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The novel accounting of greenhouse gas regulations: We are the world

Tue, 2014-06-03 15:19
Applying a dollar sign to death, disease and catastrophic climate change is a macabre business. Nonetheless, the cold-eyed math of cost-benefit analysis is the biggest contribution economics can bring to the often emotional questions that environmental and other types of regulations raise. In deciding whether a new rule does more good than harm, the Environmental Protection Agency routinely applies a cost-benefit test. Its sweeping propsal to cap greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants appears to pass with flying colours. By the EPA's reckoning, the rule will, by 2030, cost just $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion a year (in 2011 dollars), while producing benefits worth $55 billion to $93 billion per year.But this calculation rests on a novel calculation of the benefits of reducing greenhouse gases that takes regulatory policy into contentious new territory. As calculated, the costs are borne entirely by Americans, but the benefits accrue to the whole world. Using American benefits only, the benefits of reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) would be far smaller. The remaining benefits would be so-called co-benefits, which are basically good things that happen that weren't the main intent of the rule. Those co-benefits come from reductions in soot that are a by product of sulfur dioxide emissions (SO2) and rest heavily on assumptions as opposed to hard scientific ...

Democrats in Coal Country Run From E.P.A.

Mon, 2014-06-02 20:59
The president’s proposal to cut emissions from power plants could become a key issue in hard-fought midterm races across the country.

Climate policy: Obama's green gamble

Mon, 2014-06-02 20:36
BARACK OBAMA'S determination to act on climate change has been clear to anyone watching the president's major speeches in recent years. In his state-of-the-union address last year, for example, Mr Obama urged Congress to pass a "market-based solution to climate change", warning that if it failed to do so he would act alone. A couple of years earlier a cap-and-trade bill had died in the Senate; by 2013 it was already clear that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had no interest in passing new laws. Thus did Mr Obama turn to his executive toolbox.Lurking inside was something rather useful: the Clean Air Act, signed by Richard Nixon back in 1970. Today Gina McCarthy, head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, announced that by 2030 America's power stations must reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide by 30% from the 2005 level. (Comments will now be solicited; a final rule is due next year.) The EPA has authority to issue such rules under an obscure provision of the CAA written long before mainstream politicians determined that carbon dioxide was a threat; indeed, the EPA's authority to regulate the gas as a pollutant was made clear only in a Supreme Court ruling in 2007. Lawsuits will be no doubt be filed against the 645-page rule; some provisions may be altered and weakened as a result, but the basic legal framework seems sound. The ...

Obama to Take Action to Cut Carbon Pollution

Mon, 2014-06-02 09:25
Experts say the new regulation could close hundreds of the nation’s coal-fired power plants and lead to changes in the U.S. electricity industry.

Damned if they do: EU and US politicians grapple with commitments on climate

Mon, 2014-06-02 07:54

By Jason Anderson, Head of EU Climate and Energy Policy, WWF European Policy Office

Today the Obama administration will come out with a draft rule on power plants that represents its latest attempt to make headway reducing greenhouse gas emissions despite the failure of Congress to take action (indeed, despite the histrionic antipathy towards action among many of them).

Inevitably, it will get blasted by those forces married to fossil fuels who enjoy the sound of their own rhetoric on economics and liberty, which is best enjoyed with the oceans rising up around your ankles. But with midterm elections coming up and climate not top of US politicians’ priority list, political support isn’t guaranteed even among many Democrats.

In other words, Obama is walking into a minefield. Which raises the question, if politicians are risk-averse and sensitive to election outcomes, why would he be doing this? Is it possible there’s some meat on this bone?

EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard would’ve liked to have had the same benefit of the doubt when announcing the EU’s 2030 plan in January. Environmentalists jumped on its inadequacy. In reply, Hedegaard said that it was easy to be an observer but hard to be a politician, and invited the NGOs to go soak our heads. She claimed that the 40% target was a position requiring serious political effort, and that a more ambitious proposal would have no chance of overcoming political opposition.

Be that as it may, the differences between the US and EU situation are informative. In the US case, climate action has been hard to come by, with the last president spending eight years basically working in the opposite direction entirely. Meanwhile, the current president gets little credit for any reductions in emissions, with most people ascribing that entirely to the rush for shale gas.

In fact, according to the US government’s 2014 climate action report, the effect of current policy and trends, including increased use of natural gas, would be to see US emissions drop 5.3% compared to 2005 levels in 2020[1]. However, they have a commitment of reducing by 17%. Bearing in mind the US GDP is rising and its population grows by more than a million people per year, new policy will have to make significant efforts to close the gap, of which the power plant rule is the most important element.

In Europe, meanwhile, GHG emissions were basically stable from 1990-2004, aside from the post-1990 implosion in Eastern countries. A shift from coal to gas played an important a role initially in keeping emissions low, but, as the US is also now finding, that shift only gets you so far before much more is needed. It is no coincidence that the year the Kyoto Protocol went into force, 2005, is when EU emissions clearly took a permanent downward path – concern about the failure to dent emissions in the previous years led to serious efforts at new policy lest we completely miss our Kyoto targets.

But Europe overcompensated – we let countries and companies buy overseas offset credit to temper costs of compliance. Together with the economic downturn the result is that the EU can now either significantly increase emissions to 2020, or hold excess credits over to the following period thereby reducing real effort to 2030. The combination of policy already in place and excess credits carried over could mean that the additional effort from 2020 to 2030 resulting from the current EU debates is negligible.

Solutions to the EU’s problem include adding an approach being pursued, ironically, in both the US and Canada – an emissions performance standard for power plants, which focuses minds on the problem at hand (emissions) and not on the theoretical solution (movement of overabundant paper credits, often of dubious provenance). An EPS will play an important role in the post-2020 target Obama has promised to deliver before the UN deadline in March 2015 (cue jeering from the domestic better-dead-than-green coalition).

So, the historic bad guys are trying to make up for lost time while the historic good guys are resting on their laurels. In both cases politicians trying to get something done are lightning rods for criticism from all sides – old-fashioned industry (and their friends in government) emboldened by the death of peak oil and smelling blood around climate action, and everyone else, who worry that the outcome of the political process is generally to pitch beach umbrellas in the face of a tsunami.

But neither should we expect government to build solid fortifications on shifting sand. Whatever the deficiencies, arguably we’re finally starting to see what looks like a the foundation of real climate action – China, the EU and the US are lining up behind new efforts, along with dozens of other significant economies, right in the run-up to a new big global agreement. If politicians make the calculation that they can’t push as far as we want, then that’s an indication we’ve got more work to do on all fronts.

News Analysis: Trying to Reclaim Leadership on Climate Change

Sun, 2014-06-01 21:16
New rules to reduce coal pollution are calculated to keep President Obama’s pledge to cut greenhouse gases, but by itself, the plan will barely budge global emissions.

E.P.A. to Seek 30 Percent Cut in Carbon Emissions

Sun, 2014-06-01 16:30
The Environmental Protection Agency will unveil a draft proposal on Monday to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, according to people briefed on the plan. The proposed rule amounts to the strongest action ever taken by the United States government to fight climate change.

Environmental Groups Focus on Change by Strengthening Their Political Operations

Sat, 2014-05-31 20:52
Environmental groups have strengthened their political operations, raised and spent more money than ever before, and enlisted their members to conduct protests and letter-writing campaigns.

Obama Sets the Stage for Curbing Emissions

Sat, 2014-05-31 13:19
In what may be his last, most sweeping effort to effect change in America, the president will roll out his plan to tackle climate change.

National Briefing | Southwest: New Mexico: Toxic Waste Removal Will Miss Deadline

Fri, 2014-05-30 23:12
Los Alamos National Laboratory will not be able to meet a deadline for getting toxic waste from decades of building nuclear bombs off its northern New Mexico campus before wildfire season peaks, the Department of Energy said Friday.

Dot Earth Blog: White House Stresses Widespread Energy Progress Ahead of New Climate Rule

Thu, 2014-05-29 12:37
The White House hawks its energy policies ahead of a move to restrict carbon dioxide from power plants.

Obama to Offer Rules to Sharply Curb Power Plants’ Carbon Emissions

Wed, 2014-05-28 22:03
President Obama’s proposed regulation to cut pollution from coal-fired power plants by up to 20 percent would be the strongest action taken by an American president to tackle climate change.

A Pushback on Green Power

Wed, 2014-05-28 21:10
Opponents of government policies that have spurred the growth of renewable energy are pushing back on mandates nationwide.

Green Column: For a Canadian Province, Gas Boom Presents a Conundrum

Wed, 2014-05-28 07:45
When no drilling boom was in sight, British Columbia instituted aggressive climate change policies, but now there are plans to build 13 plants to export natural gas to Asia.