The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to issue New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for safeguarding our climate from greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution emitted from major sources such as coal plants and refineries. When it comes to climate change, we are all stakeholders, caring about clean air, healthy communities and our environment. Recognizing this, EPA is holding a series of listening sessions to gather information and opinions prior to issuing any new regulations. Over the course of February and the beginning of March, EPA is giving individuals, community organizations and key stakeholder groups who are concerned about public health and welfare and climate change an opportunity to weigh-in on how these standards should be developed.
On February 15th I spoke on behalf of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy along with other representatives of environmental and environmental justice (EJ) groups at the Listening Session in Atlanta, as well as at a press conference (read our press statement here) held by advocates before the formal session began.
The EJ and environmental group listening session was held on February 15, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia, right in the heart of the Southeast, an area particularly at risk from the impacts of global climate change.
Besides SACE, over a dozen other environmental and EJ groups were present, including Southern Environmental Law Center, National Wildlife Federation, The Reverend Gerald Durley from Providence Mission Baptist Church and Interfaith Power & Light, the Gulf Coast Fund, the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change, Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment Northeast, Conservation Law Foundation, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, the Clean Air Task Force, and the US Climate Action Network.
Specifically, the EPA was looking for input from stakeholders on the design of New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for greenhouse gases. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to establish a list of sources of dangerous air pollutants and to set standards for such sources. In 2007 the United States Supreme Court ruled that GHGs are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
These new standards will apply to GHG emissions from fossil-fueled power plants and refineries. We expect EPA to propose a draft rule by July 2011 and in it we hope to see incentives for old, dirty coal plants to retire, incentives for more energy efficiency and renewable energy, and a noticeable decline in the amount of GHGs from power plants and refineries. As one Sierra Club representative said at the session, “EPA must do more than bring the laggards up to the level of mediocrity.”
This sentiment was echoed again and again at the listening session. SACE opened the commenting by making note of the Southeast’s unique situation. We have nearly 90 coal plants in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky, and they emit well over 350 million tons of CO2 every year. Their average age is almost a decade older than the average age of coal plants nationwide.
This disproportionate contribution to climate pollution hurts everybody, but the Southeast is particularly vulnerable to the changing climate. We have over 2,000 miles of coastline, $2.2 trillion in property and are home to over 16 million people, making us particularly susceptible to sea level rise, stronger storms, drought, saltwater intrusion and loss of ecosystems and coastal community resources. Worse still, the impact in the Southeast will be even more severe for minority and low-income communities.
According to Oxfam America, the Southeast is home to around 80% of all US counties that experience persistent poverty, and minority communities have long felt the brunt of pollution, including pollution from mercury, soot and smog, which are all life-threatening pollutants directly linked to GHG emissions.
While all participants were very clear that strong NSPS were necessary to help overcome climate change, that EPA is not only authorized but obligated to develop real standards and that the standards must protect all people, from all walks of life.
As LaTosha Brown from the Gulf Coast Fund put it, “We don’t want carbon offsets to lead to political and pollution off sets in our communities.”
Though there were differing opinions on specific mechanisms such as carbon capture and sequestration, biomass, cap-and-trade and the role of state standards, Gina McCarthy, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation appreciated the discrepancies around the table. She said, “I’m glad you guys didn’t agree…it gives us a lot to think about.” Indeed, all of these issues and this dialogue should give EPA plenty of information as they move forward in crafting this rule.
It is important that the public remains engaged in this process. So if you will be in Chicago or Washington, DC where the next sessions will take place, we encourage you to learn more and attend. Likewise, when EPA releases its proposed rules, it will open a public comment period during which you can submit your opinions for EPA to consider before issuing a final regulation.
Slowing global climate change is a huge task, but it is hugely important, and because the US energy sector makes up 34% of the nation’s GHG emissions, these new performance standards are a very important step. We commend EPA for their open process and invitation to various stakeholders, but it is up to the public to keep the pressure on the decision-makers. Please keep an eye on this blog and CleanEnergy.org for information on how to get involved.