Why states are pushing ahead with clean energy despite Trump’s embrace of coal

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Alamosa Photovoltaic Plan, south-central Colorado.
Energy.gov/Flickr

Bill Ritter, Jr., Colorado State University

On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump traveled to the Environmental Protection Agency to sign an executive order rolling back a number of climate-related regulations that have taken effect over the past eight years. The president’s team claims this effort will help bring our nation closer to energy independence, and that it will begin the process of resuscitating a coal industry that has experienced serious decline in the past decade.

In reality, it will do neither. We do not import coal into the United States. There are no jobs coming back from overseas. Moreover, and somewhat ironically, the chief reason for the decline in the coal industry is not Obama-era regulations, but a rapidly changing energy market.

Any energy market analyst will tell you that advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have provided us with cheap, abundant, natural gas. Add to that declining price curves in wind and solar generation, and one begins to appreciate that a difficult road lies ahead for coal. These are markets that are growing with rapid technological innovation.

USEIA

The shift is underway

The fact is that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan codified where the utility industry was already going. With publicly announced retirements, roughly 45 percent of the existing coal capacity in the western grid will be retired by 2030. According to utility integrated resource plans, by 2026, just shy of half of the total energy in the West will be generated from zero-emitting resources.

The 11 western states that my center had been convening around implementation of the Clean Power Plan are, collectively, in compliance with the plan’s 2026 targets under business as usual. Ironically, removing the Clean Power Plan just eliminates a potential for market-based emission trading that would lower costs to consumers and provide some states with a glide path to meet their targets.

This is not to say that the regulatory rollbacks in President Trump’s order will have no impact. The international community, which crafted the landmark Paris Accord, will not have the benefit of U.S. leadership on climate change. Other nations will fill that void – while reaping the economic rewards of serving a growing global market with low-carbon technologies. One of the most troubling long-term impacts of these actions will be a declining global view of America as a source of innovation and investment.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, holding his granddaughter, signs the Paris Agreement, April 22, 2016.
U.S. Department of State/Wikipedia

At home, should the Clean Power Plan expire, states that have been reticent to advance a clean energy agenda will no longer be required to plan for emissions reductions. The Clean Power Plan brought certainty to energy planning. If you talk to American utility executives and their investors, they crave certainty because it lowers the cost of capital and saves money for consumers. The executive order is a step away from stability in our energy markets and away from America’s leadership as an innovator developing the technologies that will serve a growing global market.

States, cities and businesses are moving forward

Attempts to roll back important environmental safeguards are being sold to the American people under the rubric of job creation. Let’s put this in the proper context: There were 65,971 jobs in coal mining nationwide in 2015. According to the Department of Energy, more than twice as many jobs – 133,000 – were created last year just in the energy efficiency industry. In 2016 the solar workforce grew by 25 percent to 374,000 and the wind workforce grew by 32 percent to 102,000. One in 50 new jobs in America is now in solar energy.

From 2007 to 2011, as Governor of Colorado, I signed 57 pieces of legislation intended to transition Colorado to a clean energy economy. After leaving office I founded the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University with the intention of working with governors, state legislators and utility regulators on clean and advanced energy policy. In our work at the center, my team and I have become confident that states, cities and private companies are taking the lead in the clean energy transition, even as the federal government flounders. Today 37 states, comprising two-thirds of the U.S. population, have renewable portfolio standards that require electric utilities to generate or purchase a percentage of their power from renewable energy.

Governors from both parties have led this transition. Seventeen governors have joined the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future, including the Republican Governors of Nevada, Iowa, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. In doing so, they have all committed to diversify their states’ energy generation with clean energy sources, modernizing energy infrastructure and encouraging clean transportation. In addition, 129 U.S. cities have signed the Compact of Mayors’ pledge to address climate change.

Thirty-three U.S.-based companies, the likes of Coca-Cola, GM, Goldman Sachs, HP, Johnson & Johnson and Nike, have committed to a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy as part of the RE100 Initiative. Some 50 U.S. companies will need to purchase 17 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025 – enough to power the entire state of Colorado – in order to fulfill their existing corporate targets.

True leadership requires a vision that looks to new markets, new technologies and new solutions. Unfortunately, the president’s actions on Tuesday look backward toward a fading horizon, rather than forward toward a bright and promising future.

Bill Ritter, Jr., Director, Center for the New Energy Economy, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate politics: Environmentalists need to think globally, but act locally

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The outdoor retail industry is moving its lucrative trade show out of Utah after disputes with state officials over land conservation.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Nives Dolsak, University of Washington and Aseem Prakash, University of Washington

As President Trump pivots from a failed attempt to overhaul health care to new orders rolling back controls on carbon pollution, environmentalists are preparing for an intense fight. We study environmental politics, and believe the health care debate holds an important lesson for green advocates: Policies that create concrete benefits for specific constituencies are hard to discontinue.

Opinion polls and hostile audiences at Republican legislators’ town hall meetings show that the Affordable Care Act won public support by extending health insurance to the uninsured. And this constituency is not shy about defending its gains.

The same lesson can be applied to environmental issues. In our view, environmentalists need to defend environmental regulations by emphasizing their concrete benefits for well-defined constituencies, and mobilize those groups to protect their gains.

Environmentalists should continue making broad, long-term arguments about addressing climate change. After all, there is an important political constituency that views climate change as the defining challenge for humanity and favors active advocacy on climate issues. At the same time, however, they need to find more ways to talk about local jobs and benefits from climate action so they can build constituencies that include both greens and workers.

Pork-barrel environmentalism?

Americans have a love-hate relationship with pork-barrel politics. Reformers decry it, but many legislators boast about the goodies they bring home. As former Texas Senator Phil Gramm once famously crowed, “I’m carrying so much pork, I’m beginning to get trichinosis.” And pragmatists assert that in moderate quantities, pork helps deals get made.

Classic studies of the politics of regulation by scholars such as Theodore Lowi and James Q. Wilson show that when benefits from a regulation are diffused across many people or large areas and costs are concentrated on specific constituencies, we can expect political resistance to the regulation. Groups who stand to lose have strong incentives to oppose it, while those who benefit form a more amorphous constituency that is harder to mobilize.

On Feb. 16, 2017, after signing legislation to repeal a rule regulating disposition of coal mining waste, President Trump celebrates with coal miners and legislators from Ohio and West Virginia.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

We can see this dynamic in climate change debates. President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt contend that undoing carbon pollution controls will promote job growth. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, argues that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan will destroy coal jobs and communities, and that “green jobs” in clean energy industries are unlikely to be located in coal country.

Climate change can be framed in many ways, and there has been much discussion about which approaches best engage the public. Environmental advocates can do a better job of emphasizing how climate regulations produce local benefits along with global benefits.

One promising initiative, the BlueGreen Alliance, is a coalition of major labor unions and environmental organizations. Before President Trump’s recent visit to Michigan, the alliance released data showing that nearly 70,000 workers in well over 200 factories and engineering facilities in Michigan alone were producing technologies that helped vehicle manufacturers meet current fuel efficiency standards. Regulations can be job creators, but this truth needs to be told effectively.

Pipelines: Local jobs or global environmental protection

President Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines demonstrates the difficulty of fighting locally beneficial programs with global arguments.

Environmentalists argue, correctly, that both pipelines are part of the infrastructure that supports the fossil fuel economy. For example, by some estimates the KXL pipeline could increase global carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 110 million tons annually by making possible increased oil production from Canadian tar sands.

Rally against the Keystone XL pipeline, Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 2014.
Rocky Kistner, NRDC/Flickr, CC BY

However, both the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters support the projects. They believe pipelines create jobs, although there is broad disagreement over how many jobs they generate over what time period.

By endorsing both pipelines, Trump is probably seeking to consolidate his support among midwestern working-class voters who believe, rightly or wrongly, that urban environmental elites are imposing job-killing regulations. But these pipelines also impose local costs, which have spurred Native American protests against DAPL and opposition to KXL from farmers, ranchers and citizens in Nebraska.

Local protests have not changed the Trump administration’s political calculus on DAPL or KXL, which is why opponents in both cases are turning to the courts. But in other instances environmental groups have successfully mobilized communities by highlighting local issues.

Conserving Utah’s public lands

Federal control of public lands is a sore issue for Republicans, particularly in western states. Utah offers a fascinating example. State politicians want to reverse President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument and reduce the amount of land included in the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. But conservationists successfully blocked recent efforts by allying with the outdoor recreation industry.

By some estimates Utah’s outdoor recreation industry employs 122,000 people and brings US$12 billion into the state each year. Utah hosts the biannual Outdoor Retailer trade show, which brings about $45 million in annual direct spending.

In response to Utah officials’ efforts to roll back federal land protection, the outdoor retail industry has announced that it will move the prestigious trade show to another state after its contract with Salt Lake City expires in 2018. Patagonia is boycotting the 2017 summer show and asking supporters to contact Utah politicians and urge them to keep “public lands in public hands.” The bicycle industry is also planning to move its annual trade show to a location outside Utah.

Governor Gary Herbert has reacted by offering to negotiate with the industry. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill in January that called for selling off more than three million acres of federal land in Utah, but withdrew it after massive protests from hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. Hunters and gun owners are important constituents for Chaffetz and other conservative Republican politicians.

Wetland restoration project sponsored by the hunting and conservation organization Ducks Unlimited, Barron County, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin DNR/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Renewable energy means high-tech jobs

Environmentalists also successfully localized green regulations in Ohio, where Republican Governor John Kasich vetoed a bill in December 2016 that would have made the state’s renewable electricity targets voluntary instead of mandatory for two years.

As a politician with presidential ambitions who claims credit for his state’s economic success, Kasich knows that several high-tech companies in Ohio have committed to switching to renewable energy. As one example, Amazon is investing in local wind farms to power its energy-intensive data servers, in response to criticism from environmental groups.

Ohio froze its renewable energy standards for two years in 2014 after utilities and some large power customers argued that they were becoming expensive to meet. But when the legislature passed a bill in 2016 that extended the freeze for two more years, a coalition of renewable energy companies and environmental groups mobilized against it. In his veto message, Kasich noted that the measure might antagonize “companies poised to create many jobs in Ohio in the coming years, such as high-technology firms.”

In sum, environmental regulations have a better chance of surviving if there are mobilized constituencies willing to defend them. And in the longer term, a local and job-oriented focus could expand the blue-green alliance and move the working class closer to the environmental agenda.

Nives Dolsak, Professor of Environmental Policy, University of Washington and Aseem Prakash, Walker Family Professor and Founding Director, Center for Environmental Politics, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Food Security: How Drought and Rising Prices Led to Conflict in Syria

EPA/Russian Defence Ministry Press Service
EPA/Russian Defence Ministry Press Service

 

Aled Jones, Anglia Ruskin University

In 2015 the Welsh singer and activist Charlotte Church was widely ridiculed in the right-wing press and on social media for saying on BBC Question Time that climate change had played an important part in causing the conflict in Syria.

From 2006 until 2011, [Syria] experienced one of the worst droughts in its history, which of course meant that there were water shortages and crops weren’t growing, so there was mass migration from rural areas of Syria into the urban centres, which put on more strain, and made resources scarce etc, which apparently contributed to the conflict there today.

Goaded on by the tabloids, Church reaped a whirlwind of public ridicule:

But what she said was correct – and there will be an increasing convergence of climate, food, economic and political crises in the coming years and decades. We need to better understand the interconnectivity of environmental, economic, geopolitical, societal and technological systems if we are to manage these crises and avoid their worst impacts.

In particular, tipping points exist in both physical and socio-economic systems, including governmental or financial systems. These systems interact in complex ways. Small shocks may have little impact but, a particular shock or set of shocks could tip the system into a new state. This new state could represent a collapse in agriculture or even the fall of a government.

In 2011, Syria became the latest country to experience disruption in a wave of political unrest crossing North Africa and the Middle East. Religious differences, a failure of the ruling regime to tackle unemployment and social injustice and the state of human rights all contributed to a backdrop of social unrest. However, these pressures had existed for years, if not decades.

So was there a trigger for the conflict in the region which worked in tandem with the ongoing social unrest?

Syria, and the surrounding region, has experienced significant depletion in water availability since 2003. In particular an intense drought between 2007 and 2010, alongside poor water management, saw agricultural production collapse and a mass migration from rural areas to city centres. Farmers, who had been relatively wealthy in their rural surroundings now found themselves as the urban poor reliant on food imports. Between 2007 and 2009 Syria increased its annual imports of wheat and meslin (rice flour) by about 1.5m tonnes. That equated to a more than ten-fold increase in importing one of the most basic foods.

Cereal imports by weight and value to Syria from 2006 to 2010. Source: UN Comtrade Database.

Complex system

There is a tendency these days to believe that global trade will protect the world from food production shocks. A small production shock in one region can be mitigated by increasing, temporarily, imports of food or by sourcing food from another region. However, certain shocks, or a set of shocks, could create an amplifying feedback that cascades into a globally significant event.

The food system today is increasingly complex and an impact in land, water, labour or infrastructure could create fragility. A large enough perturbation can lead to a price response in the global market that sends a signal to other producers to increase their output to make up for any shortfall. While increased prices can be beneficial to farmers and food producers, if the price increase is large enough it can have a significant impact on communities that are net food importers.

Additionally, food production is concentrated both in a relatively small handful of commodity crops such as wheat, rice and maize as well as from a relatively small number of regions, for example the US, China and Russia. This concentration means any disruption in those regions will have a large impact on global food supply. Reliance on global markets for sourcing food can therefore be a source of systemic risk.

Rising prices

In 2008 the global price of food increased dramatically. This increase was the result of a complex set of issues including historically low global food stocks, drought in Australia following production lows in several other areas over the previous few years, and speculation and an increase in biofuel production in North America.

This spike in global food price in 2008 was a factor in the initial unrest across North Africa and the Middle East, which became known as the Arab Spring. As prices peaked, violence broke out in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

In Syria a local drought which coincided with this global shock in food prices resulted in dramatic changes in the availability and cost of food. In response small groups of individuals protested. The government response, combined with a background of rising protests, existing social tensions and instability in the wider region, quickly escalated into the situation we are experiencing today.

The events in Syria, then, appear to stem from a far more complex set of pressures, beyond religious tension and government brutality, with its roots in the availability of a natural resource – water – and its impact on food production. This is worrying as decreasing water availability is far from a localised issue – it is a systemic risk across the Middle East and North Africa. Over the coming decades this water security challenge is likely to be further exacerbated by climate change.

To better manage these types of risks in the future, and to build societal resilience, the world needs to understand our society’s interdependence on natural resources and how this can lead to events such as those that unfolded in Syria. We need analytical, statistical, scenario or war game-type models to explore different possible futures and policy strategies for mitigating the risk. By understanding sources of political instability we hope to get a better handle on how these types of crisis arise.

The Conversation

Aled Jones, Director, Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

 

 

Policy Uncertainty Discourages Innovation and Hurts the Environment

Uncertainty around government policy affects how businesses operate and whether they’ll invest in R&D. Pixabay
Uncertainty around government policy affects how businesses operate and whether they’ll invest in R&D. Pixabay

Davis, University of California, Berkeley

Large-scale changes are anticipated for U.S. environmental policies heading into 2017. The new administration has promised a “comprehensive review of all federal regulations,” which include policies aimed at carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, fuel economy standards, oil and gas production, and tax credits for solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars.

Exactly what form these changes will take is unknown. Some believe that most of these policies will be dismantled, while others argue that most of the policies will remain in place. But this is all speculation.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been nominated to be the next EPA administrator, a move widely perceived to indicate large changes ahead.
gageskidmore/flickr, CC BY

What the discussion over what may or may not happen has missed, however, is that this uncertainty in itself is costly. Not knowing what the future holds, companies are less likely to invest in new technologies. To address today’s environmental problems, we need breakthrough technologies that can be widely adopted and exported to the rest of the world. Economists have shown, using both theory and data, that policy uncertainty makes this type of innovation less likely to happen.

Automakers’ dilemma

Perhaps in no other sector is there as much uncertainty as automobiles. U.S. fuel economy standards have been around since the 1970s, but new rules introduced in 2012 mandate a steep climb toward 50+ miles per gallon (mpg) in 2025. There are real questions, however, about whether these rules will be relaxed and, if so, by how much.

The sheer complexity of U.S. fuel economy standards leaves policymakers with lots of options for policy changes. In a new working paper, fellow economist Chris Knittel and I review the complicated requirements imposed on automakers. Different-sized vehicles are treated differently, trucks are treated differently than cars, and alternative-fuel vehicles receive special credits and exemptions. Any or all of these rules could change.

Innovation companies, including Tesla Motors, were founded during a time when federal policy placed a clear emphasis on fuel efficiency. Will that continue?
Wikipedia, CC BY

This uncertainty puts automakers in a difficult position. Do you assume that standards will remain in place, and invest in producing high-mpg vehicles? Do you assume standards will be relaxed, and move toward lower-mpg vehicles? Or do you lie back and make little new investment, waiting to see what will happen?

Irreversible investments and ‘option value’

Economists have long written about exactly this type of decision-making under uncertainty. There is broad evidence, based on both theoretical models and empirical evidence, that companies invest less when they face uncertainty. Using data from the United States and 11 other countries, a new paper by economists Scott Baker, Nick Bloom and Steven Davis, for example, shows a robust negative impact of uncertainty on investment. Companies in the health care and financial sectors are particularly affected by uncertainty, and cut not only investment but also production and employment.

Economist Steven Davis, founder of the Economic Policy Uncertainty Index, presenting his work on the effect of uncertainty on investment earlier this month.
Bosse Johansson, Author provided

Why? The idea is simple. When there is uncertainty, there is “option value” to delaying irreversible investments. In other words, it is often better to wait and see what happens, rather than to make a costly mistake. R&D investments are particularly affected by uncertainty, because the return on these investments is sensitive to what happens with policy.

This literature has clear implications for current U.S. environmental policy. By any measure, there is today an unusually large amount of policy uncertainty, which creates an incentive for companies to delay investments. Why invest today in a new alternative fuel vehicle if fuel economy standards are uncertain? Why invest today in a new technology for producing solar panels, if federal support for renewable energy is in flux?

The Aluminum F-150

Will Ford regret investing in the new aluminum F-150, for example?

Ford just spent US$1 billion over six years to develop a new F-150 truck, with a lighter aluminum-based body and smaller, more fuel-efficient engine. The new truck was built to meet the new fuel economy standards. But if the standards are substantially weakened, Ford could be stuck with a $1 billion mistake.

Ford has invested about $1 billion in making an aluminum truck to improve fuel efficiency based on the assumption that regulations will remain in place.
Sarah Larson, CC BY

Investments like Ford’s new F-150 are particularly sensitive to uncertainty because of the long time horizon. It takes many years for an automaker to develop a new vehicle model, so companies must be particularly careful when pulling the trigger. Today’s policy uncertainty makes it less likely that other companies will follow Ford’s footsteps with large investments in innovative new technologies.

Breakthrough technologies

Perhaps most at risk from policy uncertainty are breakthrough technologies. In energy, in particular, companies often need a long time and lot of money to develop their technologies before coming to market – the so-called valley of death – and uncertainty over government policies can be the difference between success and failure.

Trump’s administration and Congress plan to roll back environmental regulations with the goal of improving corporate profits but the questions around the changes – which regulations will be rescinded and how, for instance – will depress investment in clean energy innovations.
Tony Webster/flickr, CC BY-SA

Imagine trying to convince a venture capital firm to invest in your clean-tech start-up given today’s uncertainty. Sure, you can point to state-level policies in California and elsewhere (although there is uncertainty here too), but the questions around federal policy looms large.

If you are concerned about climate change, like I am, then this delay in the pace of innovation is deeply troubling. With carbon dioxide concentrations continuing to climb, small incremental changes are not going to be enough to address global climate change. We need big, game-changing technologies that can be widely adopted and exported to the rest of the world. And, unfortunately, today’s uncertainty makes this type of innovation less likely to happen.

The Conversation

Lucas Davis, Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What is it With Republicans and Regulations?

Republican-House-Speaker-007

“For congressional Republicans, it’s regulation-hunting season.” So says Jason Plautz in THE NATIONAL JOURNAL. http://www.nationaljournal.com/energy/10-environmental-regulations-the-republican-congress-wants-to-kill-20150205 In this article, Plautz cites 10 environmental regulations that Republicans want to address in this Congress. Why are GOP so keen on rolling back regulations on corporations? I believe the answer is simple. Follow the money trail. The same industries that GOP plan to de-regulate also happen to be heavy campaign contributors.

The same thing is true with regulations on the banking industry and Wall Street. Last month they tried to roll back regulations on Wall Street, but they were blocked by Democrats.
http://www.wsj.com/articles/house-republican-push-to-roll-back-wall-street-regulations-fails-1420670814

The hypocrisy of the Republicans, however,  is evident regarding regulations as they are avid supporters of regulations when it comes to marriage equality, voting, abortion and other social issues that do not have large corporations as supporters.  Even Jon Stewart was quick to point out the blatant hypocrisy of the GOP on regulations.  Stewart skewers the GOP on their myth of favoring small government.  http://www.forwardprogressives.com/jon-stewart-slams-idiot-republicans-hypocrisy-government-regulations-video/

Imagine, if you will, a world where corporations were free of regulations. Does that sound like a utopia to you or a recipe for disaster?  Democrats know that our economy only works when there are rules in place to ensure fairness and opportunity for all.

If you’ve never really read it, I encourage you to download and read the Deomcratic Party Platform 2012.  It clearly shows the major differences between Democrats and Republicans. Then, after reading it, I hope you will be inspired to work to elect Democrats.

http://www.democrats.org/democratic-national-platform

Pat Taylor Fuller has a blogspot named Pat’s Commentary
http://pageposts1123.blogspot.com/