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
 

Solutions in Steps, Not Leaps: The Year in Review and a Look Ahead

By Eileen Claussen
December 20, 2010

2010 was a year of highs and lows.

On the high side were global temperatures; 2010 will mark the hottest year in recorded history. At the start of the year, there was also the short-lived high of thinking we might be on the precipice of meaningful action in the U.S. Congress to protect the climate. Finally, at year’s end the climate talks in Cancún delivered (surprise!) tangible results in the form of agreement on key elements of a global climate framework.

But alas, the lows won out for most of 2010 as a trumped-up email controversy, continuing economic unease, and growing anti-government sentiment in the United States undermined the effort to forge lasting climate solutions at all levels. 

Congress. Until quite recently, the Pew Center and many others were actively supporting cap and trade as the number-one climate policy solution. After the House passed a fairly comprehensive energy and climate bill in June 2009 that had a cap-and-trade system at its core, we actually thought that it might become the law of the land.

Before long, however, it became eminently clear that the Senate would not be able to pass a similar bill. The 2010 U.S. elections, which brought more doubters of climate change into the halls of Congress, only made it clearer that comprehensive climate action is off the table for now.

EPA. With Congress unable to pass comprehensive climate legislation in 2010, attention turned to what EPA might be able to do under existing authorities. And it turns out that EPA can do quite a lot by taking reasonable steps that have garnered critical support from the business and environmental communities. In late October, for example, the agency announced a sensible proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel efficiency for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. This was followed by a November announcement that will go a long way to making sure that new industrial facilities use state-of-the-art technologies to boost efficiency and reduce emissions.

Of course, opponents of these and other EPA regulations will surely raise a ruckus, and there will be loud cries in Congress to delay the regulations and even cut funding for the EPA. But the possibility remains that the agency could conceivably begin to chip away at U.S. emissions in the months and years ahead.

State Actions. Looking beyond Washington, state capitals were the focus of creative thinking and leadership on the issue of clean energy in 2010. Massachusetts, for example, set a statewide energy efficiency standard in 2010 supported by $1.6 billion in incentives. Meanwhile, California voters upheld the state’s greenhouse gas reduction law by defeating Proposition 23. This marked the first direct vote on addressing climate change in the United States, and it won in an overwhelming fashion.

But the overall story regarding climate action in the states was more mixed. While several regional climate initiatives continued to push forward, the November elections brought to the nation’s statehouses a group of new leaders who adopted strong stands against climate action in their campaigns. We will stay tuned to see how their campaign rhetoric translates into governing.

International. The agreement reached by international negotiators in Cancún in December closed out 2010 on a positive note. The Cancún Agreements import the essential elements of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord into the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, including a stronger system of support for developing countries and a stronger transparency regime to better assess whether countries are keeping their promises. The Cancún Agreements also mark the first time that all of the world’s major economies have made explicit mitigation pledges under the Convention.

Of course, the ultimate goal of the continuing international talks should be a legally-binding climate treaty, but in Cancún we saw countries agreeing on incremental steps that will deliver stronger action in the near term and lay the foundation for binding commitments down the road.

Looking Ahead. Looking ahead, I believe 2011 holds promise only if those of us who support climate action can learn from what happened in 2010. In recent years, domestic and international efforts largely centered on a “big bang” theory of trying to achieve everything at once. Instead, it’s instructive now to take a cue from Cancún and accept that a step-by-step approach to building support for climate solutions offers our best shot at progress. 

Calling on the new Congress to pass cap and trade or similarly comprehensive solutions will be a nonstarter, for example.  But there may be an opportunity on Capitol Hill for less sweeping steps to reduce U.S. emissions.  

Supporters would do well to spend the next several months laying the groundwork for incremental solutions by strengthening communications with the public. We need to do a better job of helping people understand both the risks and the opportunities presented by climate change. In the same way we buy fire insurance to protect against an event that has a statistically small chance of happening but would result in severe damage, acting now to cut emissions reduces our vulnerability to severe events that are likely to become more common in a warming world. And the success of the “No on Prop 23” campaign in California suggests that there remains a healthy appetite among the general public and in the business community (which provided substantial support for the effort) to back well-framed climate solutions. 

After a year of highs and lows, we still must aim high in our efforts to address one of the greatest challenges of our time. But we should also heed the lessons of the past year and work for more modest victories now that can keep us on the path to longer-term solutions. 

by Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change-- December 2010
Eileen Claussen
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Our Region at Risk

Front-Line City in Virginia Tackles Rise in Sea  --  The New York Times, Nov. 25

Last house on sinking Chesapeake Bay island collapses   --  The Washington Post,  Oct. 26

Flood Plan proposed to protect Washington Mall  --  The Washington Post, Nov. 15

Maybe climate change has fallen off the radar screen at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, but these recent headlines from The Washington Post and The New York Times suggest that the issue hasn’t gone away. No, these stories aren’t straight out of some scary futuristic sci-fi movie (anybody remember the truly dreadful 1995 movie Waterworld starring Kevin Costner?). Nor are they based on some forecast for a distant future year spit out by a supercomputer. They simply report on real events, happening today, right here in our region. They provide a clear and present warning of the economic costs and human suffering that will increasingly be in the news if we fall to address climate change.

BACT guidance

On November 10, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released guidance to be used in implementing “best available control technology” (BACT) requirements for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from major new or modified stationary sources of air pollution. Under the Clean Air Act (the Act), major new sources or major modifications to existing sources must employ technologies aimed at limiting emissions from these sources.

Under the Act, the BACT requirements for a given facility are to be established in a way that addresses the specific conditions of the facility and reflect the maximum degree of emission reduction that has been demonstrated through available methods, systems, and techniques, while accounting for the economic, energy and environmental considerations of the facility. In most states, the state environmental agency, rather than US EPA, will be issuing the permit to the facility.

The use of BACT to limit emissions of regulated pollutants from facilities has been part of the Clean Air Act for decades. Its first application to GHG emissions occurred in February 2010, when Calpine Corporation voluntarily agreed to an air permit that included a BACT determination for GHGs at a new power plant in California. The approved power plant included a slightly more efficient generation unit than had been initially proposed.

The new EPA guidance itself is technical in nature. Most importantly, under the guidance, covered facilities will generally be required to use the most energy efficient technologies available – much as was the case with the Calpine facility – rather than be required to install particular pollution control technologies. Among other things, carbon capture and sequestration technology will not be considered BACT except in extremely rare circumstances, such as when a facility is located next to an operating oil field whose operator wants to purchase carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery. Nor will the guidance require that specific types of fuels be used. In particular it does not require that proposed coal burning power plants switch to natural gas. The guidance also includes particular guidance for biomass facilities, stating that biomass itself could be considered BACT. EPA has indicated that it intends possibly to pursue additional rulemaking next year that may eliminate biomass burning facilities altogether from this permitting process. Overall, the BACT guidance maintains the same steps for individual BACT determination for GHGs that have long been used for BACT determination for traditional air pollutants. 

In an earlier rulemaking, EPA established the threshold limits for which major new or modified sources would be required to meet BACT requirements. In its “tailoring” rule, EPA specified that beginning January 2, 2011, only sources that were already subject to BACT for “criteria” air pollutants (such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) and had emissions of GHGs that exceeded 75,000 tons per year would have to meet BACT for GHGs. In July 2011, these requirements will be extended to apply also to any new source with GHG emissions above 100,000 tons per year and any modified source that increases GHG emissions by more than 75,000 tons per year.

 

More information from C2ES:

Frequently Asked Questions about the EPA and GHG Regulations
Sequence of Events Leading to EPA Regulation of GHGs

Other information: 

Clean Air Act Regulation for Greenhouse Gases overview from EPA
BACT Guidance from EPA
Fact Sheet on Proposed Rules on Clean Air Permits from EPA

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

EPA Issues Permitting Guidance for Greenhouse Gases

Statement on EPA’s issuance of guidance for Clean Air Act permitting for greenhouse gases.

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

November 10, 2010

Today's announcement demonstrates that EPA can use the Clean Air Act in a sensible way to improve our nation's energy efficiency and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The guidance goes a long way to making sure that large new industrial facilities employ state of the art technologies that will deliver important long term economic and environmental benefits.

 

Additional EPA Resources

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

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

CARB’s Economic Analysis Helps Make the Case to Reject Proposition 23

Last Thursday, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) published details on the proposed greenhouse gas trading program to be implemented under state law AB 32. AB 32, as our blog readers know, is under threat from Proposition 23 – which would forestall (perhaps indefinitely) meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gases in California. The analyses done by CARB in association with the development of the proposed program bolster the case for rejecting Prop 23.

These CARB analyses show that the trading program under AB 32 will “shift investment and growth within the overall economy toward those sectors driven by the production of cleaner and more-efficient technologies.” The importance of this targeted growth should not be understated – by moving toward energy technologies that are both home-grown and energy efficient, we reduce our economic exposure to the price volatility of global energy markets. Since the world is using more and more of what are ultimately finite quantities of fossil energy, protecting ourselves by transitioning the economy toward energy systems that are not subject to global supply and demand imbalances is important to protecting our future economic growth.

While transitioning to new and different systems for energy production and use will necessarily result in some temporary economic dislocation, the market mechanisms included in CARB’s regulatory program minimize these impacts. Taken directly from the CARB economic analysis appendix:  “Overall, staff finds no significant adverse impacts on California business or consumers as a whole as a result of the proposed regulation.”

With climate change legislation stalled on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., for the foreseeable future, maintaining the critical environmental legislation of AB 32 is extremely important for advancing the nation’s climate policy. Even absent action by other states, California is the world’s 8th largest economy and a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Action taken through policy in California is a huge step forward in addressing the global climate crisis.

Much of the rest of the world is waiting for the United States to take a leadership role on the issue of global climate change. With political gridlock in D.C., the best chance for the nation to make significant progress on this issue starts in California. AB 32 is the start of California’s transition to a 21st century economy of clean, green, homegrown energy – and represents an opportunity for the state, and the nation, to retake a leadership position in what will be some of the most important industries of the coming decades. 

Russell Meyer is the Senior Fellow for Economics and Policy

Prop 23's Regional Repercussions

This post also appeared today in National Journal's Energy & Environment Experts blog.

As others have pointed out in the discussion of California’s Proposition 23, which would suspend the landmark climate law (AB32), passage would have wide-ranging implications for both the state itself and the national debate on comprehensive climate and energy policy in the U.S.  These concerns for both California- and national-level climate action are valid – by creating a policy environment of extreme uncertainty, Prop 23 threatens to freeze the currently expanding investment in clean technology in the state.  It is also arguably the new “battleground” on comprehensive climate legislation in the U.S., given the current state of affairs in the U.S. Congress. 

But there’s an intermediate level of climate action that also is at stake with passage of Prop 23.  Success for the fledgling cap-and-trade portion of the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) hinges on California continuing to be a leader in the development and implementation of the program.  WCI states account for nearly 15% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and WCI would be the first emissions-trading scheme in the U.S. to cap emissions from economy-wide sources.  While it may take some time for all WCI states to adopt cap-and-trade, all environmental programs have to start somewhere. And California’s leadership – not to mention the large quantity of emissions the state will add to the new market – is critical to the most comprehensive (in terms of emissions coverage), ambitious climate action initiative in the U.S.  Perhaps this is something the backers of Prop 23 are acutely aware of?

While we’re on the topic of threats to this singularly unique climate law, let’s not forget Prop 23’s much less well-known cousin, Prop 26.  This initiative seeks to tighten how the state constitution defines taxes and regulatory fees, and require a two-thirds supermajority vote in the state Legislature to enact new taxes and many fees.  Perhaps seemingly harmless, lawyers from UCLA this week argued that Prop 26 is a threat to the state's ability to assess fees on polluters for the external costs they impose on the public and will affect a number of existing laws, including the state’s landmark climate law (as well as a green chemistry initiative, two laws blocking chemical products in landfills, and rules on lead).  It’s ironic that Prop 23 could be defeated, while Prop 26, backed with multimillion-dollar contributions from the California Chamber of Commerce, Chevron Corporation, and Philip Morris USA Inc., might slide through and have the same effect on AB32, albeit via different means.  Passage of either proposition would be a setback to California’s ability (and thus, the WCI’s ability) to move forward on climate.

Eileen Claussen is President

No Props for Props (23 & 26)

I will be the first to admit that I don’t really understand the California election process. Governors are recalled and propositions seem to proliferate at every election cycle.  What I do understand is that these propositions can have dramatic consequences—after all, elections do matter.  Most folks who are reading our blog have likely heard of Prop 23, which would effectively stop the implementation of California’s landmark climate change law, AB32.  Environmental groups, clean energy entrepreneurs and big names such as Bill Gates and James Cameron have poured large amounts of attention and $25 million into the “No on 23” campaign, even as refiners Valero and Tesoro—and the now infamous Koch Brothers—fund the Yes campaign.  Luckily the opponents have been getting the upper hand recently, with polls saying just over 50% of likely voters plan to vote against the prop—including both gubernatorial candidates.

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

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