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.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
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.
Climate change could make it harder to find a good cup of coffee, new research finds. A changing climate might shrink suitable areas for specialty coffee production without adaptation, making coffee taste blander and impacting the livelihoods of small farms in the Global South.
Published in Scientific Reports on Wednesday, the study focused on regions in Ethiopia, Africa's largest coffee-producing nation. Although studies have previously documented the impact of climate change on coffee production, what's less understood is how varying climates could change the flavors of specialty coffee, the researchers wrote.
The team aimed to fill this gap. Their results provide a glimpse into how future climate change could impact local regions and economies that rely on coffee cultivation, underscoring the value of local adaptation measures.
Researchers analyzed how 19 different climate factors, such as mean temperatures and rainfall levels, would affect the cultivation of five distinct specialty coffee types in the future, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) reported. Although researchers found that areas suitable for growing "average quality coffee" may actually increase over time with climate change, regions where specialty coffee is grown will shrink — a pending problem in light of the global demand for high-quality coffee.
"This is an issue not just for coffee lovers, but for local agricultural value creation," Abel Chemura, the study's lead author, told the PIK.
Coffee profiles rely on specific climate patterns for their unique flavors, levels of acidity and fragrances. But in a warmer climate, the coffee cherry — the fruit picked from a coffee plant — matures faster than the bean inside, making for a lower quality cup of coffee, the PIK reported.
For example, the sought-after Yirgacheffe variety of coffee, which is cultivated in southwestern Ethiopia, could lose more than 40 percent of its suitable growth area by the end of the century, PIK reported. This could impact small farms and threaten Ethiopia's economy, the researchers noted.
"If one or more coffee regions lose their specialty status due to climate change this has potentially grave ramifications for the smallholder farmers in the region," Christoph Gornott, co-author of the study, told the PIK. "If they were forced to switch to growing conventional, less palatable and bitter coffee types, they would all of the sudden compete with industrial production systems elsewhere that are more efficient." In a country where coffee exports account for nearly a third of all agricultural exports, "this could prove fatal," Gornott added.
Climate change impacts on coffee production are not unique to Ethiopia. In Columbia's mountainous coffee-growing regions, temperatures are warming by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit every decade, according to Yale Environment 360. Extreme levels of precipitation, which are becoming more common, also impact production, as they spread insect and fungal diseases.
"In earlier times, the climate was perfect for coffee," one small farmer in Columbia told Yale Environment 360. "In the period of flowering, there was summer. During harvest, there was winter. But from 2008 onward, this changed and we now don't know when it will be summer, when the coffee will blossom."
But researchers say there are glimmers of hope, emphasizing the importance of local adaptation measures that are designed for particular climates and communities. For example, in regions where temperature is an important factor for specialty coffee cultivation, the researchers suggest improved agroforestry systems that could maintain canopy temperatures, a promising step toward sustaining the "availability and taste of one of the world's most beloved beverages and, more importantly, on economic opportunities in local communities of the Global South," Gornott concluded.
By Suzanne Cords
One day Lizzie, the first-person narrator of the novel, receives an old book as a gift, with a dedication wishing the reader to be among the survivors. Like the preppers who build bunkers and stockpile supplies in remote areas to be ready for the end of the world, Lizzie is convinced that the end of the world is definitely near in times of a threatening climate disaster.
Lizzie, who lives in New York with her husband and son, is a university campus librarian. She worries about almost everything: her brother, an ex-junkie, or her dental insurance and the future in the face of the apocalypse. She is obsessed with reading reference books and articles about climate change.
She also devours words of wisdom, including about Buddhist spirituality: "A visitor once asked the old monks on Mount Athos what they did all day, and was told: We have died and we are in love with everything." But nothing can lift her spirits.
'Lizzie Is Just Like Us'
Lizzie observes rich New Yorkers plan their move to regions that are less threatened by climate change, something she simply cannot afford. Sometimes she watches disaster movies, which lead her to worry even more.
Above all, she is a gifted observer of her fellow human beings. "Young person worry: What if nothing I do matters? Old person worry: What if everything I do, does?"
Lizzie, the U.S. author told DW, is a bit like the rest of us — well aware of the climate crisis, but because she cares and worries about so many other things, that awareness falls by the wayside. That's how she felt herself, Jenny Offill said, but the more she looked into the issue, the more she saw a need for action on her part, too.
"I also was trying to see if there was a way to make it funny, because, you know, so much of the world of prepping and imagining disaster is actually sort of strangely funny."
The novel was shortlisted for the 2020 UK's Women's Prize for Fiction and has now been released in German translation.
Climate Activist With a Vision
But then, there is also this serious, scientifically based concern about what climate change means. In the past, says Offill, artists were the ones who would predict disasters; today it's the experts, as well as the students she teaches. In the end, their fears and their justified anger motivated her to take a closer look at the issue. Today, she is a climate activist herself, and is involved in initiatives along with many other artists.
Lizzie, the heroine of Weather, hasn't gotten that far. But she voices her fears, and that's a start. "Of course, the world continues to end," says Sylvia, a mentor of Lizzie's, at one point — and commences to water her garden. There is hope after all.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Jake Johnson
A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt the final blow to former President Donald Trump's attempt to open nearly 130 million acres of territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to oil and gas drilling.
Though the Trump administration appealed the ruling, President Joe Biden revoked his predecessor's 2017 order shortly after taking office, rendering the court case moot. On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to dismiss the Trump administration's appeal.
"Because the terms of the challenged Executive Order are no longer in effect, the relevant areas of the [Outer Continental Shelf] in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Atlantic Ocean will be withdrawn from exploration and development activities," the court said in its order.
Erik Grafe of Earthjustice, which represented a coalition of advocacy groups that challenged Trump's order, said in a statement that "we welcome today's decision and its confirmation of President Obama's legacy of ocean and climate protection."
"As the Biden administration considers its next steps, it should build on these foundations, end fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters, and embrace a clean energy future that does not come at the expense of wildlife and our natural heritage," Grafe continued. "One obvious place for immediate action is America's Arctic, including the Arctic Refuge and the Western Arctic, which the previous administration sought to relegate to oil development in a series of last-minute decisions that violate bedrock environmental laws."
VICTORY: 9th Circuit ends fight over President Trump's illegal attempt to open up 128 million acres of Atlantic & A… https://t.co/TvYVt2F1jO— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice)1618347073.0
In January, Biden ordered a temporary pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, a decision environmentalists hailed as a positive step that should be made permanent.
"We call on President Biden to keep his promise: a full and complete ban on fracking and fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Full stop," Food & Water Watch policy director Mitch Jones said at the time. "The climate crisis requires it and he promised it."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By 2035, every new car and truck sold in the U.S. could be an EV, a new report says.
Accelerations in technology and especially battery affordability, paired with new policy, mean the dramatic transition would save American drivers $2.7 trillion by 2050, an average savings of $1,000 per household per year.
The ramp up in EV production would also create 2 million new jobs by 2035. Battery prices have fallen 74% since 2014, and their unexpectedly rapid fall is a key driver of the cost savings.
EVs are far simpler mechanically, and more efficient, than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, which translates to reduced climate pollution and lower costs for consumers.
Strengthened vehicle efficiency standards and investment in fast charging infrastructure are needed to accelerate the transition, which would prevent 150,000 premature deaths and save $1.3 trillion in health environmental costs by 2050.
For a deeper dive:
Thousands of Superfund sites exist around the U.S., with toxic substances left open, mismanaged and dumped. Despite the high levels of toxicity at these sites, nearly 21 million people live within a mile of one of them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Currently, more than 1,300 Superfund sites pose a serious health risk to nearby communities. Based on a new study, residents living close to these sites could also have a shorter life expectancy.
Published in Nature Communications, the study, led by Hanadi S. Rifai, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, and a team of researchers, found that living in nearby zip codes to Superfund sites resulted in a decreased life expectancy of more than two months, the University of Houston reported.
"We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources (e.g., petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites) could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities," Rifai told the University of Houston. "Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites."
The study pulled data from 65,000 census tracts – defined geographical regions – within the contiguous U.S., The Guardian reported. With this data, researchers found that for communities that are socioeconomically challenged, this life expectancy could decrease by up to a year.
"It was a bit surprising and concerning," Rifai told The Guardian. "We weren't sure [when we started] if the fact that you are socioeconomically challenged would make [the Superfund's effects] worse."
The research team, for example, found that the presence of a Superfund site in a census tract with a median income of less than $52,580 could reduce life expectancy by seven months, the University of Houston reported.
Many of these toxic sites were once used as manufacturing sites during the Second World War. Common toxic substances that are released from the sites into the air and surface water include lead, trichlorethylene, chromium, benzene and arsenic – all of which can lead to health impacts, such as neurological damage among children, The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog.
"The EPA has claimed substantial recent progress in Superfund site cleanups, but, contrary to EPA leadership's grandiose declarations, the backlog of unfunded Superfund cleanups is the largest it has been in the last 15 years," the Union wrote.
Delayed cleanup could become increasingly dangerous as climate change welcomes more natural hazards, like wildfires and flooding. According to a Government Accountability Office report, for example, climate change could threaten at least 60 percent of Superfund sites in the U.S., AP News reported.
During the summer of 2018, a major wildfire took over the Iron Mountain Superfund site near Redding, CA, ruining wastewater treatment infrastructure that is responsible for capturing 168 million gallons of acid mine drainage every month, NBC News reported.
"There was this feeling of 'My God. We ought to have better tracking of wildfires at Superfund locations,'" Stephen Hoffman, a former senior environmental scientist at the EPA, told NBC News. "Before that, there wasn't a lot of thought about climate change and fire. That has changed."
In the study, researchers also looked at the impacts of floodings on Superfund sites, which could send toxins flowing into communities and waterways.
"When you add in flooding, there will be ancillary or secondary impacts that can potentially be exacerbated by a changing future climate," Rifai told the University of Houston. "The long-term effect of the flooding and repetitive exposure has an effect that can transcend generations."
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