D.R. Tucker: If You Like Your Planet, You Can Keep Your Planet

June 1, 2014

Those of you fortunate enough to catch the occasional guest posts here by D. R. Tucker, will be delighted to hear he has now scored a gig with the Washington Monthly. Well done and well deserved, starting with one of the best headlines of the season – wish I’d written it.

tucker2D.R. Tucker in Washington Monthly:

This morning, President Obama focused on his efforts to combat carbon-pollution in his weekly radio address, noting the importance of protecting the health and the climate of future generations.

Of course, emphasizing the need to think about the health of our children and grandchildren won’t diminish the derangement of climate-change deniers, who hate Al Gore more than they love their children and grandchildren. The whining of the wingnuts before the official release of Obama’s carbon-reduction guidelines for existing power plants reached new levels of silliness, as Dan Weiss notes:

 While the EPA’s proposal is not yet public, polluting interests have already started to attack it. The National Mining Association is broadcasting radio ads predicting huge rate increases, claims The Washington Post dismissed as “bogus” and “wholly unsupported.” The Chamber of Commerce joined in on the attacks as well: its Institute for 21st Century Energy issued a new report claiming there would be huge economic ramifications and job losses from the EPA’s unreleased rule. The EPA responded, saying “the Chamber’s report is nothing more than irresponsible speculation based on guesses of what our draft proposal will be.”

Legal Planet:

Here’s the backdrop for those who don’t know it.  In 1999, the International Center for Technology Assessment and a number of other non-profit organizations filed a petition with the Clinton EPA arguing that EPA should regulate greenhouse gases from automobiles under Section 202 of the Clean Air Act.   In 2003, after George W. Bush became President, EPA denied the  petition.  A coalition of states and environmental groups then challenged the denial of the petition in the case that resulted in the landmark decision Massachusetts v. EPA.  The Court held in Mass v. EPA that the agency erroneously denied the petition. The Court also ruled — and this is key — that greenhouse gases are an “air pollutant” as defined in the Clean Air Act and that EPA must decide whether, under Section 202 of the Act, greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare.   The Court’s ruling triggered a cascade of regulatory actions by EPA, all required by the Court’s substantive holdings.  Here’s a chronology.

First, in response to the Court’s command, EPA issued a finding that greenhouse gases from automobiles (mobile sources in technical parlance) endanger public health and welfare.  That finding was, importantly, made though not finalized during the Bush Administration.

EPA, in concert with the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, then issued greenhouse gas standards for automobiles. Those standards are known as the tailpipe rule and by 2025 will require cars to achieve, on average, fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon.  The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the tailpipe rule was required as a result of Mass v. EPA and the endangerment finding.

Once EPA issued the tailpipe rule, several other provisions of the Clean Air Act kicked in.   One was the Prevention of Significant Deterioration provisions for new sources of greenhouse gas emissions.  The rules issued under the PSD provision are currently at stake in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, pending in the Supreme Court.  For an explanation of what is at stake in the UARG case, see here and here.

The other signifiant Clean Air Act provision triggered by Mass v. EPA and the tailpipe rule was Section 111.  Section 111, and more specifically Section 111d, is the section that is the basis for the electricity sector rules that will be issued on Monday.

EPA must issue Section 111 rules under the following circumstances:  for  “any air pollutant (i) for which air quality criteria have not been issued or which is not included on a list published under Section 108(a) or 112(b)(1)(A)”.  Remember that Mass v. EPA ruled that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.  EPA has not issued air quality criteria for greenhouse gases nor are the gases included “on a list published under Section 108(a) or 112(b)(1)(A).”  Therefore Mass v. EPA, in finding that greenhouse gases are air pollutants, requires EPA to regulate the pollutants under Section 111.  The first step under Section 111 is to issue rules for new power plants.  EPA issued proposed rules for power plants (known technically as “electric generating units”) in September, 2013.   Once the rules for new power plants are issued, EPA must, under Section 111(d) of the Act,  require states to issue plans establishing “standards of performance” for existing plants.   Those are the proposed rules that will be issued on Monday.

It is true that EPA has a significant amount of discretion in deciding what the substance of the rules for existing power plants will be (the statute merely directs EPA to issue “standards of performance”).   From early accounts it appears that President Obama will issue fairly aggressive rules, but ones that are designed to maximize flexibility both for states and for power plants in complying with the rules.  But it is important to be clear here:  the President is required  to issue the rules, required by law and by the interpretation of the law by the highest Court in the land.

Paul Krugman in the NYTimes:

Specifically, the (recent Chamber of Commerce climate denying) report considers a carbon-reduction program that’s probably considerably more ambitious than we’re actually going to see, and it concludes that between now and 2030 the program would cost $50.2 billion in constant dollars per year. That’s supposed to sound like a big deal. Instead, if you know anything about the U.S. economy, it sounds like Dr. Evil intoning “one million dollars.” These days, it’s just not a lot of money.

Remember, we have a $17 trillion economy right now, and it’s going to grow over time. So what the Chamber of Commerce is actually saying is that we can take dramatic steps on climate — steps that would transform international negotiations, setting the stage for global action — while reducing our incomes by only one-fifth of 1 percent. That’s cheap!

And all of this is based on anti-environmentalists’ own numbers. The real costs would almost surely be smaller, for three reasons.

First, the Chamber of Commerce study assumes that economic growth, and the associated growth in emissions, will be at its historic norm of 2.5 percent a year. But we should expect slower growth in the future as baby boomers retire, making emissions targets easier to hit.

Second, in the chamber’s analysis, the bulk of the reduction in emissions comes from replacing coal with natural gas. This neglects the dramatic technological progress taking place in renewables, especially solar power, which should make cutting back on carbon even easier.

Third, the U.S. economy is still depressed — and in a depressed economy many of the supposed costs of compliance with energy regulations aren’t costs at all. In particular, building new, low-emission power plants would employ both workers and capital that would otherwise be sitting idle, and would, if anything, give the U.S. economy a boost.

You might ask why the Chamber of Commerce is so fiercely opposed to action against global warming, if the cost of action is so small. The answer, of course, is that the chamber is serving special interests, notably the coal industry — what’s good for America isn’t good for the Koch brothers, and vice versa — and also catering to the ever more powerful anti-science sentiments of the Republican Party.

Tucker again:

Evidently fearing the worst—i.e., that as the ravages of carbon pollution literally hit home, more and more Americans will electorally punish those who pushed the notion that there was nothing to worry about—some on the right are apparently looking for an exit angle, with conservative economist Irwin Stelzer pushing Republicans to support a revenue-neutral carbon tax as an alternative in the pages of the Weekly Standard and Republican pollster Alex Lundry calling for a “middle way” on climate. Lundry “recently completed a poll on energy issues for Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions that found 51 percent of Republicans believe climate change is happening, will happen shortly or will occur in their lifetime. Just 24 percent deny it. The shift is particularly pronounced among younger party members.”

Only 24 percent of Republicans actually think it’s a hoax? After all the years and dollars spent by the rhetorical and political hitmen for La Kocha Nostra to convince people that Gore was making it up, that’s the best they could do? No wonder they’re nervous.

In 2008, the denialist mantra was “Drill, Baby, Drill.” In 2011, the denialist mantra was “Deny ‘Til We Die.” In 2014, if America continues to stand with Obama on reducing carbon pollution, and urges him—and our political system overall—to do more, the denialist mantra will be “Help! Please, help!”

Washington Examiner:

Breaking from party orthodoxy, a majority of Republican voters now accept climate change, sparking a drive inside the GOP to find a middle ground to help candidates finesse the issue without sounding out of touch or in the tank for President Obama and Al Gore.

“There is a middle way where we can talk about this,” said GOP pollster Alex Lundry of TargetPoint Consulting. “Republicans are a lot more open to this than you might think.”

He recently completed a poll on energy issues for Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions that found 51 percent of Republicans believe climate change is happening, will happen shortly or will occur in their lifetime. Just 24 percent deny it. The shift is particularly pronounced among younger party members.

A number of lawmakers are testing out climate change themes acceptable to both GOP voters and independents who are even more sensitive to environmental issues.

For example, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte has authored legislation to increase energy efficiency in commercial buildings by letting tenants voluntarily take efficiency measures. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is an advocate of renewables. And others are looking to piggyback off the military’s new focus on climate change.

Lundry suggested seven themes that at least 66 percent of Republican voters favored, including pushing to leave a clean air legacy, promoting health through reduced air pollution, boosting the economy with renewable energy sources and “being responsible stewards of God’s creation.” The military’s acceptance of global warming also provides some cover for Republicans.



8 Responses to “D.R. Tucker: If You Like Your Planet, You Can Keep Your Planet”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Let’s hope other countries take note, although it is easy to be cynical it is good to see the U.S take some very positive leadership (without the use of cruise and tomahawk missiles), this is what we need it this time.

  2. We have seen several Republican governors come out in favor of renewables for many reasons including jobs and energy independence. So US and EU are on a path toward remedy. Australia is in the throes of regression with the Abbott government, and untenable situation that cannot last. China is by far the greatest carbon polluter. Now we have the US in the form of the EPA and the president that get the message and set some standards. China is establishing a national carbon market in 2018.
    With China and US finally headed in the right direction politically, we may finally make progress on global agreements.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Christopher is ever the optimist. It’s looking like too little, too late. The promise of more diddling around and BS does not mesh with the reality of the need for immediate action.

      We have “set some standards” in the U.S.? A 30% reduction in CO2 from coal-fired plants by 2030? Only 30%? And by SIXTEEN years from now? A national carbon market in China in FOUR years? IF there is no slippage? Oh, I forgot—-the exponential rate of growth in renewables will solve all.

      And the EPA will direct the states to do the implementation? Yeah, sure, and ALEC, the Chamber of Commerce, and the fossil fuel interests will be busily fighting every step of the way in the gerrymandered states to maintain the status quo. As will the bought and paid for members of Congress.

      Case in point is here in Virginia. Norfolk and the Hampton Roads is the area most threatened by sea level rise on the eastern seaboard—perhaps even more so than Greater Miami. The Department of Defense has been forbidden to spend any $$$ to deal with the impending loss of the worlds’ largest naval base. The EPA plan to clean up the Chesapeake that has been imposed on the six states in the watershed AFTER they sued the EPA to come up with such a plan is being challenged by the AG’s of 21 other states (midwestern and red) and the American Farm Bureau. Why? They are afraid that they will be told to clean up the Mississippi and that would interfere with business as usual and the bottom line. Out two Democratic Senators—-Warner and Keane—-are walking a tightrope because of the influence of the coal interests and not speaking out as strongly as they might.

      The new regulations are just going to provoke another massive fight and more gridlock. Remember Obamacare and some states cutting off their noses to spite their faces by not accepting the Medicaid expansion $$$. We will not move far enough fast enough—-the whole problem is just too complex and we are too dumb to deal with it.

    • andrewfez Says:

      I’m thinking the whole 30% thing is an attempt to get clean energy and efficiency’s foot in the door. It encourages a more favorable environment for investing in these things. It may even be a plan where we show the public that CO2 reduction can happen without the sky falling which then encourages further reductions and public support down the line.

      [I was able to drop my energy use a few years back by around 30% just by keeping my thermostat at 85 to 88F in the summer and using fans (and i never use heat in the winter). At night, I’ll even stick a fan in the upstairs window that points outward, so that all the hot air up there will blow out, whilst the windows downstairs are opened to pull in cold air to complete the exchange. In the last 12 months I’ve used 2,759 kWh of power and $796 worth of gasoline (176 to 212 gallons, depending on the price per gallon). I was using over $1,000 in gas per year, several years back before i bought my bicycle. So perhaps a 20% reduction in gas use.

      That then begs the question: if 7 in 10 Americans want the US to do something about climate change why aren’t 7 in 10 Americans pushing their thermostat higher in the summer and lower in the winter? Why aren’t 7 in 10 Americans purchasing a 40mpg+ car next time they’re in the market? They shouldn’t have to wait for a carbon tax to influence their behaviors.]

      Anyway, with the modest goal, I’m also wondering if all that will happen in some states like WV is that they’ll trade out their dirtiest coal plants for gas turbines? (Isn’t the market is pressuring them to do this anyway, at least in the short term)

      The housing bubble in Los Angeles is inadvertently encouraging more apartment and condo rental and construction, which may help some with energy use. I think the Europeans use less energy than we do as a function of their obsession with centrally planned, connected townhomes and apartments which use less energy than a traditional, stand-alone, single family home. At least for commercial stuff, LA standards requires all new construction to be net zero in energy use.


      Re: https://climatecrocks.com/2014/05/22/this-rocks-california-oil-shale-no-bonanza/comment-page-1/#comment-59195

      I was rethinking my comment a little after your reply and think it may indeed be dependent on storage. If by the time we hit 2.5C, storage is cheap enough, we will know what to do, if the market hasn’t already done it for us.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      And as is often the case, the graph is a bit misleading in that it chops off the bottom 60% of the vertical scale. Revisualize it with the x-axis on the bottom of the screen and the proportions become more realistic. Yes GDP is rising while emissions are falling. In ONE advanced country. Proving exactly what?

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