I'm here to debate (along with Jody Freeman, the Archibald Cox Professor of Law at Harvard) a couple of coal advocates from Texas on the topic, "Has EPA Gone Too Far," with its Clean Power Plan (CPP).
Our opponents are Charles McConnell, who was assistant secretary for Fossil Energy in the first Obama Administration, and Michael Nasi, who leads the pro-coal Balanced Energy for Texas Coalition, comprised of coal companies, railroads, and coal-invested utilities and co-ops.
Intelligence Squared, which hosts the debate uses Oxford Union rules, which means the side which changes the most minds wins. Since most of the audience will probably start out supporting the Clean Power Plan—we're actually the underdog—we won't have as many people to move to our side as McConnell and Nasi.
Based on their previous articles and testimony, we expect the focus to be on cost, somehow replacing coal with clean energy is going to vastly increase consumer energy bills. But we feel well prepared—a day earlier, the nation's most coal dependent regional grid operator, PJM, has said that for a swathe of states from Virginia to Illinois, including the Appalachian coal belt, complying with the new cleaner electricity rules will have no impact on reliability and a minuscule 1-3.3 percent impact on power prices by 2030.
Perhaps because of the PJM release, McConnell and Nasi steer away from the economic arguments. McConnell focusses instead on the true (but irrelevant) fact that the CPP by itself does not rely on carbon capture and sequestration as a means of cleaning up coal plants globally (although any utility that chose to use CCS would get full credit for the carbon abatement that resulted). Nasi trots out the legal arguments against the very flexibility and affordability that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has built into the regulations, arguing that in doing so EPA has stretched its authority under the Clean Air Act, which Nasi Claims actually requires its clean-up rules to be power plant by power plant, rather than treating an entire state's power sector as the benchmark for measuring emissions.
These are the core legal arguments the coal lobby will make before the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 27 and they are revealing.
The coal lobby doesn't oppose EPA's clean power regulations because they cost too much; it opposes them because they are too economically attractive. They fear these rules will accelerate the shift away from coal that is already sweeping the U.S. power sector. Reliance on coal is down from 50 percent in 2005 to 32 percent this year. As a result, we have already gone half way towards the Clean Power Plan's emission reduction goals for 2030. And during that period of time what has happened to the price of wholesale electricity? It has dropped 10 percent. To reliability? It has remained steady.
And the infamous Obama Administration War on Coal? It's now the junior partner in an alliance with market forces, which are responsible for the fact that coal generation has dropped so far without the CPP even going into effect.
Solar Cost Hits World's New Low, Half the Price of Coal - EcoWatch https://t.co/Udq1Y5xzLj @GreenpeaceUK @globalactplan— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1471952421.0
In Colorado, seven of XCEL's 10 coal fired power plants cost more just to operate than the cost of replacing them with brand new wind farms. Consumers in Colorado would have lower bills if they just paid XCEL to shut down its plants and substitute renewables. In Indiana, NIPSCO has conceded to state regulators that from a consumer perspective, shutting down all of its plants would be the cheapest option, even though the Clean Power Plan would allow half of them to remain open. In Pennsylvania a few years ago, GE Finance bought the huge Homer City Power Station at a fire-sale price and then poured $750 million in retrofitting it with scrubbers. The Sierra Club warned GE that the move was a loser. Three years later the plant is hemorrhaging money, back on the market—and likely to go again for fire sale prices. GE, an otherwise smart company, will take this bath.
But Texas, with the nation's biggest coal fleet is the most revealing of all—although neither Nasi nor McConnell is eager to tell the story tonight. Consumer organizations in Texas estimate that market forces alone will lead the state to such heavy reliance on renewables and gas that it will be 88 percent of the way to its Clean Power Plan goal. In fact, it looks like they are too cautious.
The big news in power circles in Texas this summer is that the owners of seven coal plants are suing the counties in which those plants are located for massive, up 85 percent, reductions in their assessed value for tax purposes. Why? Because they can no longer come close to competing on the Texas power market. The newest of these plants, Sandy Spring, recently won a huge jury award in such a case after arguing that it costs $.06 to generate a kWh of electricity from its plant, while the going power rate in Texas—a price set by wind, solar and gas—is only $0.03.
In his closing argument to the jury, the lawyer for Sandy Springs, summed up a coal plant operator's view of the future:
"You've heard a lot about this coal plant being new, with a lot of pollution control equipment, but it's still going to be a coal plant. It's never going to be a gas plant, a wind turbine or a solar plant. Clean energy and natural gas are the future. This plant is never going to be."
I use those as the closing remarks of my debate as well.
To my surprise, we move more of the audience our way than our opponents. McConnell and Nasi start with 18 percent support and end with 23 percent. We, as I expected, start with far more supporters, 59 percent, but end with 72 percent. For the on-line audience, the results are even stronger. Support for the CPP grows from 49 percent to 63 percent. Opposition shrinks, from 42 percent to 35 percent.
It's nice to win this debate. But it's even nicer to have the market in my camp.
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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