Climate Compass Blog

EPA's Clean Power Plan puts states in the driver's seat

The finalization today of EPA’s Clean Power Plan offers Americans a clear, realistic roadmap for addressing planet-warming emissions that threaten the environment and the U.S. economy.

Most importantly, it puts states in the driver’s seat to devise innovative strategies to reduce emissions efficiently and cost-effectively. Now it's time for states to work together with businesses and cities to craft the approaches that work best for them.

Climate change is a critical challenge, and the impacts will only grow more costly if we fail to act. Last year was the warmest on Earth since we started keeping records over a century ago. During the first half of this year, it got even hotter. Climate change impacts include more extreme heat, which can exacerbate drought and wildfires, more frequent and intense downpours that can lead to destructive floods, and rising sea levels that threaten coastal cities.

Many cities, states, and companies recognize climate risks. And many are taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

New federal standards are already reducing heat-trapping emissions from the second-biggest source, transportation, by increasing the fuel economy of cars and trucks. The Clean Power Plan takes the next logical step by addressing the largest source: the electric power sector, responsible for nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

The plan will accelerate the trajectory toward cleaner power that is already well underway. This spring, for the first time ever, more U.S. electricity came from natural gas than from coal, which emits about twice as much carbon dioxide when combusted. In the first six months of this year, wind and solar made up 65 percent of new utility-scale electric capacity. Leading energy companies have been working to reduce their emissions and some have already pledged to make further cuts.

We’re on the right track. Now we need states to seize this opportunity to build a clean energy future.

The most exciting part of the plan is that it puts state leadership front and center. The plan offers states the flexibility to determine the best way to meet their own targets. Most states will answer the call and do what states do best: innovate.

The most cost-effective way to cut emissions is through market-based approaches, and the Clean Power Plan encourages these innovative strategies.

Ten states, home to a quarter of the U.S. population, already use market-based approaches.

The nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program, has cut emissions from power plants nearly 40 percent since 2005, lowered consumer electric bills by $460 over the past three years, and generated $1.3 billion in economic benefits for member states. California’s cap-and-trade program, launched in 2013, saw companies covered under the cap cut emissions nearly 4 percent in the first year while the state had one of the highest job growth rates in the nation.

To further move more states to consider market-based approaches, the final rule also includes a new incentive program based on early action credits that will boost renewable power and energy efficiency in the near term, helping the U.S. meet its international carbon-cutting pledges, and laying the foundation for deeper emission cuts in the long term. Giving states the time they need to develop their plans– something C2ES and others recommended – will enable states to look at long-term solutions, such as market approaches, renewables and energy efficiency.

The next step is for states, cities, and businesses to come together to craft commonsense plans.

How a Green Fair connection helped the environment and employees

For most Americans, getting to work means getting in a car – alone. Using public transportation instead can help the planet because it is more fuel efficient to move people together than separately. At a recent Green Fair in Springdale, Arkansas, we also learned just how much public transportation can help employees, especially those without a driver’s license or a car who struggle to get to work each day.

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The Green Fair C2ES hosted with Alcoa brought people together to share information and opportunities about energy conservation and sustainability-focused groups in the community.

The connection made at the fair between Alcoa and Ozark Regional Transit (ORT) brought to light a critical problem – and a potential solution. Some of Alcoa’s workers rely on friends, co-workers, and family members for a ride to work. That means if their ride is sick or has another obligation, they may be late for work, or may not make it at all. For Alcoa, that can mean reduced productivity and high employee turnover.

To address this problem, Ozark Regional Transit has decided to launch a new bus route and a pilot program offering free passes to Alcoa employees for the next several months. The distinctive blue buses will wind through nearby neighborhoods and go past Alcoa and a number of other manufacturing companies, who will also participate in the pilot project.

If the program, initiated by Tyson Foods, is successful, companies may decide to extend the service or offer reduced fares as an employee benefit.

For employees, companies, and the community, the new service could improve job satisfaction and retention and even open up more employment opportunities. It could also help improve local air quality – cutting the number of idling personal vehicles waiting for workers to finish their shifts.

Carey Webb, HR Manager at Alcoa Kawneer, said, “Partnering with ORT provides a service to employees so they are able to make it to work, save some money, and keep their carbon footprint green.”

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Green Fairs show how collaboration can help build a stronger, more sustainable community by:

  • Increasing awareness of local businesses and services, such as public transportation, nature parks and farmer’s markets
  • Illustrating how to be energy efficient at home to save energy and money
  • Exchanging community knowledge about who is doing what to adapt and cope with climate impacts.

“It’s really important for companies to focus their efforts on sustainability,” Webb said. The Green Fair offers, “a great opportunity for our employees to learn about many different organizations and the ‘green’ they can bring into their lives.”

When businesses and their communities collaborate to forge robust and locally-driven solutions to improve sustainability, they can have a big impact on their employees -- and make a smaller impact on the environment.

Breaking through the Montreal Protocol stalemate

The latest working group meeting of the Montreal Protocol in Paris produced much useful discussion, but few concrete results due to limited but vocal opposition to an amendment to phase down hydrofluorcarbons (HFCs), a fast-growing, extremely potent family of global warming gases. 

Efforts to achieve an amendment at the upcoming Meeting of the Parties in November had gained considerable momentum over the past year.  Four proposals for an amendment had been submitted by India, the European Union, the Island States, and North America (Mexico, Canada and the U.S.).  Beyond those proposals, the African States also have voiced their clear support for an amendment and recent meetings between President Obama and his counterparts from Brazil, India, and China had produced joint statements in support of action on HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. 

Despite support for these proposals from nearly 100 countries, the week-long meeting in Paris this month failed to reach agreement on even starting the negotiating process through the creation of a contact group.  After opposing these efforts over several meetings, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries) voiced their willingness to allow a two-stage process to move forward, but Pakistan stood firm in opposition, blocking any agreement.

In the absence of a mandate to begin negotiations, a number of sessions in Paris focused on a very useful exchange of views on issues raised by the four amendment proposals.  India, China and others identified concerns about the costs and availability of alternatives to HFCs (including concerns about obstacles created by patents), the performance of these alternatives in high ambient temperatures, the time required to address flammability concerns of some key alternatives, the importance of energy efficiency, and the need for financing through the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund.

All agreed to hold another working group session prior to the November Meeting of the Parties. But time is fast running out on this year’s efforts to reach agreement on an HFC phasedown amendment.  

What can be done to break this stalemate?

In the past, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has sometimes played an active role convening senior representatives from key countries and driving needed compromise. During the early years of the Protocol, UNEP’s Mostafa Tolba was masterful in bringing key countries together to find a workable solution.  Through informal, senior-level consultations, Tolba either forged a compromise text acceptable to all, or developed his own proposals that he would offer as a way forward.

While times have certainly changed, it may be that the moment has now arrived for Achim Steiner, UNEP’s current executive director, to actively engage with senior officials from key countries with the goal of advancing efforts at bringing HFCs into the Montreal Protocol.

Washington state commits to supporting a growing EV market

The power and transportation sectors are the top two sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. So for a state like Washington that already relies on low-emission power, transportation is the key opportunity to reduce emissions.

That’s why two concrete steps by the state to support its growing electric vehicle (EV) market in the near term are significant. As part of a transportation package signed by Governor Inslee on July 15, Senate Bill 5987 will:

  1. Extend the state’s EV sales tax exemption to 2019, opening up it up to plug-in hybrids that can travel at least 30 miles on electricity while capping eligibility to cars that cost under $35,000.
  2. Create a unique EV infrastructure bank to fund innovative charging station projects.

Although both steps were less than the broader climate action the governor sought, it’s notable that the state has given a clear market signal that it wants more EVs on its roads, and that it is encouraging public-private partnerships to fund EV charging infrastructure.

These actions are grounded in broader research C2ES completed this spring for the Washington State Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee. The study analyzed a variety of roles that the public sector can play to help expand private investment in EV charging infrastructure.

With demand for public charging still low and charging infrastructure costs high, it’s critical to capture the indirect revenue streams associated with charging services.

Companies pledge climate action

Thirteen companies took a public stand for climate action at the White House today, pledging to reduce heat-trapping emissions, increase clean energy investments, improve efficiency, and support efforts to reach a global climate agreement this year in Paris.

Three companies making pledges – Alcoa, Bank of America, and General Motors – are members of the C2ES Business Environmental Leadership Council, a group of mostly Fortune 500 companies, representing a combined $2.3 trillion in revenue, that support climate policy solutions that will move us toward a low-carbon future.

These business leaders – and many more – recognize the reality of climate change and the necessity to act.

For instance, HP recently announced that it will power 100 percent of its Texas-based data centers with renewable energy, thanks to a 12-year agreement to buy power from a 112 MW wind farm in Texas, in partnership with SunEdison.

Dow has reduced 320 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its operations compared to 1990 levels, and announced that by 2020, its trajectory for absolute emissions from operations and purchased power will meet internationally recognized targets for a 2 degree Celcius maximum global temperature rise.