U.S. States & Regions

States and regions across the country are adopting climate policies, including the development of regional greenhouse gas reduction markets, the creation of state and local climate action and adaptation plans, and increasing renewable energy generation. Read More
 

New York Passes Law to Encourage More Efficient Homes

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
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On June 22, 2011, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Power NY Act of 2011 (Act) that will help homeowners make energy-efficiency upgrades and streamline the siting process for new power plants that generate more than 25 megawatts.

Loans for the Homeowner

Homeowners can borrow up to $13,000 for energy-efficiency upgrades and small businesses can borrow up to $26,000. The loan is to be paid back through a surcharge on the monthly utility bill. The program is cost-effective because the surcharge will be less than the energy savings after upgrades. The source of the initial funds will be some of the revenue from New York State’s auctions for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation’s first regional greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.

Streamline Power Plant Approvals

The Act also establishes a seven-member permitting board for power plant siting that could bypass some of the layers of regulation for faster approval. The panel will provide permits for power plants generating greater than 25 megawatts.

Power NY Act of 2011 (PDF)
Press Release

Virginia Passes Renewable Energy Package

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On June 15, 2011, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed eight renewable energy bills. Highlights from the bills include the establishment of a Clean Energy Manufacturing Incentive Grant Program that includes job creation mandates; establishment of a Voluntary Solar Resource Development Fund to finance solar installations in residential, non-profit and commercial sectors; doubling of the allowable on-site electricity generation capacity for net metering from 10 to 20 kilowatts; and extension of tax credits for purchase of biofuel vehicles to 2014.

SB 862 Commonwealth Energy Policy; local renewable energy facility siting ordinances. Requires that a local ordinance addressing the siting of renewable energy facilities be consistent with provisions of the Commonwealth Energy Policy, and provide reasonable criteria and requirements on the siting of any such facility.

HB 1686 Distributed solar generation demonstration programs.Directs the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to exercise its existing authority to consider for approval petitions filed by a utility to own and operate distributed solar generation facilities and to offer special tariffs to facilitate customer-owned distributed solar generation as alternatives to net energy metering.

HB 1912 Electric utility ratemaking procedures; recognition of Commonwealth Energy Policy. Directs the State Corporation Commission (SCC), when required to approve the construction of an electric utility facility, to consider the economic and job creation objectives of the Commonwealth Energy Policy, including whether the cost is likely to result in unreasonable increases in customers’ rates.

HB 1983 Net energy metering program. Increases the maximum capacity of an electrical generation facility of a residential customer that qualifies for participation in a net energy metering program from 10 to 20 kilowatts.

HB 2191 Voluntary Solar Resource Development Fund.  Establishes the Voluntary Solar Resource Development Fund, from which money will be loaned for projects that involve the acquisition, installation, or operation of photovoltaic devices, solar water heating devices, or certain solar space heating devices at residential, commercial, or non-profit facilities. The measure requires the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to provide the option to make voluntary contributions to the Fund, and expires July 1, 2016.

HB 2316 Clean Energy Manufacturing Incentive Grant Program.  Repeals the Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing Incentive Grant Program effective July 1, 2013, and the Biofuels Production Incentive Grant Program effective July 1, 2017, to create a program that provides financial incentives to companies that manufacture or assemble equipment, systems, or products used to produce renewable or nuclear energy, or products used for energy conservation, storage, or grid efficiency purposes. To be eligible for a grant, the manufacturer must make a capital investment greater than $50 million and create at least 200 full-time jobs. A wind energy supplier must make a capital investment of greater than $10 million and create at least 30 full-time jobs

HB 2389 Virginia Resources Authority; renewable energy projects.  Adds renewable energy projects to those projects which the Virginia Resources Authority may finance.

SB 1236 Clean fuel vehicle and advanced cellulosic biofuels job creation tax credit.  Extends the sunset date of the tax credit from the 2011 taxable year to the 2014 taxable year.

Press Release

Supreme Court Doubles Down on EPA and Clean Air Act

In a unanimous (8-0) decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in AEP v Conn that the state and land trust plaintiffs could not invoke a federal common law public nuisance claim against the five largest electric power companies.  The plaintiffs in the case were seeking controls on the carbon dioxide emissions from the utilities’ power plants.  Building on their 2007 decision in Mass v EPA, the Court held that Congress in passing the Clean Air Act had authorized federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and in doing so had effectively “occupied the field” thereby negating any common law claims. In a decision noteworthy for its brevity and clarity, the Court stated:

We hold that the Clean Air Act and EPA actions it authorizes displace any federal common law right to seek abatement of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel fired plants.  Massachusetts made plain that emissions of carbon dioxide qualify as air pollution subject to regulation under the Act. (page 10)

Recovery Act’s Impact on Energy Spending

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Pub.L. 111-5, Recovery Act, ARRA) is the economic stimulus package passed by Congress on February 13, 2009, and signed by President Obama four days later. As of February 2011, the package was expected to total $821 billion in costs through 2019 delivered through a combination of federal tax cuts, temporary expansion of economic assistance provisions, and domestic spending to advance economic recovery and create new jobs, as well as save existing ones. From advancing smart grid development to supporting appliance rebate programs, the Recovery Act has allowed the United States to make significant headway in building the foundation of its clean energy economy. We recently released an update to our 2009 white paper on the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Recovery Act spending. The publication summarizes DOE ARRA spending, the Recovery Act's effects on employment, and highlights a number of notable projects. 

Water Resources and Climate Change: A Key Area of Concern

Although much of the discussion about climate change impacts has focused on increases in temperature and the rise in sea level, changes that impact our nation’s water resources could have the greatest impact on society. A quick glance at recent newspaper headlines—heavy spring rains leading to massive flooding of the Mississippi River, historic drought covering large parts of Texas, and extensive wildfires spreading across Arizona—provides more than enough evidence of how vulnerable we are to water-related extreme events. 


While these events have led some to ask whether they are caused by climate change, this question misses the mark. Individual weather events are not “caused” by any single phenomenon—and climate change’s contribution to individual events will not be resolved cleanly in the years to come. What virtually all climate scientists agree on, however, is that the climate is already changing, all weather events now form under different conditions than they used to, and this change is increasing the probability of extreme weather events happening. It makes sense to learn what we can from actual events and avoid getting caught up in an irresolvable debate about why a particular event happened. We would be better served by learning more about what is at risk from extreme events and what we can do to better manage and minimize those risks.


A recent interagency draft report, National Action Plan: Priorities for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate, highlights both the extensive economic and social risks that we face as a nation from the impact of climate change on water resources and the critical steps we need to take to begin facing up to these challenges. 

Source: US Global Change Research Program: Climate Change Impacts in the United States

The report documents the changes in our climate system that are already evident and are likely to increase over time. Warmer air and sea surface temperatures and rising sea levels are only part of the picture. Total precipitation has increased by about 5 percent over the past 50 years, and the amount of precipitation that occurs during the heaviest downpours has increased by 20 percent. However, regional variations appear likely with increased precipitation in the northern part of the country while areas in the south, particularly in the southwest, are likely to get drier. The strengthened hydrologic cycle puts wet areas at risk of getting wetter while dry areas are at increased risk of drought. Areas dependent on water from melting snow packs may also face substantial changes as more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow and as earlier snowmelt changes the timing and quantity of water availability.


The implications of these changes cut a wide swath across our economy and environment. Water availability is critical in sectors as diverse as agriculture, electricity generation (hydroelectric, but also fossil fuel generation and nuclear power), heavy transport, mining and mineral exploration, and storm water management. Beyond economic factors, water is also critical to ecosystem wellbeing, wildfire management, and public health.


In order to more effectively manage these risks, and to enhance the resiliency of our water resource  systems,  the report sets out six general recommendations and 24 specific actions that should be undertaken by federal agencies and their partners. It calls for a more formal planning process, highlights the need for improved information, enhanced capacity building, better integration across related issues, and better tools for assessing vulnerabilities, and recommends expanded water use efficiency.


These actions are by no means a cure-all for the challenges we face in managing the increasing demands on our water resources in a changing climate. Nor are they a substitute for slowing the rate and magnitude of climate change through reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The most effective risk management strategy is to avoid the risk all together. But with climate change already underway, we are too late to avoid some changes, and adaptation will be critical to reducing economic and environmental costs. We need only to look at the costs and suffering from recent extreme weather events to understand the risks we face.


Comments on the draft plan are being accepted until July 15, and can be submitted to: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/adaptation/freshwater-plan
 

Steve Seidel is Vice President for Policy Analysis

RGGI’s Benefits, Costs, and Why It Should Stay

Throughout the beginning of 2011, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) —the first mandatory carbon dioxide (CO2) cap-and-trade program in the United States—was successfully defended by state legislators in three states where attempts were made to remove those states from the program. In the second week of May, the states of Delaware and Maine defeated bills proposing withdrawal, while in New Hampshire, Senators did not pass the House’s version of a withdrawal bill. But on May 26, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced that his state will leave RGGI by the end of the year.

Participating RGGI states cap CO2 emissions from power plants (those with generation capacities of at least 25 megawatts) and auction most of the emissions allowances. (Each allowance lets a power plant emit one ton of CO2.) RGGI’s CO2 emission allowance auctions raised $789.2 million for the 10 participating Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states from 2008 to the end of 2010. Meanwhile, consumers on average saw their monthly utility bills increase by less than $1. As highlighted in a February RGGI report, this allowance auction revenue has benefited the 10 participating states via investments in clean energy technology and energy bill assistance. These investments are creating clean energy jobs, saving consumers money, and deploying technologies that reduce the environmental impact of power generation.

Getting It Right on Fuel Efficiency

This post also appears in the National Journal Energy & Environment Experts blog in response to the question: What should drive fuel efficiency?

At a moment when it appears to many that our government can’t do anything right, the current approach to regulating vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a bright spot.

After decades of failing to tighten corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, and several years when California and other states began to take the matter of setting vehicle GHG standards into their own hands, the federal government finally got its act together. In 2007 Congress enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, tightening CAFE. In 2010, NHTSA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly set GHG and CAFE standards, and California agreed to conform its rules to the federal ones. NHTSA and EPA are hard at work at a second round of standards for light duty vehicles, as well as the first-ever set of similar rules for medium and heavy duty trucks.

We now have the Congress, federal and state regulators, industry and public interest groups aligned on a policy framework that is meeting important national goals of reducing oil dependence and GHG emissions, providing regulatory consistency and certainty to the industry, and creating a climate favorable to investment and innovation.

The auto industry is responding successfully. The plug-in hybrid electric Chevy Volt won the 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year, 2011 Green Car of the Year, and 2011 North American Car of the Year. It’s also selling well. But PHEVs are just part of the story. The Chevy Cruze and Hyundai Elantra are among the nine vehicles in the U.S. marketplace that get more than 40 miles per gallon. They were also among the 10 top-selling vehicles last month. Higher sales of fuel-efficient vehicles across the board contributed to strong sales and combined profits of nearly $5.9 billion for the three U.S. automakers in the first quarter of this year.

Higher gasoline prices are heightening consumer interest in these vehicles. But we cannot rely on oil prices alone to drive us to the next generation of vehicles. Oil prices are too volatile to motivate the sustained business investment we need. And the price we pay at the pump doesn’t reflect the true cost of oil to our country. Half of the 2010 U.S. trade deficit was from oil – that’s $256.9 billion we sent overseas last year alone. The U.S. EPA estimates that the energy security benefit of reducing oil dependence is on the order of $12 per barrel. And gasoline burning inflicts enormous damage on our air quality and climate. For example, the transportation sector is responsible for more than a quarter of U.S. GHG emissions and is a major contributor to smog.

The beauty of the fuel economy and GHG standards is that they are performance based. They set targets based on important public policy goals – i.e., oil savings and GHG reductions – but leave it to industry to find the best way to meet them. They don’t “pick winners.” They should remain the core of our public policy framework for transportation.

But our current set of vehicles and fuels may not be up to the job of meeting our long-term goals. In order to level the playing field with the incumbent technologies that have benefited from nearly a century of infrastructure development and fuel-vehicle optimization, we need to make some public investment to jumpstart alternative vehicles and fuels. This has to be done carefully. We need a savvy, adaptive strategy that ensures that any subsidies are only temporary, leverages public investment with private dollars, spawns experiments and learns from them, and rewards environmental and efficiency performance.

It is not clear whether hydrogen, natural gas, electricity, or biofuels are the long-term solution to our energy and environmental challenges. But we need to continue to keep the pressure on all of them through performance-based standards, research them all, subsidize limited deployment to see how they perform in the real world, and leave it to industry and consumers to determine their ultimate success in the marketplace.

Judi Greenwald is Vice President for Innovative Solutions

Let's Ride the EV Wave

This post also appeared in the National Journal Energy & Environment Experts blog in response to a question about oil use and the future of electric vehicles.

Whether or not electric vehicles (EVs) take off will ultimately depend on consumer acceptance of new technology. But public policy and technological progress are just as important, as we highlight in our new report on the transportation sector.

Indeed, electric drive vehicles powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells could revolutionize transportation in the United States, saving considerable amounts of oil while also reducing the sector’s impact on our global climate. And the EVs on the market now are off to a great start, winning national and international awards.

Nearly all major automakers are planning to introduce these vehicles in the coming years, and I applaud automakers like Ford that have committed to building alternative drivetrains in significant number for the long haul. Companies like Ford understand climate change and the need to reduce our impact on our global environment while not sacrificing our mobility. For EVs to achieve that goal, we need policies like a clean energy standard that aim to decarbonize our electrical grid. I’m sure Ford is also investing in this space because they see a market opportunity.

The private sector has invested billions of dollars in developing, manufacturing, promoting, and distributing EVs in the last decade. From a map on our website, you can see that policymakers across the country are supporting EVs because they want their region to benefit from this burgeoning market.

Policymakers should rely on private capital as much as possible to build out the EV charging infrastructure so we can balance the desire to support alternative vehicles while also tackling our nation’s budget deficit. To that end, we should coordinate policy related to EV purchase and home charging nationwide so private players can enter new markets more easily. The most efficient way to “refuel” these vehicles is not yet clear, and we should use policy to help provide the foundation to let the market work.

Another element that is critical to the success of these vehicles is its most expensive component – the battery. Not only do we need aggressive R&D to develop batteries with much higher energy density, we also need to figure out what to do with these batteries at the vehicle’s end-of-life. About 80 percent of the battery’s capacity is still usable at this point, resulting in the largest untapped resource in this space today.

If we achieve the right mix of policy, technological progress, and consumer acceptance, there’s little reason to doubt that alternative vehicles will have a significant impact on the car market in this decade. It appears that it will be tough to kill the electric car this time.

Eileen Claussen is President

Claussen Reacts to Authoritative Study on America's Climate Choices

Today the National Academies released the final report in its most comprehensive assessment of climate change entitled America’s Climate Choices.

Statement of Eileen Claussen
President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

May 12, 2011

I applaud the National Academies for providing policymakers and the public with this comprehensive and authoritative study to advance the country’s response to climate change. America’s Climate Choices reaffirms the overwhelming scientific evidence – climate change is real and the case for action is clear.

Left unchecked, climate impacts pose significant risks to our economy and security. If we continue to ignore and delay acting to minimize these very real risks, we are inviting more severe impacts and greater costs. Meaningful action will increase certain costs, but clear-headed analyses show those costs will be manageable and far outweighed by the economic, security, and environmental benefits.

In the year since the first installments of America’s Climate Choices were published, extreme weather events have affected millions of lives and cost billions of dollars in the U.S. and across the world. Current flood damage along the Mississippi River and drought-induced wildfires that have ravaged more than 2 million acres this year in Texas are the latest reminders of the risks we will face and the need to act to address our growing vulnerabilities.

We also agree with the National Academies that more studies and scientific findings alone will not advance sensible energy and climate solutions. Straight-forward answers about the risks and growing costs we face from inaction and the economic costs and opportunities from advancing innovative energy solutions must be effectively communicated to broader audiences in a clear and honest way.

From Washington, to Wall Street, to Main Street, Americans need a fair shake on the energy-climate debate. They need a clearer understanding of our climate and energy challenges and what it means to them. We look forward to building on the work of America’s Climate Choices to advance this conversation so the choices America makes enhance our security, grow our economy, and protect our environment today and for generations to come.

Pew Center Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, 703-516-4146

Related Resources

Changing Planet Series

Changing Planet is a three-part series of town hall events intended to encourage student learning and dialogue about climate change by gathering scientists, thought leaders, business people, and university students to discuss the facts of climate science, the dynamics of its impact and to brainstorm solutions. The series is prodiced in partnership between NBC Learn (the educational arm of NBC News), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Discover magazine.

The first town hall event, Changing Planet: The Impact on Lives and Values, was hosted at Yale University and moderated by NBC News Special Correspondent Tom Brokaw. The discussion explored themes of human health, national security, economic opportunity and competitiveness, moral or religious values, environmental justice, and what climate change means for youth. The panelists were Linda Fisher, Dupont’s chief sustainability officer; Rajendra Pachauri, director of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute and a Nobel Prize laureate; Billy Parish, founder and coordinator of the youth-oriented Energy Action Coalition; and Katherine Hayhoe, associate professor in the Department of Geosciences at Texas Tech University and an expert on the intersection between Christian fundamentalism and climate change.

NBC Learn/Weather Channel Make an Impact highlight

A second Changing Planet: Clean Energy, Green Jobs and Global Competition town hall was hosted at George Washington University on April 12, and focused on the economic advantages of climate change solutions, including clean energy policies and technologies and creation of market green jobs. Tim Juliani, Director of Corporate Engagement, was a panelist and provided our  perspective on the clean energy debate. Other panelists included: Ken Zweibel, a professor at GWU, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins (head of Green for All),  and Chris Busch (director of Policy and Programs at the Apollo Alliance). NBC News reporter Anne Thompson moderated this event.

Read Discover Magazine's story on Building a Green-Collar Economy with a full transcript of the Changing Planet: Clean Energy, Green Jobs and Global Competition town hall.

The third town hall will be held at Arizona State University in the fall of 2011, and its suggested focus will be “Keeping It Fresh: Our Water Future,” impacts of  how communities are adapting, or preparing to adapt to, changing availability of fresh water..

In addition to the Changing Planet town halls, NBC Learn and NSF worked together to produce a series of 12 online video reports looking at the impact of climate change in various locations around the world. From Bermuda’s tropical seas to the Arctic Ocean, each story follows scientists in the field who are studying the dramatic impacts of rising temperatures in the air, in the water, and on land. The series is narrated by Anne Thompson, Chief Environmental Affairs Correspondent for NBC News. Watch the full video series here.

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