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Tag Archives: clean power plan
Steph Speirs thinks about solar the way one might think about a community garden. Why go through the trouble of planting panels on your roof when you could instead plug into a shared neighborhood resource? Through her company, called Solstice, Speirs and cofounder Steve Moilanen roll out community solar gardens that allow people who don’t own their properties — or who don’t have the means or interest in installing a home setup — to tap into a local solar project and save a few bucks on electricity.
Solstice identifies locations for new community projects, works with local developers to arrange financing and installation, and ensures subscribers see credits on their electricity bills. Speirs’ company has earned seed funding from Echoing Green, a social entrepreneurship fellowship, and was recently picked for the selective Techstars startup accelerator. Solstice currently has solar gardens scattered around Massachusetts and intends to expand nationwide.
Community solar isn’t a new idea, but Speirs and her team are working hard to make it more accessible. Example: In 2015, the First Parish Unitarian Church in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, couldn’t install panels on its roof because of its status as a historic building. Last year, the church leadership became aware of Solstice and its existing community solar program in Bridgewater. The congregation voted to plug into the project, thus saving 10 percent on its electricity bill and putting its sustainable values into practice. Better yet, individual parishioners followed the church’s lead and signed up, too. “We’re proud that these are typical stories at Solstice,” Speirs says.
Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.
Somehow, Gina McCarthy — who could very well see much of her work at the Environmental Protection Agency reversed in the next administration — is not freaking out.
In her first public remarks since Election Day, McCarthy told the National Press Club that the U.S. is making solid progress even without the federal government forcing states to clean up their act in the power sector.
“I truly believe, guided by President Obama’s deliberate vision, history will show that the Clean Power Plan marked a turning point in American climate leadership,” she said. “But the global transition to a low-carbon economy is much more than one regulation … If you take nothing else from my speech today, take this: The train to a global, clean energy future has already left the station.”
As McCarthy rattled off, power plant carbon emissions are already down 24 percent below 2005 levels, more than halfway to CPP’s target reduction of 32 percent. Meanwhile, nearly half the country (24 states) have already surpassed their 2022 emissions goals.
Ironically, the same stats suggest that the CPP wasn’t doing anything special to lower U.S. emissions in the first place, except to bring overly coal-reliant states into the 21st century.
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President Obama’s signature climate change initiative had its day in court Tuesday, as lawyers for 27 states, nonprofit groups, and utility companies argued that it is unconstitutional.
The rule, known as the Clean Power Plan, would enforce a 32 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plants by 2030 (compared with 2005 levels). As part of the implementation, the Environmental Protection Agency would require states with at least two coal-fired power plants to submit plans for emissions reductions. If a state chose not to submit an acceptable plan, the EPA would impose one on it. The plan was a critical piece of the Obama administration’s successful efforts to forge the landmark Paris climate agreement last year.
The administration is relying on a section of the Clean Air Act as justification for the regulations, arguing that the law, originally passed by Congress in 1970 and later amended, empowers the EPA to “protect public health and welfare” from pollutants — in this case, carbon emissions that are driving global warming.
But the Clean Power Plan’s path has not been an easy one. Even before the regulations had been finalized, opponents sued to block it — a move that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected last year. Opponents had more success once the final version of the rule was adopted. In a 5-4 decision in February, the Supreme Court issued an unusual stay, which prevented the rule from being implemented before it made its way through the courts. Yesterday’s arguments were the latest episode in the legal drama.
A panel of 10 federal judges heard the case in a marathon session that pitted the administration’s lawyers and environmental groups against a slate of opponents who argued the regulations exceed the EPA’s authority. West Virginia Solicitor General Elbert Lin charged that the rule would create a complex “new energy economy.” Others, such as attorney David Rivkin, who represents the state of Oklahoma, argued the Clean Power Plan intrudes on states’ rights to regulate their own electric grids. There were also several hours of highly technical arguments relating to inconsistent language in the House and Senate versions of a 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act.
At a panel discussion on Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose state is part of the coalition suing to block the rule, said the Clean Power Plan “represents an unprecedented expansion of federal authority.”
Others, such as attorney Allison Wood, who represents utility industry groups, told the court that the EPA can’t regulate emissions from sources like power plants under one section of the Clean Air Act when it already does so under a different section.
But Judge Cornelia Pillard, an Obama appointee, questioned this “double regulation” argument, pointing to laws that require motorists to drive on the right side of the road while also following the speed limit.
On constitutional grounds, the plan has one unlikely critic: Laurence Tribe, a liberal Harvard lawyer and former mentor to Obama who is participating in the case on behalf of the opponents to the rule. During Tuesday’s hearing, Tribe argued the Clean Power Plan violates the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. If the Obama administration wants to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, he told the judges, “the solution is to go to Congress.”
But advocates say the Supreme Court has already determined that the EPA can regulate carbon dioxide. In the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA case, they note, the court found that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
After a long day of arguments, supporters of the plan were optimistic. “I think it was a remarkable day,” said Howard Fox, counsel for Earthjustice, an environmental law organization that signed on to a motion in support of the Clean Power Plan, on a conference call with reporters.
Where will the fight over the Clean Power Plan end up, and what does it mean for Obama’s legacy on climate issues?
If the D.C. Circuit were to find that the EPA exceeded its authority, it would remand the case to a lower court and the “EPA would essentially redo the rule,” Joanne Spalding of the Sierra Club told Mother Jones at a briefing. That would leave the country’s climate regulations in the hands of an administration led by either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
Another pathway is to the Supreme Court. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who has led the charge against the Clean Power Plan, speculated at a panel discussion that if the current case doesn’t go his way, it could wind up at the Supreme Court in the fall of 2017. This time around, the result could be very different; Justice Antonin Scalia died in February shortly after casting one the deciding votes to put the regulations on hold. With the court now potentially split 4-4 on the issue, the fate of the Clean Power Plan could be tied to the ongoing fight over Scalia’s replacement.
The D.C. Circuit Court’s opinion in the case is expected to come out near the end of this year or early next year, according to David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supports the plan.
Whichever way it goes, the stakes are high. As Brett Kavanaugh, one of the D.C. court’s most outspoken judges during the arguments, said, “This is a huge case.”
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Or so says Lyft’s cofounder and president in a manifesto published on Sunday. John Zimmer writes that he has loved cars ever since getting introduced to Hot Wheels as a 3-year old. But then college ruined all the fun.
“Next time you walk outside, pay really close attention to the space around you,” Zimmer writes, referring to an uncomfortable realization picked up in a city-planning class. “Look at how much land is devoted to cars — and nothing else.”
For decades now, those with similar epiphanies have concluded that we just need to take that space away from cars, period.
Zimmer proposes something else: a Lyft-branded car subscription service. Composed of both self-driving and people-driven automobiles, it would eliminate the need for private ownership of cars, Zimmer argues. And as this goal gets within reach, the space formerly occupied by parking spots will gradually return to public space.
Zimmer doesn’t have a particular date that this subscription service will be rolled out, which is sensible, because it would have to take a very long time. For now, though, Zimmer’s proposal should be read for what it is — high-quality futurism.
Sen. Tim Kaine REUTERS/Jason Reed
Possible Clinton VP pick has a weird appeal with enviros, fossil fuel groups
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, one of Hillary Clinton’s potential picks for vice president, appears to have an uncanny ability to appease special interests across party divides.
Kaine is no Elizabeth Warren on the environment, but he’s no Jim Webb either, getting good reviews from surprising quarters. As Politico reports, he opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, protected 400,000 acres of land from development as governor of Virginia, supports the Clean Power Plan, and has worked to make coastal communities prepare for climate change and sea-level rise. The League of Conservation Voters has given him a lifetime score of 91 percent.
Kaine, however, has also supported offshore drilling in the Atlantic — contradicting Clinton’s position — and supported a bill to fast-track the construction of natural gas terminals. Even fossil fuel interests have taken a liking to him. “We’re encouraged by the reasonable approach he’s taken on oil and natural gas, that he hasn’t been swayed by politics and ideology,” Miles Morin, executive director of the Virginia Petroleum Council, told Politico.
Of course, being on good terms with the fossil fuel industry is a cause for concern among some greens. “If Kaine is the pick, Hillary will need to stake out much clearer positions on drilling, fracking, and new fossil fuel infrastructure,” said 350.org policy director Jason Kowalski. R.L. Miller, Climate Hawks Vote cofounder and a chair of California Democrats’ environmental caucus, responded to Kaine’s record with a resounding, “meh,” citing his mixed record on fossil fuels as why he’s a bad pick to lure progressive Democrats to the polls.
Clinton is expected to announce her choice after the GOP convention next week.
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Trump now sounds like every other right-wing Republican on energy — well, almost
Donald Trump has sold himself as a different kind of Republican, but in his first energy policy speech on Thursday, he adopted the same tired, old energy ideas that have been trotted out by the GOP establishment for years. The only difference: Trump doesn’t actually understand the issues at play, so he avoided specifics and made absurd, impossible-to-keep promises.
Trump was not the fossil fuel industry’s preferred candidate. Primary opponents who had proven their deference to big business, such as Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, were considered a safer bet by the oil, gas, and coal barons. Trump, with no real ideology and a tendency to flip-flop, was seen as more of a wildcard. Still, I predicted in March that if Trump locked up the nomination, he would adopt the traditional Republican energy agenda, just as once-moderate Mitt Romney had in 2012. And that’s exactly what Trump has now done.
We got a hint that Trump was headed in this direction when he brought on oil-loving Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) as his energy policy advisor earlier this month. Cramer has an extremely anti-environment record, including a lifetime voting score of 1 percent from the League of Conservation Voters.
Then, last week, Trump met with and sucked up to Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, a coal mining company. Murray is such a staunch Republican that he is alleged to have pressured employees to donate to Romney’s 2012 campaign. Massey emerged from that meeting to say he was backing Trump, but that even he thinks Trump’s grandiose promises to bring back coal are impossible. (Trump also revealed that he doesn’t know what liquefied natural gas is.)
Saying all the right-wing stuff, sorta
In his speech at an oil industry conference in heavily-fracked North Dakota on Thursday, Trump called for much less regulation and much more drilling, fracking, and mining. But, in typical Trump fashion, he took things a step further than most Republicans do. In 2012, Romney called, nonsensically, for “North American energy independence.” Trump, though, doesn’t want Canada intruding on his effort to make America great again, so he said, “Under my presidency, we will accomplish complete American energy independence.” Never mind that “energy independence,” North American or otherwise, is impossible as long as we depend on fossil fuels that can be sold on the global market. Trump said he would ensure that we are “no longer at the mercy of global markets,” but more domestic drilling won’t free us from the tyranny of international markets unless we nationalize all of the oil companies and force them to sell only to Americans. Otherwise, rising demand in Asia or supply disruptions in the Middle East will continue to affect the price of gasoline.
Trump put his own spin on the Keystone XL issue too. He got the party line right when he said that he would “absolutely” approve the pipeline, but then he added that he would negotiate “a better deal.” The U.S. should get a “piece of the profits” from Keystone, he said. “That’s how we’re gonna make our country rich again.” That sort of kickback scheme may have worked when Trump was allegedly cutting deals with mafia-run construction outfits as a New York City developer, but there is no current mechanism for it under U.S. law.
He also promised “energy reform that creates trillions of dollars in wealth.” However he came up with that ridiculous number, he might as well have pulled it out of thin air. The only source he cited for the huge economic benefits of environmental deregulation was the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative advocacy organization founded by Charles Koch and run by a former Enron executive.
Trump’s pledge that in his first 100 days in office he would, “rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions including the Climate Action Plan” also offered political talking points rather than thoughtful policymaking. The Climate Action Plan is not an executive action, but a collection of actions, some of which are EPA rules, like the Clean Power Plan. It’s not clear which agency would repeal those rules if he first abolished the EPA, as he proposes. And removing those rules would be vulnerable in court without Congress first getting rid of the Clean Air Act and other legislation that requires the government to regulate pollutants.
Trump’s new energy agenda is all Republican politics without even the patina of policy seriousness offered by some more experienced politicians.
Playing to two wings of the party
Trump’s energy speech was all about holding the Republican coalition together: reaching out to the fossil fuel lobby while continuing to appeal to his rural, white, Christian base. In the primaries, Trump was the candidate of the party’s unwashed masses. Now he has to win over the elite business wing, especially now that he is raising money from them for his general election campaign. In a press conference before his speech, he gave repeated shoutouts to Harold Hamm, a North Dakota businessman who has made billions in oil and gas drilling and donated heavily to Republican campaigns.
Then he made his overture to the white working class by praising coal miners and their way of life. “The miners, they’re incredible people. I asked a couple of them, ‘Why don’t you go into some other profession?’ And they said, ‘We love going after coal.’” Trump’s pro-coal stance is so transparently political rather than based on any serious policy engagement that he just says coal is great because miners are great. And miners are great because they “love going after coal.” It’s circular logic. And like Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” it defines America’s past as its peak.
Likewise, Trump’s vow to undermine international climate negotiations — “We’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs” — is as much a statement of nationalist, anti-U.N. resentment as anything to do with energy or environmental policy. It doesn’t matter that he wouldn’t be able to unilaterally pull the U.S. out of the deal.
Trump’s energy speech on Thursday demonstrated two things: he’s trying to reassure the GOP establishment that he will be a team player their economic agenda but he still has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to energy policy. But if he becomes president, he’ll find out the hard way that we can’t drill our way to “energy independence.”
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