5 Steps Cities Can Take in Preparation of the EPA’s New Carbon Emissions Standards
Hundreds of mayors convened in Dallas, TX, yesterday for the 82nd annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Climate change was expected to play a prominent role on the meeting’s agenda because these mayors understand that the nation’s cities and towns are the front line of the response to climate change. This meeting comes on the heels of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently unveiled Clean Power Plan, which proposes carbon-pollution limits for the nation’s existing fleet of currently unregulated power plants. What some observers may not appreciate is that mayors can contribute to—and benefit from—plans to cut dangerous carbon pollution.
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The EPA proposal is results oriented and highly flexible. It proposes to set a target for each state based on that state’s potential to reduce carbon pollution. This means that states can tailor their federal carbon-pollution plans to align with state priorities. It also means that everything a city does to cut pollution will help its state meet the target.
Cities have every reason to want to cut pollution. First, reducing carbon pollution will deliver air quality benefits that will help prevent asthma attacks and other illnesses. The EPA estimates that its proposal will avoid 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children. Second, cutting carbon pollution will help minimize the impact of climate change and associated extreme weather events. After an extreme weather event, mayors and their cities are directly accountable for fixing physical damage, mitigating job losses and building more weather-resilient structures. These extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent or more intense in the coming years due to human-induced climate change, according to the EPA. Between 2011 and 2013, the U.S. experienced more than $208 billion in damage from the most severe weather events alone. Reducing the impact of these extreme weather events is in the best interest of cities and their residents.
Cities have the opportunity to adopt policies that help states achieve the proposed EPA carbon-pollution standards and prevent the worst effects of climate change. Five examples of these policies are outlined below.
1. Reduce the Carbon Impact of Municipal Utilities
The EPA’s Clean Power Plan regulates carbon pollution that stems from electric power plants. As states examine the large-scale electricity generators that serve an entire state or region, cities should determine if their municipal-owned electric utilities could help their state meet its goal. As of 2012, 803 cities and counties had municipal electric utilities. Of these, 298 generate their own electricity, 182 transmit electricity and 772 manage distribution. Some municipal utility districts are members of rural electric cooperatives, which pool resources for a shared benefit.
All of these relationships present opportunities for municipalities to help states meet their carbon-pollution standards by advocating for clean energy policies. Mayors and city councils can set renewable energy targets, increase support for solar power, promote energy-efficiency programs to lower energy consumption and emphasize cleaner fossil fuels for electricity production.
2. Update Building Energy Codes
The EPA cites energy efficiency as one of the four “building blocks” that states should use to meet a carbon-pollution standard. Since buildings can account for up to 40 percent of energy use, addressing building energy efficiency is essential to reducing carbon pollution and energy costs. Cities can help states achieve energy-efficiency goals by updating building codes for municipal, residential and/or commercial buildings to encourage development of energy-efficient technology, reflect best practices of the energy industry, and reduce energy costs, all while helping states implement the Clean Power Plan.
Mayors can follow the lead of cities ranging from New York City to Amarillo, TX, which have developed their own energy-conservation construction codes, or adopt consensus-based standards developed with energy experts. The International Code Council’s 2012 standards, which have already been adopted by 21 states and some localities, can serve as a guideline. Additionally, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) serves as the national model energy code for the U.S. and is another resource available to cities. If cities have failed to adopt or update building energy-efficiency codes, they have a big opportunity to do so now: the 2012 IECC code is 30 percent more efficient than the 2006 version.
3. Promote Distributed Generation of Renewable Energy
Distributed generation, or DG, refers to electricity that is generated close to its point of use. DG can include consumer-owned solar panels or business-owned energy systems that are connected to a local grid. Distributed renewable energy can cut pollution, increase reliability, and avoid the need for costly infrastructure investments. It can also save consumers money by offsetting peak electricity demand. Net metering policies that compensate customers with money or credit when their systems generate more electricity than they use can also complement DG systems.
Mayors with municipal utilities could increase opportunities for DG partnerships. Those without local utility controls could support economic incentives for DG to increase energy reliability, lessen the effects of carbon pollution, and help states meet their carbon standards.
4. Consider Tax Credits and Rebates for Renewable Energy
Along with distributed-generation policies that can help states meet their implementation plans, cities should encourage the increased use of renewable energy through credits and tax rebates. Many cities and counties offer rebates for the installation of renewable energy. State law may also permit a city to exempt local property taxes for renewable energy improvements. Alaska, Colorado, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Maryland are just some of the states that offer these incentives to cities. While this will reduce funds from property taxes, cities can appeal to state governments that are benefitting from reduced carbon output for assistance with implementation of tax credits or rebates.
5. Develop Clean Energy Loan Programs
Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans are financial tools that help property owners finance energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects for their property. Under a PACE program, a local government helps a home or business finance the initial cost of certain energy improvements. The property owner repays the cost through an assessment on their property tax. The financing is tied to the property, so if the owner sells the property, the financing must be repaid or carried over to the next owner. PACE allows property owners to install renewable energy without a large initial payment and maximizes the cost-benefit ratio for consumers, all while meeting the city or state’s low-carbon goals. PACE seems especially promising for commercial properties.
At least 31 states and the District of Columbia have laws that permit counties or municipalities to institute PACE programs. Connecticut signed PACE legislation in 2012 to help cities establish financing for energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects. Since then, 84 cities and towns have signed up to participate. Last year, it was reported that Connecticut had closed the financing for projects worth $7 million, had more than 100 projects worth an additional $13 million in development, and were monitoring projects with an average worth between $300,000 and $500,000. In Connecticut and elsewhere, PACE has offered increased job opportunities, reduced the need to pay for energy, and helped reduce carbon pollution. Cities should embrace policies such as PACE for many reasons, one of which is the opportunity to help meet state requirements to reduce carbon pollution.
Cities are uniquely suited to help states meet their carbon-reduction targets through municipal energy interests, innovative policies and working with existing state laws to improve efficiency and increase renewable energy generation. Developing low-carbon energy policies underscores the city’s importance to a critical national goal: reduced carbon pollution, increased consumer savings and a healthier future for everyone.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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