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On the Environment

Wednesday, November 30, 2011
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Google’s decision to shutdown Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal should be a wakeup call

By Guest Author, Noah Walker, MEM ’13 Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Google announced last week that it has shut down Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (RE<C), the Google initiative aimed at developing technology that would drive down the cost of renewable energy.

Under the new leadership of Chief Executive Larry Page, Google has been scaling back its less successful programs across the board. Google’s explanation that other institutions are better positioned to take its renewable energy efforts "to the next level” is understandable and Google has pledged to continue “its work to generate cleaner, more efficient energy," through procuring renewable energy for its data centers and investing in renewable energy companies.

However, while this may be a sound business decision, there is something troubling about Google’s decision to abandon RE<C, particularly in light of the optimism with which it was created four years ago. In December 2007 Page said Google expected, “to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades." Google executives also said they anticipated investing hundreds of millions of dollars in “breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns.”

Optimistic (and perhaps naive) sentiment like this was par for the course in 2007.  Democratic presidential hopefuls, buoyed by the 2006 midterm elections, promised comprehensive climate change legislation. Picking up on the political headwinds, many businesses began building climate regulation, green products, and green marketing plans into their models.  Money flowed into green tech and clean energy startups as venture capitalists projected increased demand driven by stricter regulation, government incentives, and the belief that a game-changing breakthrough could be right around the corner. By the end of 2008, the “Drill Baby, Drill” chorus was momentarily silenced and hope and change were inspiring bold statements like the one Page made a year earlier.

Undeniably, there have been huge technology advances over the last four years. The International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report this week that identifies renewable energy as the “fastest growing sector in the energy mix.” But the reality is that many of these technology advances have been made as a result of government subsidies that are drying up. Others have been made in anticipation of a market shaped by cap and trade legislation. And even with the progress that has been made, renewable technologies are a long way from being able to replace the convenience and capacity of fossil fuels.

Google’s announcement is a blow to those of us who held out hope that private-sector funded technology would let inactive national and global policy makers off the hook.  If the massively well-funded and exceptionally innovative Google has decided its engineers aren’t the people to find a game-changing technology after just $10 million of their promised hundreds of millions in investments in RE<C, what options do other companies have?

Google’s RE<C decision is one more reason on a long list for diplomats meeting in Durban this week (as well as for national politicians in this country) to move forward with robust policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curtail the effects of climate change.  Environmental sustainability and energy security won’t come with the private sector overcoming this challenge on its own. The public should be a partner and lead the way.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011
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Demystifying China’s Controversial Air Quality Measurements

By Guest Author, Angel Hsu, PhD candidate, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

Beijing’s air quality dominated international headlines when discrepancies arose last month between official monitoring data and U.S. Embassy measurements.

Pictures of stifling haze and smog posted and circulated online by netizens depicted extreme pollution. The U.S. Embassy’s monitor indicated that the air quality was “hazardous” and “beyond index, but “the Chinese government’s official Air Pollution Index indicated that the air was only “slightly polluted.[1]

Why the inconsistency? To start, the U.S. Embassy’s monitor, which was originally put in place in 2008 to record air quality during the Olympics, measures finer particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less (PM 2.5) and ozone. These particulates are more relevant for human health because of their ability to penetrate human lung tissue and lead to asthma, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease. The Beijing measurements, however, don’t include these pollutants and instead take an average of measurements from monitoring stations from around the city. 

Many people are asking which measure is more accurate. This is a difficult question to answer because it’s almost like comparing apples and oranges. The two systems are measuring different pollutants, and the U.S. monitor is only looking at one point source compared with Beijing’s 27 monitoring stations. The accuracy the U.S. Embassy’s monitor – and how often the instruments are calibrated – is also unclear. Granted, Beijing’s system has its flaws, which the government has acknowledged and is working to improve. As a sign of good faith, the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau announced that it would allow public tours of its air monitoring facilities to show that they aren’t trying to hide behind the data.

These efforts come in conjunction with several important policy developments regarding air quality in China.  Last month I wrote about new efforts to pilot PM 2.5 measurement in model environmental protection cities in China. Last week, the Chinese government announced new ambient air quality standards for PM 2.5 and ozone levels (link available in Chinese only). While still slightly below WHO recommendations, these new standards are a significant step in the right direction, particularly when diplomatic cables suggested that PM 2.5 data were deemed too politically sensitive to measure and report. These new standards will likely not take effect nationally until 2016; however, major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, which already measure PM 2.5 but do not publicly release the data, likely will roll them out sooner. Officials from the Ministry of Environmental Protection have already noted that there will likely be a binding national target for PM 2.5 in the next Five-Year Plan.

LinkAsia recently asked me to discuss Beijing’s controversial air quality data and some of the measures the government is taking to address citizen concerns over poor air quality. You can view the interview here: http://www.linktv.org/linkasia/linkasia2011111119/understanding-chinas-deadly-air.


Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement
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Metrics and Measurement of Sustainability Performance

By Guest Author, Rafael E. Torres, MBA ’13, Yale School of Management, MEM ’13 Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

The selection of sustainability performance metrics in a company’s sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) management system is dependent on the relevant issues facing that specific firm, the issues facing its stakeholders, and the context of the company’s industry. CSR metrics are crafted to report on performance in the environmental, social, and economic contexts. Since the issues underlying CSR are complex, selection of particular sustainability metrics involves value judgments about their importance and the measurement methodology to be used. I offer below some issues to consider in developing sustainability metrics and reporting systems. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a menu of issues to think about that are relevant to CSR measurement systems.

First, one sound business philosophy that I learned a long time ago from a college professor was: “you get what you measure and reward.” This philosophy has rung true over the years and I’ve seen it play out at many different firms. Any metric that the firm sets out to produce and track should somehow be weaved into the performance management and bonus incentive scheme of the company in order for it to have the greatest impact. If employees are not trained to consider CSR metrics as part of the results they manage to, and if they are not somehow directly incentivized based on CSR performance, they will focus and prioritize other areas outside of these metrics. In such a case, improvement to areas tracked by the CSR metrics will likely be incremental or nonexistent altogether.

Second, practically every individual metric has benefits and drawbacks involving tradeoffs of incentives or measurement goals. It is easy to create perverse incentives one way or another with any given individual metric. For instance, using an energy intensity metric (energy usage/output or revenue) has the benefit of factoring in the effect of more production by the firm, but has the drawback that the company’s absolute energy usage—and thus its total impact—can be increasing, while being masked by the intensity metric. Using absolute energy usage has the opposite effect, as it masks improvements in efficiency when the firm’s growth outpaces the related efficiency gains. These optical effects make it difficult for either metric to provide an accurate picture on its own, and it can result in employees managing to one performance indicator at the expense of the other. Often, good metric systems are designed to use sets of counterbalancing metrics whose effects cancel each other out. This helps provide a balanced performance picture and reduces the possibility that employees or managers will have incentive to improve in one area at the expense of another.

Third, when working with any type of metric, it is very important to develop benchmarks against which to compare the results. Such benchmarks need to be relevant to the objectives of the CSR metric system. When the desired objective is improvement over a prior year, then the benchmark is simply the prior year quantity. However, how do we determine benchmarks to achieve sustainability? One vocal sustainability researcher and metrics expert, Mark McElroy, holds that many CSR metrics in use today are lacking because they do not have a benchmark measure to compare against that represents the truly “sustainable” level of use for that resource for that company. In other words, if a firm states that it used 1.0 million (M) gallons of water in the current year as compared to 1.1 M gallons in the previous year, we can only say that this was an improvement over the prior year. However, what does it say about whether the 1.0 M gallon result is “sustainable,” meaning a rate that doesn’t deplete the resource beyond its capacity to regenerate? To know if that firm’s water use is sustainable, a more detailed assessment would need to be made about water availability and use in the firm’s geographic region, and such an analysis would require allocations of the resource base amongst industries and companies. It is, to be sure, a formidable undertaking, but Mr. McElroy’s point is well taken that CSR metrics reported without context stand little chance of achieving their objective of reporting on sustainability, as defined.

Finally, for companies wishing to report sustainability metrics externally, there are additional considerations of how to frame and execute such external reporting. Currently, many companies use annual CSR reports as a primary vehicle to communicate their environmental, social and economic performance. Such CSR reports are often complemented by press releases and other ongoing external communications. Surely there are good reasons to adopt this approach to external reporting, but it is worth considering whether it is a good idea to separate the company’s CSR reporting from its financial reporting. A public company in the U.S. files annual financial reports (Form 10-K) and quarterly financial reports (Form 10-Q) with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), and those are very likely the reports that 99 percent of investors pay most attention to. In that context, do companies risk creating the perception that CSR reports are a side dish when they divorce sustainability metrics from financial ones? As companies refine their CSR measurement and reporting systems, they may want to consider ways of unifying communications so that users of reports are not left feeling like there are double standards.

Designing and implementing any form of performance measurement system is indeed a challenging task, and it is no less so for a CSR measurement system. Organizations need to make sure their metric systems are tailored to the challenges of sustainability measurement and are set up to succeed.

Rafael is a 2nd-year MBA/MEM joint degree student focused on energy policy and strategy. Prior to Yale, Rafael worked almost 10 years as an external financial auditor, including as manager at Deloitte & Touche LLP. Rafael is a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA), and holds other financial certifications.

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
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Q&A with Vera Pardee, Senior Attorney in CBD’s Climate Law Institute

By Susanne Stahl

Vera Pardee, senior attorney in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, recently spoke at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies about the future of climate change regulation on a panel with Dale Bryk, Director of the Energy & Transportation Program and a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Dan Lashof, Director of NRDC’s Climate Center.

YCELP: What is the future of cap-and-trade as a policy solution in the United States?

VERA PARDEE: We should start with a little bit of background. Cap and trade was an idea intended to integrate market forces into regulations designed to prevent the worst consequences of anthropogenic climate change. Many Republicans had balked at any regulatory scheme for climate change unless market forces were given a primary role through trading schemes. However, when Democrats in the House and Senate introduced cap-and-trade bills in 2010, Republicans quickly changed course and attacked the legislation as overly expensive and supposedly job-killing. So I think it’s interesting to keep that mind. At this point, the unrelenting gridlock in Congress seems to guarantee that not much of anything can be accomplished on the federal level.

Although prognostication is difficult, it is not likely that there will be a federal approach to cap and trade; that does not mean, however, that there won’t be effective regional approaches or state approaches, as NRDC’s Dale Bryk has outlined.

In California, we have AB 32, which is a cap and trade program. California often leads and states often follow where California goes. AB 32 has many smart design elements, but every time legislation includes a trade component rather than just a cap, one introduces the potential for fraud and abuse and, most critically, lack of additionality – that is, are emissions actually reduced somewhere? Although creating a marketplace for emission permits theoretically causes greater efficiency, practically it can create trading bubbles, inequalities, and much lower prices on carbon than should be imposed if the true damages caused by climate changed were taken into account. 

In 2009 and 2010, when cap-and-trade was considered in Congress my organization, the Center for Biological Diversity, did not actively support any of those bills – not only because of fear of abuse – as that’s not necessarily an objection that cannot be overcome – but because all but one of them had as its centerpiece the dismantling of all Clean Air Act provisions to reduce greenhouse gases in exchange for this scheme. We said that’s a very bad idea because the Clean Air Act has been an incredibly successful pollution reduction vehicle for 40 years and it definitely should not be sacrificed. We do not, however, oppose new legislation that builds and expands upon the Clean Air Act in positive ways. As it turns out, cap-and-trade did not pass, and at this point most if not all green organizations are on the same page as we are, which is to say that we have to safeguard and protect the Clean Air Act.

YCELP: What do you see as the policy or regulatory mechanisms most likely to provide the largest greenhouse gas reductions?

VERA PARDEE: For myself, I would say a direct, substantial tax on carbon emissions that continues to rise. Such a tax has many advantages. It would be, first of all, a very direct and transparent mechanism. It would generate funds that could be used for renewable fuel development and assistance, and it would provide an effective incentive to avoid the generation of greenhouse gases. And the tax – as was proposed in the Cantwell Bill that was one of the possibilities in 2010 – could result in rebates to consumers, which would also avoid any possibility of ending up with a regressive tax. So a direct tax would be fast; it could be equitably structured; it would be transparent.

After a direct tax I think what we have is the Clean Air Act, and with all its mechanisms it at least holds the promise of being very effective.

Beyond that, I think you absolutely cannot discount the many, many local and regional initiatives – sometimes those aren’t given enough credit. Some people think that if you don’t tackle the largest emissions, you may as well stop, and I think that is incorrect.  Stopping greenhouse gases is going to be an effort that requires societal consensus and that will be accomplished by changing people’s minds and then their habits in their daily lives on a local level as well as through nationwide regulation. So I don’t discount those measures at all.

YCELP: Are there other measures or legislation pending that could prove to be a real push forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

VERA PARDEE: Yes, with some qualifications. What has been done with the Clean Air Act is the best thing that has happened so far: the various rulemakings – the endangerment finding, the vehicle rule and then the beginning of greenhouse gas permitting for stationary sources – have been a start. Of course it’s been viciously fought on every level, which is deplorable. My hope, and I think well-founded hope, is that those attacks now being litigated in the federal appellate court in D.C. will fail.

That said, there is so much left to do to enforce the Clean Air Act, and so many steps yet to be taken. I fear the progress that is being made with Clean Air Act regulations may become illusory if the actions that are taken are largely an effort on paper. If you review the permitting that is now going on for stationary sources – the first permits are being issued to try to control greenhouse gases from things like power plants and factories – the permits themselves have been very disappointing because the stepwise analysis of the best-available control technology has been employed to force very few, if any, actions to actually reduce greenhouse gases. Things like switching fuel sources for power plants, which is an obvious, clear remedy to get greenhouse gases reduced, are rejected as a viable option.  So it’s great that we now have required permitting that looks at the problem, but if the regulators don’t require action, we really haven’t advanced anything.

So other than the vehicle rules, I don’t really know of any federal law that has yet to make a difference on these issues. The vehicle rules will make a difference over business as usual beginning with the 2012 models, but unfortunately, those rules are by no means tough enough.  Even with the rules, we will still lag behind the EU and China, and we will still fail to employ technology available today that could improve the mileage and therefore reduce the emissions of our vehicle fleet.

YCELP: The Center for Biological Diversity identified a way for EPA to address climate change based on water quality impacts under the Clean Water Act. Could you say more about that?

VERA PARDEE: The basic premise is that carbon dioxide released into the air is being absorbed by the ocean in enormous amounts and causes the pH level of the ocean and other bodies of water to become much more acidic, which is extremely dangerous to marine life.  The Clean Water Act is mostly known for permitting, but what we have been looking at is the fact that the Clean Water Act requires states to list all bodies of water in their jurisdiction that are impaired. The question, then, is what is impairment? There are laws on the books in many states that define impairment as change in pH level at certain quantifications. If a body of water experiences such a change through human causes, then under these state laws, the waters must be considered impaired. We brought a test case that made the connection between the CWA’s requirement of impairment listings, these state laws, and the demonstrated effect of carbon dioxide on pH levels, and obtained a settlement that raises awareness of this issue and a promise by EPA to begin to look at this relationship.  EPA issued a guidance document saying that for the next year, 2012, states should list all of the bodies of water within their jurisdiction as impaired that have suffered a certain change in pH. And once they are on that list under CWA section 303(d), then it becomes necessary to take action to stop the impairment. The acidification effect is not theoretical. It is real, and it has already happened. And the effects on marine life as well as the industries that live off marine life are drastic.

YCELP: Is there any legislation or measures pending that could be a real setback?

VERA PARDEE: EPA can’t act if it doesn’t have any money so the constant attempts to cut back EPA funding are really frightening. We often criticize EPA for not doing enough or not doing it fast enough, but without EPA the ballgame, at present, is really over. Cutting off the EPA’s funding would probably be the worst thing that I can see.  Beyond that are the innumerable bills that have passed the House that would undo or delay EPA’s greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts.

YCELP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

VERA PARDEE: This was mentioned during our panel, but I’d like to reiterate that we need to counteract the idea that regulatory initiatives, or even the government as a whole, are evil. The rhetoric has in many ways become religious and fanatical. And rationality must prevail. We need to change the conversation in the country. The connection between environmental regulation – or just regulation – and the loss of jobs is a pernicious and false connection and must be broken.

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Monday, November 21, 2011
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Q&A with Dan Lashof, Director of NRDC’s Climate and Clean Air Program

By Susanne Stahl

Dan Lashof, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air Program, recently spoke at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies about the future of climate change regulation on a panel with Dale Bryk, Director of the Energy & Transportation Program and a senior attorney with NRDC, and Vera Pardee, senior attorney in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.


YCELP: What is the future of cap-and-trade as a policy solution in the United States?

DAN LASHOF: As my colleague Dale Bryk mentioned, there are a number of states that are moving forward with cap and trade; the European Union has a program that has been up and running for awhile, and they’re making it more robust and effective over time. Australia is in the process of adopting a program.

At a national level, I think the U.S. will eventually come back to it because the substantive and political reasons why it had been a focus of efforts in the past are still valid. And while it’s been politically tainted – and that will last for a while – I think eventually people will see it as a more effective mechanism than the more piecemeal approach, which, by necessity, will be pursued over the next few years.

YCELP: What do you see as the policy or regulatory mechanisms most likely to provide the largest greenhouse gas reductions?

DAN LASHOF: For the foreseeable future, and provided that EPA retains its authority under the Clean Air Act, I think that the biggest opportunities are from regulations EPA will be issuing for power plants and other large industrial sources under Section 111.

There are also significant reductions that are in the pipeline as a result of the vehicle performance standards developed jointly by EPA, the Department of Transportation and the California Air Resources Board, both passenger vehicles and now, for the first time, heavy-duty trucks.

YCELP: What EPA regulation during this current administration has accomplished the most in terms of GHG reductions?

DAN LASHOF: The light-duty vehicle standards that cover model year 2012 to 2016 are definitely the most significant. Those could potentially be surpassed by the regulations that EPA is currently working on that would apply to power plants.

YCELP: Are there other measures or legislation pending that could prove to be a real push forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

DAN LASHOF: There are a couple of others that I would identify: one is the regulation of methane leaks from the oil and gas system, which is really important because methane has a higher global warming impact per ton than carbon dioxide. Getting those regulations in place would clear away one of the concerns that has been raised about potentially switching from very dirty coal plants to natural gas as a cleaner source because there is enough uncertainty now about how much methane is leaking to call into question what the net benefits of doing that are.  If EPA was able to issue strong regulations requiring good housekeeping in oil and gas production, then it would be a much clearer benefit from a climate perspective.

The other area, which people haven’t been paying much attention to, but has significant potential has to do with industrial gases like hydrofluorocarbons where there are significant emissions and very high global warming potential gases so reductions could have a big payoff.

YCELP: Is there any legislation or measures pending that could be a real setback?

DAN LASHOF: The Keystone XL pipeline, which is clearly directly within the jurisdiction of the Obama administration to decide to provide a permit, and the extra emissions associated with shifting to dirtier fossil fuels like tar sands oil could erode some of the benefits associated with the vehicle standards and the power plant standards.

The other threat, which is only partially within the administration’s control, but they do have some leverage over it, is Congressional threats to EPA’s rules – either generically or individually.

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Friday, November 18, 2011
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Q&A with Dale Bryk, Director of the Energy & Transportation Program at NRDC

By Susanne Stahl

Dale Bryk, Director of the Energy & Transportation Program and a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, recently spoke at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies about the future of climate change regulation on a panel with Dan Lashof, Director of NRDC’s Climate Center, and Vera Pardee, senior attorney in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.

YCELP: What is the future of cap-and-trade as a policy solution in the United States?

DALE BRYK: It already exists as a policy in the United States:  the 10 Northeastern states launched the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in January 2009. That   program has some flaws, but in general I think the states are really happy with the benefits it delivers. The program provides a mechanism to shift gears from sending energy dollars out of state -- to West Virginia for example -- to import coal and instead keeping those energy dollars in the states, in the local communities to drive investment in efficiency, local construction jobs, and that has huge economic development benefits, in addition to lowering pollution and energy bills.

I think the states didn’t realize – even when they were designing that cap-and-trade program – how good it was going to be for them in terms of making that shift to clean energy and what the larger economic benefits would be within the states. California’s planning to launch its program next year, and there are probably 10 other states in the wings – so that’s all going to happen even though we don’t have comprehensive federal climate legislation, or a national cap and trade program. The programs in place at the state level are going to change the way people think about that policy, and I think that’s how we’re going to pave the way to doing something similar at the federal level.

YCELP: What do you see as the policy or regulatory mechanisms most likely to provide the largest greenhouse gas reductions?

DALE BRYK: We just got the vehicle standards. If you think about the wedges analysis a lot of people have done to show where we’re going to get these greenhouse gas reductions, the vehicle standards put us on track for significant reductions in the transportation sector.

Energy efficiency standards for vehicles, and then efficiency on the stationary side for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings and for appliances and equipment -- those policies represent the biggest, fastest, cheapest way to reduce pollution. It’s already cost effective, but there are all kinds of market barriers – so it’s just a matter of scaling up the policies that have been effective in the states where they’ve been implemented.

More has been done in residential and commercial buildings than industrial facilities – so scaling up in the industrial sector to make motors and industrial processes more efficient – and businesses more competitive -- is a key area for growth, as are existing buildings . A lot of the work that’s been done historically on efficiency has focused on new buildings, homes and offices, but now we are seeing New York and other cities working with the real estate industry on strategies to attract private sector financing for deep energy efficiency upgrades in existing buildings.  

While efficiency is by far the quickest way to make reductions, especially since it pays for itself, there are a lot of market barriers, for example landlords do not have an incentive to purchase efficient appliances if tenants reap the rewards of those investments in the form of lower electric bills.  And efficiency is more difficult to visualize so it doesn’t get the same public attention– people know what a wind farm looks like but they can’t imagine how better lighting, heating and cooling systems, windows and insulation can save more energy than a nuclear power plant produces, much less avoid the need for dozens of power plants.  And then you have things that are politicized like the light bulb standards, which have actually created a lot more choice in the market place including a more efficient traditional lightbulb, and which will lower our national energy bill by $10 billion a year. So there’s a lot of misunderstanding – and efficiency is not as glamorous as renewable energy and even as climate policy was a few years ago (now it’s more of a mixed bag in terms of it being a political win for local and state politicians).

If Congress was functional, we could have something like a federal energy efficiency investment requirement for utilities that would just require them to invest in efficiency when it’s cost effective, but it’s hard to imagine such a policy, even if it was supported by industry, because things are so politicized. Industry, consumers and environmental groups strongly support the lightbulb standards and they are under fierce attack by the right wing of Congress.  That leaves us with a state-by-state, industry-by-industry approach. The utility industry is further along than most other industries in their thinking on these issues but they still have a long way to go.

YCELP: Are there other measures or legislation pending that could prove to be a real push forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

DALE BRYK: You have the straight-up state energy-efficiency and renewable energy policies and energy-efficiency resource standards in places like Ohio, which you might not think of as the hotbed of clean energy investment. But Ohio has both a huge number of solar manufacturing facilities – it’s a bright spot on the state’s economy on the manufacturing side – and they also have energy efficiency investment policies on the utility side. And you have a relatively new governor who didn’t come in with any particular interest in clean energy who I think we’re seeing embrace this sector as an economic driver in the state. Michigan also has a governor who’s very interested in clean energy. These things are on the cusp: there are policies in place, but they are just starting to deliver the fruits of the enormous potential they have to create jobs and save money for people, in addition to lowering pollution.

The other thing, not so much on the policy front, is working directly with the real estate sector and the finance sector to scale-up energy-efficiency retrofits, working more with the private sector on existing buildings and developing models like the one we have in New York City.

There is a policy element to it – they have city legislation that requires all large building owners to do retro commissioning, which is basically just making sure all the systems in their buildings work as they’re supposed to so you don’t have your air conditioning and your heating fighting against each other. Then you need to line up financing, and of course it helps to have a very powerful and active mayor like Mayor Bloomberg to encourage large building owners to demand efficiency investments. The policy element requires people to look at these issues and proves to them the huge opportunity they have to mine existing buildings as an energy resource, but then we need to line up everything so that it’s very easy for them to move forward.

That’s something that we’re working to replicate in other cities so it’s a ground-up approach that’s more focused on direct collaboration with the private sector than just straight-up policy work where you’re relying on the policy to be the primary driver.

YCELP: Are there measures pending that could be a real setback?

DALE BRYK: The Environmental Protection Agency is under court order to issue their regulations for greenhouse gases for power plants and industrial sources, and yet they have Congress threatening to pull their authority to do so under the Clean Air Act out from under them. And there’s interplay between what the states are doing, sort of pushing the envelope, and what EPA is doing where they can encourage each other. If a lot of the states are going to move forward on their own anyway, it’s not so scary for EPA to do that. And if EPA is going to move forward anyway, then it’s easier to get more states on board to do even more than that as they start to realize the economic benefits of shifting to a clean energy economy, as the Northeast states and California have done and as some Midwest states are starting to do. That could go in a virtuous cycle, or it could go in a vicious cycle. If EPA loses its authority, the state-level initiatives could be affected as well.

YCELP: Anything else you’d like to add?

DALE BRYK: We want to have climate regulation; we want to limit carbon dioxide with a pollution cap. When we sit in the think tank part of work looking at what’s the best policy and what’s the most efficient way to get the most reductions for the least cost, that’s all something that we want to achieve, but there are a lot of other ways to move the ball until we can get that.

So all the policies we can adopt on efficiency, on renewables, on vehicles, on alternative fuels, including expediting the commercialization of electric vehicles – there’s a huge opportunity to start moving down the road to 80-percent reduction by 2050 with these policies, all of which have traction now at the state level or in federal agencies, including EPA and the Department of Energy, where we can get things done. We have to put more of our thinking on how to move those balls faster and further because we certainly don’t want to rely on a polarized, dysfunctional Congress to create the policy framework we need to enable us to compete in the global clean energy market; we can’t put all our eggs in that basket, so we have to make the other baskets do even more than we thought they could in the past.  As more and more people realize the benefits of clean energy in their own lives – lower energy bills, lower unemployment rates in their communities, lower asthma rates and an improved quality of life – it will be more difficult for ideologues in Congress to vote against their constituents’ best interests, and then we will start to see some opportunities open up for federal action.

DALE BRYK is the Director of the Energy & Transportation Program and a Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, where she oversees a team of 50 lawyers, scientists and technology experts working to develop policy solutions that will dramatically improve energy efficiency in buildings, appliances and industry; expedite commercialization of emerging renewable energy technologies; increase vehicle efficiency; drive investment in low-carbon fuels; and reduce vehicle miles traveled. Her expertise is in the area of energy and climate policy, including utility regulation and energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. She was integrally involved in the development of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the cap-and-invest program launched by 10 Northeast states in January 2009.

Dale joined NRDC in 1997, prior to which she practiced corporate law at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York.  From 2002-2010 she also taught the Environmental Law Clinic at Yale Law School. Dale has a J.D. from Harvard Law School, a Masters Degree in international law and policy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a B.A from Colgate University.

Posted in: Environmental Law & Governance

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