Uncovering True Costs
USCAN MEMBER REPORTS
Clean Air Act Works: “Study after study has found that a shift to a clean-energy economy creates new jobs, that upfront costs of environmental compliance are not responsible for decisions to relocate operations outside the United States, and that the estimated costs of compliance with new environmental protections are routinely overstated.” Meanwhile, the world is moving toward serious consequences unless the global carbon pollution peaks and quickly declines after 2015. A February 24th report “The Clean Air Act Works” by the Center for Biological Diversity details the Clean Air Act’s 40-year record of extensive and cost-effective pollution control. Among the necessary steps for the EPA are fuel economy standards for vehicles and other mobile sources, stringent standards for industrial facilities, and a cap on GHG emissions.
Tar Sands and Pipeline Safety: A February 15th report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Pipeline Safety Trust, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Sierra Club warns of the increased risk of spills for pipelines carrying tar sands oil. “Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks” points to Alberta, Canada, which has experienced has a 16% percent spike in safety breaches since it began moving tar sands oil through its pipelines. In the summer of 2010 nearly 1 million gallons of oil spilled into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River from a pipeline originating in Griffith. Later that summer another pipe from Griffith broke in Romeoville, Ill. Imported largely from Canada, diluted bitumen is highly corrosive and the report argues that U.S. regulations are inadequate for protecting special places like the Great Lakes.
Nuclear Energy’s True Cost: All low-carbon energy technologies could compete on their merits if the government stopped subsidizing nuclear power and put a price on carbon, says the report from February 23rd by the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Nuclear Power: Still Not Viable Without Subsidies” details over 30 subsidies that have propped every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle for 50 years. The subsidies have frequently been more valuable than power provided, and even the low-end subsidies give nuclear a cost advantage over competing sources. Still worse, the cost of nuclear technology continues to escalate while subsidies may significantly increase. The study recommends modernization in nuclear liability systems, establishment of production process regulations and fee structures, and a reduction in nuclear subsidies – or at minimum a process of prioritizing the funding for cost-effective and low-carbon technologies.
Coral Reefs: The February 23rd report “Reefs at Risk Revisited” is the most comprehensive study of its kind to date, released by the World Resources Institute and 23 other international government, nonprofit, and academic research institutions. According to the report, almost 40% of coral reefs have experienced thermal stress sufficient to induce severe bleaching over the past 10 years. Other key findings by the report indicate that the rapid increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases like CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and halocarbons present the greatest threat to the survival of coral reefs. More specifically, it notes that, if global warming continues unabated, 75% of the globe’s coral reefs will be at risk of death or extreme damage within 20 years, and 95% will be at risk by 2050.
OTHER HOT PUBS
Clean Air Act Benefits: A March 3rd study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projects that direct benefits from the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments will reach almost $2 trillion for the year 2020, which dwarfs the $65 billion in the direct costs of implementation. “The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020” discusses the effects of reducing fine particle and ground level ozone pollution on the economy, public health, and the environment. In 2010 alone, these amendments prevented 160,000 cases of premature mortality, 130,000 heart attacks, 13 million lost work days, and 1.7 million asthma attacks. These benefits strengthen the economy by fostering workforce productivity and reducing health care costs.
Climate Change and Public Knowledge: A February 16th report by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication discusses what Americans understand about the Earth’s climate system and the causes, impacts, and solutions to global warming. “Knowledge of Climate Change Across Global Warming’s Six Americas” found that “Alarmed” and “Concerned” have better understanding of climate change – 49% of the “Alarmed” received a grade of A, B, or C – compared to 33% of the “Concerned”, 16% of the “Cautious”, 17% of the “Doubtful”, 4% of the “Dismissive”, and 5% of the “Disengaged”. Most participants recognized their limited understanding of the issue and expressed desire for more information. Importantly, the study identified numerous gaps between expert and public knowledge about climate change issues like ocean acidification, coral bleaching, and CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The report also revealed key misconceptions about the causes and solutions to climate change.
Coal and Public Costs: According to a February 17th report from the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, the total economic, health, and environmental costs of coal amount to an annual public burden of half a trillion of dollars. “Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal” details these public costs at every stage of the process ̶ extraction, transportation, processing, and combustion. The coal’s coast to human health is roughly $74.6 billion a year in Appalachian communities. Air pollutant emissions cost $187.5 billion, mercury as high as $29.3 billion, and climate contributions from combustion $61.7-205.8 billion. The life-cycle effects of coal include injuries, death, and long-term diseases from heavy metals, carcinogens, and poor air quality.
Climate Care Strategies: Using current technologies to cut ozone and soot can halve regional warming for 30 to 60 years, says “Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone”. According to the February report by the U.N. Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization, reducing atmospheric soot, methane, and ground-level ozone is the quickest way to tackle climate change in the short term. Limiting these emissions could reduce global warming by half a degree, bringing ancillary benefits to human health and agricultural yields. This would also be easier to achieve than limiting CO2 – though it, too, must be done. Among the actions recommended are recovering methane from coal, oil, and gas extraction and transport; methane capture in waste management; clean-burning stoves for residential cooking; diesel particulate filters for vehicles; and a ban on burning agricultural waste. Main strategies for reducing carbon dioxide mostly focus on energy and large industrial sectors, which does not necessarily result in a significant reduction of soot, methane, and carbon monoxide.
Energy Efficiency: Drivers of fuel-efficient cars frequently use them more often. According to a February 17th report by the Breakthrough Institute, this so-called “rebound effect” negates 10-30% of energy savings from efficient cars and homes. In fact, the rebound effect sometimes completely erodes the initial gains. In one of the largest reviews of literature on this topic, “Energy Emergence: Rebound and Backfire as Emergent Phenomena” concludes that greatest rebound effect occurs not at the consumer level, but industry and commerce – where efficiency may result in lower cost and greater economic growth. To combat this phenomenon some argue for a carbon tax, some advocate for low-carbon energy; others recommend focusing on both environmental and money-saving messages.
Congress and the EPA: Twenty polls of 784 voters from February 18-20 by the Natural Resources Defense Council gauge how Americans across the states and in 19 Congressional districts perceive votes on the Hill to block the EPA’s work to protect public health. Nationwide, nearly six out of 10 Americans – including 55% of Independents and about 48% of Republicans – oppose the U.S. House vote to “block the EPA from limiting carbon dioxide pollution”. The district polling took place in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Economy, Climate, and Conservation: A bipartisan Colorado College study of Rocky Mountain West voters shows clear support for limiting CO2 emissions, protecting resources, and fostering renewable energy – despite general skepticism on climate change. Seventy seven percent believe it’s possible to conserve land and water while maintaining a strong economy with good jobs. Even 71% of Tea Party supporters say environmental regulations can coexist with a strong economy. Two-thirds believe that renewable energy could result in more jobs for their states. Indeed, 87% say that “having clean water, clean air, natural areas, and wildlife” is extremely important (47%) or very important (40%) to quality of life. The poll also indicates that two-thirds indicate some support for “requiring reductions in carbon emissions from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to reduce global warming.”