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Latin America Green News: 5/19 - 5/25/2017
Maria Martinez

Latin America Green News: Colombia grants rights to the Atrato River, Argentina's nuclear deal with China, electric vehicles get a boost

To get the weekly Latin America Green News blog delivered directly to your email, subscribe here.

May 19 – 25, 2017

Conservation

An estimated eight million tons of plastic waste collect in oceans annually, and if this trend continues, by 2050 the ocean would have more plastic than fish. A new alliance between Parley for the Oceans and the brewer of Corona beer intends to fight this trend by protecting 100 islands from this increasing amount of ocean waste. They will focus on six initial countries, including Chile, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the Maldives Islands, Australia, and Italy. Parley has committed to a policy of “Avoid, Replace, and Redesign” in its operations to reduce or eliminate plastic entirely. Corona has committed to transitioning from using plastic in its packaging to either wood or metal which are less harmful. Each country will have an assigned brand ambassador to ensure that the policies are being implemented locally. (La Tercera 5/21/17)

Colombia’s Constitutional Court set a major precedent this week by ruling that the Atrato River – one of the country’s most polluted – is “subject to the rights that implicate its protection, conservation, maintenance and in this specific case, restoration.” The Court also found that the government has been neglectful by allowing the Atrato to become so polluted, and required that the government take steps to clean it up. The river begins in the Andes Mountains and, as it snakes down toward the Caribbean Sea, is fed by 15 tributaries and 300 streams. Illegal mining, logging, and other activities dump harmful waste—including mercury— into the water, which impact the local communities who depend on the river for their livelihoods. Ximena Gonzalez, one of the lawyers representing Tierra Digna, one of the NGOs that brought the case, has called the case a success but remains skeptical that the translation from court ruling to government bureaucracy will achieve meaningful changes for the local population. (Mongabay 5/22/17, Red por la Justicia Ambiental de Colombia 5/7/17, El Espectador 4/29/17)

Climate Change

The Mexican sub-secretary for Environmental Policy and Planning, Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, gathered with the governor of Washington state to discuss cooperation on climate change and environmental issues. The sub-secretary and the governor agreed that the territories they represent share many of the challenges, and both signed a letter of intent committing to defining the proper mechanisms to achieve bilateral cooperation in the short-term. Some of the themes that came up during the discussions included maintaining clean oceans, as well as promoting scientific investigations in fields related to environmental and climate change studies. (Pagina Ciudadana, 5/22/17)

Energy

Argentine president Mauricio Macri has reached a deal with Chinese counterparts to construct two nuclear energy plants in Argentina. The deal was part of Macri’s visit to China, where the nuclear agreement was highlighted when the Argentine president met with Chinese president Xi Jinping. The two plants would be built with the help of the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation, which plan to begin construction of one plant in January of 2018, and the second plant in 2020. The plants will cost around US$ 14 billion, 85 percent of which will be initially financed by the Chinese government. This sum will be repaid during a period of 20 years, but there will be a grace period of eight years to allow the plants to begin operation. Soon after the announcement, local leaders and politicians in the region of Río Negro—where the plants would be located—promised to push back against the plan, citing environmental and security concerns. (Clarín 5/17/17, Los Andes 5/16/17, El Diario Madryn 5/19/17)

Transportation

Several of Chile’s Ministries are collaborating to promote the adoption of electric vehicles. The Chilean capital of Santiago will introduce electric vehicles during its next round of bidding for its bus rapid transit system, considering different ways to incentivize electric vehicles. There are an estimated 100 electric vehicles currently in circulation within the country, and the energy company Enel has installed about a dozen charging points in Santiago. Enel’s general manager in Chile, Nicola Cotugno, has stated that the initial investment into these technologies would cost more than US$ 20 million, but that government intervention could favor the transition towards electric vehicles. (Pulso, via Revista Electricidad 5/23/17)

Argentina is also looking to encourage electric vehicles. The government is modifying its policies to create incentives for the electric vehicle industry to flourish. The country has reduced tariffs on these vehicles and service stations have installed rapid-recharge stations. The tariffs have been reduced significantly in order to allow for up to 6,000 units to be introduced with minimal costs added. For example, a Toyota Prius that would have cost US$ 62,000 now would cost a quarter less at US$ 46,000. The national energy producer YPF has announced an investment of US$13 million to install 220 rapid-charge posts in 110 stations. Compared to gasoline, a thousand-kilometer trip could save the consumer US$ 1,400. (La Nación 5/23/17)

This week's blog features contributions from Michael Khayan.

Supplying Ingenuity II: U.S. Suppliers of Key Clean, Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Technologies
Report

Today’s automotive sector provides a powerful example of how we can simultaneously meet the nation’s environmental, economic, and job-creation goals—all while saving consumers billions at the pump. This growth is largely due to commonsense clean car and fuel economy standards and innovation. This report investigates the real companies and jobs in this sector today. Our research finds more than 1,200 U.S. factories and engineering facilities in 48 states—and 288,000 American workers—building technologies that reduce pollution and improve fuel economy for today’s innovative vehicles, from family sedans to long-haul tractor trailers.

Securing today’s jobs and continuing to create new ones across the industry depend on keeping up the pace of domestic innovation, investment, and manufacturing under strong, long-term standards. For decision makers who are serious about continuing this progress, the following actions are critical:

  • Sustain robust clean vehicle and fuel economy standards.
  • Improve and enforce tax, trade, and manufacturing policies to spur manufacturing in America, reward reinvestment in domestic manufacturing and the U.S. workforce, and enhance—rather than degrade—labor and environmental standards globally.
  • Strengthen labor standards, workers’ rights, and regulations that protect worker safety and health on the job. 
CA Officials Reaffirm Clean Cars Standards [Updated]
Simon Mui

[This is an update from my previous blog] Officials from the California Air Resources Board (ARB) voted unanimously to reaffirm the state's clean car standards today at their hearing in Riverside, CA – a city facing among the worst air pollution in the nation – giving an official green light to staying on course with the program.

The Board's vote means that California will maintain existing standards for passenger cars and trucks that will result in lower smog, particulate matter, and carbon pollution being emitted from vehicles.  But the impact will be felt far beyond California because 12 other states also have adopted California’s standards, collectively protecting 113 million U.S. residents from dangerous pollution and representing over a third of the U.S. vehicle market (states include CA, CT, DE, MA, MD, ME, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, WA as well as DC).

Critical Public Health and Climate-Protecting Standards

The decision comes after years of an exhaustive and detailed analysis by ARB staff, culminating into a Midterm Review report, who concluded the state’s clean car standards can be met on time, using known technologies, at costs below those originally anticipated in 2012. Despite automakers’ convincing the Trump Administration to reopen federal clean car standards -- the first step to weakening them – California’s Board gave clear direction to stay-the-course on clean car standards, which act as a critical safeguard to weakening of the federal standards.  The Board also directed staff to begin a process to consider post-2025 standards in order to fulfill state laws that mandate cuts in pollution.

Those current obligations include new carbon reduction requirements by 2030 (SB32, AB197) required by the legislature, as well as requirements to meet state and federal air quality standards by 2031. Moving forward with this critical program means California is taking the necessary steps to protect its citizens and economy from pollution. 

Using standards to protect the public health and welfare of citizens

For half a century, California’s independent authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards has enabled the state to combat its severe air pollution problems. Should the Trump administration weaken the highly successful federal standards, state-level clean car programs are even more critical to protecting our health and reducing our fuel bills at the pump. Pressure will continue on the automakers to make clean cars for these states – representing 35% of the market – and the rest of the nation, resulting in much lower amounts of pollution being emitted.

Chairman Mary Nichols extended an olive branch to automakers by stating: “We invite you to sit down with us if you have concerns, as long as [those changes] don't decrease the environmental benefits," but was also critical of the some automakers' comments,"What did you mean when you said you didn’t really mean to question CA's existing waiver, when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt then questions it [the next week after automakers met with the Administration]?  What did you mean when you didn’t want to question the overall thrust of the standards [when you asked for it to be reopened]? Why do another review?"

This follows Nichols' earlier statement:

We intend to stick by the commitments that we made. If for some reason the federal government and the industry decide to abandon those agreements that we all reached, we will have to re-examine our options. If the issue is are they going to relax the standards, then we would vehemently oppose that.

California clarifies its existing authority

Staff also argued that neither the evidence nor law support the Trump Administration's re-opening the completed federal review process, the first step to weakening federal clean car and fuel economy standards. ARB stated its intent to continue participating in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) process and to argue for continued emissions reductions supported by the evidence and data. As the Executive Officer of ARB at today’s hearing stated, "CA neither relinquished or accepted any limit to its regulatory authority by agreeing to regulatory flexibility” for automakers when they agreed in 2011 to allow federal compliance to also meet California’s requirements. 

Board rejects automaker asks to weaken ZEV standards

Automakers know that weakening California’s clean car standards will be an uphill battle. But they continued testing the state’s resolve, arguing for weakening of the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) requirements, widely acknowledged as the most important program driving electric vehicles into the market. As I’ve blogged about before, there are many reasons why the ZEV program should be tuned-up and strengthened rather than weakened. ARB confirmed this by revealing similar findings to NRDC’s -- that the ZEV program would only deliver half as many vehicles as originally anticipated, meaning 2 million vehicles across clean car states would be required instead of the 4 million between 2018 – 2025, due to far more credits being generated than originally anticipated. Automakers such as Tesla, BYD, and Faraday Future testified or sent letters in support of a strong ZEV program.  

In addition, representatives from states including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon testified in support of the standards, reporting that sales in ZEV states outside of California increased by nearly 60 percent over the past year, a good indication that the standards are working and early markets are picking up. Given the data and information, the Board directed staff to reject automakers’ proposals to further weaken ZEV standards in those states and to maintain the ZEV program as-is.  

Automakers attempting to break down safeguards

In their comment letters, automakers continued to erroneously claim that California had previously committed to allowing them to comply with just the federal standards - instead of California's stronger standards - in the event that federal standards were weakened. As my colleague, Irene Gutierrez, testified on at today’s hearing, this is nonsense.  California, which reached an agreement in 2011 with federal agencies and automakers around a coordinated National Program, did so based on the greater environmental benefits it would deliver while still maintaining the state’s independent authority. As the Board stated publicly and in its formal Resolution when adopting the standards in January 2012.

WHEREAS, it is staff’s intent to allow manufacturers to demonstrate compliance with California’s greenhouse gas regulations for the 2017 through 2025 model years by demonstrating compliance with the greenhouse gas requirements of the 2017 through 2025 MY National Program, provided that U.S. EPA’s Final Rule does not weaken the proposed federal standards and the Program’s reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, except that California would maintain its own reporting requirements.  [Emphasis added]

Nearly all the automakers and their associations were at that 2012 hearing as well, which I also attended. While ARB continues to support the National Program as agreed to in 2011 and finalized in 2012, it never agreed to lower its own standards if the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were to do so. Rest assured, California does not need a permission slip to stick to its standards on the books. It’s up to the automakers to decide if they should take steps to try to abandon the agreement they made with California, EPA, and NHTSA. With 13 states and 113 million people benefiting from these clean car standards, there are ample reasons to say “yes” to California’s clean cars program and “no” to weakening standards that provide vital protections to state residents. 

Today, the Board did just that by saying “yes” to continuing to move forward with the clean cars program. 

CA Officials Poised to Reaffirm Clean Cars Standards
Simon Mui

Officials from the California Air Resources Board (ARB) will gather tomorrow in Riverside – a city facing among the worst air pollution in the nation – to discuss the status of the state’s clean car standards following the results of staff’s formal review.

The 16-member Air Resources Board is expected by many to reaffirm the existing standards for model years 2022-2025, based on ARB staff’s review and recommendations, giving an official green light to staying on course with the program.  But the impact will be felt far beyond California because 12 other states also have adopted California’s standards, collectively protecting 113 million U.S. residents from dangerous pollution and representing over a third of the U.S. vehicle market (states include CA, CT, DE, MA, MD, ME, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, WA as well as DC).

My colleague, Irene Gutierrez, and I will be testifying at the hearing about why the standards are vital for meeting state air quality and climate goals.

Critical Public Health and Climate-Protecting Standards

The ARB staff conducted a detailed, thorough review and concluded the state’s clean car standards can be met using known technologies at or below the costs originally anticipated in 2012. Despite automakers’ convincing the Trump Administration to reopen federal clean car standards -- the first step to weakening them – California’s Board is expected to give direction to its ARB staff to hold firm on the state’s clean car standards, which act as a critical safeguard to weakening of the federal standards, and to begin a process to consider post-2025 standards in order to fulfill state laws that mandate cuts in pollution.

Those current obligations include new carbon reduction requirements by 2030 (SB32AB197) required by the legislature, as well as requirements to meet state and federal air quality standards by 2031. Moving forward with this critical program means California is taking the necessary steps to protect its citizens and economy from the dangers of smog, particulate matter, and carbon pollution.  

Using standards to protect the public health and welfare of citizens

For half a century, California’s independent authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards has enabled the state to combat its severe air pollution problems. Should the Trump administration weaken the highly successful federal standards, state-level clean car programs are even more critical to protecting our health and reducing our fuel bills at the pump. Pressure will continue on the automakers to make clean cars for these states – representing 35% of the market – and the rest of the nation, resulting in much lower amounts of smog-forming pollution and carbon pollution being emitted. 

As Board Chair Mary Nichols recently stated:

We intend to stick by the commitments that we made. If for some reason the federal government and the industry decide to abandon those agreements that we all reached, we will have to re-examine our options. If the issue is are they going to relax the standards, then we would vehemently oppose that.”  

Automakers attempting to break down safeguards

Automakers know that weakening California’s clean car standards will be an uphill battle. But they are already testing the state’s resolve, arguing for weakening of the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) requirements, widely acknowledged as the most important program driving zero tailpipe emission cars into the market. As I’ve blogged about before, there are many reasons why the ZEV program should be tuned-up and strengthened rather than weakened – including the fact that the effective sales requirement for 2025 is less than half than what was originally targeted back in 2012. Sales in ZEV states outside of California increased by nearly 60 percent over the past year, a good indication that the standards are working and early markets are picking up. ARB staff will recommend maintaining the requirement as-is.

Automakers are also erroneously claiming that California had previously committed to allowing them to comply with just the federal standards - instead of California's stronger standards - in the event that federal standards were weakened. This is nonsense. California, which reached an agreement in 2011 with federal agencies and automakers around a coordinated National Program, did so based on the greater environmental benefits it would deliver while still maintaining the state’s independent authority. As the Board stated publicly and in its formal Resolution when adopting the standards in January 2012.

“WHEREAS, it is staff’s intent to allow manufacturers to demonstrate compliance with California’s greenhouse gas regulations for the 2017 through 2025 model years by demonstrating compliance with the greenhouse gas requirements of the 2017 through 2025 MY National Program, provided that U.S. EPA’s Final Rule does not weaken the proposed federal standards and the Program’s reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, except that California would maintain its own reporting requirements.”  [Emphasis added]

Nearly all the automakers and their associations were at that 2012 hearing as well, which I also attended. While ARB continues to support the National Program as agreed to in 2011 and finalized in 2012, it never agreed to lower its own standards if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were to do so. Rest assured, California does not need a permission slip to stick to its standards on the books. It’s up to the automakers to decide if they should take steps to try to abandon the agreement they made with California, EPA, and NHTSA. With 13 states and 113 million people benefiting from these clean car standards, there are ample reasons to say “yes” to California’s clean cars program and “no” to weakening standards that provide vital protections to state residents.  

Blog Post

President Trump went to an auto facility outside of Detroit, Michigan last week to start the process of rolling back successful clean car and fuel efficiency standards that are working to lower American drivers’ fuel bills, reduce our dependence on oil, and cut pollution. Not surprisingly, his remarks contained typical untruths and distortions—including his false allegation of “industry-killing regulations.”

Why Attacking California’s Clean Car Program Is a Loser
Simon Mui David Pettit

The Trump Administration today directed federal agencies to begin rolling back commonsense clean car and fuel economy standards. As part of the first step to weakening the standards, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Administrator Scott Pruitt and Department of Transportation under Secretary Elaine Chao, issued a Notice of Intent to reconsider the standards. The reopening signals a complete 180 on years of technical and scientific review by both agencies, which found the standards could be met on time, with known technologies, and at reasonable cost. As NRDC President, Rhea Suh, stated:

This change makes no sense. Mileage standards save consumers money at the gas pump, make Americans less dependent on oil, reduce carbon pollution and advance innovation. The current standards helped the auto companies move from bankruptcy to profitability, and there is no reason they cannot be met. This is just another part of President Trump’s retreat from action on climate change.

Several news articles have reported that as a next step, the Trump Administration may target California’s ability to implement its Clean Cars Program (here, here, and here) by rescinding a past waiver EPA has granted the state, which allows it to adopt stricter than federal standards. This would have broad national implications, because 12 other states, together with the District of Columbia, have also adopted California’s Clean Cars standard to protect their citizens. All told, the standards are benefiting 113 million U.S. residents (or 35 percent of the U.S. population) and covering 35 percent of the passenger vehicle market.

California has regulated vehicle emissions for many decades to tackle air quality and public health threats―starting long before the federal government stepped in or EPA was created. The Golden State has authority to take the lead on motor vehicle pollution under the federal Clean Air Act. Given his vocal support for “states’ rights,” we would expect EPA Administrator Pruitt to be a supporter of California’s and other states’ authority to take the lead on controlling motor vehicle pollution. How would he explain denying California that right in favor of protecting car companies and fossil fuel interests? The Clean Air Act creates the strongest possible presumption in favor of California’s clean car program. If the Trump Administration attacks California, it should be prepared for a long, arduous uphill battle in the courts, and in the court of public opinion.

J.D. Crowe. Reprinted with permission. Originally printed in the Los Angeles Times.

Long, Uphill Climb Toward a Dead-End

California’s Clean Cars Program cannot be undone by the stroke of a pen. Trump can't kill it by Executive Order, nor can Pruitt by an internal memo. In the last 50 years, EPA has issued California over 100 waivers to set and enforce stringent clean air standards, or issued confirmations that rulemakings fell within the scope of previously issued waivers. None have ever been revoked. If a Clean Air Act waiver can be revoked at all, that could only happen through a notice and comment rulemaking by the EPA in compliance with the Clean Air Act and federal administrative law, and a decision to revoke is 100 percent certain to be litigated

The authority under the Clean Air Act allows California to set stricter than federal standard to protect California citizens―as well as other states to adopt those stricter standards. An EPA decision to revoke the waiver would be litigated forcefully by California, NRDC, and many others. The process will take years, not days, weeks or months, to resolve.

In addition, by blowing up the coordinated National Program of clean car and fuel economy standards―agreed upon in 2011 by automakers, EPA, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), California, and the United Autoworkers union and finalized in 2012―automakers and their suppliers will face many years of regulatory and product planning uncertainty. This move will hurt jobs, as investments from suppliers and automakers slow in the face of business uncertainty. That’s why a survey of major auto suppliers has shown that 70 percent do not want policymakers to change standards. Hundreds of thousands of American workers, located at over 1,200 facilities in 48 states, are today building technologies that improve fuel economy and lower carbon pollution―a phenomenon driven in large part thanks to strong standards.

“Alternative Facts” Won’t Fly

At the request of the automakers, the stricter California rules for 2022-2025 were negotiated in coordination with EPA’s national clean car standards. Both EPA and California, with years of input from automakers, technology experts, non-profit groups, and the public, have shown that those national standards can be met, as my colleague Luke Tonachel has written here. For that reason, the EPA would need to give strong reasons―not new alternative facts―why it will pull back and change the established standards.

Weakening California’s Standards Would Affect More Than 113 Million Americans

Finally, let's remember what's at stake. Undoing California’s clean car standards in addition to the national standards will threaten the health and wallets of people around the state and nation. For decades, California has led the nation in enforcing clean car standards. Time and again, other states and the federal EPA have adopted the emission controls first proven feasible and beneficial in California. State and federal standards have saved tens of thousands of lives and avoided hundreds of billions of dollars in health-related costs.

Under its standards, California, home to six of the ten most polluted cities in the country, will continue to see improvements to public health, avoiding thousands of asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and premature deaths attributed to vehicle emissions. By attempting to rollback state standards, the administration would also be threatening technology progress. Under the standards, by 2025 new vehicles would emit 75 percent less smog-forming pollutants and nearly 50 percent less greenhouse gas emissions versus those produced just five years ago. And that technology will spread nationwide.

Car owners are also reaping significant fuel savings. The owner of a vehicle meeting the 2025 standards will save on average $4,000 overall compared to a new vehicle today, even accounting for the additional cost of the advanced technology in the car. Consumers that finance or lease vehicles start seeing net savings in the first month they have their new cars. As Consumers Union has shown, the standards have been a boon even for low-income households. Automakers are also introducing the new technologies needed for a clean energy future. In just six years automakers have introduced over 30 electric-drive models with those numbers expected to grow to 70 models over the next five years, providing consumers with cleaner, more efficient choices.

California’s right to protect its citizens with cleaner vehicles has been part of the Clean Air Act for 50 years. It’s a right that has been upheld by the courts time and time again. Without California’s leadership, Americans would still be stuck with heavily polluting vehicles and suffering from more climate-wrecking pollution.

Simply put, attacking federal and state clean car standards is a loser.   

How the EPA Protects Our Environment and Health
Fact Sheet

State Environmental Programs

Over 40 percent of the EPA’s budget ($3.5 billion of 8.1 billion) goes to State and Tribal Grants (STAG), which include, among other things, funding for environmental regulatory staffing on the state level. EPA funds states to run their own drinking water programs ($100 million/year); clean water programs (about $230 million/year); clean air programs (about $230 million per year) and other state environmental programs.  Local communities receive money through the State Revolving Fund. 

Superfund Cleanup

The EPA oversees the cleanup of toxic superfund sites and holds polluters financially responsible.

Oil Spill Cleanup

The EPA conducts and supervises cleanup efforts (on land and in non-coast guard controlled waters) for oil or hazardous chemical spills.  Examples include:  Exxon Valdez, Kalamazoo, and Floreffe spills.

Energy Efficiency

The EPA maintains the ENERGY STAR® program, which helps consumers identify the most energy efficient appliances and equipment that can save them money and energy.

Clean Water/Safe Drinking Water

The EPA sets health-based standards, limiting contaminants in drinking water.  It provides billions of dollars to communities to deliver safe drinking water and improve water quality.

  • The EPA can also step in and measure safety of drinking water sources threatened by oil and gas operations when states refuse to act. 
  • After disasters, the EPA provides resources to get drinking water and sewage treatments back online quickly.

State/Local Drinking Water & Wastewater Infrastructure – The EPA spends about $860 million a year funding states/localities to improve drinking water infrastructure and about $1.4 billion per year funding states/localities to upgrade sewage treatment and other municipal wastewater infrastructure.

Sewage Rules – The EPA sets rules to prevent raw sewage from polluting our drinking water sources.

Protecting fish and fishing jobs – The EPA sets surface water standards that protect fish and shellfish, and related fishing jobs, from toxic pollution.

Beachgoer Protection – The EPA protects beachgoers from pollution by establishing minimum national water quality standards and guidelines for swimming. 

Clean Air and Climate Protection

The EPA sets limits on dangerous air pollutants from factories, refineries, power plants, oil and gas extraction, and vehicles. These limits protect public health, helping prevent asthma attacks, birth defects, respiratory and cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Greenhouse Gases, including CO2 Pollution Limits – The EPA has a critical role in limiting greenhouse gases, including CO2, pollution from power plants, motor vehicles, and other sources that drives dangerous climate change.

Smog-forming, Soot Pollution and Toxic Air Limits – The EPA sets health standards for air pollution to guarantee all Americans the right to breathe safe air. It also sets limits on pollution from power plants, motor vehicles and other sources.  

CFCs and Ozone Depleting Chemicals – The EPA is responsible for saving the ozone layer and preventing millions of cases of skin cancer by eliminating CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals.

Pollution Reporting – The EPA puts out a report each year called the Toxics Release Inventory, supporting the public’s Right to Know about air and water pollution and contaminated land in communities around the nation. 

Chemical Safety

The EPA reviews applications for new chemicals to ensure they are safe before they are allowed on the market.

Bug Repellents

The EPA makes sure that roach sprays, mosquito repellents, flea collars, and other products kill bugs without poisoning people. 

Pesticides

The EPA reviews the safety of pesticides and herbicides sprayed on food crops, golf courses, public rights-of-way, etc.  It can limit or prohibit uses when it determines a chemical isn’t safe for human health or the environment.

Oil and Gas Waste Disposal

The EPA helps guide states in the handling and disposal of oil and gas waste, including toxic waste.

Hazardous and Solid Waste Regulations

The EPA administers safeguards for how hazardous and non-hazardous waste is generated, transported, treated, stored, and disposed.

Radioactive Materials

The EPA prepares for and responds to emergencies involving radioactive materials, deploying response team to work with agencies at all levels, monitoring radioactivity, and providing guidelines on how to protect people from unhealthy levels of radiation.

Sustainable Communities

The EPA supports efforts to revitalize local economies and make communities healthier and more livable in collaboration with government agencies, NGOs and the private sector. For example, it provides small grants, technical assistance, reports, and other analyses to support best practices in disaster-resilient community design.

FERC Should Remove Barriers to DER & Storage in Markets
Jennifer Chen

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—the agency tasked by Congress to remove barriers to competition in the wholesale electricity markets—has proposed a rule seeking to remove several such obstacles to electric storage and distributed energy resources (DERs), such as electric vehicles plugged into the grid and rooftop solar panels. But opponents are trying to slow-walk parts of the rule, which will only delay modernization of the grid and result in inefficient use of existing resources and unnecessarily higher prices to customers.

Comments on FERC’s proposed rule are in, and the consensus—among transmission grid operators, utilities providing power to customers, state public utility commissions, university researchers, think tanks, public interest groups, trade associations, companies supplying these resources, and others—is that storage and DERs benefit the power system and that FERC should remove barriers to their ability to contribute these benefits. Despite these documented benefits and barriers—which no one can reasonably deny—a couple of lone commenters representing companies that would face competition from these new resources are seeking to slow-walk parts of the rule. Hopefully, FERC will see past the delay tactic and finalize the rule in a timely manner.

Electric storage and distributed energy resources (DERs)

Newer DERs and storage resources tend to be smaller and more nimble than traditional fuel-burning power plants and have the added advantage of being sited close to where electricity is consumed (reducing the amount of energy lost in transport and the risk of transmission failing along the way). DERs and storage can also help smooth out the variability in wind and solar generation by absorbing electricity when there is abundant wind and sunshine for later use, when electricity generation is more expensive.

As FERC recognized in the proposed rule, DERs and storage can provide multiple services to customers, the high-voltage transmission grid, and the lower-voltage distribution grid. For example, grid-enabled water heaters can heat water at times when electricity prices are lowest for end-use customers, avoid costly distribution grid infrastructure enhancements by reducing electricity demand at peak times, and provide transmission grid stabilization services (known as “frequency regulation”). Grid-connected electric vehicles (which have built-in batteries) can do much of the same—charge when electricity prices are lowest but also provide distribution and transmission grid services on the side.

In the regions where DERs are allowed to provide grid services for compensation, customers investing in DERs can earn extra cash, while the grid benefits from low-cost services. As these and other technologies increase their presence on the grid, it makes sense to tap into their potential for low-cost grid services while they would otherwise be sitting idle.

Barriers

The problem is that only some regional grid operators allow for some of these resources to compete to provide some of their services to the transmission system. (But there is no rationale for this inconsistency in limiting or barring DER and storage participation in the markets.) For example, California’s grid operator is the only one that explicitly enables DERs to participate in its markets through aggregators (typically businesses that put together portfolios of smaller resources to participate at wholesale as a single resource). The grid operator for the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest allows aggregated water heaters and other storage devices to provide frequency regulation. But even in the regions where DERs and storage can offer their services into the market, they may not be able to contribute their full value because the market rules were designed around traditional power plants and consumers. For example, storage or electric vehicles that could flexibly toggle between providing similar benefits as electricity generators and as customers sponging up surplus electricity from renewables (that would otherwise be wasted) don’t have the right channels through which to fully participate.

DER and storage resources are also smaller relative to traditional generation and may not meet minimum size requirements to participate in the wholesale electricity markets. These requirements, which vary by region, as well as the relatively high transaction costs (navigating complex regulatory requirements and paying market entry fees) that smaller resources face also prevent these resources from offering their services in FERC-regulated markets.

FERC’s proposed framework

FERC’s proposed rule helps eliminate barriers to storage and DERs competing to provide services in the wholesale electricity markets in two ways: (1) require FERC-regulated grid operators to fashion market participation rules taking into account characteristics of storage; and (2) enable DERs to aggregate to participate in the wholesale electricity markets. FERC’s proposed aggregation rule is critical to DERs in overcoming barriers associated with being small and is similar to FERC’s existing rules on demand response and the California grid operator’s DER rule.

Timing

FERC’s proposed rule sets up a basic framework, minimum requirements, and a timeline for the regional grid operators and their stakeholders to develop region-specific rules and implementation schedules. After FERC finalizes the proposed rule, the regional grid operators and their stakeholders have a specified period of time to work out issues and develop their rules—this period and the effective date for implementation could be extended if necessary.

Commenters trying to delay finalizing the rules attempt to raise issues that are actually best dealt with during the regional stakeholder processes, such as resolving potential coordination issues between transmission grid operators and distribution control centers. They also argue that the part of the rule enabling aggregation of DER resources should be severed from the rest of the rule and go through processes beyond what is required for federal agency rulemaking procedures (amounting to unnecessary red tape in this case). Those procedures include a comment period to develop the administrative record, and now that the comments are in, the record evidence solidly supports FERC’s proposal to enable DERs to aggregate to compete in the markets.

In fact, FERC’s proposal to allow DERs to aggregate follows logically from a long arc of FERC study and activity: FERC as early as 2007 recognized the transmission system benefits of distributed generation and some of the regulatory obstacles impeding its growth, and in 2008 FERC finalized a rule enabling demand response (a class of DERs) to participate in the markets through aggregators. FERC-regulated entities as early as 2011 have recognized the need for transmission grid operators to better account for DERs, and in 2016, FERC approved California’s rule to enable DERs to aggregate to compete in its markets.

Asking FERC to jump through additional, unnecessary administrative hoops is simply foot-dragging at this point and would get in the way of FERC satisfying its mandate to ensure that its regulated markets are open to competition—which is why some are attempting to stall the rule. Hopefully, FERC will see through this and take the next step in opening its markets to competition from a newer generation of nimble, flexible, reliable, and cost-effective resources.

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