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Blog Posts: EPA

  • How to Turn State of the Union Address Commitments into Real Climate Action

    President Obama made it abundantly clear during the State of the Union address last night that he will direct his Administration to take on climate change. The president reiterated the urgency for action, citing climate impacts we’re already seeing like record high temperatures, heat waves, drought, wildfires, and floods. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence,” he said. “Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science--and act before it’s too late.”

    The president urged Congress to rise to the challenge by pursuing a “bipartisan, market-based solution,” but he also noted that the Administration will take action—with or without Congress. “I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy,” the president said.

    This statement is especially significant because the Administration can take meaningful actions right now even without new legislation. WRI recently released a report detailing the immediate steps federal agencies can take to combat climate change. The four greatest opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term include:

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  • A Roadmap to Respond to the Climate Crisis

    This post originally appeared on TheHill.com.

    Tonight, President Obama will address the nation at the State of the Union, laying out his priorities for his second term. Climate change is expected to be high on the list, especially following the Inauguration when the president declared that a failure to respond would "betray our children and future generations."

    The president has set a goal for the U.S. to reduce emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020; however, the country lacks a clear national plan to get there- and to go even further.

    This puts the U.S. out of step with most major countries. For instance, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Korea are moving ahead with ambitious emissions targets backed by strong national policies. Even China - which faces real challenges due to its heavy dependence on coal - has targets to rein in carbon emissions and increase its share of renewable energy under its 12th Five Year Plan.

    What, then, can the United States achieve, especially with a Congress that is reluctant to act?

    The World Resources Institute just released a comprehensive analysis that finds that the Administration can achieve its 17 percent goal by 2020. But, it will take strong leadership and ambitious action.

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  • A Holiday Gift from the EPA: New Rules Will Cut Toxic Air Pollution from American Boilers

    The U.S. Environment Protection Agency finalized the Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rule today to protect people from exposure to toxic air pollution from industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers. By encouraging industry to use cleaner-burning fuels and to make efficiency improvements, Boiler MACT will modernize U.S. industry, reduce toxins, and cut carbon pollution.

    The Boiler MACT rules, which are required by the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, will only target the most significant sources of toxic air pollution. Most boiler-based emissions come from a small handful of very large industrial and commercial facilities that operate coal, oil, and biomass-fired boilers. As such, according to EPA:

    • Fewer than 1 percent of all U.S. boilers will be required to reduce their emissions to levels that are consistent with demonstrated maximum achievable control technologies, or MACT standards. Operators of these types of boilers will have three years to reduce toxic air pollution and meet new emissions limits.

    • A larger subset of U.S. industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers (roughly 13 percent) would not be required to meet the specific MACT standards, but would need to reduce their toxic air emissions through other means (as described below).

    • About 86 percent of all U.S. boilers are relatively small, limited-use, or gas-fired boilers, and are not covered by the new rules.

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  • Getting on Track: Why We Need Greenhouse Gas Standards for Existing U.S. Power Plants

    This week, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a new proposal detailing how they would like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing power plants. Their analysis predicts that their proposal would reduce power sector GHG emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels in 2020, or 17 percent below 2011 levels.

    Standards for existing plants are essential if the United States is to make meaningful strides toward a low-carbon economy. NRDC’s proposal provides a valuable contribution to the ongoing discussion about how best to design these standards.

    U.S. Emissions Are on an Unsustainable Path

    Even though the United States has made progress on reducing emissions – most notably through the Obama administration’s new standards for passenger vehicles – we need more action if the country is to prevent climate change’s worst impacts. While U.S. energy emissions have fallen nearly 9 percent below 2005 levels, these trends are not expected to continue without ambitious new climate and energy policies. This is the clear takeaway from both the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2012 and a recent analysis by Dallas Burtraw and Matthew Woerman at Resources for the Future.

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  • What to Look for in the EPA’s Forthcoming Standards on Emissions from Light-Duty Vehicles

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are working to finalize rules for light-duty vehicles that could significantly reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

    These rules, which could be released this week, will establish new fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2017 through 2025. Light-duty vehicles represent a significant portion of U.S. greenhouse gases, accounting for approximately 17 percent of U.S. emissions. If the forthcoming rules resemble the proposed standards published by EPA and NHTSA last November, they will be an important step forward in protecting the environment and shielding consumers from higher gas prices.

    Highlights from the Proposed Rules

    The proposed rules would establish an emissions standard of 144 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile for passenger cars and 203 grams of CO2 per mile for trucks. If vehicles meet the standards entirely through fuel economy improvements, cars will achieve 61 miles per gallon (mpg), while trucks will achieve 43 mpg [^1]. If cars and trucks attain these standards, vehicles sold in 2025 will consume roughly half the fuel as vehicles sold in 2008 (27 mpg), emitting about half the greenhouse gases.

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  • National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Can Help Countries Curb Climate Change

    At WRI, we like to say that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” For managing and mitigating climate change, one of the most fundamental measurements is a periodic inventory of the problem’s root cause: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities.

    GHG emissions inventories are carried out at several levels, including corporate, city, and state. Measuring emissions for entire nations has its unique challenges, but it’s a critical first step for any country that wants to effectively manage its contribution to global climate change. National GHG inventories provide a baseline of data and, if regularly updated, a tracking mechanism for assessing how domestic policies impact emissions.

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  • How the EPA’s New Oil and Gas Standards Will Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently issued final rules to reduce air pollution at natural gas wells and other sources in the oil and gas industry. The rules—a New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and National Emissions Standards for hazardous air pollutants—establish the first federal standards for emissions from production wells (natural gas processing plants were already covered). They are designed to limit the release of VOCs and other air toxics that contribute significantly to smog and are associated with a wide range of adverse health effects. (For more on the oil and gas rules, see M.J. Bradley & Associates’ Issue Brief.)

    In addition to reducing VOC and air toxics emissions, these rules will help reduce methane emissions from shale gas development. According to the EPA, there are over 11,000 new hydraulically fractured wells each year, and while water-related environmental concerns have received the lion’s share of public attention and are the focus of EPA’s ongoing hydraulic fracturing study, uncontrolled emissions from hydraulic fracturing can negatively impact air quality and the climate.

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  • Electricity Markets Increasingly Favor Alternatives to Coal

    This piece originally appeared in the National Journal Energy and Environment Experts Blog.

    The U.S. electric power system is gradually shifting toward cleaner forms of generation. One sign of this transition is the declining use of coal for electric power production. In 2011, coal dropped to its lowest level of power generation in more than a decade, according to the U.S. government’s independent Energy Information Administration (EIA). In fact, the EIA recently reported that coal’s share of U.S. electric power generation fell below 40% for the last two months of 2011, the lowest level since 1978.

    To understand the cause of this decline, it is important to examine the underlying market forces. Doing so provides important context for recent coal plant retirement announcements, particularly given that some companies have attributed retirements to EPA rules that are still years away from going into force. For example, FirstEnergy Corp. announced in late January 2012 that it would retire several of its smaller coal-fired power plants, explaining that the decision was “based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which were recently finalized, and other environmental regulations.” FirstEnergy, however, had previously cited a range of reasons for its decision to reduce operations at many of its smaller coal plants.

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  • EPA: Insurance for a Cleaner Future

    This piece originally appeared in the National Journal Energy and Environment Experts Blog.

    EPA’s newly proposed standards are an important step toward addressing the threat of unmitigated carbon pollution in altering the climate. EPA’s action will ensure that power suppliers consider greenhouse gas emissions before building any future power plants. Moreover, this lays the groundwork for future U.S. policies and action to address climate change.

    The proposed standards set an emissions standard of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per Megawatt-hour— slightly more carbon intensive than combined cycle natural gas plants built today. New coal units could comply with the regulations by committing to capture and store a portion of their carbon dioxide emissions or, where feasible, by using waste heat through combined heat and power systems.

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