Open Letter to the EPA about Clean Power Plan: Why Have You Given Up on Cooperative Federalism?

Posted on March 25, 2015
Posted By: Stephen Heins
 
The idea of "Cooperative Federalism" began with the New Deal in the 1930's, when it came to include a division of responsibilities among the states and the federal government agencies of electric power and distribution. By the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970, the EPA set the minimum standards for the states to best implement their individual utility plans to meet air pollution goals with approval of the EPA. This dynamic partnership, with the State Utility Commissioners, state utilities, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of Energy, state and regional transmission lines has lasted for almost 80 years, with very positive impacts.

More importantly, this state and federal electrical grid partnership developed the necessary long term planning expertise, engineering sophistication, vast financing mechanisms and political mandate to develop the most robust electrical grid in the world. It also had "the machinery for change," as Leonard Cohen put it.

Then, suddenly the EPA announced its "Clean Power Plan" in 2013. Several constitutional scholars saw this plan, using 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, as a significant federal agency over-reach that some have called "regulatory capture." Experts such as WilliamYeatman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute believes that the EPA should avoid this aggressive intervention and continue a policy of "Cooperative Federalism" by using the "normal tools of government" including the electoral process and political mandates.

The facts seem to support the historical approach of this well-rounded cooperation. In a recent news release, the EPA said that it has recorded state efforts that consistently met or exceeded the federal requirements for energy efficiency, fuel use, renewable energy, and other high-performance sustainable building metrics. In 2013, for example, EPA oversaw the 24 percent energy intensity reduction from its FY 2003 baseline, a reduction from the FY 2013 energy intensity by 25.6 percent from FY 2003. In FY 2013, EPA also measured a reduced fleet petroleum use by 38.9 percent compared to the FY 2005 baseline, exceeding the goal of 16 percent." In addition, the EPA reports that greenhouse gases in the US have been reduced by 10 percent 2005-2012.

In the States, the 50 separate Public Utility Commissions (and their National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners) have been exercising their authority and responsibility for working with state governments, power plant operators, business community, state environmental groups, consumer groups and transmission companies to provide electricity to power the largest economy in the world.

Currently, 47 states have demand-side energy efficiency projects, all with measurable results, 38 states have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), 10 states have voluntary market-based Green House Gas (GHG) emission trading programs and numerous large private companies and publicly traded utility companies have been pursuing voluntary emission reduction strategies.

In a recent presentation at conference of the American Meteorological Society in Phoenix, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that "Science is under attack like it has never been before," which seems like hyperbole, at the least or a highly political rationalization, at the most. In a recent editorial in Science Magazine, the executive publisher Alan I. Leshner, said: "If the general public is to share more opinions with members of the scientific community, scientists themselves cannot ignore concerns that people may have about the research process or findings. There needs to be a conversation, not a lecture."

Adding to the overall scientific confusion are recent stories about "global warming" by many news outlets like the BBC, Forbes, the New York Times, The Economist and CBS, they have reported that there has been no measurable increase in temperature over the last 15 years, also known as "global warming pause." On the other hand, other media sources like the World Meteorological Organization, The Guardian and Climate Central are reporting that the 10 warmest years have been since 1998. Surely, these disparities represent a major disagreement between respected sources of weather science information.

For the record, the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) latest study shows a temperature increase of 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit since 1998. Unsurprisingly, a recent Ohio State University 2015 study suggests that "both liberals, conservatives have science bias," when they are presented with facts that challenge some of their political beliefs.

Finally, there are several EPA's Climate Change assertions which can be vigorously debated. For example, in the EPA News Release of October 31, 2014, it talks about the impacts of climate change across the country, "ranging from more severe droughts and wildfires to record heat waves and damaging storms." One could easily argue that none of the events need necessarily have been caused by global warming. In fact, there is no detailed scientific evidence to ascribe "climate change" to any of these natural events.

All of this leads me back to my original point: Why has the EPA given up on cooperative federalism and replaced it with the Clean Power Plan?" This complex plan simply does not take into consideration many of the costs related to its comprehensive plan, like new transmission infrastructure, new power plant construction and the stranded costs created by shuttering many coal-burning power plants and current transmission lines.

The EPA looks woefully unprepared for the planning, oversight and execution necessary for its own Clean Power Plan. Without an immediate global warming crisis, the rationale and political will for such precipitous action as proposed in the Clean Power Plan seems more political than practical, especially given the fact that the EPA has almost none of the technical, financial and engineering expertise developed over 80 years by the group of US electric grid stakeholders.

Most surely, the current state of Cooperative Federalism has proven to be capable of providing inexpensive and abundant energy, which is environmentally progressive and economically sound. Ultimately, the EPA should be part of the total solution, not a part of the problem and the creator of state and federal uncertainty many years into the future.

 
 
Authored By:
Stephen Heins, aka “The Blizzard of One,” is an energy consultant and nationally-published writer who has gained some attention for his expertise in energy, federal regulations, environmental and broadband policy issues.Heins promotes economic development, energy efficiency and emission reductions at the local, state and national levels. He has published more than 70 articles and op-ed pieces on energy, energy policy, utility industry and environmental issues for newspapers, energy and trade
 

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Comments

March, 26 2015

Richard Vesel says

What have you missed in your "interpretation" of the Clean Power Plan?

The targets are set by this Federal Agency, and the states, with their authority over local utility sites, are free to determine how those targets will be met. This is no different than the establishment of C.A.F.E. transportation efficiency standards, which the industry is then free to determine exactly how they will meet them. But the ceilings and targets are in place. Why are there no vociferous condemnations of a C.A.F.E. mandated fleet efficiency standard of 54 mpg by 2025, yet there is much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and pulling of hair over the yet to be finalized Clean Power Plan?

Answer: The US coal industry does not want to give up it's ability to dig up and sell it's horrendously carbon intensive product to the its single largest customer segment, coal-fired utilities. Everyone with a brain knows that there is no such thing as "clean coal", and that we will be better off as a society if we drastically reduce the combustion of this material over the next two decades. However, the "free market" doesn't have a brain, it just has a wallet. So to give this scarecrow a brain vicariously, we need regulation of what is otherwise a runaway train.

BP, in its 2015 Energy Outlook report released a few weeks ago, said that THEY see only one type of solution to slowing down mankinds CO2 emissions in time enough to keep us from massively affecting our planet's overall climate. THEY said that only a carbon tax, or a CO2 cap and trade system, will force the free market to adapt rapidly enough to do some good.

I wonder what YOU would propose as a program that would achieve similar results to the EPA's Clean Power Plan? Same reductions, or better, in the same timeframe, or better. Nothing else is acceptable at this point.

RWV

March, 26 2015

Richard Vesel says

For the record, climate disruption and global warming continue to increase, slowly yet inexorably forward, as long as we keep increasing the atmospheric CO2 load upwards. The current rate of change is now 1% per year, i.e. 4ppm on top of the existing 400ppm. There has been no hiatus or "slowdown" of the warming trend. Year to year variations are minor. Fourteen of the warmest years on record have occurred in the past 15 years, AND 2014 is the warmest year on record. People who can't separate signal from noise deserve to have no voice in the discussion, other than to ask questions so that they can LEARN, rather than try to influence opinion from an uninformed viewpoint.

http://hadobs.metoffice.com/hadat/images/update_images/global_upper_air.png

We live in the troposphere, not the stratosphere, and the data for the troposphere is up, up, up.

RWV

March, 27 2015

Stephen Heins says

Richard,

I tempted to say that you may have lost your perspective a bit, in light of the fact 1200 coal burning power are being planned and/or built in the world as I write, including in Germany and Japan. The road to environmental Puritanism is paved with moral rectitude.

In a nutshell, I don't think that the EPA, or for that matter the FCC, have any constitutional basis for taking control of the electricity grid or the Internet. Nor do I think that either agency has the expertise to do so. Any evolving energy policy should begin in Congress and go through the political process including the signature of the President

In reality, your sense of urgency and despair doesn't match mine. That said, there is no "We" in we. We probably will never be able create a superstructure of global countries acting in concert. As for "cap and trade" and carbon taxes, the European Union's Emission Trading Scheme has been a disaster since its inception in 1997 and there are only a few regional efforts at carbon tax, none done with any compelling success. As a original member of the Chicago Climate Exchange, I have had access to international and national policy makers, regulators, market makers and the private sector, so I speak with some 15 years experience in the subject with some conviction.

P.S. You should write a letter to the BBC, The New York Times, CBS, The Economist et al to inform them that they have made a serious error by reporting about the "global warming pause."

March, 31 2015

Richard Vesel says

Yes, They have made a serious error. Journalists these days are doing an absolutely TERRIBLE job in their reporting on this topic. Sadly, they try to pander to both sides of their audiences in such issues, so as not to alienate viewers, and keep their ad revenues up to par.

We cannot count on factual data to be presented, and debunking of nonsense, through media, even the best of them. I am a fan of the BBC and the NYT, but their fact checking in these matters appears to be deficient.

The fact that 1200 coal plants are being planned is a non sequitur. First of all, in MY experience in this business, half of those will not be built - all kinds of plans are made, and half the projects "planned" never get to ground-breaking, much less completion and on-line operation. Investors in the west are running away from all of these projects faster than you can say "high risk". Continuation of "business as usual" is absolutely no justification for you point of view. Your point of view tries to justify going about "business as usual", and it is your point of view that I am claiming is in opposition to the facts regarding climate disruption and CO2 being the driver.

So, IN REALITY, I don't care if my sense of urgency doesn't match yours. I am trying to get people to look at the large body of consistent evidence, at the projections going forward for the damage that will result from ignoring that body of evidence, and the consequences thereof.

You and I will both likely be dead when the worst of it hits. Many people in our circumstances choose to ignore what the world is going to look like in 2050 and beyond, and sadly, they are in the positions of power for the time being.

However, I dare say that many of the well-to-do denialists are not investing in building mansions along shorelines anymore...

RWV

March, 31 2015

Dennis Pungitore says

Are you sure about the math? A 4 PPM (Parts per million) change is 4/1000000 or 0.0004% change in CO2 concentration.

March, 31 2015

Richard Vesel says

Dennis,

4ppm out of 400ppm means the concentration went up 1% in one year, not 0.0004%. You are confusing concentration change with total concentration. The fallacy of "CO2 is merely a trace gas" is an incorrect view from even a simple physical chemistry and thermal radiation analysis standpoint.

Stephen, HERE is the incontrovertible evidence that there is no hiatus. Global data gathered, analyzed and presented objectively:

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs_v3/

14 of the 15 warmest years on record occurred during this so-called "hiatus", and 2014 was the warmest on record, period.

Do you see any "hiatus" here??? If so, then there's the end of the discussion.

RWV

RWV

March, 31 2015

Don Koza says

Richard, it is ironic that NASA uses ground temperature monitoring stations and NOAA uses satellite temperature monitoring. See www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/time-series/global. When the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991, as cost saving measures they started to shut down their remote land-based temperature monitoring stations in Siberia. These points were simply removed from the ongoing database. Lack of this data does not mean those locations warmed. Satelites have no such restrictions. Try checking the annual global trend for 2001-2013 in the NOAA satelite database. I got a flat line.

April, 01 2015

Richard Vesel says

Don, What layer of the atmosphere are you referring to that the satellites are measuring? Please provide a link - because heresay is useless in such discussions.

Surface and troposphere measurements are up. Statospheric temperature measurements are down. Do we exist in the troposphere or stratosphere? That's the measurement set we care about:

http://hadobs.metoffice.com/hadat/images/update_images/global_upper_air.png

Ocean temps are increasing and pH is declining, tropospheric temps are continuously increasing. Nothing else matters as far as LIFE is concerned. Over the course of less than three centuries, man will make atmospheric composition changes that nature cannot adapt to smoothly. We are nearly 3/4 of the way through that three-century window that stretches from 1800 to 2100. In that time period, we have increased CO2 content by 50%, and are likely to complete the first doubling in less than 35 years.

There will be significant disruption, and one-way paths that aquatic and terrestrial life forms will have to go down, none of them appearing to be for the better at this point.

RWV

April, 01 2015

Richard Vesel says

Further satellite data acquisition reference material. See three charts in the middle of the article showing temperature trends in the lower troposphere (increasing!), and higher layers. Second layer cooling has gone flat, upper layer cooling continues.

http://www.remss.com/measurements/upper-air-temperature

The vast bulk of atmospheric energy is in the troposphere, where the vast mass of the atmosphere lies (80%+).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmosphere_of_Earth

RWV

April, 08 2015

Stephen Heins says

Richard,

Our major disagreement is over the urgency and the economics.

Why don't you write a piece to more fully articulate your position for the general energy audience?

April, 21 2015

Richard Vesel says

Stephen,

I am going about this in a very deliberate fashion. To date:

- I have modeled CO2 buildup from 1600 to present, and projections forward to 2100 under widely varying scenarios.

- Will be presenting this summer at IEEE PES General Meeting, during a 1/2 day tutorial session, "Climate Disruption: Why Should We Target CO2?" (Sunday, July 26, Denver, CO)

- The biggest trouble is that there is a huge body of data and analysis that is being used to arrive at the simple conclusion. Everyone wants to try to find a crack in that body of analysis, and comes up with questions that only superficially look at the issue, which they they claim "disproves" the whole conclusion. What it really proves is that they don't understand: Physics, Physical Chemistry, Economics, History (both human and pre-human), Climatology, Math, Systems Theory, etc. etc. THOUSANDS of questions can be forced into the discussion, forcing one to answer each one of them over and over and over again. It is like trying to explain evolutionary biology to a creationist. First, they simply aren't open-minded enough to WANT to understand, and second, they want to have a neat 3-page double-spaced summary as to why creationism is bunk and evolutionary biology explains 500 million years of life on Earth.

Do you see the problem?

RWV

April, 21 2015

Richard Vesel says

And the worst part of it is, we don't have 150 years to wait for the whole picture to "sink in" to the minds of the general population. In biology, we are STILL having the evolution/creation debate around the fringes of civilized society, even though the question has truly been settled for decades.

Let's equate Darwin's publication of "On the Origins of Species" in 1859 with the 1959 introduction of "Global Warming" at the very end of International Geophysical Year (1957-1958).

We are 166 years after Darwin, and STILL publicly debating that topic somewhat. Fortunately, the scientific community has long since moved beyond the debate, but where were we in 1915 on this topic? It took another 50 years to reach some general consensus and agreement amongst reasonable people that yes, evolution IS the correct "version".

Now draw the same timeline about the debate over Climate Disruption. We are 55 years into that debate, the science has been much more thoroughly gone over, in terms of quantity and quality of observations (as opposed to 55 years into the evolution debate). However, we do NOT have 50 more years for all reasonable people to land on the scientifically correct side of this issue - the damage will have been done in the meantime.

So, how can at least 3 billion people be convinced in the next TEN years that we have to more rapidly respond to the problem? I don't have the answer to that. Maybe Nature will kick in with a few unpleasantly convincing arguments of her own, Maybe that's what it will take to spur a solid and coordinated response.

RWV

June, 05 2015

Stephen Heins says

Richard,

Are you referring to the 3 billion or 4 billion people who don't have clean water, reliable electricity, telecommunications and who are living under political oppression? Your solution offers nothing to them.

Let's agree to disagree.

SH

June, 06 2015

Stephen Heins says

P.S. Richard, there is no we in "we." We are a world of over 190 countries, divided and/or divisive. With all of your research, I can't help noticing that you have ignored the grinding poverty and authoritarism in the world. Stephen

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