On the Environment
Environmental Law & Governance
Thursday, December 08, 2011
By Guest Author, Angel Hsu, PhD candidate, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
The following post is republished from China FAQs: The Network for Climate and Energy Information.
When China launched its first official pavilion at a UN climate conference last week, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat Cristiana Figueres was there alongside China’s NDRC Vice Minister Xie Zhenhua to cut the ribbon. Swarmed by journalists in the standing-room only conference center of the China pavilion in Durban, Figueres applauded China for being a “trend-setter” in global renewable energy, resonating around the world and during the first week of climate negotiations in Durban.
“As I look at what has happened here at Durban in the negotiations this past week, what I see is a sailboat that has been sailing over very difficult waters, but with the wind blowing the right direction. And now that you have arrived, that boat now has a powerful motor behind it,” she said. The motor propelling talks forward into the second and final week of negotiations here in Durban may be developments in China’s negotiation position that emerged last week. An announcement that made waves was with regards to China’s willingness to consider signing on to a legally-binding agreement with binding climate targets after 2020 for the country.
Lead Chinese negotiator Su Wei told media last Friday that, “We do not rule out the possibility of legally binding. It is possible for us, but it depends on the negotiations,” Su is quoted as speaking in English rather than Chinese, presumably to make his point clear.
Although China made similar noises in Cancun, Su’s statement is the first time in the international climate negotiations that China has made this type of overture so clear with regards to a willingness to consider placing its post-2020 action into a legally binding instrument. This willingness to discuss the legal nature of post-2020 targets comes directly counter to the United States’ position put forth in Durban last week in which Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Envoy for Climate Change, said that a legally binding post-2020 agreement would be unacceptable unless other major economies also agree to be legally bound. Indeed it would seem to fulfill one of the US’ main conditions for moving forward.
If China is indeed open to placing its post-2020 commitment into an internationally legally binding instrument, it has just opened a pathway forward to both securing the Kyoto Protocol for the post-2012 period and building a bridge, with all Parties, to a legally binding regime in the near future. The impact of this is not to be underestimated.
Vice Minister Xie Zhenhua confirmed China’s stance when he spoke at a briefing for international NGOs immediately following the China Pavilion’s launch. “We can start the process for a legally-binding framework for issues after 2020,” Xie said, clarifying five conditions that must be met before China can make its commitments legally binding in an international agreement. These conditions are:
Parties must continue the Kyoto Protocol through a second commitment period;
Developed countries must meet financial commitments to provide developing countries $30 billion in fast-start financing and $100 billion per year by 2020 through the Green Climate Fund;
Institutionalization of consensus on finance, technology transfer, REDD+, adaptation, and transparency measures;
Commitment to completion of the review of adequacy of long-term goals scheduled to take place between 2013 and 2015.
Define a framework for a post-2020 agreement that upholds common but differentiated responsibilities, equity, respective capacities, and environmental integrity.
If all conditions are met, Xie says, “We are open to the process.”
Implications – Will China’s move bolster the EU mandate?
The question remains as to whether these major developments in China’s position here in Durban will have a significant impact on the negotiations in Durban. The European Union has stated its openness to placing its 2020 targets into the legally binding Kyoto Protocol if it is part of a package. The package includes a roadmap that would clearly show the way forward for all major economies to be in a binding regime in the post-2020 time period, the negotiations for which would end in 2015. China’s statements agreeing to internationally-binding emissions limits in a post-2020 framework might galvanize other major emerging economies such as India and Brazil to do the same.
Jennifer Morgan, the Climate and Energy Program Director at the World Resources Institute, explained the significance of China’s new posture:
“If China is indeed open to placing its post-2020 commitment into an internationally legally binding instrument, Europe and the most vulnerable countries are now its key allies. If these Parties can work together this week, Durban has a good chance of success,” Morgan added.
It is not yet clear what kind of commitment China would be willing to bind, and that level of specificity does not appear to be part of the current discussion.
Jonathan Smith (JD‘12/MEM’12) and Max Song (MEM’12) contributed to this piece.
Angel Hsu is a Phd candidate at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a contributing expert to ChinaFAQs.org; Max Song is a MEM student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; and Jonathan Smith is a JD/MEM candidate at Yale Law School and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. They are all attending COP-17 in Durban.
Friday, November 18, 2011
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.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
By Guest Author, Jonathan Smith, Yale Law School, J.D. '12; Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, M.E.M. '12
The binding international greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of the Kyoto Protocol are set to expire next year, but global greenhouse gas emissions show no signs of halting themselves. All eyes are focused on this December’s Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa to see how, if at all, the emissions reduction targets of Kyoto will be extended past 2012. The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy invited NRDC’s International Climate Policy Director, Jake Schmidt, to talk about recent developments in international climate negotiations, and what we can expect from Durban, as part of the Center’s new Climate Change Solutions: Frontline Perspectives from Around the Globe webinar series.
Jake’s presentation, entitled Key Steps on Global Warming Agreed in Cancun… Now What? (recording available here) focused on the major unresolved issues from last year’s conference in Cancun that are likely to be discussed and negotiated at Durban, including the transparency of each country’s emissions data, accountability of each country’s emissions reduction targets, and new funding pathways such as the Green Climate Fund. But of course, the elephant in the room is the conclusion of the Kyoto Protocol obligation period. With Kyoto as the ostensible driver of national greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments the world over, significant changes to, or non-continuation of, Kyoto has the potential to throw a wrench in the best-laid plans of politicians, negotiators, and activists.
But, as Jake highlighted, many countries have recently been taking decisive emissions reduction action seemingly without direct relation to obligations under Kyoto. For example, neither of the top two emitting countries, China and the United States, has binding reduction targets under Kyoto, but both are nevertheless taking political action to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions. China is a party to Kyoto but not listed as an Annex I country, and thus has no binding emissions targets. Yet its most recent Five-Year Plan has made emissions reduction promises formed at the Copenhagen conference into binding domestic law, and Chinese investment in clean energy technologies continues to rise. The United States, which has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, is nevertheless also following through with policies to reduce emissions such as higher fuel efficiency standards and revising emission standards for power plants. The U.S.’s energy-related CO2 emissions have decreased since 2005, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that just with the policies of today, emissions will stay below 2005 levels until at least 2035.
Globally, clean energy investments increased 30% from 2009 to 2010, and 2010 was the first year that nearly half of new energy capacity was non-fossil in nature. It is statistics like these, and proactive national emissions reduction actions like those above, that provide glimmers of hope for climate policy post-Kyoto. As Jake notes, the question is no longer if countries will take action, but rather how much action will they take?
Friday, September 02, 2011
By Guest Author, Jasmine Hyman, PhD candidate, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Siem Reap, home of the Angkor Watt temples, is among Cambodia's poorest provinces . Four out of ten villages lack access to clean drinking water; literacy rates are among the lowest in the country; 53 percent of all children are malnourished, and average incomes hover just above $1.80 USD per day . The tourism industry here brings in over $640 million USD per year, yet foreign revenue streams do not ensure (and may indeed extract from) local development -- though the draw of external revenue streams is understandably attractive for Least Developed Countries such as Cambodia.
But a different form of foreign investment has dramatically changed Arun and Mlis Keo's  economic outlook. The couple, who farms just 20 kilometers from the Angkor Watt heritage site, acquired a biodigester through the National Biodigester Program (NBP) run by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of the Cambodian Royal Kingdom (MAFF) and the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV-Cambodia). The biodigester, which converts livestock dung to biogas, fuels their cooking and household lighting needs and has decreased their energy bill by $14.39 per month -- while saving them one and a half hours per day in fuelwood collection. The slurry waste from the biodigestion process substitutes for chemical fertilizer, generating an extra annual savings of $52 per year.
The Keo family represents just one of 8,000 Cambodian rural homes, spanning nine provinces, that have qualified for a flat $150 subsidy and soft private loans to invest an average of $472 into a household-scale biodigester. Considering that the average annual Khmer income is $412, the NBP's popularity (and zero loan-default rate) deserves investigating .
When talking about the biodigester, the Keos do not mention the environmental or health benefits of the project. The best part of owning a biodigester is the convenience, Mlis Keo said. She no longer needs to collect firewood or buy charcoal, and cooking rice on a gas stove is much easier than building and maintaining a fire.
But reductions in household soot and atmospheric methane from the livestock waste are certainly points of interest for NBP, which is trying to convert those benefits to carbon credits for international sale.
Carbon finance -- foreign investment in greenhouse-gas-reducing projects in developing countries that generate, in turn, carbon credits that developed countries may buy and use for their own climate commitments -- has been a source of controversy in international headlines and academic debate since the Kyoto Protocol launched a global carbon market in 2005. Proponents point to an estimated $141.9 billion market value in 2010  while critics underscore imbalanced regional investment patterns  and uncertainty regarding the final destination of the revenue streams.
While much has been said on the shortcomings of carbon finance, the market's local successes are poorly understood and may, in fact, be hindered by current market rules. Further, while the future of the Kyoto Protocol is uncertain, international enthusiasm for carbon-financed cookstove programs is on the rise with the launch of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. But how can carbon finance truly benefit the poor? And are current requirements for defining a carbon offset project relevant for development objectives?
These are just a few of the issues driving my research. Through funding by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and pilot support from the Yale Institute of Biospheric Studies, I am collaborating with the Nexus Alliance of small-scale project developers to trace benefit flows and to identify principles for success when designing pro-poor cookstove and kitchen interventions.
Jasmine Hyman, M.Sc. (LSE), B.A. (Columbia) is completing a doctorate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where she holds a doctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation. Her research seeks to identify design principles for global climate finance schemes that promote equitable development and social justice.
 Kosa, Chea and Mara, Yos (2006), "Children's Empowerment through Education Services (CHES) Project in Siem Reap Province," in Winrock International (ed.), (Phnom Penh).
 Doherty, Ben (2010), "Angkor Butterfly Hunters Tell of Poverty Amid Tourist Wealth," The Guardian.
 Names have been changed.
 van Mansvelt, Rogier (2011) "Biodigester User Survey 2009-2011," for NBP, Phnom Penh
 Capoor, Karan and Ambrosi, Philippe (2010), "State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2010," (Washington DC: The World Bank).
 UNEP RISOE, CDM in Charts, Accessed July 2011.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
By Guest Author, Angel Hsu, PhD candidate, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
In March, China released its 12th Five-Year Plan – a blueprint outlining the key economic and development targets for the country over the next few years. Unlike previous Plans, climate change and energy are featured prominently, and a strong emphasis is placed on a slower, more sustainable growth trajectory. Not only is the 12th Five-Year Plan the first to mention climate change, but it adopts as part of national, binding law the climate pledges China first made at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCCC) Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009. Binding targets for a range of other environment and energy issues are also included in the Plan, including important air and water quality pollutants that were previously absent.
Part of the country’s ability to achieve these targets will be in its capacity to measure and track progress toward its goals. The Chinese government has pledged implementation of “well-equipped and statistical and monitoring systems” and “index evaluation systems” in the 12th Five Year Plan, indicating an increasing awareness of the importance of data, information and robust infrastructure to ensure targets are met. However, while there are signs of China’s move toward a more “data-driven” approach to decision-making in the formulation of the latest Plan, political sensitivities around pollution information still persist, meaning China may still confront challenges when trying to improve environmental conditions.
The 12th Five-Year Plan comes at a time of growing recognition from the Chinese government regarding the importance of information for environmental decision-making. In 2010 the Chinese government completed its first national census of pollution, requiring more than $100 million U.S. dollars, 570,000 staff and nearly two years to complete. The survey mapped more than 6 million sources of residential, industrial, and notably agricultural pollution, which had been previously absent from measures of water contamination. The survey found that previous measures of water pollution – specifically chemical oxygen demand – had neglected to include non-point agricultural sources of pollution, from fertilizer and pesticide effluent as well as landfill leakage. Including these non-point sources of discharge meant that prior measures of water pollution had been missing over half of the baseline data for chemical oxygen demand – from 13.8 million tons in 2007 to 30.3 million. At the time, Chinese officials noted that the targets would not be revised based on the new data, while still touting China’s success in meeting COD reduction targets in the 11th Five-Year Plan. However, the findings from the survey did lead to the adoption of a binding reduction target for a critical water pollutant – ammonia nitrogen – and continued reduction goals for Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) in the 12th Five-Year Plan. The adoption of these new water pollution targets were largely due in part to the survey results, which allowed for the government to set new targets and refine previous ones based on this new information.
While this example speaks to the progress China is making in terms of measurement and performance tracking, political sensitivities surrounding other environmental data still prove to be barriers to policy changes. Earlier this year, the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) released draft proposals to amend its Air Pollution Index (API)  to an Air Quality Index (AQI) that more closely resembles the U.S. version . While the proposed amendments include significant improvements – such as including ozone measurements, improved calculation methodologies, and standardizing color-coding schemes – PM 2.5  is notably absent.Experts, such as Ma Jun, Director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), a Beijing-based NGO, and former Yale World Fellow, have suggested that leaving out PM 2.5 is due to political rather than technical concerns. “Government agencies feel the index may hurt the image of many cities that want to attract investment or that they may not be able to improve PM 2.5 pollution in a short time,” Ma told the Global Times. U.S. diplomatic cables have also revealed that lack of measurement of PM 2.5 and other dangerous air pollutants could be due to fear of political consequences.
So while we can see evidence that China is embracing improved data-based decision-making, the results are mixed because political vulnerability toward environmental pollution is still a serious concern amongst Chinese leadership who fear citizen unrest and social instability. What China must realize are the benefits from knowing risks and exposures to environmental harms and pollutants, which is not possible without measurement. Failing to incorporate critical pollutants in national environmental policies only pushes serious concerns under the rug, in a type of “act now, apologize later” mentality that in many cases have led to dire political ramifications for Chinese government officials when harmful pollution disasters surface .
Therefore, while the 12th Five-Year Plan makes important inroads in establishing more comprehensive environment and energy-related targets, equal progress needs to be made in terms of data transparency and a shift toward a government culture that doesn’t fear data and numbers.Only then can the Chinese leadership expect to formulate sound policies and robust systems to drive environmental results.
 PM 2.5 refers to air particulates with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less; known to have serious health implications such as asthma, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease, due to their ability to penetrate human lungs.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
By Guest Author, Yaron Schwartz, Research Assistant, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released this past Friday the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), a new and potentially powerful regulation that limits the amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that can cross state borders. CSAPR is a response to the environmental dilemma created by airborne pollutants that can disperse widely and across state boundaries, a dilemma that particularly afflicts the eastern half of the United States (for instance, sulfur dioxide emissions from a Pennsylvania power plant creating acid rain in New York’s Adirondacks). Under CSAPR, 27 states will be required by 2014 to cut their SO2 emissions to 2.4 million tons per year and their NOx emissions to 1.2 million tons per year, down from 8.8 million tons and 2.6 million tons in 2005.
CSAPR’s public health and environment benefits could be vast. The EPA announced that they expect the rule to prevent 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million sick days a year beginning in 2014. The EPA also estimated that CSAPR’s benefits will overwhelmingly outweigh its costs. The following graphic tells the story well.
For more information about the EPA’s new rule on cross-state pollution, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/airtransport/.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
By Guest Author, Yaron Schwartz, Research Assistant, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy
In a creative effort to curb carbon emissions, six states, along with New York City and several land trusts, decided to pursue a different policy tactic than previous environmental campaigns. Rather than lobbying for Congressional legislation, this coalition sued five major electric utilities and the Tennessee Valley Authority in 2004, claiming that their emissions constituted a public nuisance and, therefore, should be regulated by the courts under federal common law. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, bringing national attention to this environmental campaign and issue.
This week, however, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the defendants in American Electric Power v. Connecticut. The Court stated that it was the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as charged under the Clean Air Act to regulate US carbon emissions, not that of the courts. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued, "Congress set up the EPA to promulgate standards for emissions, and the relief you're seeking seems to me to set up a district judge, who does not have the resources, the expertise, as a kind of super EPA."
While undoubtedly a setback for those who desire real reductions in U.S. carbon emissions, this case may still have a silver lining. By highlighting the responsibility of the EPA to set standards for carbon emissions, the Court has placed renewed pressure on the EPA to take meaningful action on climate change. The Court’s decision has also clarified the stakes for all concerned. As long as Congress refuses to address climate change through new legislative solutions, the EPA will remain the only national policymaking body in the United States with the ability to tackle the problem. Efforts to impede or constrain EPA’s regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act now seem doubly dangerous.
Read the Court’s official decision in American Electric Power v. Connecticut.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
Sobering look at sea level rise in the Northeast and the hard choices it puts before us. Do taxpayers pay to defend coastline with expensive sea walls in what looks to be a losing battle? Do emotionally-invested homeowners on the coast retreat now while their property may be at its optimal value? What can we save from the sea's rise, if anything? How will we as a society triage the many victims of this climate change harm?
I detect no real sense that policy makers have a good handle on how to resolve, or even approach, these kinds of terrible choices. Unfortunately, going forward blindly is also a choice, and one that usually doesn't end too well.
Friday, April 01, 2011
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
There are many valuable lessons to be drawn from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation's only operational, and mandatory, cap-and-trade program. One worth dwelling on is the effectiveness of RGGI's CO2 emissions cap. Recent analysis suggests this cap is much too forgiving -- not just now, but, more importantly, also over the next two decades.
The whole point of the RGGI emissions cap is to create a market for CO2 emissions from power plants that will ultimately drive down those emissions over time in the most economically efficient way possible. A relatively harder cap - one set below actual CO2 emissions, for example - should make RGGI's tradeable CO2 pollution allowances more scarce and thus more valuable to polluters, resulting in higher prices per allowance than a cap set above actual emissions would. The key idea here is that RGGI's cap on CO2 emissions from its regulated entities - electric utilities basically - creates a new market that has the potential to push those utilities towards low- or no-carbon generation. Where policy makers set the cap can therefore matter a great deal; a relatively tough one pushes harder than a relatively lenient one. This chart, produced on behalf of RGGI, strongly suggests the RGGI cap is not hard enough now, nor will it be hard enough in the future:
The important lines to look at for our purposes are the dashed one - that's the RGGI cap as set by agreement of the RGGI members - and the solid black line - that's both historical and projected total CO2 emissions from RGGI's regulated entities. You can see that presently, the cap is simply way too high (and to be fair, some of that is on purpose). The factors behind the recent massive drop in actual CO2 emissions are several (more on that later). The recession undoubtedly plays a huge part. Nevertheless, the cap just does not appear to be exerting real pressure on utilities right now. Maybe that's not a problem. There's an argument that a soft cap is just fine early on, as we refine and tweak RGGI. That argument might be even stronger in the current economic climate. No need to clamp down on utilities in the midst of the recession.
So perhaps the short-term performance issues of the cap are okay to put aside for the moment. That's not at all true for the long-term performance issues. Here's the major problem, and one policy makers should make an urgent focus of their thinking: According to these projections, the cap doesn't appear to really bite until maybe 2030 or later, and that's just too late in the scheme of things. Climate science tells us we need meaningful CO2 reductions much much sooner than that to avoid catastrophic harms. So what's the point of an emissions cap if it doesn't drive change when we need it? It's time to give serious thought to how best to tighten the RGGI cap to make it better correspond with the scientific reality we find ourselves in.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
As oil prices increase and energy security becomes a concern in the US, more is being done to explore cleaner burning fuels such as natural gas. Natural gas has seen big increases in the number of wells and total production as shale gas extraction, in particular, intensifies. The EPA projects that 20% of US gas supply will come from shale gas by 2020.
An EPA report in 2004 found that "there was little to no risk of fracturing fluid contaminating underground sources of drinking water during hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane production wells." But public concern over the process by which shale gas is extracted known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," has escalated with the growing number of wells. Each well requires the pumping of tremendous amounts of fracking fluid into the earth and, according to the EPA's 2004 report, "[t]here is very little documented research on the environmental impacts that result from the injection and migration of these fluids into subsurface formations, soils, and USDWs." Until last year (when the EPA called for the voluntary reporting of chemicals used in fracking fluids), many of the chemicals used in fracking were unknown. Chemicals now known to sometimes be involved in the process include: diesel fuel (which contains benzene and other toxic chemicals), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, methanol, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, and sodium hydroxide. Given this situation, the EPA has announced another study to examine the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and groundwater. The EPA aims to issue preliminary findings in 2012 and a full report in 2014. The draft study plan is available at here.
Monday, November 30, 2009
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
on how the Copenhagen climate conference can lay the foundation for final agreement on a binding international climate treaty in 2010.
Monday, November 23, 2009
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
The latest: a decision "in the coming days."
The guess here is that he attends.