Tag: "human emissions"

Eliminate Air Quality Standards for Regions that Meet Standard

Today, I want to offer the fifth of my recommendations to reform U.S. surface transportation policy. My colleague David Hartgen and I recommend that the Clean Air Act of 1990 be amended in two ways. First, eliminate the conformity requirement for regions meeting clean air standards. Second, review regions not in conformity every 10 years, after new census data has been released.

The Clean Air Act of 1990 (CAA) requires each region currently in non-attainment with air quality standards to submit plans demonstrating that it will be in compliance in the future. For transportation, each region must show that its’ Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) “conforms” to the State Implementation Plan for air quality improvement. In the DOT Rules (40 CFR 93), this means that the region’s TIP projects will, as a whole, not increase future emissions above the no-build level or above budgeted emissions.

The present rule requires even very small regions to conduct extensive forecasting of air pollution if they were ever in non-attainment of air quality standards. But virtually all of the future reduction in regional air pollution will be caused by cleaner vehicles, not by local transportation actions. Recent reviews of the air quality plans of 48 regions found that every region predicted a 30-50% reduction in vehicle emissions over 20 years even as travel increased, and that the TIP would reduce emissions by only 0.25-0.5% — way too small to be significant. Further, the conformity rule requires reduction of emissions (measured in tons of pollutant) but the CAA standards are for concentrations (measured in parts per billion in air). Therefore, there is no direct connection between the rule’s emissions analysis and the CAA’s concentration requirements.

Very few regions have been cited for non-conforming plans from among the literally hundreds submitted. A 2003 GAO analysis found that only five regions out of 200+ revised their plans based on conformity, and that frequent updating was administratively burdensome. No region has actually lost federal funds as a result of non-conformity. For major projects environmental impact statement analysis already requires additional air quality analysis, so requiring regions to do it twice is duplicative and burdensome. In this way the rule has become an administrative hurdle that duplicates later needed work, does not improve local air quality, and requires huge administrative effort to ensure certification for federal funds.

Regions — particularly the 400+ smaller ones — will have significant relief of administrative burden. Assuming that the conformity analysis costs $20,000 per certification, administrative time, and administration costs, this change would save nearly $8M that could be better spent on effective transportation planning. Air quality would not degrade as a result of this change.

NASA and EPA Causing More Political Trouble

NASA released a new study that warns about severe weather, such as “megadroughts” that will plague the Southwest and Central Plains of the United States from 2050 to 2099. The study says that greenhouse gas emissions can increase the likelihood of this severe weather.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase along current trajectories throughout the 21st century, there is an 80 percent likelihood of a decades-long megadrought in the Southwest and Central Plains between the years 2050 and 2099.

At the same time, the Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules for mercury emissions from power plants (specifically targeting coal power plants) is going to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The mercury emissions rules would help close down every coal power plant that provides close to 40 percent of the electricity in the United States. As the Supreme Court reviews these rules, the court should consider that:

  • There is more mercury in the air from natural sources ― such as volcanoes ― than from all human activity.
  • Mercury emitted from both volcanoes and coal-fired smokestacks resides for months in the air, usually until it is precipitated out by some rainstorm. In addition, a large amount of the mercury that falls in North America originated in highly polluted China.
  • All U.S. emissions are 2 percent of the global total.
  • U.S. power plants emit only half of that ― about 0.5 percent of the total ― and by 2016 will emit even less than that.

The climate is changing, always has and will continue to do so. However, the human impact to that change, especially in the United States, is minimal. Making this issue so politically incendiary distracts our leaders from doing their job, hurts our economy and weakens the U.S. position in the world.

SOTU NCPA: Oil and Gas

Tuesday’s State of the Union address marks the onset of President Obama’s final two years in office. Although the President’s tax and education proposals championing so-called “middle class economics” will dominate the headlines, Washington faces no shortage of key energy issues on the 2015 agenda.

While Obama is expected to boast the nation’s emergence as the world’s leading natural gas producer during the address, his administration has recently laid out a plan for the first regulations to reduce methane emissions from new natural gas wells. The proposal aims to curb the discharge of a potent greenhouse gas by roughly half and add to Obama’s climate change agenda, a principal component of his legacy.

Obama has faced criticism for the new methane regulations. Jack Gerard, CEO of the top oil lobby American Petroleum Institute believes that the natural gas industry is being “singled out” by the administration. The Cato Institute provided a strong non-stakeholder viewpoint, claiming that the proposed regulations are “a waste of time and energy.”

Free community college will move the press needle, but American energy will move the economy. Pressure from lobbies, the ongoing debate in the Senate over the Keystone XL pipeline and Senator Ted Cruz’s “rogue” push to repeal a decades-old ban on crude oil exports are all critical developments to monitor in the political and economic arena for the coming days.

-Jeong Seo is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis


Ozone Regulation Could Cost Trillions

In a flashback to 2011, Obama is once again staring down the barrel of a controversial regulation to limit smog-creating ozone pollution. The EPA’s proposed regulation ― which would lower the threshold of ground-level ozone pollution considered healthy to breathe ― is already being decried by opponents as “the most expensive regulation ever.”

Obama nixed a similar version of the rule in 2011, claiming that he was acting to “underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty.” Yet with his recent actions on immigration, education and health care, many are left wondering whether Obama will keep his commitment to “reducing regulatory burdens” in the face of the EPA’s new proposal.

The proposal itself would lower the existing acceptable ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to somewhere between 65 and 70 ppb ― though the EPA’s science advisers would rather see limits closer to 60 ppb. According to the EPA and environmentalist groups, lowering the amount of acceptable ozone would increase public health, reduce illness and premature deaths, and lead to $21.2-$42.1 billion in benefits, contrasted with $16.6 billion in costs.

Opponents of the regulation warn that lowering the limit would stifle economic growth, drastically reduce jobs, and wipe out trillions of dollars in economic output. A July study by the National Association of Manufacturers estimated that a strict version of the rule ― setting the limit to around 60 ppb ― would eliminate $3.4 trillion in economic output and cut 2.9 million jobs by 2040.

The EPA must make a final decision on the rule by October 1st of next year. While many argue that it’s too early to truly estimate the costs of the proposed regulation, the initial forecasts put millions of jobs, billions of dollars in investment, and trillions of dollars of economic output at risk.

“By any measure, the revised ozone rule will represent one of the costliest rules ever issued by EPA,” Louisiana Senator David Vitter told Politico. The EPA’s proposal could be “one of the most devastating regulations in a series of over-reaching regulatory actions taken by this administration.”


Clean Power Plan Regulations have High Expectations

Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) has come up with a number of recommendations for the Clean Power Plan. The AEE sees these new federal regulations as a great benefit to the electric power system and an added opportunity to the energy industry. Here is a brief summary of AEE’s recommendations for the Clean Power Plan:

Part of the problem is simply the difficulty of predicting the technological progress that will take place by 2030 and beyond. For this reason, we called on EPA to regularly review and revise its emission targets given the steady improvement of advanced energy technologies, which will enable greater emission reductions over time.

Besides ways to strengthen the targets associated with advanced energy, we also urged EPA to take several actions to encourage the use of advanced energy technologies by states.

One way to do this is to explicitly approve more emission-reducing technologies for compliance. We called on EPA to expand the range of options to include the 40 technologies described in AEE’s Advanced Energy Technologies for Greenhouse Gas Reduction. The full report is available here.

In order to avoid uncertainty on the part of states about eligible technologies and how to incorporate them into compliance plans, EPA needs to clarify the crediting of emission reductions from renewable energy and energy efficiency actions in a variety of ways. Specifically, we urged EPA to develop a non-exclusive list of protocols for evaluation, measurement, and verification (EM&V), so that states could employ energy efficiency in their compliance plans with confidence.

We also asked that EPA provide clarity as to the crediting of renewable energy across state lines, in order to encourage the continued expansion of interstate markets. EPA should also improve the crediting of energy efficiency investments in states that are energy exporters, as well as clarify the crediting of emission reductions that occur in one state as a result of efficiency investments made in another state.

Finally, AEE urged EPA to accelerate advanced energy markets, and their associated emission reductions, by crediting emission reductions achieved prior to 2020 by new projects stemming from state compliance plans.

In sum, we are urging EPA to build upon the solid foundation of the Clean Power Plan by making changes in the final rule to fully realize the benefits of advanced energy technologies for emission reduction and economic growth. With the formal comment period open until December 1, we hope other supporters of a better energy future will do the same.

How do you feel about the Clean Power Plan and about AEE’s recommendations?

China-U.S. “Climate” Accord

A big deal is being made over the United States’ and China’s “landmark agreement” to curb carbon emissions. The climate aspects of the agreement are important for the global community — particularly in light of United Nations General Assembly President Sam Kahamba Kutesa’s announcement that he would convene a high-level event on combating climate change in June. While this joint agreement is seen as an important step for climate change enthusiasts, this new accord between China and the U.S. has much more far-reaching energy, trade and security implications.

Energy. As part of its attempts to cut emissions, China plans on expanding its “clean” energy sources, such as solar power and windmills, to produce 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030. President Obama, in return, intends to reduce carbon emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025. Considering China and the United States are the top two carbon polluters, any “meaningful worldwide pact” on the issue would founder without their support, according to The New York Times.

Trade. Cuts to tariffs were a big discussion during the “unexpectedly productive” meeting. Obama agreed to cut tariffs for technology products, including video-game consoles, computer software and medical equipment. Overall, Obama and the Chinese agreed to eliminate more than 200 categories of tariffs, which the Obama administration estimates could create up to 60,000 jobs and generate $1 trillion is sales per year. However, the promotion of two competing free-trade blocs for the Asian region — the U.S.-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Chinese-led Free Trade Area of Asia Pacific, which was recently approved for study — underscores the continued competition between China and the United States.

Security. Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping made headway in two important security topics during the negotiations. First, Obama and Xi agreed to a military accord to avert clashes between American and Chinese forces in the waters off of the Chinese coast. Additionally, Obama and Xi agreed to resume the U.S.-China working group on cybersecurity issues, which broke down after the U.S. brought hacking charges against several Chinese military officials.

Many of these issues won’t be easy to tackle for the Obama administration. However, Obama still hopes to take the U.S.-China relationship to a “new level.”

To a point, the announcement of the U.S.-China accord is exciting. Yet rather than focusing solely on the often-controversial capping of carbon emissions, perhaps we should focus on the other, arguably bigger announcements to come out of the accord — like reduced tariffs, possibly job creation, and shoring up national security efforts.

EPA’s Climate Change Adaption Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency has released their plans to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change. The EPA Sustainability Plan and Climate Change Adaptation Plan coincides with President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order on Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance, which set aggressive energy, climate and environmental targets for agencies, and detail how.

In the Climate Change Adaptation Plan, the EPA identifies priority actions the agency will take to incorporate considerations of climate change into its programs, policies, rules and operations to ensure they are effective under future climatic conditions. This includes:

  • Incorporating climate adaptation criteria in the Brownfields grants process to ensure cleanup actions taken by communities are effective as the climate changes.
  • Integrating considerations of climate change into the Clean Water State Revolving Funds process and continue working with states to ensure investments in water infrastructure are resilient to changes in climate.

For example, a stormwater calculator and climate adaptation tool empowers community planners to estimate the amount of stormwater runoff.

Up to this point, the aggressive regulations of the EPA have:

  • Reduced the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 17 percent since 2008.
  • Exceeded the 24 percent energy intensity reduction from its 2003 baseline.
  • Reduced 2013 energy intensity by 25.6 percent from 2003.
  • Reduced fleet petroleum use by 38.9 percent compared to the 2005 baseline.

Federal regulations, in general, and specifically by the EPA may have good intentions, but inevitability do much more harm than good. Many examples of how these types of regulations do great harm are already well published. We can only assume that further action by the federal/state/local governments will only do more damage.

The New Climate Economy

A new report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate claims that the appropriate action to reduce the risks of global climate change will have many positive effects on nation’s economies.

Without (undefined) urgent action:

  • Global warming could exceed 4 degrees Celsius.
  • Delay in action could cut global consumption growth by 0.3 percent per year in the decade 2030 to 2040.
  • If we act on climate change now, consumption growth may only go down 0.1 percent.

This whole report is centered on the fact that a warming planet is inevitable and that acting now would save more money in the long run. The study supposes the global warming will cause natural resources to dwindle, arable land to be less available, and food and water to become scarce. Furthermore, they believe that regulations now to curb global warming would be beneficial, even if it means short-term economic losses, because it staves off larger economic losses in the future.

Sure, if that were the case anyone with half a mind would say that we should act now rather than later. Unfortunately, that is not the case. We don’t have to accept that global warming will cause unprecedented human disaster. According to the NCPA’s global warming primer, there are several things wrong with the new report:

  • First, we find that 96.6 percent of carbon emissions come from nature, and not humans. The regulations would do nothing but hurt the economy and not solve the problem.
  • Second, there is no consensus on the magnitude of the impact, it is likely that the apocalyptic scenarios won’t pan out even if the Earth is to increase by 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Finally, stabilizing carbon emissions at even 550 ppm would cost trillions of dollars.

These are some things that the report has not considered.

Fighting Global Warming Will Cost $4 Trillion +

A new report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate reports that fighting global warming will cost $4 trillion over 15 years. However, the report also says:

  • Countries will spend an extra $90 trillion on infrastructure.
  • Countries will enact policies to reduce their carbon footprints.

Expanding each participating country’s infrastructure, halt deforestation, regulate carbon dioxide emissions, land use reforms and reducing fossil fuel subsides is just the start of a much larger economic cost than just $4 trillion that the report claims would be the cost to fight global warming.

Rate of Global Warming is Slowing and Nobody Knows Why

Despite hype to the contrary, the world has seen a slowdown in the rate of warming over the past few years. The change is causing many scientific organizations to adjust their climate change projections. Late last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reduced its projected warming from a range of 0.4 to 1.0 degrees Celsius to 0.3 to 0.7 degrees Celsius between 2016 and 2035. More importantly, nobody seems to know why the warming has slowed.

The leading theory is that the increased heat has been partially absorbed by the ocean. A group at the Scripps Institute suggested the extra heat is being absorbed by the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean. Other scientists suggest that the deeper, colder parts of the ocean are absorbing the heat. Another theory is that active volcanoes are suppressing global warming by spewing ash and gas that reflect the sun’s heat back into space. Some have suggested particulate matter from coal power plants in developing countries spewed into the atmosphere may be reflecting sunlight thereby reducing heat. Others think that an exceptionally active solar cycle may be influencing temperatures.

The scientific method has always been a five-step process involving a question, a research hypothesis, experimentation and data analysis. While most scientists now believe humans play a significant role in global warming, the exact level is up for debate. And past projections have been off sometimes significantly. In one of the first predictions, Dr. James Hansen told Congress in 1988 that the world would warm 1.0 degree Celsius every 20 years until 2050. We now know that figure was 2-3 times too high.

Where does this leave policy makers and citizens? Policy makers should continue to develop free-market oriented solutions to global warming. Some folks favored a carbon tax, but its lack of success in Europe has pushed many towards carbon capture instead. Other potential solutions are worthy of consideration.

At the same time, scientists should emphasize that all predictions are estimates. The earth and its atmosphere are complicated places; we still have a lot to learn on climate change. Everybody should remember that science is not religion; actual facts are needed before a conclusion can be made. There is one thing that we can be certain of today: nobody can predict with 100% accuracy what any aspect of earth, including its climate, will be like in 2050.