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July 12, 2019 by Alice Kaswan

Beyond Carbon Pricing: Envisioning a Green Transition

High hopes that putting a price on carbon emissions would provide the most effective and politically expedient climate change policy keep getting dashed. In June, Oregon's Republican senators fled the state and hid rather than enact a carbon cap-and-trade program. Washington State citizen initiatives to pass a carbon tax have failed – twice. Even in progressive California, efforts to include a cap-and-trade program in the state's initial climate legislation failed; cap-and-trade came later, administratively rather than legislatively, and as part of a larger plan. 

Carbon pricing has an important role to play and should be a part of any comprehensive climate strategy. However, as I argue in a new CPR Issue Brief, Carbon Pricing: Essential But Insufficient, carbon pricing will not solve the climate crisis. Pricing alone is unlikely to be fully effective, would sacrifice core democratic values, and, as we've seen, may be less politically viable than once thought. Climate policies that more fully embrace the environmental and socioeconomic implications of a just transition to a green economy are more likely to provide a thoughtfully planned, deliberative, and inspiring path forward than a price sticker.

As a practical matter, a carbon price sends market signals that can create important incentives …

June 27, 2019 by Alice Kaswan
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The Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, the Trump administration's recently released substitute for his predecessor's Clean Power Plan (CPP), has been widely criticized as an ineffectual mechanism for addressing power plants' greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. More broadly, the rule substitutes a technocratic, plant-by-plant approach for the more comprehensive and participatory state planning required by the now-repealed CPP.

The ACE identifies a range of potential heat-rate improvements (usually efficiency improvements) at coal-fired power plants and then lets the states determine which of these "candidate technologies" are feasible at which plants. The states then embody these performance requirements in state implementation plans (SIPs) subject to EPA approval. Energy system planning plays no role in controlling emissions.

In contrast, the CPP, formally repealed at the same time as the ACE was finalized, set the stage for state-level energy system planning. Under the CPP, utilities or plant owners could not only …

Nov. 19, 2018 by Alice Kaswan
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Washington State has continued to try – unsuccessfully – to pass a carbon tax, with the latest effort, Initiative 1631, losing on November 6. The state's effort to control carbon is laudable, but Washington and other states contemplating how to fill the growing federal climate policy void should consider leading with a vision for a clean energy transition rather than a politically challenging "price." An overarching vision for a low-carbon future and a public decision-making process for achieving that future could attract more support than the imposition of a stand-alone fee or tax.

States might take a page from California's book: The central pillar of the state's climate program is its multi-sector planning process for achieving progressively demanding carbon reduction targets. When California set its first legislative targets in AB 32, it set in motion an economy-wide effort to identify and assess emission reduction opportunities in every sector …

Oct. 25, 2018 by Alice Kaswan
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This op-ed originally ran in the Fresno Bee.

Cities in the San Joaquin Valley continue to land among the American Lung Association's top 10 most polluted communities in the country. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the comment period closed on the Trump administration's plans to ratchet back federal emissions standards and eliminate California's authority to run its crucial car emissions programs. Although the administration has its eyes on greenhouse gas controls, what's at stake is California's ability to transition to low- and zero-emission vehicles, a transition essential to reducing the pollutants that threaten public health in California and elsewhere in the nation.

The federal government has the primary authority to set automobile pollution standards under the Clean Air Act. But Congress — recognizing California's serious air pollution challenges — stipulated that California is entitled to a "waiver" that lets the state set stricter standards, and which gives other states the option …

Sept. 26, 2018 by Alice Kaswan
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Originally published in The Regulatory Review as part of a series on social justice and the green economy. Reprinted with permission.

A recent study tells us that Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, may have caused as many as 4,600 deaths, far exceeding the initial official death toll of 64. In contrast, contemporaneous hurricanes in Texas and Florida appear to have caused far fewer deaths: 88 in Texas and 75 in Florida.

The differing outcomes bring home the importance of Sidney A. Shapiro and Robert R. M. Verchick’s recent article, which explores the way that underlying social vulnerability determines the impacts of major environmental transitions.

Just as a hurricane’s consequences differ dramatically depending on many socioeconomic factors—including infrastructure, access to medical care, and financial resources—the consequences of a shift to a green economy will differ based on the impacted …

Sept. 12, 2018 by Alice Kaswan, Alyson Flournoy, Robert Verchick
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This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report.

Three months before Hurricane Irma hit Florida, the state relaxed what many had considered to be one of the best building codes in the country. That wasn’t an anomaly. A report by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety found that many states along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts either lack building codes or have relaxed them in recent years.

When jurisdictions fail to plan, or plan too little, they squander the opportunity to avoid or mitigate significant problems. Houston and surrounding Harris County, have seen massive in-migration and development in the last 20 years on some of the least absorbent soils in the nation, but has not developed adequate stormwater infrastructure. Behind Orleans and Jefferson parishes in Louisiana, Harris County ranks third in the nation for the …

Sept. 6, 2018 by Alice Kaswan
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This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters.

By the end of the 2017 hurricane season, the American people were reeling from the impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The press documented the familiar cycle of compassion, frustration, and anger. As people suffered for days, weeks, and months in communities that were flooded, without power, and in need of food and other basic supplies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the White House, and other agencies once again emerged in the role of villain for their failure to respond with adequate speed or resources, a failure with particularly deadly consequences in decimated Puerto Rico. 

Assigning blame and holding the federal government to account for these victims’ suffering is an important step in learning from past mistakes. But alone, it is …

Aug. 29, 2018 by Alice Kaswan
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For disadvantaged communities, the so-called Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE) falls far short of the protections and opportunities included in the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration rule that the Trump EPA is now attempting to repeal and replace.

One of the Clean Power Plan's (CPP) essential features was its recognition that the electricity sector operates as an interconnected system. Because of its system-wide approach, the CPP could achieve significant reductions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants by encouraging utilities to shift from pollution-intensive coal to less-polluting alternatives, including natural gas and renewables. In contrast, the ACE rule focuses narrowly on coal-fired power plants, considering only facility-specific "heat-rate improvements," thus sacrificing a host of other ways to both conserve energy and prevent pollution. The proposed rule also fails to prompt states to engage in the more comprehensive and longer-term planning that is necessary to achieve significant …

Aug. 28, 2017 by Alice Kaswan
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With a sense of horror, the nation is watching waters rise in southeastern Texas as now-Tropical Storm Harvey spins across the Gulf Coast. While no individual storm can be attributed to climate change, scientists predict more intense storms, and the wisdom of preparing for future floods has never been clearer. And yet, less than two weeks ago, President Trump issued an executive order that rolled back a federal flood standard designed to anticipate intense flooding. Instead of investing in infrastructure to prepare for flood risks, the executive order jeopardizes future infrastructure.

One prong of President Trump's executive order "streamlining" federally-funded infrastructure reverses an Obama-era order that had wisely required federal agencies to take potential flooding into account when funding projects. Under Obama's Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, jointly developed by many federal agencies with input from a wide range of state and other stakeholders, federal …

Dec. 5, 2016 by Alice Kaswan
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Environmentalists are understandably wringing their hands over the likely post-election demise of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration's rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, which are the nation's single biggest source of carbon emissions. But, with or without the Clean Power Plan (the Plan), the states hold the cards to a clean energy transition. 

Even if the fossil fuel interests intent upon perpetuating a profitable status quo end up dominating Congress and federal energy and environmental agencies, states will still have the power to steer the energy sector away from fossil fuels. By promoting renewable energy, like solar and wind power, and by promoting energy efficiency, states can and should lead the way. In so doing, they can transform the energy sector from a system that benefits vested fossil fuel interests and toward a sustainable infrastructure that benefits everyone through new …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
July 12, 2019

Beyond Carbon Pricing: Envisioning a Green Transition

June 27, 2019

Replacing the CPP's Visionary Energy Planning with the ACE's Technical Tinkering

Nov. 19, 2018

Message for State Climate Policy: Lead with a Vision, Not a Tax

Oct. 25, 2018

Fresno Bee Op-Ed: Trump Rolls Back Clean Car Standards as Air Quality Worsens

Sept. 26, 2018

Expanding Environmental Justice to Achieve a Just Transition

Sept. 12, 2018

From Surviving to Thriving: State and Local Planning

Sept. 6, 2018

From Surviving to Thriving -- Adaptation Planning and Resilience: All Hands on Deck