Climate Compass Blog
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
It’s an issue that will affect the prosperity of our children and our children’s children. It’s an issue that requires we make cuts today in order to avoid far greater burdens on future generations. It’s an issue that is steeped in complexities and arcane detail that is difficult to communicate to the public, and often requires advanced training in order to understand fully. And it’s an issue that requires bold public leadership today in order to avert consequences that will affect future well-being and quality of life.
Readers of this blog can be forgiven for immediately assuming that these statements are meant to describe the political challenges of climate change; but the political issue du jour in Washington these days is the federal budget deficit and mounting national debt, and these statements apply for that issue equally as well. We, here at Climate Compass, are not the first to note the similarities in the discourse – but for those of us working in the climate field, or who care deeply about the issue, the parallels are hard to ignore. There is an important difference, however, that seems to affect the public debate.
While both are complex issues that are at times inherently difficult to understand, the budget provides a much simpler scoring system of dollars and cents; in comparison to the climate debt that we are accruing in the form of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We can see on a chart or graph the totals that budget projections show – and we know from our daily household experiences that increasing debts imply increasing interest payments and costs.
The climate deficit that continues to accumulate, on the other hand, shows no clear balance of payments or future due dates. But make no mistake; the charges we are putting against our climate credit card will eventually create even greater costs over time as changes accelerate. Greenhouse gases, once emitted, stay in the atmosphere for centuries. Any emissions made today, tomorrow, and over the next several years commit the planet to warming over the lifetime of those gases.
Even though it is not as easy to track the mounting costs of our climate deficit, we know the debt will have to be paid in the form of increasingly severe weather events, changes in agricultural productivity, mass migrations, and sea level rise – just to name a few. This means that the unchecked emissions we continue to create are racking up a greenhouse gas debt that will force increasingly expensive costs on current and future generations.
So as the debate continues inside the beltway on how to address the federal deficit – remember that in the case of both the budget deficit and climate change, it will be far less expensive to pay a little today and avoid paying far more later.
Historical National Debt (to 2009): Congressional Budget Office - http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/120xx/doc12039/historicalTables.xls
Projections of National Debt (from 2010): Congressional Budget Office - http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/120xx/doc12039/BudgetTables.xls
Historical GHG Emissions (to 2009): EIA IES - http://www.eia.doe.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/IEDIndex3.cfm
Projected GHG Emissions (from 2010): EIA AEO, Table A18 - http://www.eia.doe.gov/analysis/projection-data.cfm#annualproj
Russell Meyer is the Senior Fellow for Economics and Policy
First there was the warning about a construction moratorium – all new major stationary sources would come to an immediate halt because of EPA’s new source review requirements for greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Soon after the alarm went out about the approaching regulatory “train wreck” that would result from a series of EPA rules impacting electric utilities. A large number of power plants would shut down, the reliability of our energy supply would be sacrificed, and consumers would face skyrocketing costs.
There was only one problem with these warnings – they were made before anybody knew what the actual regulations would require. Now that EPA has issued several of these rules, it is useful to revisit these doomsday scenarios and see if the reality of the proposals matches the rhetoric before the fact.
At the moment, our attention is riveted by the events unfolding at a nuclear power plant in Japan. Over the past year or so, major accidents have befallen just about all of our major sources of energy: from the Gulf oil spill, to the natural gas explosion in California, to the accidents in coal mines in Chile and West Virginia, and now to the partial meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactor. We have been reminded that harnessing energy to meet human needs is essential, but that it entails risks. The risks of different energy sources differ in size and kind, but none of them are risk-free.
For many Americans, U.S. oil dependence has become a concern for reasons ranging from climate change and environmental protection to national security and the economic impact of higher gas prices. But there are other important impacts of our oil dependence, including how foreign oil contributes to the U.S. trade deficit and how rising oil prices decrease American jobs – both particularly salient issues on the current U.S. political agenda.
A recent article from Daily Finance shines light on the 2010 trade deficit, more than half of which is from petroleum-related products. In 2010, the U.S. petroleum-related trade deficit was $256.9B, which represents a 29.6 percent jump from the 2009 petroleum trade deficit. This rise is largely due to increased prices, as the consumption of petroleum-related products in the United States grew by only 1.9 percent from 2009 to 2010 while the price per barrel of oil grew 31.1 percent to $74.66. An issue currently receiving a lot of attention in Washington, the $61B worth of cuts to the national budget sought by the U.S. House of Representatives, is equal to only one fourth of the country’s 2010 petroleum-related trade deficit.
Numbers that large can be hard to put into perspective, so let’s look at how this affects the average American. The graph below shows the U.S. petroleum-related trade deficit per capita (left axis), which is closely related to oil prices (right axis). In 2010 the petroleum-related trade deficit per capita was $832 and has ranged from $600 to $1200 in the past several years. This translates into each American household sending roughly $2,155 out of the U.S. economy in 2010 to pay for oil.
Rising oil prices not only increase the trade deficit, they decrease the number of jobs in America. As energy prices rise, businesses and consumers must spend more on energy and thus have less to spend elsewhere. In his presentation at our recent conference on state and federal roles in climate policy, Mark Doms, Chief Economist at the Department of Commerce, explained that when the price of oil goes up by just $10 per barrel, it translates into a loss of tens of thousands of jobs per month, or up to a quarter of a million U.S. jobs per year. Instead of losing jobs in order to maintain our use of oil, we should focus on creating jobs by investing in domestically produced alternative fuels and vehicles.
In June 2008, oil prices spiked to $145 per barrel, and Americans paid for it at the pump as gas prices reached $4 per gallon. We could be headed into a similar situation, as oil prices rose above $105 per barrel earlier this month and are expected to continue to rise in 2011 and 2012. Because we rely on oil, a resource that is concentrated in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC, we face oil prices that are much higher than a competitive market would yield. This makes U.S. gasoline susceptible to price shocks, and American consumers pay more at the pump than they would in a competitive market.
Here we have highlighted two other important reasons why Americans should care about rising oil prices: they increase the U.S. trade deficit and can decrease domestic jobs. As oil prices continue to rise, these negative economic trends will also worsen. In order to mitigate the impacts of rising oil prices, we need to work towards a clean energy economy and promote the use of domestic alternative fuels and energy efficiency. This would decrease our oil dependence, making the United States less susceptible to rising oil prices while also creating more jobs here at home.
Monica Ralston is is the Innovative Solutions intern