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Disaster Plan Updates in 2016: A Critical Opportunity for Climate Change Resilience in Maryland, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico (Part 1 of 5)

January 18, 2016

Becky Hammer, Project Attorney, Water Program, Washington, DC

As 2016 kicks off, it's a good time to reflect on the accomplishments of the past year, while also anticipating a preview of what the coming year will bring.

We certainly had some big victories to celebrate in 2015. In Paris, the world reached a historic agreement to limit the carbon pollution that is driving global climate change. And closer to home, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) adopted a new policy last spring - thanks in part to the efforts of NRDC and our allies - that will help our nation prepare for the impacts of climate change that are coming down the pipeline, even if we cut our greenhouse gas emissions moving forward.

This new policy, which goes into effect early next year, requires states to take account of climate change projections in their natural disaster preparedness plans, known as State Hazard Mitigation Plans. As we've been saying for the past several years, integrating climate change into these plans is a huge opportunity for states to take stock of what the future holds, strengthen their resilience-building strategies, and take advantage of federal grant funds to implement projects that will keep people safe.

States update their hazard mitigation plans on a rolling basis every five years. Four jurisdictions - Maryland, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico - are required to submit plan updates in 2016, and therefore they'll be the first to develop plans under the new policy.

Critically, approval of a state's hazard mitigation plan by FEMA makes the state eligible for federal grants that can be used on pre-disaster preparedness projects - things like strengthening bridges, moving structures out of the floodplain, and upgrading storm drain systems - that make people and property safer. Over the last 25 years, over $8.5 billion in federal grants have been distributed to states through these programs. If a state fails to develop an approvable plan under FEMA guidelines, it could be putting its future grant eligibility at risk.

This week we're going to check in with these jurisdictions - one each day, starting with Maryland tomorrow - to find out what climate impacts they should be considering as they assess their risk of future natural disasters, and what we might expect them to include in their 2016 plans based on their previous actions and policy statements.

In the meantime, here's a little preview of our assessments (click to view larger):

Check back with us tomorrow (and the rest of this week) for all the details.

Remembering MLK

January 18, 2016

Al Huang, Senior Attorney, Environmental Justice, New York

Today we remember and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who - alongside countless other activists like Julian Bond and John Lewis, among others - paved the way toward achieving social justice, civil rights and equality for all people. Thanks to their tireless advocacy during the civil rights movement, the nation witnessed the historic passages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Today, we bear witness to similar grassroots activism for social change in the context of the public health disaster that has unfolded in Flint, Michigan. In fact, there is no better example than Flint as an environmental justice disaster, where the people of Flint, including its children, have been forced to bear the disproportionate burden of lead exposure in drinking water due to the government's misguided effort to save a few dollars by switching water sources without treating the water to ensure it's safe.

Environmental justice refers to the disproportionate burden of environmental harms on a vulnerable community. The citizens of Flint - where forty percent of the city's residents, most of whom are African American, live in poverty - have remarkably elevated public awareness and brought collective national attention to a public health disaster caused by reprehensible government misconduct. Through their persistent advocacy, the story of Flint has unfolded from a local issue to a national headline and has become a symbol of government failure at every level - including the local, state and federal government.

NRDC's clients, Concerned Pastors for Social Action and Melissa Mays, along with countless others, have been at the frontlines of this struggle. Community groups invited NRDC to lend a hand in the struggle by providing expertise on the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the federal environmental law that the government violated. The SDWA is designed to ensure that water is safe for consumption, requiring water systems to test, monitor and treat drinking water.

In November, NRDC served a notice of intent to sue the City of Flint and Michigan officials for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) on behalf of Concerned Pastors and Mays, as well as NRDC and ACLU of Michigan. NRDC, along with many other community groups, including Concerned Pastors and Mays, had also petitioned the federal EPA to use its emergency powers to step in and fix this public health crisis, which fell on deaf ears. Now, as a result of government failures on every level, NRDC is helping Flint residents seek federal court involvement to step in and resolve this mess.

Like climate change, the drinking water contamination crisis in Flint was manmade and avoidable. In an effort to save a few bucks, an entire general of children will be dealing with the life-long impacts of lead exposure from drinking their tap water. It is a cruel irony that children of Flint, many of whom were already at higher risk of lead exposure, have now been dealt another blow by their own government. MLK's legacy and fight for equality continues.

New analysis shows Clean Power Plan is "very achievable" and delivers enormous benefits at low costs

January 15, 2016

Starla Yeh, Senior Policy Analyst, Climate and Clean Air Program, New York

When President Obama announced the final Clean Power Plan last August, the public only had a few detailed model runs to evaluate the new carbon pollution limits on power plants. Now, a new report out by M.J. Bradley & Associates, with insights and feedback from stakeholders including utility companies, trade associations and NGOs including NRDC, is the first in-depth analysis of a broad range of policy design options under the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The analysis confirms EPA's conclusions with even more data that the CPP is readily achievable and produces benefits that greatly outweigh the modest costs nationally. Because the Clean Power Plan helps cut energy waste, household electricity customers will even save money on their monthly electricity bills. And, there are options for even further reducing CPP costs and boosting benefits, such as trading allowances or credits (ERCs), which leads to significant cost savings and flexibility for both power generators and states.

The report also points to what we view as an important issue: EPA requires that state plans following the mass-based approach that exclusively covers existing power plants prevent "emissions leakage." "Emissions leakage" results from the incentives under a mass-based plan to shift generation and emissions to new fossil-fired plants outside of the program. The analysis found that while EPA is correct to require state plans to mitigate leakage, its proposed approach would only have a minor impact. EPA is taking comment on this, and stakeholders are currently working to offer alternatives that could be more effective.

M.J. Bradley studied 16 different scenarios - two reference cases and 14 policy cases with the CPP standards in place. The 14 policy cases examined both mass- and rate-based compliance along with various policy elements (e.g., treatment of new sources, allocation of allowances, and resources eligible to generate ERCs). The charts below refer to these various cases by their shorthand names. A fuller description of each of the cases and the accompanying assumptions appear in the report itself, but for now, this post will focus on the most important takeaways from this study.

On average, households will save on their electricity bills under the Clean Power Plan

U.S. households will also benefit from the Clean Power Plan. In 2030, M.J. Bradley found that they would save between 5 and 20 percent on average on their monthly electricity bills. The level of average savings depends on both the level of energy efficiency achieved and how revenue for the auction of carbon allowances would be used. This is even more reason that energy efficiency should feature strongly in any state implementation plan.

If all states were to achieve a modest level of energy efficiency in their compliance plans, electricity customers would save 8 percent on average on their monthly household electricity bills. With significant energy efficiency savings, customers could more than double their monthly electricity bill savings!

Choosing to reinvest revenue from the auction of allowances in bill assistance, energy efficiency, and/or other clean energy programs would yield even greater benefits for households. On average, the analysis shows that bills decline by an additional three to seven percent across the cases when revenue is reinvested into energy-related programs. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) does exactly this and generated over $1 billion in economic value across the region in the years 2012-2014.

Compliance can be achieved with a diverse energy mix

The analysis finds that the U.S. maintains a diverse mix of generation across all scenarios. On average, coal generation declines by 21 percent relative to reference, but still represents 23 to 28 percent of total electricity generation in 2030. Natural gas generation makes up a similar portion of total generation in 2030, supplying between 25 and 32 percent of U.S. electricity needs. The rest of U.S. demand is met by nuclear, energy efficiency, and renewable sources, with renewable generation increasing to between 11 and 15 percent of total U.S. generation in 2030.

Clean energy resources will play an increasing role in the energy market

Renewable generation from wind and solar will continue to grow and expand across the country. Since incremental renewable energy capacity (in operation after 2012) can help generators meet the emissions targets by providing a zero-emission source of energy and is eligible to generate "Emission Rate Credits" (ERCs) under a rate-based program, these cost-effective sources are key components of state compliance plans.

The assumptions underlying the modeling do not include distributed generation (i.e., solar panels on home roofs, microturbines) or the Congressional extension of the Investment tax credit (ITC) for solar energy or the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy - which we expect will result in further new renewable energy capacity than these scenarios project. We will continue to analyze the potential impacts of these current developments.

Compliance costs are modest, and are greatly outweighed by the benefits

M.J. Bradley found in this analysis that among the scenarios assuming states adopt mass-based compliance plans, the incremental costs to the electric sector ranged from $1 billion to $4 billion in 2030. To put this in perspective, it represents only an increase of between 0.7 percent and 2 percent over what the industry is projected to spend in 2030.

According to the analysis, the CPP will reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector 16 to 22 percent below 2012 levels (29 to 34 percent below 2005 levels) in 2030. This is equivalent to taking 69 million to 93 million cars off the road. The benefits of reducing this much pollution are huge. In 2030 alone, the benefits of reducing pollution under the CPP in these scenarios exceed the costs by $33 to $86 billion!


M.J. Bradley's analysis confirms that the Clean Power Plan is readily achievable and will result in large net benefits for consumers and the nation as a whole. Trading and energy efficiency will allow generators and states to meet CPP targets at low cost, while making the electricity system more flexible, saving consumers money, and improving public health.


Thanks to my colleague, Amanda Levin, for co-authoring this post.

Water Loss Performance Standards: Where Should the States be Headed?

January 15, 2016

Ed Osann, Senior Policy Analyst, Santa Monica

Every water system leaks, and billions of gallons of drinking water are lost each day in the US alone. Fortunately, water losses are receiving welcome new attention, by individual utilities, the water industry generally, and state regulators, as shown on NRDC's water loss landing page. The question of what form a state water loss standard might take was a topic of conversation at a December meeting of the Water Loss Committee of the American Water Works Association (AWWA). There is no committee recommendation (AWWA doesn't actually advocate regulation), but with more states considering a water loss audit reporting requirement, this topic is likely to receive more attention in 2016.

Some regulators may be looking for a single metric to replace the old "% unaccounted" approach. Meanwhile, most utilities are phobic about a single metric, afraid that they'll be forced to overinvest in costly efforts to reduce losses that are not economical.

I see a hybrid approach evolving over time.

Economic Level of Losses

An ideal standard would be to require losses to be reduced by each water supplier to the level that no further cost-effective loss reductions are identifiable. Another way of putting this is that water suppliers have the responsibility to reduce all leakage that is cost-effective to prevent or eliminate. In the illustration below from the AWWA's new water loss manual, this is called the Economic Level of Real Losses (ELRL). With this concept, no water supplier is expected to make investments in water loss reduction that are not cost effective for its own system and customers. (This, by the way, is the approach that is already written into a voluntary best management practice in California, but which is not likely to be widely implemented as water suppliers there continue to drift away from BMP implementation.) Presumably, a regulation would allow some period of time, perhaps 5 years, to reach the ELRL, and then require it to be maintained at that level in subsequent years. Shifts in technology and economics are sure to take place over time, so the cost-effective level of intervention is likely to shift a bit as well.

The two requirements for making this operational, however, are for there to be good information available on both the costs and the benefits of intervention strategies to reduce losses. Regarding the costs of potential intervention, this requires a good "component analysis" - the next step beyond the water loss audit -- that will effectively characterize the type and location of losses, as well as current cost information on various loss reduction techniques (leak detection surveys, data logging, pressure-reducing valves, full pipe replacement, etc.). The second has to do with benefits - an accurate assessment of the value of water loss reduction, especially the value of saved water, aka the "avoided cost" of water. (Other benefits need to be quantified as well, including avoided street repairs, property damages, insurance premiums, service disruptions, etc.)

The most challenging part of determining the avoided cost of water is to account for savings of long-run capital costs, and not just short-run operating costs. The latter is the easy part, and the type of costs that the AWWA audit process defaults to. However, for the many utilities with a growing customer base, a value of water that does not include the avoided costs of capacity expansion will be far too low. Add to this the reality that most water suppliers are publicly owned, and not subject to consistent rate regulation and financial reporting that comes with state PUC regulation. So a regulator attempting to set a water loss performance standard based on the Economic Level of Real Losses would have to identify an avoided cost methodology and get all water suppliers familiar enough with it to use in a regulation -- a potentially tall order.

Avoided cost is not likely to change so frequently that it would have to be updated every year, but whenever a new capital improvement plan is adopted, a new avoided cost number should be recalculated. It could take the better part of a decade to put such a water loss regulatory framework in place. But this would be the ideal. Regulators might start with requiring the ELRL to be reported annually, and see what they get.

Loss Reduction Performance Indicators

Recognizing that few states will be ready to adopt a water loss standard based on the Economic Level of Real Losses any time soon, the AWWA water audit performance indicators for real losses and apparent losses can be used judiciously to make progress toward the elimination of economically recoverable losses of both types. The AWWA water audit software automatically calculates the volume of real losses and apparent losses, normalized for the size and configuration of the utility. For most urban utilities, real losses per service connection per day and apparent losses per service connection per day are the key indicators to work with.

Two or three years of validated water audits should give regulators enough performance data to design a performance standard. But rather than taking one number and applying it to all utilities, the scatter of utility performance can be used to establish reasonable expectations. For example, in the recent EPA-funded review of mostly unvalidated water audit data sets by WSO and published by the Water Research Foundation, real losses were found to have a median value of 40 gallons per service connection per day and an average value of 52 gallons per service connection per day, suggesting a disproportionate distribution toward higher losses. It would be logical for regulators to examine such a distribution of performance for validated reports under their jurisdiction, and call upon the worst performers to improve or to show why they shouldn't. The regulation could be written to establish a specific level of performance, say twice the reported median, as the basis for a rebuttable presumption that losses are excessive and that cost-effective reductions are possible and required. Water suppliers above this level could have the option to rebut the contention that reductions would be cost-effective, but if the bar is set high enough, most of those so identified will have few grounds to make a plausible claim that they have no cost-effective opportunities to reduce losses. The top group could be identified as the top quintile, top quartile, or some multiple of the median value itself. Over the years, should overall reported losses decline, the numeric volume of losses at the top quintile would edge downward as well, potentially reaching a different group of water suppliers.

A similar stratification (say bottom quintile) could identify water systems on the low end of the spectrum whose losses would potentially be close to the economic level of leakage. For the majority of water suppliers between these two groups on the ends of the spectrum, an approach of continuous improvement could be taken. Water suppliers in this group could be required to improve their three-year rolling average of reported losses by a specific volume, again drawing upon the data set of validated audit reports to help establish what is reasonable. These requirements could also be expressed as a rebuttable presumption, with the regulator taking care to make sure that the targets are obtainable enough so as to avoid wholesale appeals rather than actual loss reduction efforts.


It is quite possible that investor-owned utilities and their state regulatory commissions might actually lead the way toward a standard based directly on the Economic Level of Losses, and that would be most welcome. Perhaps the state controllers who are beginning to look at the financial implications of water loss might also lead the way. But it is likely to be very challenging for a state water resource agency without direct financial oversight over municipal water suppliers to make much progress on a standard based on Economic Levels. That's why I think we have to make meaningful use of the AWWA performance indicators that we have on hand, at least for the next several years.

While not involving a single metric applied across the board, a standard based on the judicious use of water loss performance indicators offers a fairly simple framework that would lay out a clear roadmap and allow each water supplier to anticipate and understand its responsibilities for water loss reduction. And if state financial assistance for water loss reduction were prioritized on a "worst first" basis, this could further encourage accuracy and candor in water loss reporting, as well as highly cost-effective water savings.

Latin America Green News: Mexico seeking ratification of Paris agreement, Lake Titicaca restoration plans, deforestation intensifies flooding in region

January 15, 2016

Maria Martinez, Program Assistant, Director of Programs & Latin America Project, Washington, D.C.

Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America.

To get the weekly Latin America Green News blog delivered directly to your email, subscribe here.

January 9th - 15th, 2016

Climate Change

Mexico's Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources, Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, said the government will seek to ratify the climate agreement reached by over 200 world leaders in Paris this past December. Pacchiano explained that after President Enrique Peña Nieto signs the accord, it will be submitted to Mexico's Senate so it may begin the formal process of becoming federal law. He expressed confidence in Mexico's ability to stick to its climate commitment saying the country has already shown leadership in climate action in the past by being the first developing country to submit an INDC and the second country in the world to implement a Climate Change Law back in 2012. (Excelsior 1/11/2016)

The Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) will loan Nicaragua USD $5.1 million for infrastructure and social programs to support the most vulnerable parts of the country's Caribbean region against climate change. The loan will be used to build four shelters, five community centers and to renovate two health centers. The Emergency Social Investment Fund (FISE) will lead efforts to fortify the region, in particular for 33,000 inhabitants that were affected by hurricane Félix in 2007. From 1994 to 2013, Nicaragua was affected by at least 49 climate-related events which caused $301 million dollars in damage and 2.98 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. (Spanish People Daily, 1/13/2016)


Bolivia and Peru signed a bilateral agreement on Saturday to invest USD $400 million throughout the next 10 years to restore Lake Titicaca, the largest-fresh water lake in South America. The two countries began discussions on the lake in June 2015, a collaboration that Bolivian Environment Minister Alexandra Moreira described as "historic." "We are proud that the environmental sector is the first to give concrete, direct results and with the signing of this agreement that sets the guidelines of action for the recovery of Lake Titicaca," added Moreira. For the past 50 years, mining and industries in the area have been responsible for contaminating Lake Tititcaca. The first investment of USD $63 million will be used to begin water treatments. Three million people in both Bolivia and Peru depend on the lake's resources. The lake is also a tourist destination. (Telesur, 1/10/2016)

A conservation working group was launched by Mayor of Concón, Oscar Sumonte, in an effort to protect and preserve the La Isla Park in Concón, Chile. The park's wetlands are home to more than seventy species of migratory birds and a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. In addition to identifying primary barriers to conservation and suggesting a development plan for the surrounding area, a goal of the working group will be to establish better management techniques for the National Petroleum Company (ENAP)'s petroleum plant located close to the park.(EL Dinamo 1/13/2016)


Climate experts are linking the series of devastating floods of 2015 in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina to the effects deforestation and the intensification of the weather phenomenon El Niño. El Niño usually causes increased rains in South America, but scientists say global warming has intensified the effects of El Niño in recent years and in 2015 caused several rivers in the region to overflow. Rampant deforestation has prevented trees from acting as natural sponges that soak up the extra water. Experts now warn the same scenario could happen in other countries deforestation and El Niño are impacting, such as Bolivia. This could mean millions of dollars in property destruction and thousands of displaced families. (El Ciudadano 1/10/2016, El Pais 1/9/2016)

A project in Guaviare, Colombia, aims to reforest 1,600 hectares with the help of 400 farming families. Relictos de Bosque, led by the Institute of Amazonic Scientific Investigations (Sinchi) and funded by the General System of Royalties seeks to recover patches of forest belonging to peasant farms in 37 villages in Guaviare. Guaviare is one of six departments in Colombia with the greatest concentration of deforestation. In the two years since Relictos de Bosque began its work, 377 families in 1,217 hectares have participated in the reforestation efforts. One of the aims of the project is to transform attitudes about forests so that farmers do not see them as hindrance to development, but rather as the source of productive opportunities, like fruit trees. According to Bernardo Girardo, an engineer at Sinchi, for every hectare of planted forest 433 tons of carbons are not emitted into the atmosphere. (El Espectador, 1/9/2016)


The El Gato hydroelectric project on the Maullín River in Los Muermos and Puerto Montt, Chile, announced it will remove its environmental impact statement from official consideration by the Environmental Impact Service. The environmental assessment by El Gato Hydro Spa was missing essential information for a standard assessment, including failure to consult indigenous groups as well as the surrounding Maullín community, which depends on the river for their livelihood. Several grassroots organizations were involved in the efforts to stop the project, including the Committee for the Defense of the Maullín River. (El Ciudadano, 1/09/2016)

British company Cubico Sustainable Investments purchased two wind farm projects in northern Brazil for USD $495 million. The 392 MW farms represent one of the largest wind farms in South America, with one hundred seven wind turbines distributed over 3,500 hectares. The operation includes Ventos Santa Brigida (182 MW) in the state of Pernambuco and Ventos do Araripe I (210 MW), located in Simões (Piauí). Ventos' capacity of 182 MW is enough to power 350,000 homes. The construction of the wind farms cost USD $213.8 million dollars and is expected to generate 1,000 direct jobs and 2,000 indirect jobs in the region Caetes, 155 miles from the state capital, Recife. By the end of 2018, 10% of Brazil's energy is expected to come from wind sources, doubling the current rate. (Expansion, 1/11/2016)

This week's blog was completed with the help of contributions from Andrea Becerra.

For more news on the issues we care about visit our Latin America Green News archive or read our other International blogs.

INDIA GREEN NEWS: Indians Perceive Climate Change as Major Threat; Renewable Investments Touch $10.9 Billion; Delhi Vehicle Pollution Down 30%

January 15, 2016

Sameer Kwatra, India Energy and Climate Policy Analyst, Washington, D.C.

India Green News is a selection of news highlights about environmental and energy issues in India.

January 6-14, 2016


92% Indians perceive climate change as a major threat: Survey

A total of 92 per cent Indians polled by independent market research company Ipsos view global warming and climate change as major threats. India ranks seventh among the 24 countries surveyed, a statement by Ipsos said.

"India has been strongly impacted by climate change and global warming, given the sudden upheavals in weather conditions."

"There have been growing incidence of landslides, earthquakes and unseasonal heavy rainfall on the one hand and extremely high temperature and drought-like conditions on the other hand," Ipsos' Managing Director (India) Amit Adarkar said.

"I'm not surprised that a large majority of Indians perceive it as a serious threat. Our government has been taking stock and is moving ahead with short-term and long-term remedial measures," he added. These include emission checks, encouraging use of public transportation and moving towards alternative clean renewable energy sources...

(Financial Express - January 13, 2016)


Renewable energy investments in India touch $10.9 billion on solar surge

Investments in clean or renewable energy in India have touched $10.9 billion on solar surge against an annual average of $8 billion in the last three years, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Solar PV investment leaped ahead of wind investments for the first time during the year due to a strong policy push for power from the sun. The increase in investment in India's solar sector was 80 percent to $5.6 billion in 2015 from $3.1 billion last year.

The report on green energy said the increase in investment mirrored the optimism generated by the pro-renewable energy policies introduced by the incumbent Narendra Modi-led BJP government. Solar investments have risen for the third year in a row propelled by allocation of 11GW of capacity in 2015 to independent power producers through multiple federal and national-level programs...

(Greentechlead - January 14, 2016)

Clean Energy Defies Fossil Fuel Price Crash To Attract Record $329bn Global Investment In 2015

Clean energy investment surged in China, Africa, the US, Latin America and India in 2015, driving the world total to its highest ever figure, of $328.9bn, up 4% from 2014's revised $315.9bn and beating the previous record, set in 2011 by 3%.

The latest figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance show dollar investment globally growing in 2015 to nearly six times its 2004 total and a new record of one third of a trillion dollars (see chart on page 3), despite four influences that might have been expected to restrain it.

These were: further declines in the cost of solar photovoltaics, meaning that more capacity could be installed for the same price; the strength of the US currency, reducing the dollar value of non-dollar investment; the continued weakness of the European economy, formerly the powerhouse of renewable energy investment; and perhaps most significantly, the plunge in fossil fuel commodity prices...

(Bloomberg New Energy Finance - January 14, 2016)

India seeks joint collaboration with Japan on energy efficiency, conservation

The primary objective of the government's thrust on energy efficiency investment is to promote sustainable development and improve energy access at affordable prices to the people, said Piyush Goyal, union minister of state for power, coal and new & renewable energy. He is on a visit to Tokyo to attend the Eighth India-Japan Energy Dialogue.

The joint statement issued following the conclusion of the Energy Dialogue chalked out a clear roadmap for further collaboration in the fields of electricity, renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation, coal and petroleum and natural gas.

While on the visit, Goyal informed that the use of energy efficiency measures as well as promotion of cleaner and renewable sources of energy in India is a step forward. He also underlined the fact that India is trying to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels, while simultaneously adopting advanced technologies to address its developmental priorities...

(Business Standard - January 14, 2016)

Wind Energy Companies Grab Solar Contracts in India's Auctions

Two wind energy companies in India have bagged solar projects worth a more than a quarter of the total capacity on offer from the country's largest auction to date. Wind power producer Mytrah Energy Ltd. won a contract for 327 megawatts of solar capacity in the southern state of Telangana, which issued a tender in April 2015 for as much as 2,000 megawatts. Suzlon Energy Ltd., the nation's biggest wind turbine maker, won its first ever solar contract with a successful bid for 210 megawatts in Telangana.

The efforts of India's wind companies to diversify reflects Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambition to install 100 gigawatts of solar power across India by 2022 at an estimated cost of $100 billion. Current solar capacity in the country is just over 4 gigawatts. "We are also working on integrated renewable energy solutions by combining wind and solar projects at a single location," Suzlon Group's Chairman Tulsi Tanti said in the statement.

Mytrah will sign power purchase agreements with the state power utility Southern Power Distribution Co. of Telangana Ltd. by the middle of next month...

(Bloomberg - January 13, 2016)

India Gets $1.5 Billion Loan For Rooftop Solar Power Program

India's rooftop solar power program has received a much-needed boost even as sector experts believe that the target of 40 GW installed capacity by 2022 looks extremely ambitious. Officials of the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE) recently announced that the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the newly-founded BRICS development bank will provide $500 million each for development of rooftop solar power projects in the country.

The funds will be used for providing a 30% subsidy to public institutions that set up rooftop solar power systems. Individuals or entities not eligible for this subsidy may also be able to source low-cost debt finance from these funds.

India has set a target to have 100 GW of solar power capacity operational by April 2022; this includes a target of 40 GW for rooftop solar power systems. Rooftop solar power capacity represents just 10% of the 5 GW solar power capacity currently operational in India. Increasing the capacity to 40 GW in about 75 months will be a gargantuan task...

(Cleantechnica - January 11, 2016)


India Will Stick to its New Emission Rule Deadline, Gadkari Says

India reiterated it will bring forward stricter standards governing vehicle emissions by four years despite protests by carmakers that the skipping of an intermediate step disrupts their product development plans.

The government is not reconsidering its decision, Nitin Gadkari, India's minister for road transport and highways, said in a press briefing in New Delhi Monday.

"When the same carmakers are following the same norms across the globe, then why not here?" he said. "Pollution is a growing problem and we need to wake up."

Last week, the government announced that all new cars will have to meet Bharat Stage 6 regulations, equivalent to the European Union's Euro 6 emissions norms, by April 2020. The rule skips the BS-5 stage after determining that fuel conforming to the stricter standards will be available by then. The stricter BS-6 benchmark calls for a 68 percent reduction in nitrous oxide gases from current levels...

(Bloomberg Business - January 11, 2016)

Indian Oil Corp to invest Rs 21,000 crore to upgrade fuel quality

State-owned Indian Oil Corp (IOC) will invest Rs 21,000 crore in upgrading six refineries to produce Euro-VI grade petrol and diesel by April 2020, its Director (Refineries) Sanjiv Singh said on Wednesday.

The investment on upgradation will raise the production cost of petrol by Rs 1.40 per litre and diesel by Rs 0.63. IOC, the nation's largest oil firm, is investing Rs 7,000 crore in upgrading fuel quality from Bharat Stage-III, equivalent to Euro-III emission norm, to BS-IV by next year, he said.

Another, Rs 13,000-14,000 crore will be invested in six units to upgrade fuel quality straight to BS-VI or Euro-VI, he added.

In a bid to cut vehicular pollution, the government has decided to leapfrog from Euro-IV emission standards for automobiles as well as fuel to stricter Euro-VI by April 1, 2020. All PSU refineries need to invest Rs 28,750 crore for upgrading quality of fuel they produce...

(DNA India - January 13, 2016)

Delhi government says vehicle pollution down 30%, experts divided

Delhi's transport minister Gopal Rai claimed on Thursday that levels of PM 2.5, primarily caused by vehicular pollution, had come down by 25-30%. "Yesterday, the levels recorded at 18 locations in Delhi were below 300 ug/m3. This was between 400-465 ug/m3 in the month of December," he added. The monitoring is being done by Delhi Pollution Control committee (DPCC).

The PM 2.5 level being cited by the government for the month of December is an average of the records from six fixed stations of the DPCC. These are located at Anand Vihar, Punjabi Bagh, RK Puram, Mandir Marg, Civil Lines and IGI Airport. The current readings, on the other hand, are from mobile monitoring units. These have been assessing air quality for 20 minutes at spots like Connaught Place, Talkatora Stadium, Chanakyapuri, Tees Hazari Court, Sadar Bazaar, Delhi Cantonment railway station and Dhaula Kuan...

(The Times of India - January 8, 2016)

Note: The linked articles and excerpts in this post are provided for informational puposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the India Initiative or of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

A Big Day for the Public, Public Lands and Climate

January 15, 2016

Theo Spencer, Senior Advocate, Climate Center, New York

Today is an historic day. The Obama administration announced that it will stop new coal leases on public land until it can conduct a comprehensive review of the flawed Interior Department program that sells this taxpayer-owned resource. While focused on coal, the review will also include an accounting of the carbon emissions of all fossil fuel production on federal lands.

As our President Rhea Suh noted:

The president is right to stop this handout to big coal companies, which has cost American taxpayers more than $30 billion over the past three decades. Aligning the use of America's public lands with our obligation to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change--that's what leadership is all about, at home and abroad, as we transition away from dirty fossil fuels of the past to a clean energy 21st century.

Today's announcement affects the Department of Interior's coal leasing program, largely administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Over 40 percent of America's coal comes from public lands, mainly in the Interior West. The Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana is the nation's largest coal producing region. Last year America produced 900 million tons of coal. Federally owned coal sales and associated fees garner approximately $1 billion in revenue to the Treasury. Sally Jewell's Secretarial Order can be found here.

This is the right thing to do. There hasn't been a pause in leasing and thorough review of the way taxpayer-owned coal is sold since the Reagan Administration. Public lands are a public trust set aside for the public interest. As the President said in his state of the Union Address," Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future."

And this is a broken program. We know. NRDC commissioned the first audit of the federal coal leasing program in more than three decades. The subsequent report by Tom Sanzillo, The Great Giveaway, showed that taxpayers had been shortchanged nearly $30 billion over three decades. In the lead up to the report's release, Tom worked with the Washington Post on an exclusive. The Post's reporting led the Interior Department's Inspector General (IG) to launch an investigation into the coal leasing program. The IG's office issued a report that identified myriad flaws in the program.

The IG's report helped lead a longtime champ of coal program reform, then Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, to get the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to do a comprehensive investigation of the coal leasing program. And thanks to the dogged determination of Congressional watchdogs like Senators Markey, Maria Cantwell, Tom Udall, and Ron Wyden, the GAO was able to confirm NRDC's prior research that the coal program was costing the taxpayers billions.

The IG and GAO reports remain the two single largest assessments of the program and its flaws to date. They were both cited repeatedly by Secretary Jewell and the Office of Management and Budget as primary drivers for a pause and review on a call today detailing the announcement.

Some details of today's announcement:

  • Interior will conduct a comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program through a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The PEIS will identify and evaluate potential reforms to the program. Scoping will begin immediately with an interim report to be published at the end of the year. It's expected to take three years.
  • A "Pause," effective immediately. No new large leases will be sold until the PEIS is done, but there are exceptions for leases already approved by Interior, for 'emergencies,' and for Indian lands. Metallurgical coal used for making steel is exempt.
  • The Pause will not impact approximately 18 pending leases that have already been approved. Secretary Jewell said at today's presser that companies already have enough coal leased to keep us and them going for 20 years.
  • The Programmatic Review will look at the best ways to determine how, when and where to lease; how to account for the environmental and public health impacts of the coal program; and how to ensure taxpayers get a fair return. fair return to the American; taxpayers,
  • The review will also consider raising royalty rates; explore whether U.S. coal exports should factor into leasing decisions; how the management, availability and pricing of federal coal impacts domestic and foreign markets and energy portfolios; and the role of federal coal in fulfilling the energy needs of the United States.
  • To help make what is now a Black Box program transparent, BLM will require State and field offices to post online in an easily accessible format notice of each pending request to lease coal or to reduce royalties;
  • The U.S. Geological Survey will establish a database to account for the annual carbon emission from fossil fuels developed on public lands. No such thing exists. An independent analysis says those emissions could be 28 percent of the US total.

Rio Tinto Finds the Way in Bristol Bay: Dump the Pebble Mine

January 15, 2016

Joel Reynolds, Western Director, Senior Attorney, Santa Monica, CA

Canadian exploration company Northern Dynasty Minerals is the only partner remaining in the once formidable Pebble Partnership - the poorly-funded proponent of the reckless scheme to build a massive mine in the headwaters of the world's greatest wild salmon fishery.

And it's the kind of company that gives the mining industry a bad name. Prioritizing shareholder profits even in the face of grave risk to people and wildlife. Tone deaf to the region's overwhelming opposition (80 percent of Bristol Bay residents). Unable to understand -- or unwilling to concede - that, however important mining is to the world, there are just some places too important to risk.

Bristol Bay, Alaska is one such place -- home to the world's largest wild salmon fishery, generating $1.5 billion annually, supporting tens of thousands of jobs, sustaining the region's communities and wildlife for millennia, and supplying half of the world's sockeye salmon.

Contrast Rio Tinto's record at Pebble, recently profiled in Mines2Markets:

Once a major player in the Pebble Partnership, Rio Tinto's top management actively engaged with leaders from the Bristol Bay region and elsewhere over a period of years to try to find common ground -- to determine whether the communities' serious concerns could be answered.

In 2014, it concluded that they couldn't.

After a strategic review of its copper assets, and based on its consideration of all the circumstances (including a comprehensive EPA scientific assessment of Pebble's risk to the region), Rio's executive team determined that the Pebble project is a bad investment. But rather than just walk away (as Anglo American had elected to do in 2013), it devised an extraordinary plan of community engagement to end its involvement: Rio decided to divide its shares equally between two Alaskan charitable foundations, the Alaska Community Fund (ACF) and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation (BBNCEF).

In announcing its decision, Rio Tinto's Copper Chief Executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques explained the unconventional approach: "By giving our shares to two respected Alaskan charities, we are ensuring that Alaskans will have a say in Pebble's future development and that any economic benefit supports Alaska's ability to attract investment that creates jobs."

According to the recent profile, both of the charitable foundations have since sold the shares and are "using the proceeds as Rio Tinto intended - to support Alaska's people, hone Alaska's ability to attract resource development that supports jobs, and build strong communities." Proceeds from the sale of Rio Tinto's investment in the Pebble Mine have been used to fund scholarships and training opportunities, as well as to create programs to preserve Native languages, dances, regalia and traditions.

Rio Tinto's divestment in the Pebble project - and investment in the people of Bristol Bay - demonstrates that successful mining isn't inconsistent with responsible community engagement. It confirms the fundamental fact that there are some places too special to risk, and it demonstrates that, consistent with their economic interests, major mining companies can listen to, and strive to elevate, the culture, vision, and aspirations of affected communities - even those communities that oppose their mining plans.

Northern Dynasty has much to learn from Rio Tinto's creative and enlightened approach to the communities and future of Bristol Bay. Rather than attacking the people of Alaska for their determined opposition, suing EPA for doing its job, and throwing its investors' good money after bad, Northern Dynasty should recognize that its own responsibility in "responsible mining" doesn't begin and end with a myopic and, in this case, delusional pursuit of financial profit.

Pebble Mine is a bad investment - the wrong mine in the wrong place. Now is the time for Northern Dynasty Minerals to walk away from Bristol Bay.

Photo Cred: Robert Glenn Ketchum

A New and Improved California Water Action Plan?

January 15, 2016

Kate Poole, Senior Attorney, San Francisco

Today, Governor Brown unveiled an update to the California Water Action Plan, the Brown Administration's roadmap for improving the state's ailing water system. As part of this unveiling, the Administration invited feedback on how they're doing on water issues, stating that this is the public's opportunity to share views on whether a course-correction is needed. NRDC recently did just that - assessing the state's performance over the last several years in a variety of areas highlighted in the Water Action Plan in a drought report card. Our assessment found that while the state has made impressive progress in some areas, including urban water conservation and improved water recycling efforts, it has a long way to go in other areas, especially in protecting the hub of California's water system - the Bay-Delta estuary - where we gave the state an "F," and in advancing efforts to capture water from the storms that the state is receiving now and in improving agricultural water use efficiency (where we gave the state "Ds").

Does the updated Water Action Plan propose significant improvements in these lagging areas?

Protecting the Bay-Delta Estuary - We agree strongly with Governor Brown that we have to update California's water system in a way that works with nature, rather than against it, and that such an approach is entirely possible. The Governor is exactly right that "ecology encompasses the economy," so we have to respect natural systems and what they require if we want to continue to rely on these systems for our own uses. That maxim is especially true for the Bay-Delta ecosystem, which supplies a core part of the state's drinking and irrigation water supplies, but won't continue to do so if we don't keep that system healthy.

But the science is overwhelming that keeping the Bay-Delta system healthy means, at its core, increasing flows and reducing diversions from the estuary. The state must act now - not next year or in 2018 or five years from now - to do so. We can reduce diversions from the Bay-Delta and sustain the economy by investing in local and regional water supply projects, including water recycling and stormwater capture in Southern California and the Bay Area, and improving agricultural water conservation in inland areas. Instead, during the drought, the State has weakened protections for fish and wildlife, diverting even more water and killing endangered fish and wildlife.

The Governor's tunnel vision on the WaterFix Project not only distracts local agencies from making these key investments, but it also fails to improve flows and reduce diversions from this precious estuary. These key components of protecting the Bay-Delta estuary and achieving the co-equal goals for the Delta are sadly missing from the updated Plan. That's a fatal flaw.

Capturing More of the Rain that Falls in Cities during El Nino and Beyond - the updated Plan recognizes that stormwater capture investments provide an important component of regional water supply strategies and promote regional water independence. It states that "[a]ll state agencies should take a leadership role in designing new and retrofitted state owned and leased facilities to ... incorporate stormwater runoff capture and low‐impact development strategies" and that "the administration will direct agencies and departments to evaluate existing programs and propose modifications to incentivize and co‐fund multi‐benefit projects that promote integrated water management, such as stormwater permits that emphasize stormwater capture and infiltration, which provide both flood protection and groundwater recharge benefits." These are positive steps, but the state can and must do more to set baseline requirements for all new development and municipal stormwater permits so that we no longer shunt rain out to the ocean in Southern California and the Bay Area when it does fall, rather than capturing it for later use. The state also should not be giving municipalities a pass on clean water requirements while waiting for these stormwater plans to be developed. The state should use its enforcement authority to ensure dischargers are complying with meaningful stormwater retention requirements.

The state is currently not on track to achieve its own targets on stormwater capture, and the experience with urban conservation during the drought demonstrates that waiting for voluntary actions isn't adequate. State mandates are needed to achieve the state's own targets for stormwater capture, let alone more ambitious goals.

Improving Agricultural Water Use Efficiency - improving water use efficiency on farms is critical to keeping California's agricultural sector thriving in the years ahead, and reducing waste on the more than half of existing farms that use outdated and inefficient flood and furrow irrigation. While the updated Plan promises to "provide technical assistance" and "incentives to urban and agricultural local and regional water agencies ... to promote agricultural and urban water conservation," it fails to offer meaningful benchmarks for conservation such as the 25% urban conservation mandate that prompted California's city dwellers to save over 328.9 billion gallons of water between June and November of 2015, or enough to supply five million people for a year. We urge the administration to take its own advice to heart when it states in the updated Plan that it will "consider new strategies based on lessons learned from the current drought." If there is one lesson that became glaringly apparent during the current drought, it is that conservation mandates work and that people will respond with strong state direction. Urban water use declined by a mere 4% in the current drought when Governor Brown called on Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20 percent. But people responded overwhelmingly and, in most cases, exceeded the Governor's subsequent call for a 25% mandatory reduction. Agriculture has long evaded such a requirement to the detriment of California's overall water situation.

We thank the Governor and his administration for the renewed commitment to preserving the Bay-Delta estuary, its salmon and other species, and for recognizing that California's water future depends on investment in local, sustainable water supplies. Here's hoping that the state turns these statements into reality in 2016.

Clearing the Air in India's Polluted Cities

January 14, 2016

Anjali Jaiswal, Senior Attorney, San Francisco

Guest Blog by Nehmat Kaur, NRDC India Representative

India has taken two big steps toward a cleaner future for its cities. Last week, an inter-ministerial group headed by India's Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, unanimously decided that India's vehicles will transition to cleaner fuels and leapfrog from Bharat Stage IV to Bharat Stage VI emission norms by 2020 - four years sooner than the original timeline of 2024 to shift to more stringent emission norms. The decision aims to support India's efforts to address vehicular air pollution in its fast urbanizing regions that are currently struggling with the air pollution challenge. It further augments the slew of measures being implemented in the capital, New Delhi, currently topping the charts as one the world's most polluted cities.

Delhi's record air pollution levels in 2015 has been attributed to a lack of adequate monsoon rain, agricultural farm fires from neighboring states, fireworks on the Diwali festival and vehicular congestion. In efforts to reduce air pollution from cars, the Delhi government launched the "odd-even" rule earlier this month. The rule limits the use of private cars with odd or even numbered registration (license) plates on corresponding odd and even dates. The experimental rule aims to lower traffic congestion and resulting emissions. The Delhi government has also banned the registration of new diesel and sport utility vehicles with an engine capacity of 2,000 cubic centimeters or more until the end of the year's first quarter.

Other significant sources of pollution in Delhi include waste burning, diesel generator sets, industry, biomass cooking and dust. Late last year, the Delhi government permanently shut down two of the capital's thermal power plants to address industrial pollution. While the focus in Delhi has remained on vehicles, there is a need to increase awareness and regulation around pollution from waste burning, supply regular power so that citizens don't need to rely on diesel generator sets for back-up power during blackouts and provide LPG or electric stoves to enable a shift away from the use of biomass for cooking.

In efforts to increase public awareness, last year the Indian government released an air quality index (AQI) in India. The AQI serves to provide a health advisory corresponding to the air pollution levels recorded and forecasted for the coming days. With suspended particulate matter (SPM) 2.5 levels continuing to remain dangerously high, it is important to understand necessary health precautions to protect vulnerable groups such as young children and the elderly. Fine particulate matter pollution is particularly dangerous to public health because its microscopic size enables particles to enter a person's lungs and bloodstream and can lead to asthma and other respiratory symptoms, heart and lung disease, and even heart attacks.

New Delhi's predicament with pollution has compelled authorities, media, civil society and communities to participate in the debate on clean air and take concrete steps to address it. Policies such as the "odd-even" rule and the expedited move to cleaner fuel are steps in the right direction. Looking ahead, the government's ambitious targets on clean and renewable energy, rapid and smart urbanization, revitalization of existing cities and provision of universal energy access can support the control of air pollution from becoming a challenge across the country. Economic development based on clean energy and energy efficient urbanization are opportunities to mitigate pollution in the future cities of India, while providing a higher and healthier standard of living to millions of Indians.

Inspector General Report Clears EPA of any Bias in its Pebble Mine Assessment

January 14, 2016

Taryn Kiekow Heimer, Senior Policy Analyst, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Santa Monica, California

A report from the EPA Office of Inspector General just confirmed what all of us working to stop the Pebble Mine have long known: EPA acted fairly when issuing its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.

(Photo credit: Robert Glenn Ketchum)

The Inspector General found "no evidence of bias" in how the EPA conducted its assessment - a three-year, twice- peer reviewed scientific study on the potential impacts of large-scale mining on Bristol Bay's world-famous wild salmon fishery. "Based on available information, we found no evidence of bias in how the EPA conducted its assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed, or that the EPA predetermined the assessment outcome," said the report.

Instead, the report found that EPA followed appropriate policies and procedures when crafting its assessment, met the requirements for peer review, involved the public in the process, and reviewed and verified information in the assessment before finalizing it.

The report confirms the legitimacy of EPA's process in conducting its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. EPA's assessment concluded that "mining of the scale contemplated at the Pebble deposit would result in significant and unacceptable adverse effects to important fishery areas in the [Bristol Bay] watershed." EPA further found that the Pebble Mine would have "significant" impacts on fish populations and streams surrounding the mine site, and that a tailings dam failure would have "catastrophic" effects on the region. The assessment served as the bases for EPA's preliminary determination under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to place restrictions on the Pebble Mine.

The report also discredits the relentless, self-serving attacks on EPA by the Pebble Partnership. The Office of Inspector General conducted this report at the specific request of Northern Dynasty Minerals - now the sole owner of the Pebble Partnership after all its major investors fled the project (Mitsubishi left in 2011, Anglo American withdrew in 2013 and Rio Tinto exited in 2014). In an attempt to discredit EPA, the Pebble Partnership accused the agency of colluding with environmentalists and urged the Inspector General to investigate. (The Pebble Partnership has also brought a series of lawsuits against the agency, the first of which it already lost.)

The Pebble Partnership is now trying to discredit the very report they requested, instead promoting a report they bought and paid for that unsurprisingly parrots their accusations against EPA.

But the Inspector General's report confirms in no uncertain terms that the agency acted fairly, transparently and scientifically in assessing the impacts of large-scale mining (like the Pebble Mine) in Bristol Bay. It also confirms the urgent need for EPA to protect the Bristol Bay region - and the people, wildlife and economies that depend on the region's wild salmon.

Click here to show your support and to stop the Pebble Mine.

Surprise (Or Not): Saving Energy Saves Energy

January 14, 2016

David Goldstein, Energy Program Co-Director, San Francisco

Co-authored by Sierra Martinez, NRDC

Stanford and Berkeley researchers recently found that energy-saving devices, like more efficient electrical appliances and better insulated homes and businesses, actually do save us energy. You might be asking - as I often do -- why do we need the nation's top scientists to weigh in on such a statement?

That's a good question, as many people around the country have had to invest a lot of time and resources to refute a damaging attack on energy efficiency that goes along these lines: maybe all these energy efficient devices actually cause us to consume more energy instead of less of it.

In other words, their theory is that since we know these appliances, electronics, lighting, cars, and other devices aren't wasting as much energy as they once did, we've saved enough money that we'll go ahead and use more energy in the end.

Unfortunately, these claims have just enough superficial plausibility to do damage to our collective efforts to support programs that combat climate change through smarter energy use.

Energy efficiency improvements (like cars that burn less fuel to get you between home and work) are a key strategy to reduce climate change pollution. And sowing the seed of doubt about their ability to do so sets our country back in efforts to save energy and clean the air we breathe - which is why we need the nation's top researchers to affirm that, yes, saving energy really does save energy.

How do you prove 'em wrong?

When you need to refute an incorrect report--or a number of them--there are at least two ways of doing it:

  • You can show that the reports were done incorrectly; or
  • You can show that they are taking an approach that is fundamentally wrong, even if the analysis were carried out correctly.

The reports in question claim there is a "rebound effect"--that efficiency could lower the cost of energy services so much that people will demand more of them --so much more as to negate the energy savings.

Taking a closer look

A report that my colleagues and I published disproving the existence of significant rebounds primarily took the second approach, looking at a variety of studies attempting to demonstrate rebounds. We will add to that below.

The recent report from Stanford and Berkeley shows that, independent of the fact that the rebound theory is fundamentally non-scientific, the rebound enthusiasts were using the wrong data in their analysis.

In short, the efficiency doubters were using electricity price data that did not apply to the specific circumstances they were evaluating --circumstances needed to support their claim that energy efficiency would (theoretically) not actually save energy. Specifically, they used national average electricity prices for the whole economy, but the circumstances evaluated require actual prices for the particular sector and state (at least) where the actor theoretically might consume more energy. Well, it turns out that using sloppy price data has big consequences for rebound theory: depending on the location and sector of the economy analyzed, the price data used to support rebound theory could be off by hundreds of percents. See the variance in electricity prices below, showing that in some circumstances the price of electricity is a few hundred percent greater than in other circumstances. (The price of electricity is a principal driver of results in rebound theory.)

Simple evidence that definitively refutes larger rebounds

We can see the absurdity of the large-rebound hypothesis by looking at the last 45 years of aggregate energy consumption. The United States has more than doubled its energy productivity (GDP per unit energy use) - how much it can produce from each kilowatt-hour of electricity or therm of natural gas -- since 1973. We will assume a simple doubling to be conservative.

What does this tell us about rebounds?

Assume that energy productivity is a measure of efficiency.

(Rebound advocates conveniently fail to define "efficiency" so this may or may not be what they mean. Consequently those who are trying to refute it don't know what data they have to gather to do so. Since rebound enthusiasts have failed to define efficiency, the initial assumption that efficiency means GDP per unit of energy use may be exactly what they mean. Or it may not be. This fuzziness of what rebound enthusiasts actually are talking about and how it would be measured is another reason to be skeptical of their claims.)

For simplicity assume the current energy use is 100 and thus the doubling in energy productivity means that without the observed doubling in efficiency, energy use would have been 200. 100 is measured energy use, so it is AFTER rebound: that is, the 100 is the energy use that was measured directly, and thus includes any rebounds. The first thing we conclude is that 100 percent rebounds are impossible: an observed savings of 50 percent clearly is not the same as savings of zero. If we assumed 50 percent rebounds, the observed savings of 100 would mean a predicted savings of 200 reduced by 50 percent: it means we would have expected 100 percent energy savings. This is evidently absurd.

What if energy productivity cannot be considered efficiency?

Let's make a conservative assumption: that 70 percent of the savings in energy per GDP cited earlier was due to efficiency and the other half was due to external changes in the economy. (The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has estimated that some 70 percent of this improvement was due to efficiency.)

Thus, instead of attributing a reduction from 200 to 100 being due to saving 100 through efficiency, we are now saving 70 percent of 100, or 70 units of energy. The no-efficiency case is 170 and the savings is 70, leaving us with the observed consumption result of 100. (The savings from 200 projected units of energy to 170 are due to other unexplained causes.)

With an assumption of 50 percent rebound, the projected pre-rebound savings would have had to have been twice the observed savings of 70, or 140 (since 140 units of predicted savings would be reduced 50 percent due to rebound). So the case against which rebound is compared would have had us going from the projected 200 units of energy to 60 units of energy (a savings of 140 units). This is a ridiculously mistaken value, far beyond even the most ambitious estimates of what was POSSIBLE to save by efficiency policies, much less what was actually undertaken.

We would have to lower our estimate of rebound dramatically below 50 percent in order to square 1970s predictions of how much we could save through efficiency with what was observed.


More and more evidence points to the fact that efficiency savings are realized at a rate of near 100 percent without observable losses to rebounds. The latest study from the Stanford and Berkeley researchers is further proof that in the end, saving energy does, yes, save energy.

Proposal to Charge Electric Cars in Southern California Gets the Green Light

January 14, 2016

Max Baumhefner, Attorney, Clean Vehicles & Fuels, San Francisco

The California Public Utilities Commission has unanimously approved a pioneering program that will deploy 1,500 charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) in Southern California Edison's service territory, one of the largest in the nation, and educate customers about the benefits of driving on electricity.

The "Charge Ready" program targets sites where there is a dearth of charging infrastructure, namely workplaces, apartment complexes, and other locations where cars are parked for most of the day.

This combination should tap pent-up demand for EVs outside of single-family homes, increase the number of miles driven on electricity, and ensure that cars are plugged in when the sun is shining and solar generation peaks. The $22 million pilot phase approved today will run for approximately 18 months. A future phase of the program will aim to deploy another 28,500 charging stations, building on the lessons learned in the pilot phase approved today.

By targeting apartment complexes and underserved communities exposed to harmful air pollution, and by educating customers as to the benefits of EVs, the "Charge Ready" program should expand the market for the cleanest vehicles on the road throughout Southern California, birthplace of drag racing and still the epicenter of car culture.

The proposal approved today was put forward in a settlement agreement supported by Southern California Edison and 16 organizations, including environmentalists, consumer groups, environmental justice advocates, EV drivers, automakers, EV charging companies, and labor unions. Just like in trial courts, if consensus can be reached between interested parties at the Public Utilities Commission, those parties can propose a deal that, if approved by the court (or in this case, the commission), avoids the need for a long and adversarial process.

Here's what a few of those who negotiated and supported the settlement agreement had to say:

"Drivers need access to electricity, a cleaner and cheaper alternative to gasoline, where they live, work, and play. Today's decision marks a critical step toward realizing that vision in Southern California, ground-zero for America's love affair with the automobile." -Max Baumhefner, NRDC

"More and more low-income Californians and Californians of color drive electric cars thanks to policies like Charge Ahead California, and we need the charging stations to make electric driving a real choice for them," said Joel Espino from the Greenlining Institute. "SCE's pilot represents a great way to drive EV growth in communities that urgently need the clean air and economic benefits that EVs provide."

"We are pleased that the CPUC's decision would help make charging an electric car convenient and cheaper than gasoline, while ensuring that charging infrastructure is built and maintained safely with highly skilled union electricians, technicians & linemen." - Pat Lavin, Business Manager, IBEW Local 47

"This green light from the Commission will go a long way towards building a more sustainable, cleaner California by helping the state reduce harmful pollution, integrate more renewable energy, and enhance electric grid reliability. - Larissa Koehler, Environmental Defense Fund

"As we transition away from a petroleum based economy, the decision today by the Public Utilities Commission, along with Southern California Edison's innovative approach will help drive the change to cleaner, more affordable, domestic electricity as our major transportation fuel. Drivers across Southern California will be able to plug in more and more, maximizing the benefits of electric vehicles." - Jay Friedland, Plug In America

"We applaud the Commission on today's decision, which puts Southern California on the road to healthier air and a more reliable electric grid by improving drivers' access to our cleanest and cheapest transportation fuel -- electricity." -Joe Halso, Sierra Club

The New Year Is a New Opportunity for Illinois

January 14, 2016

Nick Magrisso, Policy Advocate, Midwest Program, Chicago

The climate progress we made in 2015 is poised for action in 2016, and Illinois has an abundance of opportunity at its finger tips that will have huge benefits for its economy, communities and environment - but only if it takes the necessary steps to usher in what is expected to be a transformational change in how we produce and use electricity.

To put the magnitude of this historic change in perspective, take the U.S. auto industry. In the last decade alone, the American auto industry evolved from producing and selling a record number of gas-guzzling, pollution emitting SUV's to highly fuel efficient hybrid-electric cars. These new cars have allowed the U.S. to not only keep pace with demand and new federal standards that limit gas consumption, but surge in auto sales that made 2015 the best year in history for the American auto industry, which was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy not more than a few years prior. The moral of the story is that change is not only possible for huge iconic industries such as the auto industry that were the backbone of many local economies for nearly a century, but change can also bring new opportunities that can reshape our nation's economy, our lives and the way we do business.

The storied auto industry can serve as an analogy of the kind of ingenuity and transformation the electric industry is on the cusp of undergoing. 2015 was a big year. From the historic international Paris climate agreement, to Pope Francis's climate change encyclical, to the introduction of the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill that garnered support from 300 coalition partners and a majority of bipartisan Illinois lawmakers who signed on to the legislation in 2015 as cosponsors -- 2016 is poised to be an even bigger year for climate and energy policy and an industry that is in the throes of a transformation.

Here's a brief description of two worlds that could be viewed as analogous to the evolution of the auto industry:

  1. A world where we continue to do business the way we have for over a century by relying on fossil fuels to generate electricity from centralized power plants that pollute the air we breathe, which harms our health and irreversibly warms the only planet; or

  1. Continue to lower our demand for electricity by adopting smarter technologies while turning every home and business, farm and field, into its own source of distributed power that harnesses the sun and wind as limitless sources of fuel and stems the tide of climate change.

If you are a utility executive, an investor, a politician, or a citizen, which world do you believe best represents the future?

Over the past seven years of Obama's presidency his administration steadily took steps to advance the future that offers greater opportunity to the American People, economy and environment. His climate and energy achievements are significant and impressive, but among them is the more recently finalized Clean Power Plan rule from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The rule, for the first time, limits carbon pollution from power plants and gives states the flexibility to cut their emissions and usher in the benefits of a clean energy economy. The Clean Power Plan puts states in the driver's seat allowing them to write their own plan based on works for their unique set of circumstances.

In Illinois, the Clean Jobs Coalition has been making the case for more than a year that the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill is the best path to reducing carbon emissions and achieving the goals of the Clean Power Plan - all while creating an additional 32,000 jobs.

The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill is turnkey legislation that would reduce demand for electricity by expanding the state's utility's investment in energy efficiency products and services that would cut demand by 20% by 2025. Further, the bill would fix policy barriers to the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that was passed in 2007 and expand the amount of power that comes from wind and sun to 35% by 2030 from the current standard of 25% by 2025. Lastly, the bill would encourage the Illinois EPA to use the market to cut carbon pollution under the Clean Power Plan and reinvest any new market proceeds back into clean energy, which would have even bigger pollution reduction, job creation and consumer savings benefits. The Clean Jobs bill is not the only way to meet the federal standards, but it's the best path to not only reach the goals, but create 32,000 jobs and 1.6 billion dollars in consumer savings.

If the IL General Assembly is looking for an easy New Year's Resolution they can cross off their list, this bipartisan bill with a majority of support would be an easy win for everyone.

Governor Rauner will be a key player in 2016 in deciding if, when and how the state can meet the Clean Power Plan. The Illinois EPA is under Rauner's authority and they are the agency solely responsible for meeting the new federal standards. While the state has some unavoidable problems that it must face, the Clean Power Plan doesn't have to be one of those challenges. For now, the state is notably silent from stating its intentions or convening stakeholders and technical experts who are required to provide feedback to ensure adequate public participation and input were sought. While understandably the dire fiscal challenges, the lack of a state budget, and the notable concerns over police reforms will continue to take center stage, ushering in a clean energy economy should be a no brainer for Governor Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly because so many across the state from business owners to families have already expressed their support for cleaner air for their children and are ready to embrace a clean energy future.

New Year's resolutions are often made on January 1 and quickly abandoned because they are too difficult or easy to forget. Illinois can easily cross this off the to-do list this year: pass the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, chart the state's path in meeting the Clean Power Plan, and ensure that Illinois maximizes all the benefits of a critical sector of our economy that's going through a period of transformational change that brings with it tangible benefits in the form of new jobs and utility bill savings.

The days of horse and carriage are behind us and our old energy policies should be too. The New Year is a new opportunity for Illinois and the nation; we just need our leaders to make it happen.

PHMSA's Excessively Narrow Rulemaking Keeps Communities at High Level of Risk from Oil Pipeline Spills

January 14, 2016

Joshua Axelrod, Policy Analyst – Canada Project, Washington, D.C.

Last week, NRDC and a coalition of environmental organizations submitted formal comments to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA), the regulator of America's oil pipeline network, highlighting PHMSA's continued failure to address critical known safety gaps that have remained open for at least a decade. The proposed rulemaking comes five years after an Enbridge pipeline carrying tar sands oil ruptured and spilled more than 800,000 gallons into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. In that case, not only did a huge volume of oil spill over the 17 hours that passed before operators shut the pipeline down, the type of oil proved to create a whole new catalogue of challenges that spill responders were completely unprepared for. As emergency responders struggled with the unique behavior of the tar sands spilled in the Kalamazoo River, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and an expert panel convened by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) found that PHMSA's weak regulatory framework and lax oversight were partly to blame. Despite the comprehensive and common-sense lists of regulatory improvements produced by regulatory watchdogs and public safety organizations, pipeline regulators at PHMSA allowed many years to pass before acting. Now that they have, their proposal goes far short of what is needed and has been called for.

Five-and-a-half years after PHMSA initiated it's rulemaking in the aftermath of the Kalamazoo River tar sands spill, more than $1 billion has been spent on cleanup efforts and despite multiple attempts to dredge the river bottom, tar sands contamination remains. Meanwhile, numerous additional incidents have taken place, including major spills in Mayflower, Arkansas, Santa Barbara, California, and Glendive, Montana. On the heels of these, and hundreds of smaller incidents, PHMSA announced this fall that it would finally complete its new rulemaking. Unfortunately, the proposed rule it released fails to address key safety findings from PHMSA's own expert panel, not to mention key recommendations put forward by the NTSB (and, more recently, the National Academy of Sciences). NRDC and its partners have highlighted these failings and urge PHMSA to act immediately to implement the many regulatory reforms necessary to ensure that America's oil pipeline infrastructure operates as safely as possible and does not threaten our critical water and terrestrial resources.

Enbridge's ruptured pipeline that spilled into the Kalamazoo River. Photo courtesy of the NTSB.

Two elements of PHMSA's current regulatory proposal are especially striking in their failure to add meaningful safety improvements to our nation's network of oil pipelines. The first is PHMSA's broadening of leak detection system requirements that were found by its own expert panel to be insufficient to detect anything except major leaks. Indeed, a study of pipeline incidents from 2002-2012 conducted by InsideClimate News found that existing pipeline leak detection systems only catch 5% of leaks. This rulemaking does nothing except to require most oil pipelines to begin using these ineffective systems. However, PHMSA's own experts had recommended several key changes to begin addressing the failure of leak detection systems including improved data analysis and interpretation methods, standardization of systems, and guidance for how to evaluate leak detection systems based on unique pipeline design factors. Absent these improvements--not to mention significantly improved clarity on leak volumes that must be detectable by these systems--PHMSA's proposed rule will do almost nothing to mitigate the human and environmental risks posed by most pipeline incidents.

Mayflower, Arkansas tar sands oil spill. Photo courtesy of U.S. EPA.

The second failure of the proposed rule is the complete absence of any new requirements for oil spill response measures. Following the Kalamazoo River spill, the NTSB made the following observation and recommendation:

Because the current PHMSA regulation provides no assurance that oil pipeline operators will develop adequate facility response plans to provide for response to worst-case discharges, the NTSB recommends that PHMSA amend 49 CFR Part 194 to harmonize onshore oil pipeline response planning requirements with those of the Coast Guard and the EPA for facilities that handle and transport oil and petroleum products to ensure that pipeline operators have adequate resources available to respond to worst-case discharges.

Unfortunately, despite a three year period during which PHMSA had the opportunity to consider this key recommendation, it has failed to do so. Today, the urgency for doing so has received another boost thanks to a study on diluted bitumen (the most common form of tar sands oil) conducted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). In its study, not only did the NAS conclude that the chemical and physical differences between diluted bitumen and other oils require special regulatory treatment, it also concluded that PHMSA's spill response requirements needed significant modifications to address the threats of this oil--the same that has led to such high-cost and long-term contamination in Michigan.

As PHMSA moves forward with its rulemaking process, we believe that it is crucial that it not proceed in a piecemeal fashion. Not only do communities across the country deserve to enjoy the best pipeline safety measures possible as soon as practicable, but the industry needs the predictability provided from knowing the full slate of new requirements that it will face in coming years. Allowing years and possibly decades to elapse before common sense safety measures are put in place keeps our critical drinking water resources, our first responders, and our communities at constant risk from the threats posed by these spills. PHMSA has the power and mandate to act to make us all safer. Now is the time for it to do so.

Paris Climate Agreement Explained: Does Congress Need to Sign Off?

December 13, 2015

David Doniger, Director, Climate and Clean Air Program, Washington, D.C.

In the breakthrough climate agreement reached in Paris December 12th, at least 186 countries have committed to start curbing the carbon pollution that's driving dangerous climate change. For the first time, all the world's biggest emitters - including the United States, China, Europe, and India - have agreed to cut their carbon pollution, speed their transition to cleaner energy, and strengthen their actions over time. (Read NRDC President Rhea Suh's statement and NRDC's top-line summary of the Paris Agreement.)

Under President Obama, the U.S. has embraced the Paris agreement and is already implementing a robust Climate Action Plan at home. Critics claim the president can't commit our country to Paris, or take these domestic actions, without getting the current Congress's approval. They are wrong on both counts.

Can the president make the U.S. a party to the Paris agreement? Article 4 of the Paris agreement provides that "Each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions." Article 4 also provides for parties to update their national contributions every five years, with the expectation that each one will represent a progression over the one before. Does the Senate have to consent before the U.S. can become a party to these provisions?

No. Article 4 of the Paris agreement doesn't create a new international legal obligation. It reiterates the obligations already contained in Article 4 of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The United States became a party to the Framework Convention after the Senate gave its advice and consent by an overwhelming vote in 1992. That's why legal experts say a new round of Senate advice and consent is not needed. (See here and here.)

Article 4 of the Framework Convention obligates the U.S. and every other party to "formulate, implement, publish and regularly update national ... programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change by addressing anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all greenhouse gases." The U.S. has been reporting periodically on its national program and its mitigation measures for nearly two decades. What's required under Article 3 of the Paris agreement is squarely within the obligations we already assumed under the Framework Convention.

Leading up to the Paris conference, the U.S. announced its "Intended Nationally Determined Contribution" (INDC), which commits to achieve a 26 to 28 percent reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, from 2005 levels. Our national contribution, and 185 others, are included in the Paris agreement. Under the agreement, countries will pursue their national emission reduction commitments through domestic measures. Countries are required to report on their actions and their progress, but this is an obligation the Senate already approved in 1992.

The same is true on adaptation, finance, and other aspects of the Paris agreement. The commitments the U.S. is making in the Paris agreement fall within the international legal obligations that the Senate consented to under the Framework Convention. The Paris agreement states that the developed countries intend to continue mobilizing a combination of public and private sector funds to help developing countries curb their emissions and to avoid or recover from climate change impacts. But the agreement does not create new international funding obligations beyond those in the Framework Convention. To be sure, Congress has to appropriate public funds that the U.S. contributes to these purposes. While some members of Congress want to block climate funding, they haven't had the votes. For instance, a bill to block contributions to the Green Climate Fund failed in a key Senate committee earlier this year.

In short, what's called for by the Paris agreement doesn't create new international legal obligations. So the president doesn't need a new round of Senate advice and consent before the U.S. can become a party to Paris.

Does the president need new laws before he can take steps to reduce U.S. carbon pollution? No. All the actions to cut carbon pollution in the Climate Action Plan are authorized under laws already on the books - under laws that Congress already passed. The Clean Air Act, for example, gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority and responsibility to set standards to curb carbon pollution from cars and trucks, power plants, and many other sources. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld EPA's Clean Air Act authority over carbon pollution three times in the last eight years. The clean car and fuel economy standards, for example, will halve new cars' carbon pollution and double their mileage by 2025, compared to 2010 models. The Clean Power Plan will cut carbon pollution from our power plants by nearly a third by 2030, from 2005 levels. The EPA is setting Clean Air Act standards to cut methane leakage from the oil and gas sector and hydrofluorocarbons use in refrigerators and air conditioners. The Energy Department is setting energy efficiency standards for appliances, lighting, heating and cooling systems, and other equipment under our existing energy laws.

In short, every domestic action the president has promised to take is already authorized by existing laws. Some in the current Congress wish they could repeal these laws and block these actions. But they lack the votes. The Climate Action Plan stands on firm ground.

Thus, Congress does not need to sign off on the Paris agreement or the Climate Action Plan. The president is acting well within his legal authority.

Paris Climate Agreement Explained: How we'll deliver on the promise of ambitious climate action

December 13, 2015

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Director of Programs, Washington, D.C.

The global community signed an historic agreement today at the Paris climate talks to tackle the threat of climate change and accelerate the shift to clean energy around the world. This is a momentous breakthrough. Nearly 200 countries have pledged to reduce their climate change pollution, strengthen their climate commitments every five years, protect people living on the front lines of climate impacts, and help developing nations expand their clean energy economies.

Most important, this agreement sets ambitious goals. It calls for holding global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with a first step of keeping us at no more than 2 degrees of warming.

Reaching the 2-degree target is essential to prevent catastrophic climate impacts, but scientists say it still leaves us open to dangerous levels of rising seas, food insecurity, and extreme drought. It would make the Marshall Islands and other island nations uninhabitable and expose countless vulnerable communities to deadly harm. Keeping the temperature rise at no more than 1.5 degrees will sustain these communities and create a brighter, more stable future for our children and grandchildren.

This is an ambitious goal, but the past two weeks in Paris confirm it is achievable.

In Paris, an action agenda emerged out of a groundswell of climate action from cities, regions, businesses, investors, trade unions, and many others. Mayors and governors described what they are already doing to reduce carbon pollution and how they plan to do more. Multinational corporations said they are cutting carbon pollution across their operations. Financial institutions reported that renewable energy is a better investment than fossil fuels. Leaders from developing nations explained that clean energy is helping to generate economic growth and bring people out of poverty. And thousands of people from all over the world stood up for climate action. This groundswell has the backs of our national leaders in implementing ambitious climate policies. This is what climate leadership looks like.

The low-carbon transition is already underway. Now the Paris agreement calls on us to return home, pick up the pace, and go faster into the clean energy future. And it gives us the tools to hold our government leaders accountable.

In China, that means building on the country's commitment to implement a cap-and-trade program and increase non-fossil-fuel energy sources to 20 percent of total energy by 2030. In India, that means leapfrogging over dirty fossil fuels and using clean, renewable, and efficient energy to power its growth. Meeting the country's solar mission alone will create 1 million jobs. India has already vowed to increase renewable energy sixfold by 2020 and to set mandatory efficiency standards for buildings by 2017.

The United States can also build on existing progress. All 50 states are on track to implement the Clean Power Plan for limiting carbon pollution from power plants; they need to focus on doing this through energy efficiency and an increase in wind and solar. We can continue to improve fuel efficiency standards and move to a combination of electric vehicles and smarter growth in transportation. Next up, we'll work on getting existing oil and gas facilities to reduce their methane emissions and on the phase-out of fossil fuel development on federal lands and in federal waters. And U.S. businesses should continue not only to improve their own energy efficiency but to band together to advocate for stronger clean energy and climate policies.

This work won't be easy. The Paris agreement -- and our obligation to future generations -- demands that nations transform how we think about electricity, transportation, industry, methane from fracking, HFCs from air conditioning, agriculture, and other contributors to climate change. It also requires helping developing countries face the challenges of poverty alleviation, energy equity, and climate justice. And here in the United States, it entails going up against entrenched fossil fuel interests and those politicians who persist in denying climate change.

These are significant hurdles, but citizens, businesses, and political leaders around the globe have made it clear that we support strong climate action. This momentum will carry us forward. And the Paris climate agreement and action agenda will provide the road map.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, said at an NRDC event last week, "When we speak about climate, we speak about humanity." Our future is at stake here. For the human community to thrive, we need a stable climate. The Paris agreement and commitments will help ensure that our families, nations, and societies can flourish for generations to come.

Written with Emily Cousins

Fiscal Mischief: Pennsylvania's Budget and the Clean Power Plan

December 12, 2015

Mark Szybist, Senior Program Advocate, Energy and Transportation, Washington, D.C.

On Thursday evening, as some members of Pennsylvania's General Assembly prepared to decamp from Harrisburg and descend on Manhattan for this year's Pennsylvania Society festivities, the state Senate passed a budget bill, House Bill 1327. This prompted an exasperated friend to ask me: "What's up with your state's legislature?"

Exasperation is not the only reasonable response to House Bill 1327, which comes more than five months into the state's budget crisis. Other appropriate reactions include bafflement, indignation, and incredulity. Why? Tucked into House Bill 1327 at the eleventh hour were provisions (possibly unread by many of the 48 out of 50 Senators who voted for the bill) designed to make it harder for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop a state plan for the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever carbon pollution standards for U.S. power plants, and to regulate "conventional" oil and gas drilling. House Bill 1327 would also transfer funds previously earmarked for energy efficiency improvements in buildings and pollution control projects to other uses - including subsidies for natural gas infrastructure.

House Bill 1327 is objectionable on so many levels, it's hard to know where to start. Here, though, are three Clean-Power-Plan-related reasons why the Pennsylvania House of Representatives should vote against the bill - and Governor Tom Wolf should veto it, if it reaches his desk.

1) The legislative review process that House Bill 1327 creates for Pennsylvania's state plan doesn't make sense.

As the agency that administers Pennsylvania's environmental laws, the DEP has the job of writing a state plan to implement the Clean Power Plan and submitting it to the EPA for approval. In 2014, the General Assembly passed (and then-governor Tom Corbett signed into law) the Pennsylvania Greenhouse Gas Regulation Implementation Act, also known as Act 175 of 2014. This ill-conceived and poorly written law -- which we assessed in this post last year -- requires the DEP to submit the state plan to the General Assembly at least 100 days before submitting it to the EPA. House Bill 1327 would enlarge this review period to 180 days, and also inserts ambiguous new language into the existing law (specifically, the phrase "extension deadline"), which in context could be interpreted as referring to any of several different dates.

Because state plans are due to the EPA in September, 2016 - and the DEP has just started to write Pennsylvania's plan, following the end of the 60-day public input process that the DEP conducted this fall - the 180-day review period makes no sense. It would give the legislature more time to review the plan than the DEP would have to write it. This, after fewer than 30 of the state's 250-plus legislators took the opportunity to provide constructive input to the DEP during the recent comment period

And as to the ambiguous "extension deadline" language - well, it's ambiguous, and would create confusion as to just when the legislature has to act on the state plan. It's partly because of such drafting issues that important legislation - including any legislation affecting the Clean Power Plan - should be developed through a transparent, public process, and not through last-minute, dark-of-night budgetary amendments.

2) Pennsylvanians want the DEP to submit a strong and timely state plan to the EPA.

During this fall's public comment period, approximately 2,006 Pennsylvania citizens, power generators, public health organizations, business associations, environmental groups, and others provided comments to the DEP on the state plan. By NRDC's count, 1,920 of those commenters expressed support for the Clean Power Plan; 1,727 said they wanted the state plan to focus on clean energy, not dirty fossil fuels; and 1,429 supported timely submission of a state plan by the DEP. These numbers are not surprising: poll after poll shows that Pennsylvanians support clean energy for its health, climate, and economic benefits and want their legislators to support clean energy, too. The Senate ignored this clear message. What will the House and the Governor do?

3) House Bill 1327 increases the likelihood that Pennsylvania will get an EPA-imposed plan under the Clean Power Plan, rather than a customized state plan designed by and for Pennsylvania.

House Bill 1327's amendments to the Pennsylvania Greenhouse Gas Regulation Implementation Act appear to be designed to make it harder for the DEP both to develop a good state plan and to submit the plan to the DEP on a timely basis. If this is, in fact, what the General Assembly wants - well, it should be careful what it wishes for. If Pennsylvania fails to submit an approvable state plan to the EPA, the EPA will impose a one-size-fits-all federal plan on the state. What this plan would look like is unclear: the EPA is taking public comments on a draft of the federal plan, now. What is clear is that the federal plan would not be a plan of the kind that the DEP has said it wants to write for Pennsylvania - a plan custom-tailored to work for the state's unique and complex power sector, protect its citizens, and to grow its economy. Does the legislature really want a federal plan? The special interests they're pandering to may want to ask themselves the same question.

Again, these are just the reasons related to the Clean Power Plan for voting against House Bill 1327. If I liked far-too-long blogs, I could go on for several more paragraphs about the folly of keeping Pennsylvania's drilling regulations in the 20th century (many of the current regulations date to the 1980s and 90s); the insult-to-injury effect of House Bill 1327's provisions transferring clean energy funds to gas infrastructure, given Pennsylvania's latest failure to enact a severance tax on natural gas extraction; and the highly doubtful constitutionality of amending environmental laws through a spending bill. Enough said. It's time for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to vote against House Bill 1327, and for Governor Wolf to veto it if they don't.

Paris Climate Agreement Explained: the Action Agenda

December 12, 2015

Brendan Guy, Global Policy Fellow, New York City

World leaders just hammered out a new global agreement on climate change - but that's not all that happened in Paris. There was also a simultaneous surge of more immediate climate actions from beyond national governments that will help put the world on a firmer pathway to achieve the aspirational agreement set out in Paris.

The conference provided a platform - the Action Agenda - for mayors, governors, CEOs, investors, as well as Presidents and Prime Ministers to demonstrate their unprecedented commitments to climate action. For example:

  • Over 7,000 cities with a combined population of more than one billion and one-third of global GDP are taking action on climate change and improving quality of life for their citizens.
  • States and provinces covering a greater surface area than the United States, Canada, and China combined are taking actions to combat climate change.
  • Over 5,000 companies representing over USD $38 trillion in revenue are acting on climate change.
  • And nearly 500 investors with total assets under managemen of more than $25 trillion - one third of total global assets - are taking climate considerations into investment decisions.

At the closing of the Paris conference, the Secretary-General of the United Nations emphasized that "to protect the planet that sustains us, we need all hands on deck." That broad alliance for climate leadership was solidified as the crucial fourth pillar of the conference through the Action Agenda.

The center stage of the Action Agenda showcased some of the most ambitious and transformative climate initiatives catalyzed through the Paris climate conference. More than 70 initiatives across areas such as renewable energy, forests, and innovation pledged their concrete commitments to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future. An international consortium of research and civil society organizations conducted a independent report on the initiatives that found transformational potential, and suggested key steps on the way forward.

Harnessing the power of the groundswell of climate action at all levels will be a critical enabler of success beyond the Paris climate conference. According to the U.N. Development Program, decisions at the sub-national and local levels can influence 50 to 80 percent of GHG emissions. And globally, cities account for 70 percent of GHG emissions from energy. So achieving the national climate commitments set out in the Paris agreement will hinge on strong action by sub-national and local decision-makers.

The groundswell of climate action super-charges country climate commitments in two ways. First, these actions help develop the domestic policies, measures, finance, technologies, and other means to enable national governments to achieve and even surpass their targets at home. They are an essential element of the kind of domestic action necessary after Paris. Second, they will help to prove in the real world that more aggressive actions are possible in the coming years. By reducing emissions even further, these actions will help create the necessary conditions to give confidence to countries to strengthen their national climate commitments before 2020.

While national commitments are the core of the new Paris agreement, their plans need to be complemented and enhanced by multi-stakeholder cooperation that enables nations to reduce emissions much further and faster than they can on their own, bringing the world closer to the 2 degrees and even 1.5 degrees Celsius pathway. This will help inspire the kind of virtuous cycle that must occur after Paris.

The Action Agenda and the broader groundswell of climate action at all levels will be vital vehicles to accelerate action and enhance ambition beyond Paris. Channeling the groundswell of climate action from cities, regions, companies, and investors in partnership with national governments is one of the most powerful ways the global community can deliver on its ambitions set forward in Paris and beyond.

Paris Climate Agreement Explained: Cities Put the Pressure on at COP21

December 12, 2015

Shelley Poticha, Director, Urban Solutions, DC

When 400 mayors from around the globe converged on Paris to demonstrate their commitment for strong, immediate action on climate, they were heard loud and clear.

Getting to an agreement to pursue efforts to limit global warming has been a tough road, but it has been actions taken by cities that helped build negotiators' confidence in setting a high bar. Whether they represented mega cities - London, Paris, Los Angeles, Beijing, Delhi, Rio, Johannesburg - or the most vulnerable communities - the Marshall Islands, indigenous Amazon villages, New Orleans -- they brought a powerful message that waiting is not an option.

This is a familiar refrain, but what made the difference this time was proof of cities' commitment to action.

Every day we were deluged with example after example of mayors breaking through bureaucracy and bypassing national or state roadblocks - refusing to sit back in anticipation of higher action. They have adopted green building codes, cut energy waste, moved to clean energy sources, invested in bicycle and transit infrastructure, and integrated the idea of resiliency into capital investment decisions.

Most mayors saw these actions as ways to build their economies, create jobs, and improve health and the basics of life for residents, as well as leave a strong legacy for future generations. As of this writing, more than 400 cities have signed onto the Compact of Mayors and made commitments to cut at least 3.2GT of carbon, the equivalent to a quarter of the global goal. Each day more cities are joining, spurred by a healthy sense of competition and the work by NGOs like NRDC that are making it easier to take action.

But the road after Paris is going to be rocky. We know that the most ambitious city actions will require more money, innovative financing tools and, most importantly, community support. As Dan Esty, Yale environmental law professor, said during sessions with negotiators, "It is critical to get to the actual implementers - mayors, business leaders, civil society -- as they are the ones that can move from targets to action and solutions."

I would also add that these are the stakeholders who can ensure that their leaders are held accountable for fair and just solutions, and solutions that can quickly scale up to the magnitude of the challenge.

Mayors are all about implementation - getting it done for the people of their communities. In Paris, we saw their impact. We also saw remarkable support from business leaders, financial investors in the form of a new global Green Bank Network, and philanthropy.

It is a convergence of priorities that could be nothing short of transformative.