A two-decade-old crackdown on smog and soot under the Clean Air Act will yield about $2 trillion in annual benefits by 2020, according to a study (pdf) that was released by U.S. EPA this morning and was touted as proof that the embattled agency’s rules are an economic boon for the American people.
Those rules prevented an estimated 160,000 deaths last year, according to the analysis, and within a decade, that number is projected to rise to about 230,000. That year, the new pollution controls will prevent an estimated 200,000 cases of heart disease, 2.4 million asthma flare-ups and 22.4 million missed school and work days.
The study was ordered by the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, which were signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. Most of the stricter limits on smog and soot also date back to those amendments, which passed with support from both parties.
In a statement today, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the benefits of those rules are a testament to “the power of bipartisan approaches to protecting the health of the American people.”
“The benefits of avoiding early death, preventing heart attacks and asthma attacks, and reducing the number of sick days for employees far exceed costs of implementing clean air protections,” she said. “These benefits lead to a more productive workforce, and enable consumers and businesses to spend less on health care — all of which help strengthen the economy.”
A regional cap-and-trade program established in the Northeast has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, created new jobs and lowered state energy bills, a report released Monday says.
The report comes as prospects for a federal cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases are all but dead following the failure to pass such a program in the Senate last year. Cap-and-trade opponents argue that such program would impose burdens on the power sector that would result in major economic harm.
But the new report says that a regional cap-and-trade program has resulted in a series of economic benefits for a select group of states.The report focuses on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a 10-state cap-and-trade program in the Northeast. The report, commissioned by the organization that runs the program, analyzes investments made with money generated from a series of emissions-allowance auctions beginning in 2008.
States invested 80 percent of the $789.2 million generated from the auctions in energy programs, the report finds. Overall, those investments result in significant returns. For every $1 invested, the states saw $3 to $4 in returns.
The energy programs funded with the proceeds from the emissions-allowance auctions have lowered energy bills, according to the report. “Many consumers who participate in RGGI-funded weatherization and retrofitting programs realize energy bill savings of 15 to 30 percent,” the report says.
Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, a utility company based in Charlotte, N.C., is a wild card in the electricity sector. His company supplies 35,000 megawatts of power to consumers in the Southeast and Midwest, most of it through coal or nuclear, making him one of the biggest carbon emitters in the country. Yet it was Rogers who emerged as a key corporate player in the attempt to build a grand alliance for a carbon-cap-and-trade bill between 2008 and 2010. In The Climate War, his book on the legislative battle, the journalist (and former TIME editor) Eric Pooley ably described Rogers not only as a “silver-tongued devil” who could “talk the down off a duckling,” but also as the only man who could have gotten corporate America on board for a climate bill.
That effort finally failed in 2010, when the climate bill died in the Senate, and with global-warming-denying Republicans in firm control of the House, there’s little to zero chance of cap and trade being revived in the near term. Certainly Rogers, long its champion, doesn’t think so. “There’s a vacuum of public policy now,” Rogers told me in an interview in New York City on Monday. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in regards to environmental regulation, period.”
Ending that uncertainty is why Rogers “” unusual for a coal-heavy utility chief “” was in favor of cap and trade in the first place. He sees his industry going through a fundamental transformation as it moves from the 20th century to the 21st century, both for climate reasons and because of concerns over traditional air pollution. “In the 20th century, the goal was universal access to electricity,” he says. “In the 21st century it will be about modernization, and by 2050 all our existing plants but hydro” may be closed down or changed because of environmental regulations.
The question for Rogers and other utility executives is exactly what those environmental regulations will look like. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to issue regulations on greenhouse gases for power plants, but Republicans and some Democrats are looking to strip the agency of that power. Yet even if greenhouse-gas regulations are blocked “” and they’re not likely to be onerous should they go through “” gradual tightening by the EPA of existing rules on pollutants like sulfur and nitrous oxide will force tough choices on utilities. “There’s over 300,000 megawatts of electricity in existing coal plants, about 50% of what the U.S. produces,” says Rogers. “Up to one-third of them are over 40 years old, and depending on how the regulations play out, anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 megawatts could be shut down.”
Exxon Mobil says it does not intend to spend any more money on claims or damages arising from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, according to a federal court document filed Friday.
Exxon, along with the state and federal governments, has been ordered to appear in court this week by a federal judge in response to a motion filed by environmental activist and longtime University of Alaska professor Rick Steiner.
Last month, Steiner convinced U.S. District Judge Russell Holland to hold a hearing on what’s going on with the so-called “re-opener” provision of a previous settlement that would require Exxon to pay $92 million for restoration efforts if more problems arose out of the spill and oil continued to harm the environment.
But the governments never took any steps to collect the money and Steiner, who has been involved with the Exxon Valdez spill and its aftermath beginning with helping lead an effort by fishermen to keep oil from reaching sensitive habitat areas in 1989, decided the public has waited long enough and filed a legal action to force the issue.
This winter’s heavy snowfalls and other extreme storms could well be related to increased moisture in the air due to global climate change, a panel of scientists said on Tuesday.
This extra moisture is likely to bring on extraordinary flooding with the onset of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, as deep snowpack melts and expected heavy rains add to seasonal run-off, the scientists said in a telephone briefing.
As the planet warms up, more water from the oceans is evaporated into the atmosphere, said Todd Sanford, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. At the same time, because the atmosphere is warmer, it can hold onto more of the moisture that it takes in.
Intense storms are often the result when the atmosphere reaches its saturation point, Sanford said.
This year, a series of heavy storms over the U.S. Midwest to the Northeast have dropped up to 400 percent of average snows in some locations, said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at Weather Underground.
The amount of water in that snowpack is among the highest on record, Masters said.
“If you were to take all that water and melt it, it would come out to more than 6 inches over large swaths of the area,” Masters said. “If all that water gets unleashed in a hurry, in a sudden warming, and some heavy rains in the area, we could be looking at record flooding along the Upper Mississippi River and the Red River in North Dakota.”
Carbon trading firms remain optimistic about a European market, after a 50 million euros cyberattack, but have given up hope on a U.S. cap and trade scheme, they told an industry conference on Tuesday.
Perhaps indicative of the problems facing carbon markets, attendance was well down on previous years at the Point Carbon conference, at nearly 800, compared with 1,700 in 2008.
The reputation of carbon markets has faced headwinds following the hacking in January of electronic emissions permits from a European scheme, the hub of global trade, as well as dimming expectations of a federal U.S. market.
In addition, hopes are fading that the world will agree on an extension after 2012 to the Kyoto Protocol, which sets binding emissions targets for industrialised nations and so drives demand for international carbon offsets.