Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Is Obama’s Climate Action Plan on Track?

Friday, July 25th, 2014 - posted by Jeff Feng

“While no single step can reverse the effects of climate change, we have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged.” – President Obama, June 2013

President Obama lays out his administration's Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University in June 2013. Photo: Whitehouse.gov

President Obama lays out his administration’s Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University in June 2013. Photo: Whitehouse.gov

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is pretty clear in establishing that if we don’t act now, our kids will be living on a different planet.

But since the release of his administration’s plan in June 2013, has Obama made strides in developing a clean energy economy and protecting the environment by fighting climate change?

Let’s take a look at his five-pronged approach to acting on climate: deploying clean energy; building a 21st-century transportation sector; cutting energy waste in homes, businesses, and factories; reducing other greenhouse gas emissions; and leading at the federal level.

First up is deploying clean energy. A major part of accomplishing this goal is first looking at power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution in the country. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first announced proposed carbon standards for new power plants in September 2013. Future power plants will have to adhere to these national carbon pollution limits. And just last month, the EPA made history by announcing the first-ever limits on carbon pollution for existing power plants.

Under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, states are given flexibility to meet individual emissions targets with an overall goal of cutting carbon pollution nationally by 30 percent below 2005 levels. Electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind and solar doubled during Obama’s first term, but the Clean Power Plan needs to continue the momentum. With that in mind, Obama hopes to redouble electricity generated through wind and solar by 2020. Utility-scale renewable energy is becoming more of a reality even with the reasonable, perhaps conservative guidelines of the Clean Energy Plan.

Seeing as it is 2014, Obama also wants to build a 21st-century transportation sector. The EPA and DOT are working to update heavy-duty vehicle fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards by March 2016. Implementing standards for heavy duty vehicles would build on the benefits of the fuel economy standards set in 2011, cutting emissions by 270 million metric tons and saving 530 million barrels of oil. Commercial trucks, vans, and buses are the second biggest polluters in the transportation sector, presumably behind passenger vehicles. Speaking of passenger vehicles, fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles now require an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

It seems like carbon dioxide has stolen the show, but what about other greenhouse gas emissions? What’s being done to stop hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) from doubling by 2020 and tripling by 2030? Who’s working to make sure methane levels that don’t increase to the equivalent of 620 million tons of carbon pollution by 2030 (despite the fact that, since 1990, U.S. methane emissions have dropped by 11 percent)?

HFCs were used to phase out ozone destructive chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and are found in refrigerators and air conditioners. While HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer, they have a high global-warming potential and are sometimes referred to as “super greenhouse gases.” Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is working to ban the most detrimental HFCs and develop suitable replacements.

The federal government’s plan to reduce methane emissions also takes a multifaceted approach. Just last month, the EPA announced its plans to strengthen air pollution standards for new municipal solid waste facilities, the third largest source of methane emissions, by requiring them to capture 13 percent more landfill gas than previously dictated. Under the EPA’s plan, landfills would need to capture two-thirds of methane and air toxin emissions by 2023. To cut methane emissions from agricultural operations, the second largest source of the potent greenhouse gase, the USDA, EPA, and DOE released their “Biogas Roadmap” of voluntary suggestions to implement methane digesters. Apparently using a bottom-up approach in going from lower to higher emitters, the EPA has yet to build on voluntary programs in the oil and gas industry, which is the largest source of methane emissions. Methane regulations may be considered later this year, but would not be finalized until the end of 2016.

On to cutting energy waste in homes, businesses and factories. Ideally, we’d all want energy that’s both reliable and affordable. Groups like Appalachian Voices have demonstrated that energy efficiency is both the cleanest and most cost-effective method to reduce pollution, grow our economy by creating thousands of jobs, and save money for families and businesses.

The Climate Action Plan and the Better Buildings Initiative imagine that commercial and industrial buildings will be 20 percent more efficient by 2020. In Obama’s first term, DOE and HUD helped more than two million homes become energy efficient. The DOE is also finalizing conservation standards for appliances and equipment that would help customers save more. Finally, the USDA recently announced it would allocate approximately $250 million to developing energy efficiency and renewable energy for commercial and residential customers in rural areas.

By virtue of all the stakeholders mentioned above, President Obama believes the federal government must lead the charge towards a cleaner future. Last year, he signed a Presidential Memorandum dictating renewable sources make up 20 percent of the federal government’s electricity by 2020. By working with the U.S. military and other federal agencies, he hopes to lead by example and prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change. The U.S. Geological Survey plans to spend $13.1 million to develop three-dimensional mapping data to respond to weather disasters. And the Bureau of Indian Affairs is allocating $10 million to teach tribes ways to adapt to climate change.

Even with these initiatives, the road to energy efficiency and clean energy won’t be easy. Considering that Obama’s Climate Action Plan was announced just last year, historic work is starting to move the United States to a sustainable and stable environment. It’s a start, but we certainly have miles to go.

Great News for Clean Water in Virginia!

Friday, July 18th, 2014 - posted by eric

A two-headed trout deformed by selenium pollution.

Last week a federal judge upheld a previous decision requiring a Virginia coal company to get a permit for their discharges of toxic selenium.

Selenium is a mineral that is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic life at very low levels. It is commonly discharged from many coal mines and coal ash ponds. Even in small amounts, selenium causes deformities, reproductive failure and even death in fish and birds. Even though its toxic effects and prevalence in coal mine discharges are well known, this is the first mine in Virginia that will be required to monitor and obtain a permit for its selenium discharges.

Water testing done by Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) revealed that A&G Coal Corporation’s Kelly Branch Surface Mine was discharging selenium in toxic amounts. So in 2012, Appalachian Voices, SAMS and the Sierra Club, represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed suit against A&G for illegal discharges of selenium.

EPA is currently revising their national standards for selenium. If implemented, their new draft standards will make it more difficult for citizens groups protect streams they care about through legal actions like this one.

A&G Coal Company is owned by billionaire, frequent political campaign contributor and coal baron James Justice.

Last year, a federal judge ruled in our favor and ordered A&G to begin daily selenium monitoring and to apply for a permit from the Commonwealth of Virginia to cover its selenium discharges. A&G appealed that decision with the support of a number of industry groups including the National Mining Association, the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance, the Virginia Mining Association, the Virginia Mining Issues Group, the American Petroleum Institute and several others. That appeal failed last week.

A&G claimed that their current water discharge permit provided them a “permit shield.” Basically, since they were meeting the terms of their current permit, they were shielded from any liability for other water pollution not included in that permit.

In his decision federal district judge James P. Jones disagreed. The decision states that the validity of a “permit shield” is a two-prong test, requiring that a permittee disclose the presence of the pollutant in its permit application, and that the state agency considers that pollutant. If you fail one prong then you lose the shield. In this case A&G never disclosed the presence of selenium in their permit application, and there is no evidence that Virginia considered selenium pollution, so the company failed both parts of the test. The decision concludes:

To allow the [permit shield] defense in these circumstances would tear a large hole in the [Clean Water Act], whose purpose it is to protect the waters of Appalachia and the nation and their healthfulness, wildlife, and natural beauty.

Today’s court decision and what it means for Appalachia

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - posted by thom

good_day_for_mtns2

Today was a big day for those fighting to end mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.

A federal appeals court has reaffirmed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when reviewing Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop removal mines. The court also ruled that the EPA’s guidance on conductivity is not a final rule and therefore is not subject to legal challenge.

Read a statement from Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons.

In 2009, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers began an Enhanced Coordination Process for permitting valley fills associated with large-scale mountaintop removal mining. The process encouraged improved coordination between the two agencies and greater scrutiny of the environmental impacts of each valley fill permit before them.

But as you probably know, the environmental impacts of valley fills are inherently damaging. Just last week, a major study from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that headwater streams beneath valley fills in southern West Virginia had two-thirds fewer fish than normal streams. Keep in mind that those Appalachian streams are the headwater streams for the drinking water of millions of Americans. Appalachian Voices was also curious about the potential economic impacts of coal pollution and found that there are a lot more jobs supported by the sportfishing industry in Appalachia than surface coal mining jobs — about seven times as many.

The second part of the court decision was related to the EPA’s guidance on conductivity. Conductivity is a measure of metals and salts in water, and elevated levels are toxic to aquatic life. The USGS study also confirmed that conductivity levels below mountaintop removal valley fills are almost always elevated, damaging waters throughout the region.

The EPA released its guidance on conductivity pollution just over four years ago. At the time, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claimed that “either no or very few valley fills are going to meet standards like this.”

In order to “end coal mining pollution,” as she put it, the EPA was going to use its authority to restrict mountaintop removal valley fills, and thus significantly reduce the amount of mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia. While the guidance would not have put a much-needed permanent end to mountaintop removal, it was an enormous step.

The coal industry fought the guidance with everything that had. Their allies on Capitol Hill held hearings to put political pressure on the EPA to stand down, while industry lawyers simultaneously took the agency to court.

Two years after the guidance had been proposed, it was thrown out by a U.S. District Court. With one bad court decision, EPA’s job to end coal mining pollution was made a lot harder.

Meanwhile, the EPA Region 4 office, which oversees Clean Water Act permitting for Kentucky and other southeastern states, has been ignoring both the guidance and the rigorous science on which it was based. They continue to approve permits for valley fills, including six at one massive mine that got the agency’s OK just last year.

But on Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals turned the tables. The panel of judges concluded that the guidance stands, as it is not a final rule, and therefore is not subject to legal challenge. Furthermore, they confirmed, and in fact encouraged, the EPA’s enhanced coordination process.

The EPA has the legal authority, scientific evidence, and moral obligation to block every mountaintop removal valley fill permit that comes through its doors. We all share the responsibility of making sure it does just that.

Learn more about Appalachian Voices’ work to end mountaintop removal.

One fish, two fish … Dead fish

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 - posted by matt

USGS Study: Mountaintop Removal Decimates Fish Populations in Appalachia

onefish_twofish

A study from researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published this month provides strong new evidence that mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia is devastating downstream fish populations.

That’s hardly news for long-time followers of the controversy surrounding mountaintop removal, a coal mining practice that involves blowing off the tops of mountains to access thin seams of coal and dumping the waste into valleys below. In 2010, a group of 13 prestigious biologists published a paper in Science, the nation’s premier scientific journal, that found:

“Our analyses of current peer-reviewed studies and of new water-quality data from WV streams revealed serious environmental impacts that mitigation practices cannot successfully address… Clearly, current attempts to regulate [mountaintop removal mining] practices are inadequate.”

The authors of the study published last week found a 50 percent decline in the number of fish species and a two-thirds decline in the total number of fish in streams below mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia’s Guyandotte River drainage. They made this important contribution to the science by using rigorous methodology to isolate several types of water pollution most likely to have caused these staggering declines.

But a more important contribution of the study may be that it draws the focus of water pollution impacts away from mayflies and other aquatic insects and onto a far more popular and charismatic organism that not only is important to rural people’s way of life, but supports a multi-billion dollar sportfishing industry in Appalachia.

Tellingly, industry spokespeople contacted by local reporters did not dispute the science as they typically have in the past. Those that didn’t dodge reporters entirely were quick to change the subject to the purported benefits of mountaintop removal to create more flat land for industrial and commercial development (in a region where less than 10 percent of the more than 1 million acres of mountains that have already been flattened has been used for economic development).

This muted response is in stark contrast to the coal industry’s response to previous science linking mountaintop removal to the loss of aquatic insects downstream from mine sites. The “EPA puts mayflies ahead of jobs” or “pests over people” became the rallying cries of coal industry supporters when the EPA first began bringing science back into the permitting process in 2009.

One suspects that the coal industry knows it isn’t likely to win a “jobs vs. fish” debate with America’s 33 million anglers.

Widespread damage to fish populations could also be important from the pocketbook perspective that political leaders in Kentucky and West Virginia take seriously. According to data [PDF] from the American Sportfishing Association, recreational fishing creates a lot more jobs than mountaintop removal does in the states where it occurs:

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In fact, sportfishing accounts for more than 12,000 jobs in Kentucky, which is more than the entire coal mining workforce in the state, including all underground and surface miners, coal preparation plant workers and industry office workers combined. Moreover, unlike coal, sportfishing is a growing industry in Appalachia — the number of jobs it created in West Virginia more than tripled between 2001 and 2011.

Of course, even if “jobs vs. fish” were a popular argument, it would be just as false a narrative as “pests over people.” Declines in populations of both fish and aquatic insects are important indicators of declining health of an ecosystem on which all organisms depend, including people. The “ecological indicator” theory is consistent with the dozens of scientific studies published in the last few years that show communities near mountaintop removal mines suffer poor health outcomes ranging from high rates of cancer, respiratory illness, heart disease and birth defects to low life expectancies that are comparable to those in developing nations like Iran, Syria, El Salvador and Vietnam.

Thus, the USGS study is an important contribution to the debate about mountaintop removal for anyone concerned about recreational fishing, human health or the economy of Appalachia. Hopefully that’s everybody.

It’s also a very timely contribution because it turns out that the EPA and other federal agencies are right now grappling with important rules to protect streams that will determine whether the pollution that leads to the kinds of declines in fish populations seen by the USGS researchers will be allowed to continue.

The study found that waters downstream from mountaintop removal mines contained elevated levels of two forms of pollution that the researchers believe could account for the declines in fish populations: conductivity and selenium. Conductivity is a measure of metals and salts in water, and elevated levels are toxic to aquatic life. Selenium has caused grotesque deformities in larval fish ranging from s-curved spines and double-headed larvae to fish with both eyes on the same side of their heads.

A two-headed trout deformed by selenium pollution. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A two-headed trout deformed by selenium pollution. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This study should serve as a wake-up call to federal regulators that have been steadily backsliding from the Obama administration’s initial commitment to put science first in agency decision-making and to rein in the widespread damage from mountaintop removal mining. That backsliding has been particularly evident at the EPA’s Region 4 headquarters in Atlanta, which oversees Clean Water Act permitting for a number of southeastern states including Kentucky.

Enforcement officials at Region 4 have not incorporated the science and recommendations developed by the EPA for the guidance on conductivity since it was announced by previous EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in 2010. At the time, Jackson predicted the new guidelines would allow “few, if any, valley fills” to be permitted. Since then, valley fills — debris piles composed of the soil and rock that formerly made up the mountaintops of Central Appalachia — have continued to be approved by Region 4, including a massive new mountaintop removal permit with six valley fills that was approved last year.

Region 4 officials also recently approved a weakening of Kentucky’s standards for chronic selenium levels in streams, allowing the state to permit levels high enough to cause reproductive failure in some fish. Worse, at the federal level, the EPA recently released a draft revision to its nationwide selenium rule that is likely to be all but impossible to enforce. That’s a particular problem in states like Kentucky that have proven time and again to be incapable of enforcing rules on the politically powerful coal industry without citizen groups intervening. Here’s what the Lexington Herald-Leader had to say about the state’s “failure to oversee a credible water monitoring program by the coal industry”:

“In some cases, state regulators allowed the companies to go for as long as three years without filing required quarterly water-monitoring reports. In other instances, the companies repeatedly filed the same highly detailed data, without even changing the dates. So complete was the lack of state oversight it’s impossible to say whether the mines were violating their water pollution permits or not.”

Fortunately, the administration has an opportunity to take meaningful action to protect Appalachian streams this winter, when the Office of Surface Mining is scheduled to release a draft Stream Protection Rule to replace the outdated Stream Buffer Zone rule promulgated more than 30 years ago.

The message for the Obama administration from all this is that they are doing nobody any favors by taking half-measures to protecting water quality in Appalachia. When important recreational fish populations, a growing sector of the Appalachian economy and the health of Appalachian people clearly depend on strong water quality protections, the president’s spirit of compromise should not extend to compromising on science.

Here’s what you can do: tell President Obama to instruct his agencies to draft a strong Stream Protection Rule that will prohibit mining near streams and protect the health of people, fish and the economy of Appalachia. Take action here.

’80s Flashback: Dr. Hansen’s carbon dioxide warning

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 - posted by molly
Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration's 2013 International Energy Outlook

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2013 International Energy Outlook

Twenty-six years ago today, Dr. James Hansen of NASA told a Congressional committee that the space agency was 99 percent certain that the global warming trend had a clear culprit: gases, such as carbon dioxide, from man-made sources.

As The New York Times reported at the time:

“Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming,” Dr. Hansen said at the hearing today, adding, “It is already happening now.”

Between 1988 and today, the Billboard hits may have changed from Guns N’ Roses to Katy Perry, but Dr. Hansen’s warning is still playing on repeat.

Scientists at the 1988 hearing called for a sharp reduction in the burning of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide, and recommended “a vigorous program of reforestation” to absorb excess carbon from the atmosphere. Instead, global carbon emissions have risen from about 20,000 tons to more than 30,000 tons (see the change here) while deforestation has dramatically accelerated.

In a classic case of better-late-than-never, however, America is finally beginning to address its carbon dioxide emissions. As we describe in the current issue of The Appalachian Voice, the Supreme Court gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate climate-altering gases back in 2007. This month the EPA proposed the first limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that existing power plants can emit. Since these power plants are responsible for 40 percent of nationwide carbon dioxide emissions, the EPA’s proposals would go a long way toward curbing climate change and advancing clean energy.

So, 26 years from now will we look back on Dr. Hansen’s warning and regret that we failed to act? Or will we be grateful that in 2014 we finally took action to lessen the impacts of climate change and promote a sustainable energy future? The choice is ours, though we’re probably stuck with the chart-topping hits of the ‘80s regardless.

> Tell the EPA you support strong carbon pollution limits for existing power plants
> Learn more about carbon pollution and climate change
> Read about how the proposed rules could affect your state

O, to have the bully pulpit of Congress

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 - posted by thom

rahallBeing a member of Congress has its perks.

If I were a congressman, I think my favorite thing to do would be to have lobbyists buy me expensive lunches. My second favorite thing would be to introduce unreasonable legislation that had zero chance of ever passing. You see, our elected reps get to stand up for whatever industry they prefer, or whichever issue is closest to their heart. This Congress has only passed about 1% of the bills that have been introduced, so if a bill fails, it’s no big deal.

For example, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) prefers to introduce bills dealing with issues he cares a lot about. And Rahall really, really wants coal companies to be allowed to dump their mountaintop removal waste into West Virginia’s streams. See, the Environmental Protection Agency has been issuing fewer permits for valley fills, and without those, it’s harder for mountaintop removal mines to span thousands of acres.

What’s worse, in Rahall’s eyes, is that the EPA once used its power afforded by the Clean Water Act to veto the permit for Spruce mine, a planned 2,200-acre mine in West Virginia. The plan was to bury six miles of high quality streams with more than 100 million cubic yards of coal mine waste. But then the EPA came in and determined that the mine would pose an unacceptable risk to water quality, wildlife and Appalachian communities. After years in court, the EPA’s veto authority has been upheld, and the mine has been stopped.

In response, Rahall just introduced the “Regulatory Certainty Act of 2014” to confront the EPA’s “increasing aggression against West Virginia coal mining,” and to check the agency’s “ideological zeal.” In more technical terms, the legislation would change the Clean Water Act to take away the EPA’s ability to veto a valley fill permit after an absurdly short 30-day window.

Rahall seems to believe that the EPA is running wild with these vetoes, destroying the U.S. economy in the process. But consider the following: the EPA has had veto power over 404 permits since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. In the past 42 years,it has used this veto power exactly 13 times. There are hundreds of permit applications filed with the EPA every year for purposes ranging from mining to road construction, and the agency has issued a veto less than once every three years. The Obama administration has actually only used its veto authority once. Once!

It doesn’t seem to matter to Rahall that the EPA’s veto authority is a rarely used tool designated for extreme cases. The very possibility that the EPA could stop the biggest, baddest, most destructive mines from plundering Appalachia is apparently too much for him to stomach.

So. instead of standing idly by, Rep. Nick Rahall is wielding his power as a veteran United States congressman by introducing a bill to strip the EPA of its preemptive and retroactive veto power under the Clean Water Act.

The result? Another sheet of paper in a stack of hopeless bills written for political points.

What does EPA’s carbon rule mean for your state?

Friday, June 13th, 2014 - posted by Ryan Murphy
The EPA's interactive "Where You Live" tool summarizes climate change impacts and state actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA’s interactive “Where You Live” tool summarizes climate change impacts and state actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced Clean Power Plan aims to cut carbon pollution from power plants nationwide. Specifically, the plan seeks to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels. A new tool on the EPA’s website allows users to see how their state will be affected by the federal effort.

The tool is a clickable map that shows a particular state’s carbon emissions in millions of metric tons and the percentage of those emissions which came from fossil fuel-fired power plants. This is calculated into an emission rate that is expressed as “pounds per megawatt hours.” The EPA’s tool presents its yearly emissions calculations as such:

1. Millions of metric tons of carbon emitted by the state
2. Amount of energy produced by the state (presented in terawatt hours, each of which is equal to one million megawatt hours)
3. A combination of the two previous factors (pounds per megawatt hours): This demonstrates how many pounds of carbon are emitted for every megawatt hour of energy produced by a power plant, or how much carbon dioxide is released to meet that state’s energy demand.

The table below shows 2012 emissions levels of five central and southern Appalachian states and the amount of carbon pollution those states will need to cut under EPA’s proposed plan.

A table of carbon emissions and coal's share of electricity generation in five central and southern Appalachian states. Click to enlarge.

A table of carbon emissions and coal’s share of electricity generation in five central and southern Appalachian states. Click to enlarge.

What accounts for the differences in emissions? For example, Virginia released 861 fewer pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour than Kentucky in 2012.

That’s where another feature of this tool comes in: each state’s profile features a pie graph of different energy sources and their share of a state’s overall generation.

Kentucky derived an enormous 92 percent of its energy from coal in 2012. Virginia derived only 20 percent of its energy from coal. The majority of the Old Dominion’s energy comes from nuclear (40 percent) and, a close second, natural gas (35 percent).

Burning coal releases more carbon than any other energy source, so it makes sense that those states which use the highest percentages of coal also release the highest amount of carbon.

This carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere and aggravates climate change. A significant reduction in these emissions seeks not only to mitigate climate change but also to reduce pollutants that can cause asthma and other health problems.

Each state must develop a plan to meet these lower carbon emission goals. In an ideal world, these states would make a seamless transition to cleaner forms of energy. They could remain energy-based economies by becoming clean energy-based economies.

It remains to be seen how the coal industry’s influence will affect the implementation of this rule by Appalachian states. But considering the fact that as much as 95 percent of a single state’s energy can come from coal, the EPA’s plan could have a significant effect on Appalachia as states are given federal impetus to curtail carbon emissions, and, implicitly, coal consumption.

Virginians applaud new federal carbon pollution protections

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by cat

Business, health, farming, and national security leaders praise Environmental Protection Agency for protecting state

virginia-voicesRepresentatives of Virginia business, national security, health and agricultural sectors joined environmental advocates this week in praising the newly announced carbon pollution limits for existing power plants as necessary public health and security safeguards, and a beneficial economic driver.

The new EPA guidelines give states the flexibility to implement strategies that can increase energy efficiency and improve resiliency while reducing this harmful air pollutant. The local leaders called on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to lead a robust and inclusive process for developing a bold state plan to implement the new standards in Virginia.

David Belote, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, Virginia Beach:
“Anyone looking for a job in Virginia today wants to be in a growth industry. Reducing carbon pollution and growing our clean energy sector unlocks the doors to the new opportunities that Virginia’s businesses and workers have been looking for. Promoting clean energy and climate security isn’t a ‘war’ on anybody – it’s unleashing innovators and entrepreneurs to profit while improving the planet and the lives of its people.”

Dr. Anthony Smith, CEO of Secure Futures, Staunton:
“The proposed new carbon pollution standards represent a big step toward moving Virginia’s economy to cleaner fuel sources. “Retiring old and inefficient coal-fired power plants with solar and wind power will give more Virginians access to 21st century energy jobs, and the ability to enjoy healthier air and water.”

Dr. Christine Llewellyn, physician and radiologist, Williamsburg:
“We know that climate change is already occurring, but we also know that we still have time to prevent the most severe impacts if we act now to reduce carbon emissions. Policies such as the EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards are an essential first step towards protecting the future for our children and grandchildren. These policies will not only reduce dangerous carbon pollution, but will also have other major health benefits.”

Tenley Weaver, owner and operator of Good Food – Good People, Floyd:
“When weather extremes get more uncertain, your regional food security is even more at risk. Climate disruption heaps costs on the shoulders of our farmers and threatens to put some of them out of business. The EPA’s initiative to limit carbon pollution is an essential step toward addressing the global warming crisis and its impacts, especially on organically grown local food crops.”

Acting on Climate: EPA unveils carbon rule for existing power plants

Monday, June 2nd, 2014 - posted by brian
The EPA's plan to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate. Photo licensed under Creative Commons.

The EPA’s plan to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate. Photo licensed under Creative Commons

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announced a plan today to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.

The highly anticipated plan is “part of the ongoing story of energy progress in America,” McCarthy said in a rousing speech that covered the host of risks, and opportunities, that come with a changing climate. Not neglecting the significant role coal and natural gas will continue to play in America’s power sector, McCarthy said the plan “paves a more certain path forward for conventional fuels in a carbon constrained world.”

The rule provides states flexibility to meet required reductions — a framework the McCarthy says makes the plan “ambitious but also achievable.” It will likely lead to an increased reliance on less carbon-intensive fuels than coal, including natural gas and nuclear energy, which McCarthy mentioned several times during the announcement. But it should also be a precursor to unprecedented investments in clean energy, deployment of renewable energy sources and the adoption of programs to significantly improve energy efficiency nationwide.

Every American city, town and community stands to benefit from cutting carbon pollution, and Appalachia and the Southeast have abundant opportunities to move beyond both a historical over-reliance on coal, and the destructive methods used to extract it.

Act now to support a strong carbon rule that incentivizes renewable energy development and clean energy jobs for Appalachia.

“Appalachia has traditionally borne the brunt of the damage from the nation’s coal-dependent economy and is suffering the health impacts and environmental and economic devastation of mountaintop removal coal mining and related industrial practices,” said Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons.

“Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest and most equitable way to meet our energy needs while reducing carbon, and it’s a tremendous unexploited opportunity in the Southeast,” Cormons said. “Strong efficiency programs will also boost economic prosperity, creating thousands of jobs. This is especially important in many parts of Appalachia where good jobs are scarce, and lower household incomes preclude too many from the benefits an energy-efficient home.”

Charting the decline in carbon emissions from energy consumption. Graphic by  New York Times using Energy Information Administration data.

Charting the decline in carbon emissions from energy consumption. Graphic by New York Times using Energy Information Administration data

Opposition to the plan will be fierce. You’ve probably noticed that some of coal’s staunchest supporters, the National Mining Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, are already attempting to take the EPA to task for what they say will harm the economy and make little more than a dent in carbon emissions on a global scale.

The EPA is sure to be challenged in court. Luckily, the rule’s legality, in a broad sense, is almost as unambiguous as the science that compelled the Obama administration to take action in the first place.

Tell the EPA you support a strong rule to boost clean energy and cut carbon pollution.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to treat greenhouse gases as dangerous pollutants, enabling it to use the Clean Air Act to place limits on them. Then, in 2011, the high court issued a ruling in American Electric Power v. Connecticut that essentially requires the EPA to regulate carbon pollution from power plants.

Even Congress, albeit a past session, deserves a bit of credit. It was the enactment of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments that gave the federal government the authority, and the responsibility, to regulate pollutants that it has determined endanger public health and welfare. So

Overall, carbon emissions in the U.S. have declined since peaking in 2007 due to many factors including an economic slump, greater energy efficiency and a growing share of electricity generation coming from natural gas, falling about 12 percent between 2005 and 2012, before climbing 2 percent last year.

But we’re still dumping billions of tons of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. And until a rule for existing plants is implemented, the nation’s fleet of more than 600 coal-fired facilities will face no cap on carbon pollution. Today’s announcement sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate.

Stay tuned for more of our coverage of the rule. In the meantime, read “Confronting Carbon Pollution” in The Appalachian Voice and visit Appalachian Voices’ carbon & climate pages.

Get Ready: Confronting Carbon Pollution

Friday, May 30th, 2014 - posted by molly
Smokestacks at Riverbend Steam Station

Duke Energy’s Riverbend Steam Plant in Gaston County, N.C., was retired in April 2013; the utility said the plant, which began operating in 1929, was rarely used. Photo by Sandra Diaz

From big newspapers to political blogs, the media is buzzing in anticipation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s rule aimed to reduce climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s existing power plants, which are expected to be unveiled on Monday. For environmental news junkies like us, this is the equivalent of the Super Bowl pre-game show.

The latest issue of The Appalachian Voice is joining the fray. In this issue, we take a look at how and why the EPA is taking on carbon pollution, and what the much-anticipated rule could mean for Appalachia and the Southeast. The full online edition will be available next week, but if you’re eager to learn more in advance of Monday’s announcement you can read the story Confronting Carbon Pollution here.

President Obama is rumored to be presenting the rules himself on Monday, signaling his strong endorsement of the EPA’s efforts to rein in carbon emissions from existing power plants. And it seems like Americans as a whole are ready to support the move. In a Yale University poll conducted in April, 64 percent of Americans favor setting strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired plants, while 35 percent oppose.

The Washington Post explains the expected carbon regulations this way:

The EPA plan resembles proposals made by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which would allow states and companies to employ a variety of ­measures — including new ­renewable-energy and energy-efficiency projects “outside the fence,” or away from the power-plant site — to meet their carbon-reduction target. While the overall target may fall slightly short of what environmentalists have pressed for, the approach is in line with their push to make major cuts in greenhouse gases while seeking to soften the impact on consumer electricity prices.

In some ways, next week’s big announcement is really just the beginning. As we describe in The Appalachian Voice:

The public will have until September to comment on the proposal, and by June 2015 the EPA will finalize its guidelines. States will have until June 30, 2016, to submit their plans for achieving the needed reductions, and the EPA will have until the end of 2016 to review each state’s plan. If all goes according to the administration’s agenda, by the time Obama’s term ends in January 2017 the nation will be on its way to lower carbon emissions — provided the rules withstand the lawsuits that industry groups and coal-friendly states are likely to file.

The carbon rules follow two recent Supreme Court rulings that affirmed the EPA’s authority to regulate harmful pollutants under the Clean Air Act. In an article for Grist, Ben Adler writes that the expected proposal was built for resilience:

The state-based plan was devised to withstand the inevitable political and legal challenges. “We wanted an approach that would pass legal scrutiny, making conservative assumptions about the law, technology, and economics,” says [Natural Resources Defense Council Director of Climate Programs David] Hawkins. “We wanted our model not to be subject to the criticism that ‘You used a harebrained model that only a hippie could love.’”

The formal comment process is just one side of what’s sure to be a hotly contested issue, with a variety of opportunities for public debate. Expect to see strong words from environmental and public health advocates as well as fossil fuel interests, with groups such as Appalachian Voices encouraging states to meet these carbon reduction goals through energy efficiency and renewable sources, and utilities that prefer the status quo preparing to ramp up natural gas production.

We’ll be following the issue closely here on the Front Porch Blog, and in The Appalachian Voice. Read our Confronting Carbon Pollution feature story here, and learn more about carbon and climate change here.