October 17, 2011
The Case for Clean Energy and Clean Air
Last week the World Resources Institute released a new brief, Climate Science 2009-2010: Major New Discoveries, a periodic review of the state of play climate change science. The brief highlights several key findings including: the decade from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest on record since 1880; observations show that multi-year winter sea ice area decreased by 42 percent between 2005 and 2008; and new science is confirming the potential global implications of an ocean that is already 30 percent more acidic than about 100 years ago. Once mainly a concern for impacts on coral reefs it is now recognized that ocean acidification has implications for the entire ocean food web. Kelly Levin, co-author of the report and a senior associate at WRI stated, “Climate change impacts are not distant phenomena; they are happening now, and they are real.”
Given the urgency of climate science Environment America released a timely report titled The Way Forward on Global Warming which indicates that by adopting a suite of clean energy policies at the local, state and federal levels, the United States could curb emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use by as much as 20 percent by 2020 and 34 percent by 2030. The report highlights policies including new standards for building and vehicle efficiency, the promotion of lower-carbon fuels and technology for electric generation, and urban planning to reduce miles driven.
Meanwhile the fight continues in Washington around the EPA standards to reduce life-threatening mercury and other air toxics from industrial sources and power plants. Last Monday 25 Attorney Generals filed an amicus brief asking a federal court to force the EPA to delay for a year before finalizing new toxic emissions limits for coal-fired power plants. The Mercury and Air Toxics standard is scheduled to be finalized in mid-November after two decades in the making. But the group of governors and attorney generals say the EPA should keep waiting because the standards could cause electricity rates to rise by 10 or 20 percent in some areas of the country. The motion (insert link) filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asks for an extension of the November 16 deadline for a final rule that was set in response to a lawsuit from the American Nurses Association.
Meanwhile the House of Representatives continues to vote on Representative Cantor’s Pollution Agenda and furthered their assault on clean air by voting to undo standards to clean up toxic emissions from cement kilns, industrial boilers and toxic coal ash. In this Saturday’s editorial the New York Times declared ‘As of Friday, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had voted 168 times this year to undercut clean air and water laws while blocking efforts to limit global warming, protect public lands and guard against future oil spills…The Republicans, predictably, claim that regulations cost jobs and that all they are trying to do is help the working man. What they are really doing by destroying years of environmental law is putting the interests of corporations above all others and threatening public health.’
A recent poll released on Wednesday showed how out of step these decision-makers are with the American public. The nationwide poll, commissioned by Ceres, shows that, by a wide margin, voters of both political parties and in all regions of the U.S. disagree with Congress’ anti-EPA agenda and support new standards to limit air pollution from coal-fired power plants. Two-thirds of the respondents – 67 percent – oppose Congress delaying implementation of the air pollution rules, according to the national survey of 1,400 voters conducted by Hart Research Associates and GS Strategy Group.
Positive movement towards a clean energy future again came from outside the beltway when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced last week at the American Wind Energy Association conference that the government could issue its second-ever offshore wind lease within weeks. If approved, the proposal from NRG Bluewater Wind Delaware to lease waters about 11 miles east of Dewey Beach in Delaware would be the first allowed under a new Interior Department initiative to accelerate wind development off the east coast. The lease would be contingent on Interior finding no significant environmental impacts of a plan; a draft environmental assessment of the plan was issued in July.
Kate Smolski, Domestic Policy Director