Demand-Side Energy Efficiency in the Final Clean Power Plan

Posted on August 4th, 2015 by Jessica Wentz

epa_logoJessica Wentz
Associate Director and Postdoctoral Fellow

Yesterday, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled the final version of the Clean Power Plan—the nation’s first ever federal regulatory standards to address carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing power plants. As noted by the President in a press conference on Monday afternoon, this is “the single most important step that America has ever taken in the fight against climate change.”

The final rule establishes interim and final CO2 emission performance rates for fossil fuel-fired power plants that will reduce CO2 emissions from these plants by 32% under 2005 levels by 2030. Although this final target is more ambitious than the proposed rule (which called for a 30% reduction by 2030), the rule also gives states and utilities additional time to submit plans and start making emissions reductions: initial state plans are due in September 2016, with an option to extend the deadline to 2018, and the compliance period for mandatory emissions reductions begins in 2022. During the compliance period, the performance rates will be gradually phased in to provide for a “glide path” of reductions to 2030.

One significant change in the final rule is that EPA is no longer including demand-side energy efficiency as one of the “building blocks” used to determine the CO2 emissions performance rates for existing power plants. The performance rates are now based on the emissions reductions that can be achieved through the deployment of three supply-side measures: (1) heat rate improvements in existing coal plants, (2) increased reliance on combined cycle gas units, and (3) expanded use of renewables as a substitute for fossil fuel-based generation.

Fortunately, energy efficiency can still be used as a compliance measure, and EPA expects that energy efficiency will play a major role in meeting the state targets because it is a “cost-effective and widely-available carbon reduction tool.” EPA will also provide matching funds for early investments in demand-side energy efficiency measures through the newly introduced Clean Energy Incentive Program.

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Maine’s Solar Bill and the Value-of-Solar Debate

Posted on August 4th, 2015 by Jennifer Klein

Arijit Sen, Sabin Center Summer Intern

On June 30, 2015, Maine became the third jurisdiction in the United States to approve Value-of-Solar (VOS) pricing for distributed solar generation.[1] Governor Paul LePage had vetoed the legislation[2] on June 26, 2015, citing concerns that the legislature had passed the bill “hastily,” leaving “the Maine people…disenfranchised and without true representation.” Maine’s Democrat-controlled House of Representatives overruled the veto 119 to 28, and the Republican-controlled Senate voted 32 to 3 to override the veto.[3]

The VOS bill is intended to provide long-term guidance to the distributed solar segment in the state. According to bill sponsor Rep. Sara Gideon, “it acknowledges that net metering works…in the near term…but…at a certain penetration point, net metering will be replaced by a mechanism that is more market sensitive.” VOS was the subject of an extensive study by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, and the study was presented to the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology on March 1, 2015.

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flags and windBy Nancy Rader, Executive Director of the California Wind Energy Association, and Michael B. Gerrard, Columbia Law Professor and Director of the Sabin Center

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ move to ban utility-scale wind turbines and to impose severe restrictions on utility-scale solar in unincorporated areas of the county is not compatible with averting the worst impacts of climate change.

The most detailed state-commissioned assessment of what California must do to meet Governor Brown’s 2030 goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels shows that the state will need to add 2,400 megawatts of renewable resources – roughly 24 new utility-scale projects – annually. Most of this, the assessment shows, will need to come from utility-scale wind and solar resources, in addition to rooftop solar, aggressive energy efficiency, a rapid ramp-up in zero-emission vehicles and many other measures.

This is a colossal challenge, but is consistent with the international goal of keeping global average temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial conditions. Even a two-degree increase would have very negative consequences to humans as well as other species, with California’s current drought just a sampling of what is to come. The consequences of a greater temperature increase are unthinkable. As Governor Brown said earlier this week, “We have to respond, and if we don’t the world will suffer, we will all suffer. In fact, many people, millions, are suffering already.”

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turkey-point-plantJessica Wentz
Associate Director and Postdoctoral Fellow

Earlier this month, the City of Miami submitted comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed expansion of the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant, urging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to reject the project in light of climate-related risks. The City’s chief concerns are that the project will exacerbate the “enormous water quality and land use related challenges imposed by climate change” and impair the city’s ability to implement local adaptation strategies.[1]

The site of the proposed project—a low-lying peninsula on the Biscayne Bay—is situated along a coastline which the U.S. Global Change Research Program has rated as having a “high” to “very high” vulnerability to sea-level rise.[2] The City’s comments therefore focus on the risks of siting the project in such a sensitive location. For example, the City notes that the project will require the diversion of large amounts of freshwater from an aquifer that is already depleted and highly susceptible to salt water intrusion from sea level rise and storm surge. The City further explains that the risk of a freshwater shortage will probably increase during the project’s lifetime, because climate change models suggest that South Florida will experience a 3-11% and up to 20% reduction in rainfall by 2100.[3] But the DEIS does not account for these considerations—rather, it misrepresents both current and future hydrological conditions by using a 1996-2004 baseline to analyze groundwater salinity levels.

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Jennifer M. Klein, Associate Director & Fellow, and Michael Burger, Executive Director


Sabin Center Staff and Interns with our GOSR Hosts

Earlier this week, the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law staff and our team of summer interns toured several sites on Staten Island where New York State is implementing innovative storm recovery measures. Staten Island was among the areas most devastated by Superstorm Sandy, and many neighborhoods are still recovering more than two years later. As residents work to rebuild, New York State is seeking to make the area less vulnerable to future flooding and storms. The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR), whose attorneys and planners served as our hosts and tour guides for the day, is tasked with leading that effort.

GOSR manages New York State’s voluntary Buyout & Acquisition Programs, through which the State purchases the properties of interested homeowners whose homes were substantially damaged or destroyed during Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, or Tropical Storm Lee. The Buyout & Acquisition Program is intended to improve the resiliency to flooding of communities on Staten Island and Long Island by transforming the sold land into wetlands, open space, or stormwater management systems. Alex Zablocki, the Staten Island Project Lead for GOSR’s Community Reconstruction Program, lead us through the buyout area in Oakwood Beach, which was devastated during Sandy. We drove down streets lined with vacant houses and newly empty lots occupied by phragmites and other vegetation. The vast majority of the neighborhood has opted into the program. There are, however, a handful of holdout families. One of them – three generations, by the look of them – was busy building an above-ground pool as we drove by.

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Anna LoPresti
Sabin Center Summer Intern

On July 9th 2015, the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) co-sponsored a panel discussion in conjunction with the Sabin Center and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network on the topic: “A Safe Future for Fossil Fuel Investments in a Carbon-Constrained World?” The panel—featuring Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs and ExxonMobil Vice President Ken Cohen— was convened to discuss what a “safe” or “environmentally responsible” investment in fossil fuels looks like, given the industry’s contribution to global climate change. A video of the panel is available here.Divestment Panel

Since 2010, the fossil fuel divestment movement has gained traction as a way to shift the paradigm toward environmentally and socially responsible energy production. Thirty-four colleges and universities worldwide have divested from fossil fuels in some capacity, in addition to 44 cities, two United States counties, and over 100 foundations. As the movement continues to grow, debates over the efficacy of the strategy have ensued. On November 24th, 2014, Columbia Law School hosted a panel discussion titled “Should Universities and Pension Funds Divest From Fossil Fuel Stocks?” Building off of this original discussion, the recent panel “is not about whether to divest, but from whom to divest,” according to moderator and Sabin Center Faculty Director Michael Gerrard. The event opened with statements by each of the panel members.

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New York, July 21, 2015—Columbia Law School Professor Michael B. Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, has been named Chair of the Faculty of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

The appointment was made by Columbia University Provost John Coatsworth based on a vote of the Earth Institute’s faculty.  Gerrard, who succeeds School of Engineering and Applied Science Professor Peter Schlosser, will work closely with Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs and Executive Director Steven Cohen.

The Earth Institute comprises more than 30 research centers and some 850 scientists, postdoctoral fellows, staff, and students who focus on the world’s most difficult problems, from climate change and environmental degradation to poverty, disease, and the sustainable use of resources.  Its academic work is directed by a faculty that consists of 50 professors from multiple disciplines within Columbia University’s Morningside, Lamont, and Medical campuses.

Gerrard is the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia Law School. He teaches courses in environmental law, energy regulation, and climate change law and policy.  Gerrard joined the Law School faculty in 2009, and from 1979 through 2008, he practiced environmental law in New York, most recently as partner in charge of the New York office of Arnold & Porter LLP. He remains as senior counsel to the firm.

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A new psychology study has strongly linked rejection of the scientific consensus on climate change to conspiratorial thinking.  The study, led by Dr. Stephan Lewandowsky, builds on his previous research connecting a general belief in conspiracy theories with denial of established findings on climate change – research that has been, perhaps not surprisingly, itself accused of being the product of a conspiracy.

In Dr. Lewandowsky’s most recent study, Recurrent Fury: Conspiratorial Discourse in the Blogosphere Triggered by Research on the Role of Conspiracist Ideation in Climate Denial, study participants were given unidentified comments from “climate ‘skeptic’ blogs” along with scientific critiques from PhD students, and the participants were then asked to grade the excerpts for aspects of conspiratorial thinking.  The participants identified, to an extreme degree, the PhD students’ comments as objective scientific critiques, and the blog comments as conspiracist ideation,[1] which Dr. Lewandowsky defines as “a person’s propensity to explain a significant political or social event as a secret plot by powerful individuals or organizations.”[2]

Specifically, study participants reviewed comments reacting to a 2013 Lewandowsky paper titled NASA Faked the Moon Landing – Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.  This initial study had conducted online surveys and found that endorsement of several conspiracy theories (theories such as NASA faked the moon landing, or that the CIA killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) was strongly correlated with rejecting established climate science as well as rejecting other established scientific findings.

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Gerrard photo with captionIn a new working paper, Sabin Center intern Dane Warren examines the authority of the United Nations Security Council to address global climate change. The paper considers what actions the Security Council has taken with regard to climate change thus far, and what actions the Security Council could legally take going forward.

The author finds that the Security Council has thus far played a very minimal role in this area, but that it does have authority to address the security implications of global climate change. The U.N. Charter and the literature suggest that the Council could theoretically take two possible actions related to climate change: (1) handle discrete, traditional conflicts partially or wholly caused by climate change; (2) find that climate change represents a “threat to international peace and security”, placing the topic within the mandate of the Council, and employ its Chapter VI and VII powers to mitigate or adapt to climate change. This paper focuses primarily on the second, more controversial option, which could include the imposition of economic sanctions, the creation of a subsidiary climate change committee, and even the use of force.

New York State Announces Official Ban on Fracking

Posted on July 20th, 2015 by Jennifer Klein

Bri Cornish
Sabin Center Summer Intern & Rising 2L at Columbia Law School

frackingOn Monday, June 29th, New York State formalized a ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) for natural gas, commonly known as “fracking.” The state placed a moratorium on the practice in 2008, and it was unclear whether the ban would eventually become permanent or whether oil and gas industry lobbyists would convince the state to pave the way for future fracking.[1] After a protracted 7-year environmental review process that underwent multiple delays and yielded over 260,000 public comments, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released their “Findings Statement,” concluding that “there are no feasible or prudent alternatives that would adequately avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts and that address the scientific uncertainties and risks to public health from [fracking].” With the announcement, New York became the first state with proven gas reserves to ban the drilling practice.

The Findings Statement expressed significant concerns regarding potential environmental and public health impacts from fracking. Issues cited by the report include: (1) respiratory health issues resulting from increased particulate matter in the atmosphere (2) drinking water impacts from chemical pollution of groundwater sources or methane “migration” from fractured rock, (3) chemical spills from the incorporation and transport of chemicals/wastewater, and (4) earthquakes caused by the disruption or fissuring of underground bedrock. The Findings Statement also included multiple references to the climate change impacts of fracking, citing the release of “methane and other volatile organic compound [in]to the atmosphere.” The Statement notes, moreover, that “consumption of fossil fuel, including natural gas, to produce energy contributes to climate change” in addition to the methane emitted from natural gas infrastructure.

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