Monday, August 27, 2018

Even Trump’s EPA Admits His Power Plan Will Kill Thousands of Americans

Zhou Changguo/AP
When President Barack Obama unveiled the Clean Power Plan in the East Room of the White House three years ago, he called it “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.” Today, that plan, which would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 19% in 2030 relative to 2005 levels, will be replaced by the Trump administration’s “Affordable Clean Energy” proposal, which will give states more authority to craft regulations for coal-burning power plants and replaces the “overly prescriptive and burdensome” requirements in the CPP with what they describe as “on-site, heat-rate efficiency improvements.” 
These regulations are expected to only decrease CO2 levels by a fraction of the amount that were anticipated under Obama’s plan. The Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged this will lead to hundreds of more deaths each year, along with sharp increases in the number of hospital admissions, lost work days, and school absences because of the health impacts of dirtier air. Not to mention the fact that increased emissions of carbon dioxide will further accelerate global warming.
“The ACE Rule would restore the rule of law and empower states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide modern, reliable, and affordable energy for all Americans,” said EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement. Wheeler and EPA air pollution chief Bill Wehrum are both former lobbyists for coal-producing companies that benefit from the agency’s new rule. 
The Clean Power Plan faced powerful opposition from nearly the moment it was signed. Several coal-producing states, including Texas and West Virginia, led a group of industry stakeholders to ask the Supreme Court to stay the CPP in January 2016 pending an appeals court’s ruling. The Court agreed to temporarily block the plan and it has been suspended ever since. 
Republicans, state environmental officials, and fossil fuel industry titans have urged the Trump administration to replace the Clean Power Plan for the past several months, citing its costs and dubious legality under the Clean Air Act. All 11 Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee wrote to former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in January asking him to eliminate the rule. “Not only is the CPP bad policy, it is unlawful,” they wrote. “Congress did not give EPA the authority to transform our energy sector.”
Former agency officials blasted the proposal in a call with reporters hours before the EPA unveiled ACE. Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator who developed the CPP under Obama, called its replacement “galling and appalling.”
This is all about coal at all costs,” she said. “They are continuing to play to their base and following industry’s playbook step by step.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a member of the Environment and Public Works committee, tweeted after the announcement, “Trump is actively destroying the planet in order to enrich his billionaire friends in the fossil fuel industry. We must fight back.”
The savings highlighted in Trump’s proposal—$400 million in annual net benefits with a reduction in CO2 emissions of up to 1.5% by 2030—include a severe human cost, which the agency mentions in the fine print of its 289-page impact analysis
Because of an increase in a tiny air pollutant known as PM 2.5, which contributes to smog and is linked to asthma and heart disease, the EPA predicts between 470 to 1,400 more deaths and thousands more lost days of school. Depending on how aggressively states make efficiency standards for individual power plants, those numbers could decrease. 
“The Clean Power Plan would have reduced particle pollution along with the CO2 benefits by 25% by 2030. And we know reduction in particle exposure means saved lives,” said Janet McCabe, the former head of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. The EPA deferred a request for comment on former agency officials’ criticism of the Trump plan to an agency press release about the proposal.
The United States’ level of CO2 emissions actually decreased in 2017, but experts fear that a weakened regulatory scheme with decentralized goals could hike up rates of pollution nationwide. “Environmental regulation in many cases is one of the leading causes of the decline in emissions that we observed over the past twenty years,” said Reed Walker, an associate professor at UC Berkeley who co-authored a recent study that found regulation to be a key factor in reducing emissions in the manufacturing sector, even with increasing output. Under Wheeler and former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, the federal government has started the process of rolling back at least 76 environmental regulations, according to the New York Times. Many of these rules include protections to wildlife habitats and restrictions aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. 
Trump, who will celebrate the Affordable Clean Energy proposal at a rally in West Virginia, has propped up coal miners with several regulatory decisions. In June, he ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to bail out struggling coal-fueled power plants and, last month, the EPA finalized a rule that relaxes the requirements for storing toxic coal ash. He also announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement. 
Once the Trump administration’s proposal is formally published, members of the public will have 60 days to comment on it. The EPA also plans to hold a formal hearing. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Going to War on Climate Change

by John Halle, Common Dreams:

"Those who heard Roosevelt’s speech were aware that confronting fascism would result in dramatic changes to their lives within months if not weeks." (Photo: Wikicommons)
"Those who heard Roosevelt’s speech were aware that confronting fascism would result in dramatic changes to their lives within months if not weeks." (Photo: Wikicommons)

With the federal government currently flooring the accelerator on the road toward the climate precipice, it is somewhat comforting to know that a likely majority believes in “avoid(ing) the apocalyptic future” by requiring a shift to renewable energy sources. At least, that is what Kate Aronoff, writing in The Intercept, suggests is the case.

Also contained in Aronoff's piece is an equally obvious though perhaps more controversial assertion from climate scientist Will Steffen: the only way that we will get there ”is to “shift to a 'wartime footing.'” Only a fundamental change in attitudes will allow us to "roll out renewable energy and dramatically reimagine sectors like transportation and agriculture . . . at very fast rates,” necessary to address the scale of the problem.

Steffen's view has, of course, few friends on a political right who, even if they do not view climate change as a hoax are philosophically committed to limited government. Somewhat surprisingly, it also has not circulated widely on the political left. A likely reason has to do with the militaristic imagery which has in the past functioned as a bludgeon to repress political dissent and to pre-empt questions about elites' fitness to rule.

But, as Aronoff notes, a war footing can also point in a very different direction. In particular, producing weapons of war requires that "the government play a heavy hand in industry, essentially shifting . . . to a centrally planned economy”-- anathema to the right which has always been at least rhetorically hostile to government intervention in the economy. Also, as Aronoff observes, insofar as these “interventions" have been permitted, they have "tend(ed) to be on behalf of corporations.” 

Our history shows that it doesn’t have to be that way: fighting Hitler wasn't a service to private corporations, it served a public united in its revulsion for fascism. Furthermore, doing so required a massive, centrally planned effort. No one raised questions about the cost of protecting ourselves when President Roosevelt appeared before congress on December 8, 1941. The same should apply to the massive investment which fighting climate change requires now.

Those who heard Roosevelt’s speech were aware that confronting fascism would result in dramatic changes to their lives within months if not weeks. Similarly, most of us are aware that equally dramatic changes will be required by our response to global warming. What these are are not yet clear, however the rough outlines are apparent to anyone who has thought about what needs to be accomplished.

In particular, many of these will be centered around the broad objective of achieving massively higher levels of energy efficiency, one component of which will be to meet strict zero emissions building standards

Doing so will involve millions of workers installing insulation, efficient heating and cooling systems, and where necessary, effecting structural and architectural alterations to support a sustainable lifestyle. Others will be involved in the procurement, production and distribution of necessary materials with many thousands of others involved in site assessments, planning and scheduling of work crews and associated logistics. 

Another component would achieve similar efficiencies in the transportation sector. This would likely have at its center rail electrification  targeting commercial freight currently powered by diesel fueled locomotives. Raw materials and product shipments will be shifted to rail with fossil fuel intensive trucking industry limited to short routes in electrified vehicles. 

Once in place, an electrified rail system would function as well as a conduit for excess electricity provided by intermittent renewable sources whose full incorporation will require a thoroughly  redesigned and reconstructed electrical grid, itself requiring the investment of many millions of man hours. 

On a roughly similar order of magnitude will be required investments in infrastructure improvements to address the effects of climate change, most notably in the protection of low lying areas vulnerable to floods and sea surges. 

All of these components of the climate initiative would require personnel with appropriate training in relevant fields provided at trade schools, junior colleges and colleges extending to the university level. Federal funding would encourage matriculation into these programs while discouraging the growth of academic majors (such as financial engineering) which channel technical talent away from where it is most needed. 

Similar priorities will also inform a major shift in goverment funding of basic and applied science research, a large fraction of which is presently consumed by weapons reserach undertaken at Lawrence Livermore, Sandia and Oak Ridge and other national laboratories  These investments would be shifted to research institutions modelled on the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories which have gave rise to energy efficient technologies now in common use. The funding would underwrite a Manhattan project devoted to basic research in new energy sources and also in energy storage systems as well as atmospheric carbon capture and sequestration technologies. 

We are in a race against time to achieve scientific breakthroughs but also to apply existing technologies which are able to drastically reduce our carbon footprint.

Asking the question whether we can afford these is a waste of time-a distraction from investing ourselves both intellectually and emotionally in what will be required.

The right question is exactly that which Alexandria Ocasio Cortez famously asked a couple of weeks ago. 

“Why is it our pockets are only empty when it comes to education and healthcare for our kids and 100 percent renewable energy that is going to save this planet? We only have empty pockets when it comes to the morally right things to do, but when it comes to tax cuts for billionaires and unlimited war, we seem to be able to invent that money fairly easily.”

We did not ask “can we afford it” when we invested a full one quarter of our economy into producing the infrastructure which was required to beat back the axis powers.

Adopting a war footing to confront the even more dire spectre of climate catastrophe would seem to be the rhetorical framework which allow us to move forward in doing what needs to be done.