All posts tagged 'climate change'

EPA COMMENTS SUGGEST EMPHASIS ON CREATIVITY AND INTERNALIZING EXTERNALITIES IN CLIMATE STRATEGY

October 14, 2014 09:29
by Jameson Tweedie

The American Bar Association's Section of Energy, Environment and Resources held its Fall Conference last week.  Noteworthy from a climate perspective were the keynote address by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, along with comments by other officials within President Obama's Administration with specific responsibility on climate issues—including Samantha Medlock, Deputy Associate Director for Climate Preparedness (White House Council on Environmental Quality); Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor (Department of the Interior); Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (EPA); and Lorie Schmidt, Associate General Counsel of Air and Radiation (EPA).  Two repeated themes have particular resonance on climate issues.

First was a repeated focus on the role of government to level the playing field.  Emphasized, for example, was the EPA’s effort to strongly enforce existing regulations and permits to eliminate competitive advantages that environmental rule-breaking gains individuals or companies over their rule-abiding competitors—in other words, to internalize the externalities associated with environmental rule-breaking.  Or, as Administrator McCarthy put it, to make compliance the efficient decision.  An analogous focus was evident on reducing the advantage the Administration believes heavy carbon-emitting companies gain over their lower-carbon competitors.  Ms. Schmidt, in particular, made clear the Administration's intent, in the wake of the authority left to the EPA by the Supreme Court in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, 573 U.S. ___ (2014), to continue imposing carbon limits on all applicable large emission sources.

All indications are that the Administration is looking for opportunities to expand the reach of carbon emission limits beyond just those large sources.  The goal of leveling the carbon playing field across sources would undoubtedly have been simpler in many respects through a nationwide carbon tax or cap-and-trade system.  Indeed, John Cruden (current President of the Environmental Law Institute and nominee to head the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division), quoted former Secretary of State George Shultz who expressed the pressing need to put "all forms of energy production on an even playing field" by internalizing the externalities associated with carbon emissions and other pollutants.  But, with a national carbon tax or cap-and-trade system a congressional nonstarter, the Administration is left seeking a piecemeal set of solutions that, taken together, can achieve its climate goals. 

This challenge seemed to lead naturally into the second theme of Administration personnel:  the need for creative solutions.  While by no means limited to climate change (for example, this was also reiterated in CERCLA and other enforcement contexts), the need for creative solutions seems particularly apt in the broad climate context facing the Administration.  That is, congressional impasse on top of stalled or snail pace efforts to reach an international framework.  Within these parameters, any significant short term climate change efforts are left to state and local action, to action within the corporate world (as former EPA head William Reilly was quoted, CEOs are the "unsung heroes" of the environmental movement, making environmental progress cost competitive) and to administrative action.  Ms. Medlock particularly pointed out the burden likely to fall on state and local government to devise innovative, cost-effective solutions to build resiliency along the coasts to the double challenge of rising sea levels and the increased storm intensity and storm surges which climate change is predicted to bring.  (Evidencing the Administration’s focus on this issue, Administrator McCarthy headed directly from the Conference to an event on Miami Beach highlighting the rising seas and extreme tides facing South Florida.) 

As recent reports have indicated, while climate change impacts will be unevenly spread, no region will be spared its share of challenges, whether they be sea level rise and storm surge, flooding or drought, extreme temperatures or otherwise.  Without a doubt, creativity is required.

Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Climate Change Effects | Rising Sea Levels

In Issuing Executive Order No. 41, Governor Markell Rejects Any Need to Choose Between Mitigating Climate Change and Supporting Economic Growth

September 13, 2013 21:39
by Mike Kelly  & Jameson Tweedie

Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell issued Executive Order No. 41, “Preparing Delaware for Emerging Climate Impacts and Seizing Economic Opportunities from Reducing Emissions.”  In many climate change discussions there exists an implied or overt assumption that society must choose between the economy and the climate.  Consistent with a theme that has resurfaced throughout his tenure as Governor, in Executive Order No. 41 Governor Markell explicitly rejects that choice:  “initiatives to responsibly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare Delaware for climate impacts present significant economic development and employment opportunities in infrastructure construction, energy efficiency, clean energy, and advanced transportation.”

Executive Order No. 41 consists of three main components.  First, it establishes a Governor’s Committee on Climate and Resiliency (the “Committee”).  The composition of the Committee itself is noteworthy as it is clear this effort is not “mere puffery,” rather the Committee will include many of the key cabinet heads, including the Secretaries of the Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (“DNREC”), Agriculture, Transportation, Health and Human Services, Safety and Homeland Security, and State, as well as the Directors of the Delaware Economic Development Office, the Office of Management and Budget, the Delaware State Housing Authority, and the Office of State Planning Coordination.

Second, the Committee, chaired by the Secretary of DNREC, shall develop a “an implementation plan to maintain and build upon Delaware’s leadership in responsibly reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” as well as recommendations for actions by agencies and local governments.  The plan and recommendations must be delivered to the Governor by the end of 2014, with the implementation plan updated annually thereafter.  Noteworthy are the requirements which Governor Markell mandates for the plan, overtly rejecting the notion that advancing the economy and planning for, and reducing, climate change must be at odds.  The plan “shall ensure that efforts have a positive effect on the State’s economy, including advancing the strategy of securing cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable energy, improving public health outcomes, increasing employment in Delaware, strengthening Delaware’s manufacturing capabilities, and enhancing Delaware’s overall competitiveness” (emphasis added).  This mandate that the climate change plan achieve positive economic results is framed by the plain acknowledgment of the significant risks facing Delaware from climate change and sea level rise.  These risks include that:

  • Delaware has the “lowest average land elevation in the United States and significant population living along 381 miles of shoreline,” putting Delaware at risk for coastal erosion, storm surge, flooding, saltwater intrusion, and tidal wetland losses.
  • Delaware’s critical infrastructure is at risk from climate change.
  • Delaware’s groundwater aquifers are at risk from saltwater intrusion.
  • Delaware’s $8 billion agriculture industry “could be significantly impacted by increasingly variable temperatures, precipitation, extreme weather events, and droughts.”
  • Delaware’s $6 billion tourism industry is vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise.

The Governor makes clear his belief that mitigating climate change and pursuing economic growth are not mutually exclusive.  Indeed, he plainly considers the joint goals of positive economic and climate outcomes as a logical next step from the successes already achieved in Delaware, including Delaware’s role within the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Delaware’s reduction of greenhouse gas emissions “by more than any state in the nation (29.7% from 2000 to 2010),” and Executive Order No. 18, which sought to reduce the climate change impacts of State Government, and which the Governor asserts not only significantly reduced the climate-related impacts of State Government, but at the same time “result[ed] in millions of dollars of savings.”

Third, and likely with the most immediate on-the-ground consequences (rather than future planning), Executive Order No. 41 requires that “all state agencies shall adhere” (emphasis added) to certain flood hazard mitigation and sea level rise adaptation requirements.  These include:

  • Requiring all state agencies to “incorporate measures for adapting to increased flood heights and sea level rise in the siting and design of projects for construction of new structures and reconstruction of substantially damaged structures and infrastructure” to avoid and minimize flood risks, and, wherever “practical and effective” shall use natural systems or green infrastructure to “improve resiliency to flood heights, erosion, and sea level rise.”
  • Requiring structures within Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) special flood hazard areas to be “designed and constructed with habitable space at least 18 inches above current base flood elevation” and, in addition, requiring structures within areas designated by DNREC to be vulnerable to sea level rise inundation to be “designed and constructed to account for sea level changes anticipated during the lifespan of the structure” (emphasis added).
  • Requiring all state agencies to “consider and incorporate the sea level rise scenarios set forth by the DNREC Sea Level Rise Technical Committee into appropriate long-range plans.”

Only time will tell whether Governor Markell can achieve his dual goals of climate change action and economic growth, but Executive Order No. 41 demonstrates that he is well aware of the challenges and confident in his administration’s ability to achieve both goals.  His experience in the private sector and his economic track record since taking office in 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession, indicate that his climate change policies, and his optimism that they can be positive forces for economic growth, are based on pragmatism, science and economics, not ideology.

Climate Change | Regulation | Rising Sea Levels

Act II at the Obama EPA: Gina McCarthy (is predicted) To Take the Helm

March 1, 2013 00:43
by J. Wylie Donald


The President gave an indication of his environmental focus in his inaugural address, and then again in his state of the union speech. The focus would be on climate change. 

Central to that focus would be the EPA Adminstrator, but that would not be Lisa Jackson who tendered her resignation at the end of 2012.  If Washington gossip is any guide, Ms. Jackson's replacement will be Gina McCarthy, the current head of EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.

We went looking to see if we could draw a bead on where Ms. McCarthy might lead EPA.  We found a recent speech and it was directly on point. On February 21, Ms. McCarthy addressed an audience at the Georgetown Law Center at a conference on Climate Change and Energy Policy. (The conference was videotaped. Ms. McCarthy has the podium from about 4:50 to 5:30 if you are interested.)  

Ms. McCarthy has a reputation of being something of a pragmatist. Her talk was consistent with that. A brief summary might be:  Climate change is here and we have to deal with it, but in addressing carbon dioxide there can be great benefits from doing so in the form of reducing pollution, increasing efficiency and empowering communities.

Pollution reductions will come in at least three forms. First, if more renewable energy sources are developed, there will be less emissions. Second, if production and use is made more efficient there will be less emissions. Third, if production is focused on fossil fuels that emit less pollutants when burned (that is, not coal), there will be less emissions.  We note that this strategy is already at work.  The growth of wind and solar power has been meteoric.  Ms. McCarthy promoted electric cars, which are far more efficient than gasoline-powered ones (although she ignored compressed natural gas vehicles, which are low emission and have some compelling advantages over electric cars).  And we have covered before  the catastrophe for coal signaled by the proposed Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions for New Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units, which forecasts not a single new coal plant through 2030.

Significantly, or perhaps not, she did not mention fracking and the phenomenal recent growth in natural gas production.  That was surprising.  A recent Harvard Magazine article  summarized the pollution and greenhouse gas effects of the natural gas bonanza: 

The shift from coal to gas in the electricity sector has also yielded an environmental bonus—a significant reduction in emissions of CO2, because CO2 emissions per unit of electricity generated using coal are more than double those produced using gas. … [T]he U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that domestic emissions of CO2 during the first quarter of 2012 fell to the lowest level recorded since 1992. An ancillary benefit of the coal-to-gas switch has been a significant reduction in emissions of sulfur dioxide, the cause of acid rain, because many of the older coal-burning plants selectively idled by the price-induced fuel switch were not equipped to remove this pollutant from their stack gases.


Efficiency pervaded her remarks. A striking number is the $1.7 trillion she stated automobile fuel efficiency standards had saved consumers at the pump. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. EPA will help Americans make buildings, processes and communities more efficient.  According to Ms. McCarthy the EPA Climate Showcase Communities saved $19 million per year based in large part on efficiency.

We are somewhat troubled by the “eye of the beholder” syndrome exhibited here.  Certainly consumers saved money at the pump.  But they spent more at the car dealer.  How did they fare overall?  The answer depends on how long they owned their car and the price of gas.  According to research in 2012 by TrueCar.com for the New York Times, at $4/gallon “[e]xcept for two hybrids, the Prius and Lincoln MKZ, and the diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the added cost of the fuel-efficient technologies is so high that it would take the average driver many years — in some cases more than a decade — to save money over comparable new models with conventional internal-combustion engines.”  

Ms. McCarthy’s vision of empowerment is through information.  If building owners get the knowledge of how to make their buildings more efficient, they will  because it makes sense to do so.  If communities are provided the relevant information, they will make enabling smart choices.  Indeed, she closed on the importance of information, referencing three sources.  First, EPA has now been collecting information on greenhouse gas emissions for two years.  That information is publicly available.  People should look at this because it identifies the sources of the climate change problem.  Electric utilities are far and away the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (which is to say, all of us are because, with rare exceptions, all of us use electricity generated with fossil fuels).  

Second,  she touted the EPA’s 2012 report, Climate Change Indicators in the United States (18MB).  This is a valuable resource. Twenty-six “indicators” are assessed as to what they show about a world beset by climate change.  All are familiar with reduced ice sheets, reduced snowpack and higher average temperatures.  Less familiar is the documented increase in ragweed pollen season and retained ocean heat.  And the report is honest about what is not known.  Although 7000 Americans were reported to have died of heat-related illnesses in the last 30 years, trends have not been determined.  Although one might think that a hotter world would lead to more hurricanes, the data have not proven that yet.

Last, Ms. McCarthy praised government research into adaptation and the various reports issued and to be issued.

Some view agency heads in Washington as essentially valueless; talking heads, here today and gone tomorrow.  The bureaucracy was there when the new head arrived and will be there when the now old head leaves.  What this view misses is that the agency head can muster the agency’s resources in support of one initiative, argue for it on Capitol Hill, at the White House and in the press, and give the extra boost when the going gets rough.  Gina McCarthy was instrumental in building the northeast’s cap-and-trade program (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) in her native Connecticut.  Certainly, that idea on a national basis is percolating again.

Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Regulation | Renewable Energy | Solar Energy

Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project Provides Tool to Assess Extreme Weather - Part I

February 16, 2011 00:07
by J. Wylie Donald

What if we had it all wrong?  What if the weather really wasn't getting more extreme, wasn't getting hotter (or colder, wetter, drier), wasn't changing?  Then  any efforts to rein in carbon dioxide emissions would be misguided and, worse, costly.  Is there any evidence that scientists are getting it all wrong?  The Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project is working on figuring that out.  An international team of climatologists enlisted millions of hours of supercomputing time and plugged in over a century of weather data.  The goal is to permit climate researchers to better address issues such as the range of natural variability of extreme events such as floods, droughts and hurricanes. To quote the study's lead author, Gil Compo of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "This reanalysis data will enable climate scientists to rigorously evaluate past climate variations compared to climate model simulations, which is critical for building confidence in model projections of regional changes and high-impact, extreme events."

For those of you who remember the moment in the sun (of the popular press) of chaos theory, there was something called the Lorenz Butterfly Effect, that affirmed that the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Brazil could, through various weather processes, lead to tornadoes in Texas.  It may frustrate lawyers to learn that proximate cause does not hold in weather analyses.  Very small changes in initial conditions can result in very large differences in weather outcomes.  Hence the importance of the Reanalysis Project in assessing actual weather conditions and changes over time.

Small differences in words may also make a difference.  Query whether there is a difference between "extreme weather" and "extreme weather disasters".  Anne Jolis of the Wall Street Journal European Edition set off a small controversy this weekend when she or her editors dropped a word from a quote from one of her climate research sources when she provided the Journal's spin on "climate alarmists."  Ms. Jolis offers an antidote to climate change-induced extremes in weather:  "There is at least one climate lesson that we can draw from the recent weather: Whatever happens, prosperity and preparedness help."  That is, countries that are economically advanced are more likely to fare better in the face of Mother Nature's onslaughts.  She compares Australia's response to Cyclone Yasi (only one death) to that of Myanmar when Cyclone Nargil ultimately caused the deaths of 130,000 people.  Therefore, concludes Ms. Jolis, economic activity should be enhanced, not diminished as alarmists would do.

The butterfly effect here is the quote relied on by Ms. Jolis:  ""There's no data-driven answer yet to the question of how human activity has affected extreme weather," adds Roger Pielke Jr., another University of Colorado climate researcher."  What Dr. Pielke actually said, as set forth on his blog, "There's no data-driven answer yet to the question of how human activity has affected extreme weather disasters." 

So was the omission of "disaster" meaningful?  Dr. Pielke's peers apparently thought so and queried him, thus prompting the blog response.  We don't intend to resolve that question.  We do wish to point out, however, that such editing can call into question the validity of an entire article.  Ms. Jolis makes a fair point about economic growth being an important tool to address the problems of climate change.  But we think she loses some credibility when her sources assert they were misquoted.  As Dr. Pielke points out, ín the climate change debate "anything that can be misinterpreted usually will be."

Carbon Dioxide | Climate Change Effects | Weather

FEMA Flood Maps are All Wet - They Don't Consider Climate Change

November 2, 2010 19:52
by J. Wylie Donald

Last week brought another edition of the Flood Insurance Rate Maps. FEMA announced on October 29 that it was releasing new preliminary flood maps for Montgomery County, Maryland. Click here.

 It has been 14 years since the last flood plain map was created and the good citizens have seen substantial changes in that period. Montgomery County's planning arm sets forth in its 2007-2009 report that the population has boomed over the last thirty years with an anticipated increase of 14% this decade, the fastest growing in Maryland. Click here.

The effect of all this growth is telling. "Several factors—including sustained job and population expansion, declining supplies of greenfield space, and land use policies favoring in-fill and transit-oriented development—have reinforced this pattern of concentrated development in recent years. Growth, density and mixed-used development are transforming former commuter suburbs into increasingly more urban-like environments." So with all that change, re-doing the flood plain maps is necessary, and overdue.

Unfortunately, these maps are outdated even as they are issued. This is not simply because additional development affects them. It is because they do not consider climate change. This bears repeating. The FEMA flood maps do not consider climate change. And it is not just some blogger saying it. The Delaware River Basin Commission wrote in 2009: "Future development and the impacts of climate change are not taken into account during the development of FEMA flood hazard area mapping." Click here.

Why is this significant? One of the fundamental predictions of climate scientists is that climate change is going to deliver more extreme weather. In the Northeast, for example, there will be more frequent storms and more severe storms. It should be obvious that these will increase the frequency of flooding and the 100-year flood will now become the 50-year flood or the 25-year flood. As most know, the FEMA flood map shows the 100-year flood plain. Inside the flood plain, certain construction requirements are imposed, and flood insurance is required of all who would be involved in federal programs (such as loan guarantees from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac). Outside the 100-year floodplain, neither condition applies. Accordingly, if the 100-year floodplain is inaccurately set forth, numerous properties just outside the erroneous line are more likely to be subjected to a flood than the occupant or owner anticipates, and are more likely not to have flood insurance.

If this sounds like a recipe for disaster, it is. The spring floods in Nashville caused over $1 billion in damage. FEMA reported only 100 National Flood Insurance policies in the the entirety of Davidson County (where Nashville is located).1 

Why so few? Because no one believed they were in the flood plain. This mentality is only going to get worse, particularly if FEMA publishes flood maps without pointing out that it is ignoring an undeniable substantial factor: climate change.

 

 

 

1 Jeff Casale, Significant losses expected after floods soak Nashville, Business Insurance (May 10, 2010).

Climate Change | Flood Insurance | Weather


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