What's on your mind blog

Can We Really Afford the Affordable Clean Energy Rule?

This contribution to our What’s on your mind? blog series was written by Alexandra Cheek, a CCJ intern and geology student who is finishing up her degree at California University of Pennsylvania:

It seems as if the current administration has found its replacement for the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan in the Affordable Clean Energy Rule. Before I get into the details of how this plan may affect the country, here’s a little background:

  • On August 3rd of 2015 President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

    • The goal of this action was to provide “...strong but achievable standards for power plants, and customized goals for states to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, the Clean Power Plan provides national consistency, accountability and a level playing field while reflecting each state’s energy mix.”

    • The plan provided a model for states to cost-effectively lower emissions to the standards, with the option for states to submit their own plans with EPA approval.

    • The EPA welcomed comment from states regarding how to finalize a single plan types that would be best or every state.

  • On March 28th of 2017 Trump signed an Executive Order on Energy Independence, putting the Clean Power Plan under review.

    • In October of 2017 the repeal of the CPP began and following public hearing it was finally repealed this past June and replaced with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule.

    • The goal of the Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE) is to “restore(s) rule of law, empower(s) states, and support(s) energy diversity”.

At the outset, the ACE plan actually sounds pretty great. I want my state to be empowered whatever that may mean, and energy diversity is great because there’s no single energy source that can provide sustainable and dependable energy to the entire United States. You can’t fault me for having a little healthy skepticism, though, considering the current EPA administrator Wheeler denies global climate change and previously worked as an attorney defending energy corporations.

The CPP was never actually enforced due to legal challenges, and the current administration is already facing its fair share: This week the Clean Air Task Force filed a suit on behalf of the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association. These organizations’ biggest issues are with the increase in particulate matter that affects our most vulnerable populations, the children and elderly. The good news is that the EPA already has an obligation to protect these populations due to the Clean Air Act, the bad news is that they are redefining the standards. The Clean Air Act mandates that standards must reflect the best system of emissions reduction (BSER) for the pollutant; however, ACE has solved this problem by simply changing the BSER for power plants. The CPP used a few building blocks when it came to the BSER, one of which factored in the use of renewable energy. ACE, however, only uses onsite efficiency improvements as their BSER to establish emission standards, meaning that the emissions standard will be a lot less stringent. To put it into perspective, the goal of the CPP was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants 32% below 2005 levels by 2030, while the ACE rule is only forecasted to lower emissions by 1.5 percent at the most compared to no regulation. CPP was also our first real step towards emissions reductions as part of the Paris Agreement, which despite what President Trump might declare, we are still a part of, and cannot withdraw until 2020 (thanks to Article 28 of the Paris Agreement).

Bottom line, I turn my lights on, I drive a car. I am all for people having jobs in the energy industry. I’m also for transparency when it comes to potential human health impacts. The whole reason the CPP was ultimately stayed in Supreme Court is because a handful of energy corporations and two dozen states argued that the CPP could not regulate the amount of greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act. Most of this claim is a result of corporations stating that the changes they would have to make would force layoffs and do more harm than good. The CPP was aggressive in its plan, but maybe that’s an indication of just how bad of shape we are in with our emissions in the first place. Global climate change is like a cancer. It’s aggressive and requires an even more aggressive treatment plan. We can’t change what we did to get to this point but we have every opportunity to change how we proceed and minimize our impacts as much as we can. That won’t happen by lowering our standards and juking the stats so that we look like we’re doing a good job.

Why is equity important to discussions of climate change?

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This contribution to our What’s on your mind? blog was written by our Outreach Coordinator Lisa DePaoli, who has studied humans and ecology for quite a long time and earned her Ph.D. in ecological anthropology:

The ways that humans are being impacted by climate change include extreme weather events such as wildfires and flooding, stresses to food-producing systems, the spread of infectious diseases, and negative impacts on biodiversity and wildlife, security, migration, and public goods such as water. In short, climate change impacts people’s health, livelihoods, and homes and other forms of property.  

Furthermore, certain people are disproportionately affected by climate change, including low-income and minority populations and other vulnerable people who are at greater risk due to age, discrimination, health, and/or location. They may have less ability to move about, pay for damages, and rebound after setbacks. Communities of color and low-income communities face an increased vulnerability because of the compounded stresses of ongoing heat waves, poor air quality, flooding, and mental health stress.

People who are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are also those who are least responsible for causing it (for example, according to a study by Oxfam, the poorest 50 percent — about 3.5 billion people — contribute only 10 percent, while the richest 10 percent of people produce half of the planet’s individual-consumption-based fossil fuel emissions). Changes in weather patterns, sea level rise, and other impacts further exacerbate existing inequities. Therefore, we must integrate questions of justice in debates about the environment. Focusing on only one part of the problem, such as “jobs,” is like treating the symptom and ignoring the cause of this unequal effect (the underlying socio-economic factors of disadvantaged populations). Actions to address climate impacts and to reduce emissions should be considered in conjunction with broader equity issues involving livelihoods and a living wage, health, food security, and energy access. The wellbeing of people and communities must be at the core of climate action.

There is a lot of discussion of possible ways to address the problem of climate change. Unfortunately, many of the ideas that have been brought forward are top-down or trickle-down in approach (e.g., placing a tax on fossil fuels). With this approach, decisions are made by a few people in authority rather than by the people who are affected by those decisions, and solutions are framed by actions and policies that are initiated at the highest levels of government. However, it has been proven over and over again that top-down and trickle-down solutions do not work. This is especially true for systems-level problems like climate change, which involves the triple bottom line of sustainability: social and cultural factors, ecology/environment, and economics. We have to consider the effects of our actions, technologies, and livelihoods on the health of both people and the environment on which we depend.

Climate action and equity issues are integrally linked and can be mutually supportive. We need to ensure fair transitions for our workers, diversify our economy, and give power to frontline communities. Meaningful change will take an active and inclusive social movement, which will accelerate momentum for climate action. 

Have something on your mind? Write about it!

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If you’ve been reading CCJ’s blogs, you know that our staff write 99% of the entries. Solid writers we may be, but blog-hogs we are not: with that in mind, we’d like to issue an open invitation for contributions to our blog!

What should I write about?

Anything! We want to know what’s on your mind, from your thoughts on the petrochemical buildout in Appalachia to your perspective on raising the minimum wage to your opinions about the judicial system. You may respond to something you see in the news, or perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern in political and social discourse. 

Can I write about anything?

Anything that’s not hateful, absolutely! CCJ does not tolerate hate - on us or anyone else - and so we kindly ask you to keep trolling to yourself. However, we do welcome a variety of opinions and encourage dialogue (because censorship sucks). 

Do I need to send this to my English-teacher friend to edit?

You can if you’d like, but CCJ staff must work with writers to edit all contributions before publication on our blog. 

When you have a blog you’d like to submit, use this link to send it our way!

Questions? Contact our Outreach Coordinator, Lisa DePaoli, at lisa@coalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 ext. 101.