Energy & Environment

Having it All: Economic Growth and Falling Emissions

New York Times: “Some critics of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new requirements for power plants argue that forcing emissions reduction will curtail economic growth. But the recent experience of states that already cap carbon emissions reveals that emissions and economic growth are no longer tightly tied together.”

Nine states that participate in a cap-and-trade program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative “have substantially reduced their carbon emissions in recent years. At the same time, those states have had stronger economic growth than the rest of the country.”

“Since 2009, the nine states have cut their emissions by 18 percent, while their economies grew by 9.2 percent. By comparison, emissions in the other 41 states fell by 4 percent, while their economies grew by 8.8 percent.”

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New EPA Rule: Which States Will be Hit Hardest?

Vox:  “There’s no single nationwide policy here. Instead, the EPA will set different emissions goals for 49 states once the rule is finalized in June 2015. (Vermont and Washington DC are exempt because they don’t have any fossil-fuel electric power plants.)”

“The EPA will then approve or reject state plans based on whether it deems them viable. And if any state refuses to submit a plan, the EPA will step in and regulate that state’s power sector itself.”

“The end result of the calculations above is that the EPA came up with very different goals for each state in its proposal.”


A One-Sided ‘War on Coal’

Nate Cohn: “The Obama administration’s proposal Monday to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants is already being characterized by Republicans as the latest salvo in a ‘war on coal.'”

“But because Democrats have already suffered significantly over the issue, the worst is just about over.”

“The war on coal hasn’t hurt the Democrats very much in presidential elections. Since 2000 … Democrats have built an alternative path to victory with large margins in diverse, well-educated metropolitan areas … Additional losses in coal country haven’t changed this because the areas don’t have enough voters to make a difference in battleground states.”

“At this point, Democrats don’t have much more to lose by trying to win the war.”


Conservatives Look for Ways Not to Save the Planet

Jonathan Chait: “When the Obama administration launched its health-care reform project five years ago, conservatives were held back by the sheer lack of interest in the issue they had accumulated over the decades. Conservative intellectuals had paid hardly any detailed attention to the specific problems of health-care economics and found themselves grasping for generalized right-wing bromides. (They have played vigorous catch-up in the years since.)”

“The same rough dynamic can be seen now as Obama launches a major climate change initiative. Conservatives are grasping for ideological truisms to fill a void of any detailed policy-level engagement. A case in point is the conservative belief that carbon reduction is pointless because China will never go along.”

“The striking thing about this reasoning is not so much that the conclusion is certainly wrong, but that it does not even recognize the counters of the debate. It’s true that the U.S. accounts for only around 15 percent of global carbon emissions, and Obama’s proposed reductions would have a modest impact on rising temperatures. But nobody thinks limiting U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions will solve climate change in and of itself. The entire purpose of doing so is to enable an international treaty.”

Which States Have the Dirtiest Energy?

EcoWatch: “Coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of the country’s emissions, and states like West Virginia and Kentucky live and die by the dirty source, getting 95 and 90 percent of their power from it, respectively, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.”

“Climate Desk, a nonprofit consortium of eight publications and organizations, including the Center for Investigative Reporting and Huffington Post, created an infographic displaying how much carbon each state emitted, according to 2012 levels.”

Majority View Global Warming as a Serious Problem

ABC News: “Seven in 10 Americans see global warming as a serious problem facing the country, enough to fuel broad support for federal efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions – even if it raises their own energy costs, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds.”

“Notably, indicating public concern about the issue, 63 percent of Americans say they’d support a regulatory effort that significantly lowered greenhouse gases even if it raised their own energy expenses by $20 per month.”

“Support for new regulations is linked closely to concern about the issue. Sixty-nine percent of Americans … see global warming as a serious problem; among them, eight in 10 favor new regulations, and three-quarters are willing to pay higher energy bills if it means significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

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The Line Between Ignoring Climate Change and Being a ‘Kook’

Jonathan Chait comments on a popular trend among Republicans who assert “their lack of scientific training as a reason to withhold judgment on anthropogenic global warming.”

“’I am not a scientist’ makes sense as a way to resolve a tension within Republican politics. It may be a political liability for Republicans to openly associate themselves with the kook conspiracy theories popular among conservative ideologues. One solution might be for Republicans to concede that anthropogenic global warming is indeed real, but that any solution is simply too costly. That might allow Republicans to minimize their kook exposure while still hewing to the bottom line party doctrine that individuals and firms ought to be able to dump carbon into the atmosphere for free.”

“The beauty of the line is that it implicitly concedes that scientists possess real expertise, while simultaneously allowing you to ignore that expertise altogether.”

Proposed EPA Rules: What’s the Point?

Justin Gillis and Henry Fountain in the New York Times: ” … by itself, the president’s plan will barely nudge the global emissions that scientists say are threatening the welfare of future generations.”

“It is clear Mr. Obama’s immediate goal is not to solve the emissions problem, but to get the country moving faster in the right direction. The new rule alone offers little hope that the United States and other nations can achieve cuts on a scale required to meet the internationally agreed limit on global warming. But experts say that achieving the pledge Mr. Obama made in Copenhagen … would be quite likely, if his plan survives.”

Bloomberg: The proposed regulations won’t be enough “unless the rest of the world follows.”

“1,200 coal-fired plants are proposed globally, with more than three-quarters of those planned for India and China alone. If all are built … that would add more than 80 percent to existing capacity.”

But there are long-term benefits: “The regulation in the U.S., once it is fully implemented in the coming years, could spur investments in carbon-capture equipment or other technology that reduces carbon pollution … And once those technologies are introduced in the U.S., they can spread.”

Reactions to the Proposed EPA Rules on Carbon Emissions

Matthew Yglesias believes that “Monday June 2 is overwhelmingly likely to go down in history as the single most important day of Barack Obama’s second term in office.”

“The White House can’t unilaterally change the wage structure of the United States or create a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, but it really can revolutionize the environmental practices of the electricity sector — a sector that, as seen below, is responsible for about 38.4 percent of America’s total carbon dioxide emissions.”


Brandon Keim of Wired points out that states are already taking action on curbing emissions: “Some fear the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations will be catastrophic, a heavy-handed big-government overreach that will drive up the price of energy. Yet some energy policy experts say those misgivings are unfounded.”

“Over the last decade, as federal climate efforts stagnated, some states pursued ambitious strategies of their own. They quietly put prices on greenhouse gases, harnessing market forces to cut carbon pollution.”

Ben Geman writes that Obama makes it personal by stressing the health implications of increased pollution:

“‘In just the first year that these standards go into effect, up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks will be avoided—and those numbers will go up from there,’ Obama said in his weekly address.”

“Obama’s address suggests that touting these near-term ‘co-benefits’ of reducing carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants will be a big part of the campaign promoting the climate change regulation.”

Justin Gillis and Henry Fountain of the New York Times believe that “Mr. Obama’s effort is aimed not just at charting a new course inside the United States, but at reclaiming for the country the mantle of international leadership [emphasis added] in battling climate change.”

Megan McArdle is skeptical of substantive change: “with our fraught political and economic environment. This seems like another way for Obama to do something without actually doing anything that might make real voters angry. As we head into the final two years of his term, expect to see a lot more of that.”

New EPA Rules: How Significant Are They?

Jonathan Cohn believes “the administration’s new rules on greenhouse gas emissions are going to be a big deal. The mystery is how big.”

“The Administration has said its goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enough to meet targets that President Obama set in 2009, just before international negotiations in Copenhagen. If the U.S. can accomplish that, the thinking goes, Obama will have the credibility and leverage he needs to push for another, more significant international agreement on greenhouse gasesthe kind of agreement that is necessary, most scientists believe, in order to avert the most catastrophic effects of global warming.”

“Unless I’m missing somethingwhich is entirely possiblethe targets that the media outlets are reporting would fall short of that goal. Although experts and environmental groups have stated publicily they believe the U.S. needs to reduce power plant emissions by 25 percent to hit the Copenhagen targets, that was 25 percent from current levels Remember, emissions today are lower than they were in 2005thanks mostly to the recession, the sudden supply of cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas, and the impact of existing regulations.”


Unprecedented Regulations Are Designed to Transform Energy Sector and Obama Presidency

The Environmental Protection Agency will release a draft proposal on Monday to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

New York Times: President Obama “has a chance to transform the nation’s energy sector and, at the same time, his presidency.”

“And yet the president seems to have chosen a low-wattage rollout of the plan … Instead, he will leave it to Ms. McCarthy to announce on Monday, while he plays a supporting role by making a telephone call to the American Lung Association.”

“The new regulation, which must go through a period of public comment before taking effect, will set a national standard to cut carbon from power plants. It will offer states a menu of options to achieve those cuts, such as adding wind and solar power and energy-efficient technology and joining or creating state-level emissions trading programs called cap and trade.”

“Experts close to the drafting of the rule said they expected it would lead to annual cuts of up to 500 million tons of carbon in the next decade and more than one billion tons of carbon annually in ensuing years.”


Report: Power Plants can Handle Proposed Emissions Reductions

The Hill: According to a new report from corporate sustainability group Ceres, “The country’s top 100 electricity producers have reduced emissions of major pollutants in recent years, showing that they could likely handle the new limits on carbon dioxide coming soon from the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Ceres “found that the major producers reduced emissions of carbon dioxide 13 percent between 2008 and 2012.”

Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres: “The electric power industry is firmly on the path toward a low-carbon energy future, and history shows that it is not only capable of meeting new pollution limits, but that it can do so while keeping our lights on and our economy growing.”

White House Touts Economic Success of Its Energy Policy

The White House touts its new report claiming to demonstrate the president’s “All-of-the-Above” energy strategy is an economic success and “path to sustainable economic growth.”

“U.S. gasoline consumption has fallen by 5.5 percent since 2007, or nearly half a million barrels per day. At the same time, production of renewable energy has increased rapidly.  Since 2008, electricity production generation from wind has tripled while solar generation is up more than ten-fold.”

“Rising domestic energy production has made a significant contribution to GDP growth and job creation … Tens of thousands more jobs have been created in the solar and wind industries. These figures do not account for all the economic spillovers, so the overall impact on the economy of this growth in oil and gas production is even greater.”

Washington Post: “The report … is designed to inoculate the administration against criticism that new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal-fired power plants, expected to be unveiled Monday, will … be a drag on economic growth … [But] some of the positive trends predate Obama’s presidency, which began in 2009.”

Scare Tactics by the Chamber of Commerce on Clean Energy

Jonathan Chait tears apart the recent Chamber of Commerce study claiming that the upcoming power plant regulations “will generate substantial adverse economic impacts in the United States.”

“The Chamber study employs a couple easily spotted gimmicks,” doubling demand for electricity assumptions, from a historical 0.7% to 1.4%.

“Second, it measures a far more ambitious plan than the administration is likely to propose … The Chamber measures a much stricter target: a 42 percent reduction by 2030.”

“Even so, while the study uses lots of impressive adjectives to describe the size of the cost it predicts, the numbers are pretty meager. It predicts the regulations will increase electricity costs by $17 billion a year. Scared? … For the average American, that’s about $100 a year in his electric bill.”

“The premise of the Chamber’s study is that global emissions lie completely outside of American influence, so we might as well use all the dirty energy we can and let future generations deal with it … But what the Chamber is actually demonstrating, in its attempts to frighten us, is that we hardly have anything to fear.”