Policy

The bad grandfather: Lessons from the Clean Air Act

28
Oct
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The Clean Air Act (CAA) was signed into law in 1963 and has since been amended several times. This law requires that all new power plants use the best available technology to reduce pollutants that are a threat to human health. The power industry argued that there was no need to regulate old power plants, since they would be replaced over time with new plants that meet the CAA requirements. The fact that this didn’t happen is both a lesson for how we need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the future and an opportunity to quickly begin reducing our emissions in the present.

Soon after passage of the CAA, it was clear that these old plants weren’t going away. To the contrary: Old plants were being “upgraded”, without meeting the requirements of the CAA. That’s why New Source Review was added to the CAA in 1977. If an existing plant was modified such that there were significant increases in emission, then the plant would need to be brought up to the CAA standards and the best available technology for controlling emissions would need to be installed. Routine maintenance is allowed under new source review. During the Clinton administration, a battle royal was waged about the definition of “significant” and “routine”. For the most part power plants have only performed “routine maintenance” since 1977. Still, power from these old plants has increased by operating them more hours each year.

In the 1980s, acid rain was killing lakes and streams in the Northwest; Congress amended the CAA again in 1990 to address this problem. This time their approach included the old plants, forcing them to either clean up their emissions or buy permits. The number of permits would drop over time, driving their cost up until the demand dropped, which happens when a power plant installs sulfur dioxide (SO2) scrubbers or is shut down.

This is a market-based approach, sometimes called cap-and-trade, that the Republicans brought forward and has been very successful in reducing SO2 emissions at a much lower cost than was predicted (which is almost always the case for environmental and safety regulations). The pro-market folks are now deriding the same basic concept for carbon dioxide (CO2).

Andy Silber is a astrophysicist, engineer, project manager, husband, father, and energy activist living in Seattle. Visit Andy's blog on Sustainable West Seattle. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.
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Prop 26: "Stealth Initiative" to Undermine CA's AB32

27
Oct
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California’s ballot initiative Proposition 23 has received a tremendous amount of public attention and financial support from both sides over the past few months. Prop 23 would suspend implementation of the state’s AB32 climate change law that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 until unemployment falls below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters. Thanks to the large coalition of investors, politicians, and influential figures that have sided with the ‘No on Prop 23' campaign, it appears as though the measure to prevent climate progress in California has little chance of passing.With the majority of Prop 23 funding coming from two Texas-based oil companies, namely Tesoro and Valero, gaining support to reject this blatant effort by out of state big oil to stop carbon regulation has been relatively easy to do.

While the public has been focused on efforts to stop Prop 23, an alternative “stealth initiative”  filed as Proposition 26 has gone practically undetected by comparison. Prop 26 would effectively derail AB32's carbon reduction mechanisms such as the renewable energy standard and cap and trade program by amending “the state constitution to require a two-thirds majority -- rather than the current simple majority -- to enact any regulatory fees by declaring them taxes,” reports SustainableBusiness.com. The proposition officially named “the Stop the Hidden Taxes Initiative” but commonly referred to as the ”Polluter Protection Act” is being spearheaded by Big Oil, along with tobacco and alcohol companies, to essentially strip away the funding needed to effectively run AB32. Most notably, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) would find it almost impossible to raise the necessary fees needed to implement auctioning, monitoring and reporting systems needed to run an effective cap and trade program if a supermajority vote from the Senate was required.

By Christopher Porto, cross-posted from Carbon Capitalist.
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Policy update 10/26/10: One more week

26
Oct
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Next Tuesday's midterm election has major implications for federal climate and energy policy. Many key races will be decide by narrow margins. Polling suggests that the Republicans will pick up seats in both houses, but that only the House of Representatives is likely to change hands. Election Day is next Tuesday, November 2nd.

Climate in the Elections

A number of tightly contested races involve incumbents who support climate legislation and challengers who are emphatically opposed to climate action, or publicly cast doubt on climate science:

  • Climate champion Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) is defending his clean energy record in a district that historically favors conservative candidates. Perriello urges voters to look past short-term payoffs to the big picture of economic growth;
  • Arizona long-shot House candidate Jon Hulburd (D) is leading with a clean energy jobs message and catching up in the polls in the conservative 3rd district just north of Phoenix;
  • Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias has been criticizing Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) for flip-flopping on his climate vote. Kirk supported the climate bill in the House, but then signed a pledge promising to oppose future climate legislation in order to win over an endorsement from Sarah Palin;
  • Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO) is using Ken Buck's (R) statements about the uncertainty of climate science to illustrate how far from the mainstream his opposition is.

In every Senate race but one, Republican challengers are self-identified climate science deniers (all except Rep. Kirk in IL). Brad Johnson at the Wonk Room has compiled a list of key climate House and Senate races to watch.

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Policy update 10/19/10: Midterms 15 days away

19
Oct
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In 14 days, the entire House and one-third of the Senate are up for reelection. As a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, dirty money from big polluters is having a major effect on this year's elections. While big polluters attack climate champions with ads, new polling from NRDC suggests that voters are more likely to support candidates who voted in favor of the climate bill than those who did not. Last week The Obama Administration caved to pressure from Big Oil by lifting the deepwater drilling moratorium, but also took a step forward by cracking down on a massive new mountaintop removal coal mining project.

Dirty Money in the Election:

With large donors able to contribute unlimited amounts of money anonymously in this year's election, large PACs (Political Action Committees) have formed recently to campaign on behalf of specific candidates. Candidate contribution limits do not apply to these new 'super PACs' so long as they don't "coordinate" with candidates for elected office.

One example of a new super PAC is Alaskans Standing Together, which has spent $600,000 on ads this week on behalf of Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), over twice what her campaign has spent. According to a former adviser to presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ), "these new 'Super PACs' have opened the door to the clearest, easiest way to spend unlimited funds on an election . . .This is pretty much the holy grail that people have been looking for."

Video from fall 2009 shows oil billionaire David Koch (pronounced 'coke') presiding over an Americans for Prosperity (AFP) strategy meeting, where paid organizers, funded by Koch himself, list how many tea party rallies they were responsible for organizing. In the past Koch and his spokespeople have denied his involvement with the tea party, but this footage shows his intimate connection with the organizational structure of the "astroturf" portion of the tea party movement.

How will the House Climate Vote affect Candidates?

The unprecedented influx of money into the November election is taking its toll on many candidates who voted in support of climate action in the House last year. Conventional wisdom in an election would suggest that taking votes in support of President Obama's legislative agenda is what is hurting vulnerable Democrats, but new polling data from NRDC suggests otherwise on the climate bill specifically.

Voters prefer candidates who voted in favor of a climate bill by an average spread of almost 20% in 21 of nation's most competitive congressional districts: Jerry McNerney (CA); Betsy Markey (CO); Alan Boyd (FL); Suzanne Kosmas (FL); Alan Grayson (FL); Leonard Boswell (IA); Debbie Halvorsen (IL); Phil Hare (IL); Frank Kratovil (MD); Mark Schauer (MI); Carol Shea-Porter (NH); Dina Titus (NV); John Hall (NY); Steve Driehaus (OH); Mary Jo Kilroy (OH); John Boccieri (OH); Paul Kanjorski (OH); Patrick Murphy (PA); John Spratt (SC); Tom Perriello (VA) and Steve Kagan (WI).

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Policy Update 10/6/2010 - EPA/DOT Propose Stronger Auto Efficiency Standards (VIDEO)

4
Oct
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Last week, President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) announced their intent to set progressively stronger efficiency standards for new cars: 47-62 mpg by 2025. Congress wrapped up its pre-election business promptly to allow members to return home and campaign.

Congressional Timeline:

  • 11/2: Election Day
  • 11/15: Beginning of Senate Lame Duck session (tentative)

Obama Administration proposes another strong cars rule

In spring of 2009, President Obama worked with automakers to push for 35.5 mpg standards by 2016, and is now beginning a second rulemaking process that will set even stronger standards for new vehicles: 47-62 mpg by 2025, which represents a 3-6% annual improvement beyond the existing 2016 standards. This announcement represents a stage of administrative rulemaking called a "Notice of Intent" (NOI), essentially a draft rule made public to allow stakeholders to weigh in. The final rule will not be finalized until July of 2012.

Our allies at Environment America, Sierra Club, and other groups are advocating for a 60 mpg standard. According to the EPA, a 62 mpg standard is doable if much of the new fleet is made up of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

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Policy update 9/27/10: Lisa Jackson fights back

27
Sep
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With the EPA and Clean Air Act becoming synonymous with action on climate, the agency and the historic law have been adopted as political footballs -- often even punching bags -- for those who oppose climate legislation and other carbon-cutting measures. Lisa Jackson has been more vocal lately, making sure new Clean Air Act regulations are seen as part of the broader tradition of effective clean air programs overseen by the EPA for 40 years. Congress is in town for another week or two with substantive measures unlikely to be considered. Primary election fallout, and midterm speculation continue to dominate the political news cycle as the November elections draw near.

Congressional Timeline:

  • 10/8: Target adjournment for the House and Senate
  • 11/2: Election Day
  • 11/15: Beginning of Senate lame duck session (tentative)

EPA Admin Lisa Jackson Goes to Bat for the Clean Air Act

After being pummeled by attacks in the media and from skittish members of Congress, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has stepped up her rhetoric and is engaging Clean Air Act opponents head-on in a piece entitled 40 Years of Overcoming the Naysayers (related video here). Jackson also parried an onslaught of attacks (sub. req.) in the more conservative Senate Agriculture Committee last week.

Part of the EPA's proactive Clean Air Act message involves highlighting the historic popularity and economic effectiveness of the Act. Jackson lets the numbers speak for themselves in a recent Huffington Post piece showcasing the cost-effectiveness of the Clean Air Act over time:

The total benefits of the Clean Air Act amount to more than 40 times the costs of regulation. For every one dollar we have spent, we have received more than $40 of benefits in return, making the Clean Air Act one of the most cost-effective things the American people have done for themselves in the last half century.

Amidst the talking point battles raging in the media, more than 400 people from seven states turned out in Chicago last week to support new EPA rules creating common sense public health safeguards to govern toxic coal ash.

RES in the Senate Gives Hope to Clean Energy Advocates

After the elections there is hope that the lame duck Senate can pass a relatively weak stand-alone Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). As of last week the bill has four Republican co-sponsors: Sens. Sam Brownback (R-KS), John Ensign (R-NV), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Leadership is trying to keep the bill focused only on the RES to ensure swift passage and avoid political complications. Ideas to amend the RES bill include ethanol tax credits, oil spill liability caps, and even Senator Jay Rockefeller's (D-WV) "Dirty Air Act."

Eyes on the Midterms:

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the subject of much scrutiny lately, given their plans to hold dueling D.C. rallies three days before the election. Some fear that this kind of activity will draw top volunteers away from canvassing operations in key districts, and therefore hurt the Democrats. Others argue that the effect of this kind of stunt will be to mobilize a younger, more apathetic crowd than may otherwise not turn out on Election Day.

Meanwhile the House GOP recently released a pledge last week codifying their uniform opposition to climate legislation and support for offshore drilling.

The chances of passing energy legislation in the lame duck session of Congress will depend on how three key Senate races turn out. In Illinois, West Virginia, and Delaware, a Republican victory could result in an immediate flip of these Democratically-controlled seats because these are all special elections for seats held by political appointees. Any flips will impact the chances of passing an RES or oil spill bill.

California's Prop 23 presents a key opportunity for climate advocates to beat back industry spin about state climate regulations. Prop 23 needs to be defeated to allow California's landmark AB32 climate law to keep working.

The Movement Keeps Moving:

Today, thousands of people congregated in Washington, D.C. for Appalachia Rising!, a national response to the unmitigated destruction caused by mountaintop removal coal mining. The two-day conference this weekend brought together scores of groups and speakers to discuss mountaintop removal and share stories, followed by a march in downtown D.C. and a day of lobbying Congress.

Also, climate advocates the world over are gearing up for a big day of action on 10/10/10. Across the globe people will be hosting work parties as an example for our elected officials, who aren't working as hard as the latest science suggests they should. Here are some great lead-up photos from around the world posted by our friends at 350.org. To find or host a 10/10 event, click here.

Prepared by Policy Coordinator Jason Kowalski. Please direct questions or comments to jason@1sky.org.

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Policy update 9/21/10: Dirty Air Act threats persist

21
Sep
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The Clean Air Act continues to come under fire from all angles. Last week, the Senate Appropriations process was nearly hijacked by amendments to de-fund the EPA's Clean Air Act enforcement. Luckily, the markup in question was delayed. Primary drama continues to dominate the political news cycle as the November elections draw closer.

Congressional Timeline:

  • 9/13: Congress returns from recess
  • 10/8: Target adjournment for the House and Senate
  • 11/2: Election Day
  • 11/15: Beginning of Senate lame duck session (tentative)

Clean Air Act Dodges a Major Blow in the Appropriations Committee

Last week the Senate Appropriators Committee nearly took a close vote on an amendment to strip the EPA of its Clean Air Act funding. Committee staff said the potential vote was delayed to make room for an amendment from the Obama Administration to increase the budget for offshore drilling regulation by $100 million. In the meantime, representatives from the oil and coal industries led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce worked to drum up support for the "Rockefeller-like" appropriations amendment, which will likely resurface, despite the shifted schedule.

Rockefeller's Dirty Air Act Remains a Threat

The potential partisan amendment in the Appropriations Committee led some Democratic Dirty Air Act co-sponsors to renew their call for a cleaner gutting of the Clean Air Act. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) both came out in opposition to the Appropriations amendment, but unfortunately remain set on blocking Clean Air Act rules more directly with legislation before the end of the year.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) reiterated his promise to hold a vote on the measure this year. "I spoke with Harry again today and he again said, 'You're going to get your vote,'" Rockefeller said. Rockefeller claims he has 53 votes, and that 7 more are "highly gettable." Forty-seven senators supported Senator Lisa Murkowski's (R-AK) attempt to gut the Clean Air Act, which lost in a vote in July. Of the 53 who voted against Murkowski, 5 have co-sponsored Rockefeller's Dirty Air Act, making 52 Senators (47+5) who would likely support Rockefeller's bill.

Midterm Election Update

In the Delaware Republican Senate primary, climate denier and Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell came out of obscurity to beat the establishment candidate Rep. Mike Castle. This new development makes it much more likely that the seat will be picked up by a Democrat who supports climate legislation, but it does not bode well for the future of bipartisanship on climate. Castle was the only GOP Senate candidate to support climate legislation. Other Senate candidates like Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have backed down from previously strong climate stances in favor of toeing the party line.

Dirty Air Act author Sen. Lisa Murkowski has decided to run as a write-in candidate, after losing to a Palin-endorsed challenger in a recent Senate primary. Challenging the winner of the Republican primary has forced her to step down from her position within the Republican leadership, a move that could be good news for climate advocates. Nate Silver at the New York Times says that she can pick up a solid chunk of the independent vote and win.

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Overflow crowd at NC coal ash hearing favors strong regs

20
Sep
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By Peter Waltz, Organizing Director at the North Carolina Conservation Network. -- Luis

The EPA held one of several hearings on the regulation of coal ash on September 14 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The hearing was being held at a Holiday Inn which is overflowing with folks here to comment on the two proposals EPA has put forth. The EPA is hearing comments on two proposals: one regulating coal ash merely as solid waste under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enforceable only through citizen suits and requiring no state regulation; and the other, more stringent regulation as “special waste” under Subtitle C of RCRA which would allow EPA to regulate and enforce rules.

The room was so packed that this blog entry was being typed from the overflow room set up to allow people who can’t fit in the room to listen to the audio. The crowd appeared to be heavily in favor of strong regulation of coal ash, as evidenced by the number of folks walking around displaying their yellow stickers reading “Protect Families: Clean Up Toxic Coal Ash.”

The day started out with three strong speakers in favor of the Subtitle C option. A resident of Roan County, TN, the location of the TVA coal ash disaster, started the day off arguing the cost of not regulating coal ash, which far outweighs the costs that those opposing the regulations claim will hamper their business. This speaker was followed by the State Director of the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club, a biologist, the Sierra Club’s national coal ash expert, and a private citizen all arguing for Subtitle C. Several speakers from the concrete and other industries argued that regulating it under Subtitle C and would cause a stigma and severely hurt the industry, or that beneficial use, not covered by either of the proposals, should be regulated differently from coal ash disposal.

It was a long day for everyone, but by the makeup of the crowd it was especially long for those arguing for the Subtitle D regulation.

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Policy update 9/14/10: Congress resumes

14
Sep
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Both chambers of Congress will resumed after a five-week recess. With Labor Day behind them, and football season underway, both parties are in election mode, and no major legislation is expected to be considered. Addressing the expired Bush tax cuts will take up most of the air time, but there's a chance we could see movement on some smaller energy packages, namely Home Star.

Congressional Timeline:

  • 9/13: Congress returns from recess
  • 10/8: Target adjournment for the House and Senate
  • 11/2: Election Day
  • 11/15: Beginning of Senate lame duck session (tentative)

Congressional Priorities

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) suggested that a narrow energy bill could be considered in the next few weeks, including Home Star and a package of incentives for natural gas trucks. Senator Reid does not plan on bringing up a broader energy bill before the elections, but has been saying that both a "spill bill" and a federal RES are still in play. Reid has also been more and more blunt in saying that a cap on carbon will not be considered this year. The big agenda item for both houses of Congress will be to address the Bush tax cuts, set to expire at the end of the year.

Retiring Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) has agreed to provide the 60th vote needed to push through a package of small-business incentives, including a $30 billion loan fund to improve access to credit. The bill would then bounce to the House, where it is expected to pass quickly. House Democratic leaders also plan to advance their "Make it in America" slate of smaller incentives aimed at reviving the U.S. manufacturing sector.

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Policy Update 9/8/2010: Another oil disaster strikes the Gulf

8
Sep
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The midterm elections continue to dominate the August congressional recess. Members of Congress will go on campaigning for one more week before returning to Washington, D.C. for their final session before the midterms. This week another explosion on a Gulf oil rig entered the news cycle, increasing support for the Obama Administration's drilling moratorium.

Congressional Timeline:

  • 9/13: Congress returns from recess
  • 10/8: Target adjournment for the House and Senate
  • 11/2: Election Day
  • 11/15: Beginning of Senate "lame duck" session (tentative)

Another Gulf Oil Rig Explodes

Another oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico suffered a major explosion last Thursday, forcing all 13 crew members to dive off the burning rig. Luckily there were no fatalities or major oil spills. A small firm called Mariner energy based out of Houston, TX owns the the platform. The rig was built in shallow water, so repairs will be much easier than on the Deepwater Horizon Rig, which blew out just 135 miles away. The rig was in active production at the time of the explosion, but so far Mariner and the Coast Guard are saying that the explosion did not result in a substantial oil spill.

Industry representatives are working to minimize Thursday's incident and distance it from the well blowout in April. "We have on these platforms on any given year roughly 100 fires," said one representative. Nonetheless, the disaster has increased support for the Obama Administration's drilling moratorium.

Oil companies have been battling the Obama Administration in federal court to lift the moratorium, which they claim hurts Gulf Coast workers. Workers from Mariner were among 5,000 oil company employees who were bussed to the Houston convention center last Wednesday to protest the moratorium, claiming that "Obama is trying to break us."

Senate RES is Back on the Table

Last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that the Renewable Energy Standard (RES) would be back on the table when the Senate returns this fall. Reid noted that two Republicans have expressed interest in the bill, but that he still needed to "tie them down a little more closely.”

One of these Republicans could be Senator Brownback (R-KS), who recently endorsed the RES passed through the energy committee last year. Senator Reid noted that his energy package is more likely to be passed during the "lame duck" session, held after the midterm elections. This final session of the Senate is expected to begin on November 15th, and continue as late as the December holidays.

A major renewable energy developer NextEra Energy has promised to invest $2.5 billion in solar and wind energy if an RES passes, enough to create 40,000 jobs in five years. A 2009 UCS analysis of the Senate Energy Committee's RES (.pdf) suggests that the 15% standard being proposed would not necessarily guarantee renewable energy deployment beyond business as usual levels.

EPA Holds Field Hearings to Discuss Toxic Coal Ash

Last week the second hearing on toxic coal ash regulation was held in Denver, Colorado. The Obama Administration's EPA is considering stronger regulations for toxic coal ash dumps, but their efforts are being met by major pushback from industry. 1Sky and our allies are calling on the Obama Administration to crack down on toxic coal ash.

State of the Movement:

1Sky Board Member and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben wants to focus more on movement building and less on Washington, D.C., while Grist's David Roberts gives blunt predictions for what the coming years have in store for climate advocates.

Prepared by 1Sky Policy Coordinator Jason Kowalski. Please direct questions or comments to jason@1sky.org.

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