the Kyoto Protocol.” A broad reading of the phrase “in contemplation of” would have stopped federal funds from being used for any work on climate change, even educational workshops. When the bill failed even to move out of the Republican controlled committee to which it was referred, Rep. Knollenberg turned to the appropriations process, where he attached the bill as a rider to the appropriations bill that included FY1999 funding for EPA. The same language was included in several appropriations bills. In addition to the EPA bill, it was also included the next year for FY2000 funding. As a result, Rep. Knollenberg was able to inhibit the Clinton Administration’s climate change work without going through the regular process of enacting legislation.

Other environmental priorities have been the targets of appropriations riders and defunding efforts. These riders became popular shortly after the political upheaval of 1994, but the effects were often much longer lasting. Beginning in Fiscal Year 1996, a rider was attached annually to the transportation appropriations bill preventing increases in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard known as the “CAFE freeze rider.” Like the proposed riders on greenhouse gas regulation, this rider was in reaction to an action by the Clinton Administration, in this case an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The recurrence of this rider continued until Fiscal Year 2001 when the rider was dropped in favor of a study on raising CAFE standards, ultimately yielding to bipartisan support for new standards much later than initially anticipated. 

Environmental advocates have also used riders to avoid open policy discussion and votes. One of the longest running annual appropriations riders was a prohibition on offshore oil and gas leasing off the East and West coasts and certain parts of Alaska. That rider was included in appropriations bills for 27 years, from 1981 to 2008, without ever being a stand-alone piece of legislation passed by Congress.

The lesson of these and the plethora of other riders included on appropriations bill every year is clear: these provisions have staying power. The inclusion of a one-year delay on greenhouse gas reductions could easily continue for two years – or even twenty. According to the scientific information available, we don’t have the luxury of waiting that long to reduce our emissions. Instead, the United States should proceed with the prudent and reasonable series of regulations that have been outlined and are being implemented under existing law following the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA. 

Michael Tubman is the Congressional Affairs Fellow

In Defense of Markets

This blog post originally appeared on Belfer Center's An Economic View of the Environment

Cap-and-trade has been demonized by conservatives as part of an effective strategy to stop climate legislation from moving forward in the U.S. Congress.  As I wrote in my previous blog post (“Beware of Scorched-Earth Strategies in Climate Debates,” July 27, 2010), this unfortunate tarnishing of market-based instruments for environmental protection will come back to haunt conservatives and liberals alike when it becomes politically difficult to use the power of the marketplace to reduce business costs in the pursuit of a wide variety of environmental objectives.

FutureGen 2.0

The first two weeks of August saw two big news items from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) related to carbon capture and storage (or CCS, for an overview of CCS see the our Climate TechBook CCS brief). First, on August 5, DOE announced its plans for FutureGen 2.0. One week later, President Obama’s Interagency Task Force on CCS delivered its final report and recommendations regarding overcoming “the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years, with a goal of bringing five to ten commercial demonstration projects online by 2016” (see the separate post regarding the task force’s report).

Why is this FutureGen announcement from DOE important? CCS is anticipated to be a key technology for achieving large reductions in U.S. and global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (for example, see the recent projection from the International Energy Agency that CCS could provide nearly one fifth of all global GHG emission reductions by mid-century). Initial commercial-scale CCS demonstration projects are a critical step in advancing CCS technology; these projects provide valuable experience and confidence in “scaling-up” CCS technologies and technology improvements and cost reductions from “learning by doing.” The aforementioned report from the Interagency Task Force on CCS notes that FutureGen is one of ten planned CCS demonstration projects supported by DOE (see Table V-2 of the task force’s report for the list of seven power-sector and three industrial CCS projects).

The FutureGen project has had a somewhat tumultuous history. In 2003, DOE announced its plan to work with an industry consortium on the FutureGen plant to demonstrate commercial-scale integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technology coupled with (pre-combustion) CCS at a single new coal-fueled power plant (with DOE covering most of the project’s costs). In 2007, the industrial consortium selected a site in Mattoon, IL, for the FutureGen power plant. In 2008, though, DOE abandoned the idea citing the escalating cost estimates for the FutureGen project and decided instead to pursue cost-sharing agreements with project developers to support multiple CCS demonstration projects (this time with DOE covering a smaller fraction of project costs). DOE received only a small number of applications for this restructured FutureGen approach, and this change of plans came in for some criticism from the Government Accountability Office (the GAO report also provides a helpful overview and history of what might now be referred to as “FutureGen 1.0”).

In 2009, the Obama Administration revived plans for a single FutureGen plant and restarted work with the industrial consortium on preliminary design and other activities, promising a decision in 2010 on whether to move forward with the project. That decision came on August 5 and included another shift in DOE’s plans for the FutureGen project (now dubbed “FutureGen 2.0”). Energy Secretary Chu announced the awarding of $1 billion in Recovery Act funding for the repowering of an existing power plant in Meredosia, IL, as a coal-fueled power plant using oxy-combustion and CCS. With “FutureGen 2.0,” DOE decided to change from building a new plant to repowering an existing one and chose a different technology (oxy-combustion with CCS rather than IGCC with CCS).

When subsidizing initial CCS demonstration projects, policymakers should support a variety of relevant technologies and configurations. With respect to applying CCS technology to coal-fueled electricity generation, there are factors that are expected to make certain variants of CCS technology more appropriate for certain circumstances. These factors include the application of CCS with: new plants vs. retrofitting/repowering existing plants; different coal types; and various geologic formations for CO2 storage. Importantly, there are three types of CO2 capture technology—pre-combustion, post-combustion, and oxy-combustion—with the latter two appropriate for use at existing coal-fueled power plants (see our Climate TechBook CCS brief for details). 

With its new approach for “FutureGen 2.0” DOE has focused on large-scale demonstration of oxy-combustion. Of the ten CCS demonstration projects supported by DOE, FutureGen will be the only one to use the oxy-combustion technology. Of the 34 large-scale power plant CCS projects worldwide tracked by MIT, only four (counting FutureGen) use or plan to use oxy-combustion, and FutureGen will be the only such oxy-combustion project in the United States. Given the greater focus so far given to the two other alternative CCS approaches, oxy-combustion is likely the CCS technology that can most benefit from the FutureGen large-scale demonstration project.

With its new approach for “FutureGen 2.0,” DOE is taking an important step in demonstrating a portfolio of different CCS technologies. Such demonstrations, along with other supportive government RD&D policies, provide a critical “push” for low-carbon technologies. Long-term policy certainty (such as from a GHG cap-and-trade program) for the private sector regarding future GHG emission reduction requirements can provide the necessary technology “pull” to guide private investments in widespread deployment of CCS and other low-carbon technologies.

Steve Caldwell is a Technology and Policy Fellow

CCS Recommendations Hit President’s Desk

Last week, the Obama Administration’s Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) released its final report and recommendations. President Obama created the task force, co-chaired by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and involving 14 executive departments and federal agencies, in February. The President’s directive charged the task force with delivering “a proposed plan to overcome the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years, with a goal of bringing 5 to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016.”

Go West, Emissions Cap

Less than a week after Senate Democrats decided that including cap and trade in an energy bill was too ambitious for this year, the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) forged ahead with a blueprint for its own such program. Seven U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, which together represent 13 percent of U.S. and 50 percent of Canadian greenhouse gas emissions, have compiled a detailed plan for implementing a market-based system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their region to 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The plan is an elaboration on the design recommendations released by the same states and provinces in 2008. 

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