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The natural disasters of 2018 in figures

Losses in 2018 dominated by wildfires and tropical storms

2018 was the fourth-costliest year since 1980 in terms of insured losses. This was due to an accumulation of severe and costly events in the second half of the year.

January 08, 2019

Petra Löw
Munich Re

When compared with the record losses of the previous year from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the indications at the start of 2018 were that it would be a more moderate year. However, the second half of the year saw an accumulation of billion-dollar losses from floods, tropical cyclones in the US and Japan, wildfires and earthquakes. The overall economic impact was US$ 160bn, of which US$ 80bn was insured.

A comparison with the last 30 years shows that 2018 was above the inflation-adjusted overall loss average of US$ 140bn. The figure for insured losses – US$ 80bn – was significantly higher than the 30-year average of US$ 41bn. 2018 therefore ranks among the ten costliest disaster years in terms of overall losses, and was the fourth-costliest year since 1980 for the insurance industry.

In particular, Hurricanes Michael and Florence in the Atlantic, and Typhoons Jebi, Mangkhut and Trami in Asia, all left their mark. Overall losses from tropical cyclones in 2018 came to roughly US$ 57bn, of which US$ 29bn was insured. There was also an extremely high impact from wildfires in California that produced overall losses of US$ 24bn and insured losses of US$ 18bn. Over the course of the year, 29 events each resulted in an overall loss of US$ 1bn or more.

Roughly 50% of global macroeconomic losses from natural catastrophes in 2018 were insured, a significantly higher percentage than the long-term average of 28%. North America accounted for 68% of insured losses, Asia for 23% and Europe for 8%. The remaining losses of less than 1% were divided between South America, Africa, Australia and Oceania.

Payouts by the insurance industry helped to boost catastrophe resilience, in other words the ability after a disaster to return to normality as quickly as possible. However, industrialised countries still account for the vast majority of insurance payouts following natural catastrophes. There has been a steadily growing willingness in these countries to take out cover against natural hazards since the 1980s. The situation with insurance protection in emerging and developing countries is quite different, despite the fact that, for financially weak and low-income countries, improving risk management and resilience-building systems is an important way of mitigating the impact of humanitarian disasters and promoting sustainable economic growth.

Regrettably, 10,400 people around the world lost their lives in natural disasters this year. This groups 2018 with the years 2016, 2014, 2000, and three other years in the 1980s, in which the victim toll was around 10,000. Geophysical events accounted for 34% of all fatalities. This is much lower than the 49% figure over the period 1980–2017. Storm events claimed 24% of the victims, roughly the same as the 26% average since 1980. However, the picture was very different for the number of lives lost in flood events; this year’s figure of 35% was substantially higher than the 14% average. The reason for this was large-scale flood events in Asia and Africa.

Earthquakes with and without tsunamis in August, September and December in Indonesia claimed the lives of over 3,000 people. These proved to be the events with the highest number of fatalities in 2018, followed by floods in India, Japan and Nigeria. Worldwide, 273 people were killed in wildfires over the course of the year. This is the second-highest number in the time series since 1980 and is only surpassed by the extensive fires in Indonesia in 1997, which claimed the lives of 375 people. Heading the list in 2018 were fires in Greece with 100 fatalities and the US with 108.

Hurricanes and wildfires

Hurricanes and Wildfires losses

Half of the global overall losses from natural catastrophes in 2018 of US$ 160bn were insured, significantly more than the long-term average

Number of events

The Munich Re NatCatSERVICE registered 850 events in 2018. Geophysical events such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions accounted for 5% of the total. Storms made up 42%, floods, flash floods and landslides 46%, while 7% fell into the categories of heat, cold and wildfire. Generally speaking, the distribution followed the long-term trend towards a greater number of storms and floods. The continents most affected were Asia (43%), North America (20%) Europe (14%) and Africa (13%).

Munich Re ( categorises events from small loss to major disaster according to overall losses and/or number of victims. On this basis, 12% of events in 2018 fall into the highest categories 3 and 4 (severe events and catastrophes). Category 2 makes up 28% and category 1 (small-scale loss events) 60%. This continues the trend towards a greater number of small-scale, high-frequency events with a lower magnitude of loss. This is the category most strongly influenced by reporting, and is therefore subject to the greatest uncertainty.

Camp Fire

Camp Fire Losses

The Camp Fire in California was the costliest natural disaster of 2018 for insurers

The year in figures – Regional

North America (including Central America and the Caribbean)

North America was badly hit by two types of event in particular. Firstly, the 2018 hurricane season again resulted in high losses of US$ 31bn, of which US$ 15bn was insured. Hurricanes Michael and Florence were responsible for the bulk of the burden. These losses are admittedly far short of the record overall loss of nearly US$ 230bn in 2017 and insured losses of US$ 93bn. In addition, billion-dollar losses resulted from major wildfires, such as the Carr Fire that devastated California in July/August and the Camp and Woolsey Fires of November. Taken together, these events caused overall losses of US$ 24bn, of which US$ 18bn was insured. A total of 110 people were killed in 15 major wildfires.

163 natural catastrophe events were registered across the American continent, producing overall losses of US$ 82bn, of which US$ 53bn was insured. More than 800 people lost their lives. The highest number of fatalities was 165 from the de Fuego volcanic eruption in Guatemala. A heatwave in Canada in June and July, mainly affecting the greater Montreal region, pushed temperatures above 35°C. It is anticipated that there will have been an additional 100 fatalities from this event when compared with average annual mortality.

Wildfire in California

Wildfire in CA losses

The Camp Fire in California in 2018 caused the highest overall wildfire loss on record

South America

South America experienced an extremely low number of natural disasters in 2018. The NatCatSERVICE database registered just 51 significant events. A total of 144 people were killed and losses amounted to some US$ 1bn. There were 72% hydrological events, consisting primarily of flooding, flash floods and landslides. Other categories included storms (20%), earthquakes (6%) and climatological events (around 2%).


Europe can look back on a loss year that was similar to 2014, 2015 and 2017, with a total of 113 events and overall losses of US$ 16bn (€13.5bn). Some US$ 6bn (€5bn) was paid out in insured losses. In particular, the severe drought that affected large areas of Europe in 2018 resulted in widespread losses in agriculture and forestry. This drought produced an overall loss of around US$ 3.9bn (€3.3bn), making it the year’s costliest event in Europe. Only a small portion of this (US$ 280m or €230m) was insured. In addition, two winter storms, Friederike and Burglind, swept across Europe in January, leaving in their wake overall losses of US$ 4bn (€3.1bn), of which around US$ 3bn (€2.4bn) was insured. In mid-October, the remnants of Tropical Storm Leslie battered France, Portugal and Spain. With wind speeds of up to 170 km/h, accompanied by heavy rainfall, the US$ 350m (€310m) in property damage was mainly caused by flash floods and landslides. Roughly US$ 50m of the total was insured. Shortly afterwards, a further storm developed that primarily affected Italy, Croatia and Slovenia along the Adriatic coast. In some cases, strong gusts of the local Bora wind swept over coastal regions. Losses came to US$ 3.5bn (€3bn), making this the second-costliest event in Europe after the drought. The deadliest events in 2018 also included the wildfires in Greece, which claimed 100 lives, and a cold snap in February and March that led to 77 fatalities.


Around 100 significant events were registered for the continent of Africa. Almost 1,200 people were killed, the majority in flood events and flash floods in Nigeria and Kenya. Overall losses for 2018 are estimated at US$ 1.4bn. Because of the low insurance density, however, insured losses are extremely low.


Asia was the worst-affected continent in terms of the number of events. It accounted for 43% of all events worldwide and for 74% of fatalities in 2018. Overall losses came to US$ 59bn. This corresponds to roughly 37% of the global loss burden. US$ 18bn of the total was insured, which corresponds to just 24% of insurance industry payouts worldwide. A total of 7,750 people lost their lives in natural disasters in the region, with Japan and Indonesia particularly affected.
In Japan, even though just 14 events were registered, these included five events with losses in excess of one billion dollars. In July, intense rainfall led to flooding, accompanied in some cases by severe flash floods and landslides in a number of major cities, including Hiroshima, Kyoto and Osaka. Overall losses came to US$ 9.5bn and insured losses to US$ 2.4bn. In September, the two tropical storms Jebi and Trami made landfall, causing widespread devastation. Here too, losses mounted up, and together the two storms produced overall losses of US$ 15.9bn, with insured losses of roughly US$ 11.6bn. Two earthquake events also accounted for a substantial portion of the loss burden. In June and September, quakes struck the prefectures of Osaka and Hokkaido, pushing losses up by a further US$ 9bn. Japan suffered US$ 34bn in losses from natural disasters in 2018, of which US$ 16bn was insured.

In July, intense rainfall led to flooding, accompanied in some cases by severe flash floods and landslides © Carl Court / Getty Images
Indonesia was hit extremely hard by tsunami events. These were triggered by earthquakes and undersea landslides that occurred on the slopes of the active volcano Anak Krakatau. In September, a tremor near the city of Palu and a subsequent tsunami killed more than 2,000 people and caused billions of dollars in property damage. Towards the end of the year, a further tsunami occurred after the volcano Anak Krakatau erupted. An underwater landslide triggered a tsunami that claimed more than 400 victims. The loss for insurers is likely to be slight, as few of those affected were insured. Higher insurance penetration in such countries could help them deal more swiftly with the financial consequences of natural disasters.


Around 40 events in Australia and Oceania caused overall losses of approximately US$ 1.5bn, of which US$ 540m was insured. On 20 December, a hailstorm in Sydney caused insured losses of at least US$ 200m, making it one of Australia’s ten largest hail losses of all time. Smaller losses were incurred in Australia and New Zealand from cyclones, storms, wildfires and flash floods. Overall losses from individual events, such as the earthquake in Papua New Guinea in February, and Cyclone Gita on Tonga, remained in the low hundreds of millions of dollars. 164 people lost their lives in the region, the majority of them in the earthquake on Papua New Guinea.

Scientists urge Abbott to accept climate science

January 8, 2019

By Jeremy Schwartz
Austin American-Statesman

Emily Northrop, professor of economics and business at Southwestern University, speaks during a news conference Tuesday outside the Governor’s Mansion. About two dozen climate scientists signed a letter addressed to Gov. Greg Abbott discussing climate change and how action is needed to cut global warming pollution.

A group of Texas climate scientists on Tuesday urged Gov. Greg Abbott not to “stick your head in the sand” when it comes to the impact of climate change on the state and urged him to take steps to reduce Texas’ greenhouse gas emissions, which are the highest in the country by a wide margin, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

On the first day of the 2019 legislative session, the group delivered a letter to Abbott’s staff at the Capitol, signed by two dozen university professors in Texas, offering to brief the governor on climate science.

“You don’t need to be a scientist to accept the science on climate change,” said Emma Pabst, clean energy associate with Environment Texas, at a news conference in front of the Governor’s Mansion before delivering the letter.

The letter came in response to Abbott’s December comment about the role of climate change in fueling Hurricane Harvey, which did $125 billion in damage in Texas, more than any other natural disaster in U.S. history except Hurricane Katrina, according to a state report.

Pressed on the relationship between hurricanes and a changing climate during a news conference, Abbott said, “I’m not a scientist, and it’s impossible for me to answer that.”

The state’s “Eye of the Storm” report, which detailed the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, doesn’t mention the term “climate change, ” but calls for “future proofing” Texas against natural disasters likely to bring “more severe precipitation events.”

The report, which was overseen by Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and included contributions from more than two dozen researchers and extension agents in the Texas A&M System, is perhaps the closest the governor’s office has come to acknowledging climate change — while avoiding that exact, politically charged term, except in citations of scientific papers.

The report steered clear of recommending policies to tamp down carbon emissions in Texas. The state, which also leads the nation in renewable wind energy, produced 657 million metric tons of carbon in 2016, 5 percent higher than the year before and nearly twice as much as second-place state California, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The scientists called on Abbott to undertake a series of actions, including updating building codes, incentivizing electric vehicles and limiting fossil fuel infrastructure.

The groups also urged more specific action, including ordering regular inspections of natural gas extraction sites to better regulate harmful methane emissions, and directing the Texas Public Utility Commission to increase its energy efficiency goals.

While the recommendations were aimed at Abbott, Cyrus Reed of the Lone Star Sierra Club also urged passage of a newly filed bill by state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, which would require state agencies to incorporate climate change forecasts into their long-range and budget planning.

“It’s a simple bill,” Reed said.

A 2018 Yale Climate Opinion survey found 56 percent of Texans believe global warming is mostly caused by human activities, just a hair below the national rate of 57 percent.

The U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment recently warned that, by the late 21st century, temperatures in Texas could climb by more than 8 degrees, with an additional 30 to 60 days of 100-degree-plus temperatures and extreme heat that could result in hundreds of more heat-related deaths and greater risks to outdoor agricultural workers.

Statesman staff writer Asher Price contributed to this report.

Austin Energy Signs Historic-Low Solar PPA Amid 201 Trade Case Uncertainty

"It’s a pretty bold statement to announce this at this particular time."

DECEMBER 18, 2017

Green Tech Media

AustinSolar solar panels
Austin Energy announces record-low utility-scale solar price, even as the industry stares down an uncertain Section 201 verdict.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Last week, Intersect Power and Austin Energy, one of the country’s largest publicly owned electric utilities, announced a 150-megawatt solar power purchase agreement at $10 million to $12 million annually for 15 years.

It’s the lowest solar PPA price the U.S. has ever seen.

While the historic-low price makes the agreement newsworthy on its own, the announcement is more notable given the current climate of uncertainty swirling around the industry because of the Section 201 trade case brought by Suniva and SolarWorld. That uncertainty contributed to Q3 being the U.S. solar industry’s smallest quarter in two years in terms of deployments.

"It’s a pretty bold statement to announce this at this particular time," said GTM Research analyst Colin Smith. "It shows, particularly on Austin Energy’s part, a real confidence in the industry of what the low cost of solar energy can still provide them."

The Texas-based utility did not offer exact details on the megawatt-hour price for the agreement. But based on some back-of-the-envelope calculations, Smith estimates the cost hovers between $23.50 and $27.25 per megawatt-hour. It could even be as low as $21 per megawatt-hour.

"It’s low enough that it’s kind of shocking," said Smith.

Record-low prices arriving first in Texas makes sense. It’s among the country’s top 10 states for solar installations. It’s also generally one of the cheapest regions in the country for large-scale renewables, according to Smith, because of the price for land acquisition, interconnection and other factors.

The price going so low there suggests other regions of the country, especially large states with developed utility-scale solar markets like North Carolina and California, could soon see similar prices.

"[Texas] has a lot of factors in its favor to allow it to hit a historically low price," said Smith. "But this also means developers in other regions should be on a track to lower prices at a similar clip."

The rock-bottom price in Austin puts a deal inked in May between NextEra Energy Resources and Tucson Electric Power for a 100-megawatt solar array in second place. Arizona’s sub-$30 per megawatt-hour PPA, with a $15 per megawatt-hour energy storage component, claimed the historic spot in May. In just a few months, another upset may take away Austin’s title.

The price also narrows the cost gap between solar and wind, upping the viability of pairing these resources to balance the grid during on- and off-peak periods.

Most of all, both the price and the 15-year timeframe can be seen as a vote of confidence in an industry experiencing a great deal of tumult.

Earlier this month, a joint report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association found the solar industry shrank on both a quarterly and annual basis in Q3. Another December GTM Research report found that average fixed-tilt utility-scale solar prices inched back up over the SunShot price target of $1 per watt.

Those cases are just snapshots of a slight chill in a rapidly growing industry, but the Austin price may offer the industry a sorely needed shot in the arm as it heads into 2018. The ITC offered its final recommendation to President Drumpf November 13, and the administration has until late January to respond.

"If we’re looking at this in a vacuum, and ignoring any political changes going on, any time we see a significant drop in PPA prices and we see a new low, it’s worth taking note," said Smith. But, he added, "This is being announced at a time when a lot of offtakers are very uncertain about the future of U.S. solar."

The deal is expected to bring Austin Energy’s mix to 51 percent renewables by 2020.

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This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Addressing Pollution from Legacy Coal Power Plants in Texas

June 2013

Prepared by: Daniel Cohan, Ph.D.

As Energy Future Holdings faces an uncertain financial future, three of its legacy coal-fired power plants from the former TXU feature prominently in the energy and air quality challenges confronting Texas. These 1970’s vintage facilities – Big Brown, Martin Lake, and Monticello – are among the leading emitters of air pollutants and greenhouse gases in Texas. Their emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) – more than 30,200 tons in 2011 – have been shown to contribute to excess levels of ground-level ozone in the Dallas- Fort Worth and Tyler-Longview-Marshall regions. Substantial reductions in NOx emissions will be needed in order for these regions to attain air quality standards for ozone, a pollutant that can cause respiratory illness and premature mortality. Their emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) have been modeled to exceed SO2 standards up to 10 miles downwind of each plant, and contribute to unhealthful particulate matter over far longer distances. Ozone and particulate matter increasingly have been linked to illness and mortality, prompting the Environmental Protection Agency to tighten air pollution standards for these pollutants. Meanwhile, these three power plants ranked nationally among the top five emitters of mercury, a potent neurotoxin linked to IQ impairment and other developmental problems in children.

legacy coal chart

Read the full report…

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This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

EPA will determine Coleto Creek’s air pollution impact

Oct. 3, 2015

By Sara Sneath
Victoria Advocate

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified Coleto Creek and 11 other coal-fired power plants in the state as high sulfur dioxide emitters.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to set air quality standards for sulfur dioxide, which can cause respiratory illnesses, harm the environment and damage property.

In 2010, the agency revised its national air quality standard for the pollutant. Now, the agency is collecting monitoring data from 12 coal-fired power plants in the state that the agency found emit large amounts of sulfur dioxide.

The data will be used to determine if the areas where the plants are located meet the new air quality standard, Joe Hubbard, agency spokesman, wrote in an email last week.

If the area around Coleto Creek Power Plant is found to have levels of sulfur dioxide that make it unhealthy to breathe, the agency would designate the area as nonattainment, and the plant would likely be required to take costly measures to cut down on its emissions.

The designation could be detrimental to taxpayers and workers in Goliad County, where the plant is located, said Goliad County Judge Pat Calhoun. The power plant provides about 43 percent of the tax base in the county.

"I’m concerned that the EPA, as proven by the fact that it was already slapped down at the Supreme Court level over the Waters of the U.S., is overreaching it’s authority," he said. "I’m concerned they will go in and cherry pick data to achieve a preconceived outcome. This administration has proven that it’s against fossil fuel." The company projects that installing sulfur dioxide scrubbers or converting the plant to natural gas could cost more than $100 million, wrote Julie Vitek, a company spokeswoman, in an email.

"Clearly, the options for compliance depend on the determination of the EPA as to whether Goliad County is an attainment zone or not," she wrote. "Our data shows the county more than meets the EPA standard, and that’s why we are eagerly awaiting the agency’s determination."

But nearby neighbors say they’re already paying the price of sulfur dioxide emissions. Charlie Faupel, who owns a ranch near the plant, said sulfur dioxide has damaged hundreds of trees on his property.

"They’ve been doing this more than 30 years. I’ve lost hundreds of trees, and my neighbors have lost thousands," he said. "A few of the trash trees went first. Nobody cares much about a hackberry and they started dying. Then, white oaks and pecans." The harmful effects sulfur dioxide can cause to trees has been documented, said Neil Carman, who formerly worked for the state environmental agency and now heads the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club’s clean air program.

Carman studied pecan crop losses around a coal-fired power plant in Fayette County. In a 2010 report, Carman noted that Fayette-area pecan growers suffered devastating crop losses and economic harm as a result of the Fayette plant’s era of burning coal without using sulfur dioxide scrubbers.

The Coleto Creek plant could be hurting trees, Calhoun said. But forcing the plant to switch to a renewable energy source or install scrubbers isn’t within the county’s authority. And, if the plant determined that it was no longer economically feasible to operate in Goliad County, the county would be forced to cut some services or double the tax rate.

"I’m trying to look out for the citizens of Goliad County," Calhoun said. "It’s just proven that this administration doesn’t like coal, and it’s going to do what it can to do away with it."

Read letter to Judge Calhoun from the EPA.

Top emissions
These are the Texas electric power plant sources exceeding the emissions thresholds established by court order of 16,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emitted in 2012, or 2,600 tons of sulfur dioxide emitted in 2012 with an average emission rate of at least 0.45 pounds sulfur dioxide per mmBtu:

  • Monticello Steam Electric Station
  • Optim Energy Twin Oaks Power Station
  • Limestone Generating Station
  • Luminant Sandow Yorktown Power Plant
  • Coleto Creek Power Station
  • San Miguel Electric
  • Tolk Generating Station
  • Luminant Power Plant at Martin Lake
  • Big Brown Power Plant
  • Harrington Generating Station
  • W A Parish Electric Generating Station
  • Sandy Creek Energy Station

Read more: Coleto Creek Power in legal battle over appraisal

Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Utilities Hope Texas Plays Ball on Clean Air Plan

Aug. 2, 2015

by Kiah Collier
Texas Tribune

coal plants
The nation’s more than 600 coal-burning power plants are the main target of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, his most determined effort yet to tackle the effects of global warming by reshaping the nation’s power sector. Photo by Callie Richmond

President Obama is set to unveil the nitty-gritty of his sweeping, state-by-state plan to fight climate change Monday — his most determined effort yet to tackle the effects of global warming by reshaping the nation’s power sector.

When he does, no one doubts that Texas will sue.

Taking the federal government to court over environmental regulations has been a palpable source of pride and political capital for Gov. Greg Abbott, who filed dozens of lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as attorney general. Both he and his successor, Ken Paxton, have promised the same approach with the so-called Clean Power Plan, which seeks to drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants.

But some of those who will bear the brunt of complying with the new regulations are calling that knee-jerk reaction shortsighted.

Some Texas electric utilities are joining environmentalists in hoping policymakers — after securing another campaign trail talking point — eventually will craft a strategy to meet the new requirements to avoid being slapped with a mystery plan devised by the EPA and to bolster regulatory certainty.

"I think it’s always better for the state to participate in the plan rather than having the feds do the plan and tell you how it’s going to be," said John Fainter, president and CEO of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, referencing a similar situation in 2013 involving greenhouse gas permits. "So I hope when the litigation is concluded that there’s time and willingness to do so."

The federal regulations seek to drastically cut carbon emissions from the nation’s existing power plants – 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, under a draft proposal outlined last year. They largely target the nation’s more than 600 coal-fired power plants, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Rather than issuing a blanket regulation, however, federal regulators are offering states a host of options to reach pollution reduction targets — making coal plants more efficient, for example, or increasing the use of cleaner-burning natural gas. States also may expand their wind and solar portfolios and energy efficiency initiatives — or adopt "cap and trade" programs, schemes in which companies bid on the right to pollute.

Under the preliminary plan, Texas — home to about 20 operational coal-fired power plants — would have to slash roughly 200 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions in the next two decades. The state’s ultimate target will become known when Obama unveils the final rule Monday.

"The climate is changing. It’s changing in ways that threaten our economy, our security and our health," the president says in a video posted to the White House’s Facebook page at midnight Saturday, confirming the announcement. "This isn’t opinion, it’s fact — backed up by decades of carefully collected data and overwhelming scientific consensus and it has serious implications for the way we live."

The plan already has drawn one lawsuit from more than a dozen coal-friendly states. But a federal appeals court dismissed the challenge in June, concluding it was premature since the EPA had yet to finalize the rule.

While not part of that early lawsuit, the Texas attorney general’s office has spent $24,000 devising another that it has yet to file, according to information obtained by the Tribune under a public records request.

Initially, states were to submit plans by next summer detailing how they would reach compliance with the new standards by 2020. Word on the street, said Fainter, is that the EPA may give states extra time, responding to concerns from some utilities and states.

An EPA spokeswoman would not confirm or deny that change, but if true Fainter said it would make even less sense for Texas not to come up with a plan achat generique viagra. Some utilities agree.

"If, in fact, the states are afforded more time to craft their (implementation plan), it seems logical that they would want to avail themselves of this time to develop a solution which addresses the individual and unique situation of each state," said Brett Kerr, a spokesman and lobbyist for Calpine, the largest independent power producer in the nation.

Texas doesn’t "necessarily have to stand alone" and could team up with other states to craft a compliance plan if it makes the process smoother, Kerr said. "We believe that the state would be best served by participating in the process."

But that message may not resonate in Texas and other red states where blasting the federal government is a popular pastime.

In March, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter to all U.S. governors urging them not to play along with the new climate change rules.

Governors in at least three states – Wisconsin, Indiana and Oklahoma – have explicitly said they will refuse to comply with the plan unless the final regulations look radically different from the initial proposal. Several other Republican executives — including Abbott — have blasted the proposal without formally committing to the just-say-no strategy.

Abbott’s press office did not respond to requests for comment for this story, while Paxton declined to comment through a spokeswoman.

In June, Paxton called the looming rules part of Obama’s "war on coal and fossil fuels" during a keynote address at an anti-Clean Power Plan event hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Last month, the foundation — an influential think tank that champions conservative policies — announced a push to form an interstate compact to oppose the plan, an alliance that would require legislative approval before a state could join.

"It’s pretty hard to imagine that we ever take a position that Texas should comply," said Doug Domenech, director of the foundation’s Fueling Freedom Project. "Regardless of the deadline, the EPA is imposing a plan on Texas and on other states that will result in unnecessary increases in the cost of power to ratepayers."

Amid opposition from utilities, bills that would have directed Texas to adopt a compliance plan died earlier this year during the legislative session that ended June 1.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat who authored some of that legislation and forceda climate change dialogue as chairman of the House International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, said it will take overwhelming pressure from the business — and faith — communities before Texas’ Republican leaders are willing to address climate change. (A recent study aimed at the business community found climate change will have a dire impact on Texas’ economy in the coming decades.)

"I’m sure the first reaction of our governor and attorney general will be to sue the federal government, but I think it’s probably a losing proposition, and if the lawsuit is dispensed with rather quickly then we’re going to have to do something," he said, predicting that "if we just want the default federal plan I think that will be harmful for industry, and business will get behind a special session for a Texas plan."

The utilities association asked state lawmakers not to issue any plan-related mandates or prohibitions "because we didn’t know what we were going to see and chances are pretty good that if the Legislature had done something along those lines it would’ve probably been wrong," Fainter said, adding that some association members are on board with the plan and prepared to comply while others are not.

"We’re just not in a one-size fits all environment," he said.

Non-coal dependent utilities like Calpine that are better positioned to comply with the plan are far more comfortable in calling on Texas to play ball post-lawsuit. Utilities including NRG and Luminant declined to comment for this story.

Large municipal utilities in the Austin, San Antonio and El Paso areas have already taken major steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"We were already moving towards renewables before all the proposed plans were in place," said Eddie Gutierrez, a spokesman for El Paso Electric Company, which is set to be coal-free by 2016.

Meanwhile, environmentalists point to data showing that Texas — the nation’s No. 1 wind energy producer — is well on its way to compliance as it is.

"Texas is already on track to achieve about 65 to 70 percent of the reductions that will be required under the Clean Power Plan," said John Hall, Texas director for the Environmental Defense Fund’s clean energy program.

Hall, who said the group plans to publish its analyses soon after Obama’s announcement, also emphasized that Texas — as a huge producer of natural gas — will benefit economically from the new regulations as other states seek that cleaner-burning fuel as part of their own compliance plans.

A recent report Calpine co-commissioned — touted by Obama on Twitter — found that carbon dioxide emissions nationwide decreased 12 percent from 2008 through 2013 even as the economy grew, Kerr noted.

Throughout the Clean Power Plan debate, environmental and public health advocates have argued that the regulations not only would help combat climate change, but bolster public health and conserve water in parched Texas. They also suggest that plan opponents are exaggerating the economic burdens.

"We think that Texas is well-positioned to comply with the plan and if you’re well-positioned to comply with a federal law, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to go down a path that’s going to be expensive and unfortunate for everyone involved," said Chrissy Mann, a senior Texas campaign representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

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San Antonio a winner under Clean Power Plan

JULY 31, 2015

Karen Hadden
San Antonio Express-News

CPS Energy’s coal plants Spruce 2, left, Spruce 1, center, and Deely are seen on Calaveras Lake. The utility has moved toward cleaner energy production and is well prepared to deal with federal clean air rules. Photo By LISA KRANTZ /SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

CPS Energy is well positioned to meet the goals of EPA’s new Clean Power Plan, a rule designed to reduce global warming pollution from power plants. San Antonio will come out a winner due to CPS Energy’s foresight in developing renewable energy, such as solar and wind, and the increased use of energy efficiency to reduce the amount of electricity needed.

Several years ago, CPS Energy was under pressure from SEED Coalition, Neighborhoods First Alliance, Jefferson Heights Neighborhood Association and others to retire the old and polluting Deely coal plants. The settlement reached in the Spruce 2 coal plant case, local citizen activism, and the leadership of Mayors Julián Castro and Phil Hardberger, CPS Energy’s Doyle Beneby, and Solar San Antonio have all helped put the utility on a clean energy path, positioned well to exceed the EPA’s new global warming requirements.

CPS Energy keeps electric rates among the lowest in the nation’s largest U.S. cities. The utility ranks first in the state and seventh in the nation for solar generation, and is building out 400 MW of solar. Solar leasing and community solar programs are being piloted to help more people and businesses benefit directly from solar investment. CPS Energy’s plan has led to new businesses locating their headquarters in San Antonio. Over 700 new jobs have been created, with an annual payroll of nearly $40 million. New factories have been built to manufacture solar panels, inverters and highly efficient lighting, all of which will be needed by other utilities seeking to comply with the new carbon pollution rules.

Twelve states have larger carbon reduction goals than Texas, which is required to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants by 39 percent. San Antonio will retire Deely 1 & 2 by 2018, and we will have cleaner air to breathe as a result.

Our state continues to lead the nation in wind production, and solar investment is on the increase since costs are plummeting. Texas can meet its goals and can benefit financially from the Clean Power Plan if we further develop renewable energy and arrange for other states to buy renewable energy credits from us.

Texas will likely reach the renewable energy goal required by the rule, 20 percent by 2030, a couple years early. Using more efficient appliances and equipment will help meet Texas’ carbon reductions, along with demand side reduction, shifting the time of use of electricity to off-peak hours.

While some utilities complain of the costs that the rule would create, what we really can’t afford is the cost of inaction. Climate change impacts are being seen already, in intensified storms, temperature extremes, drought and flooding.

According to a report called Come Heat and High Water, Texas climate impacts will be most evident in the number of days of extreme heat each year. The typical Texan has experienced an average of 43 days per year of temperatures above 95°F, but there will likely be up to 106 days per year by 2040-2059. Texas will lead the nation in heat related deaths, with an additional 2,570 lives lost each year. Ranching and farming will be impacted. For example, corn yields will likely decrease. The sea level at Galveston will likely rise 1.5 to 2.0 feet by 2050 and $20.9 billion in Texas coastal property is likely to be flooded at high tide by 2030.

The cost of inaction will be higher than the cost of action to reduce global warming impacts, in terms of dollars and human lives. CPS Energy has shown that achieving much-needed carbon reductions through renewable energy and energy efficiency is doable and affordable, demonstrating to other utilities how Clean Power Plan goals can readily be met.

Karen Hadden is executive director of the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, which works for clean air and clean energy in Texas, in coordination with local organizations.

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EPA unveils SO2 scrubber-reliant haze plan for Texas


By Barry Cassell
Chief Analyst, GenerationHub
Electric Light and Power

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new regional haze SO2 reduction requirements for Texas based on a series of presumed scrubber installations and scrubber upgrades on 14 coal-fired power plant units.

The EPA will publish a notice in the Dec. 16 Federal Register that proposes to approve some aspects of a state implementation plan (SIP) for Texas, and to disapprove other aspects, according to GenerationHub. This covers the regional haze SIP that Texas submitted to EPA in March 2009 to meet the requirements of Section 308 of the Regional Haze Rule.

"We take very seriously a decision to propose disapproval of provisions in Texas’ plan, as we believe that it is preferable that all emission control requirements needed to protect visibility be implemented through the Texas SIP," EPA said. "However, in order to approve the state’s plan, we must be able to find that the state’s plan is consistent with the requirements of the CAA."

scrubber haze

EPA’s proposed actions are summarized as:

  • Best available retrofit technology (BART): It proposes to approve Texas’ determination of which sources in the state are BART eligible. It also proposes to approve Texas’ determination that none of the state’s BART-eligible non-electricity generating units (EGUs) are subject to the BART requirements because they are not reasonably anticipated to cause or contribute to visibility impairment in any Class I areas.
  • Reasonable Progress Goals: EPA proposes to disapprove Texas’ reasonable progress coals (RPGs) for 2018 on the 20-percent least impaired and 20-percent most impaired days for the Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains Class I areas.
  • Calculations of Baseline and Natural Visibility Conditions: EPA proposes to approve Texas’ calculation of baseline visibility conditions at the Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains Class I areas. It proposes to disapprove Texas’ calculation of natural visibility conditions at these Class I areas.
  • Long-Term Strategy: EPA proposes to disapprove Texas’ long-term strategy because it does not sufficiently address regional haze visibility impairment for all Class I areas impacted by Texas sources. It also proposes to find that the technical basis on which Texas relied to determine its apportionment of emission reduction obligations necessary for achieving reasonable progress in Wichita Mountains was inadequate la maca viagra naturel. It also proposed to find that Texas did not adequately consider the emissions limitations and schedules for compliance needed to achieve reasonable progress in Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, or Wichita Mountains.
  • Monitoring Strategy: EPA proposes to approve Texas’ monitoring strategy.

To remedy these deficiencies, EPA proposes a federal implementation plan (FIP) for Texas that consists of a long-term strategy with SO2 emission limits for fifteen coal-fired EGUs that impact visibility in multiple Class I areas. It proposes that these SO2 emission limits met on a 30-boiler-operating-day rolling average:

Scrubber Upgrades

  • Sandow Unit 4, 0.20 lbs/mmBtu of SO2
  • Martin Lake Unit 1, 0.12
  • Martin Lake Unit 2, 0.12
  • Martin Lake Unit 3, 0.11
  • Monticello Unit 3, 0.06
  • Limestone Unit 2, 0.08
  • Limestone Unit 1, 0.08
  • San Miguel, 0.60

Scrubber Retrofits

  • Big Brown Unit 1, 0.04
  • Big Brown Unit 2, 0.04
  • Monticello Unit 1, 0.04
  • Monticello Unit 2, 0.04
  • Coleto Creek Unit 1, 0.04
  • Tolk Unit 172B, 0.06
  • Tolk Unit 171B, 0.06

EPA said it does not anticipate that San Miguel will have to install any additional control in order to comply with this emission limit.

"We propose to find that these emission limits will result in emission reductions that will achieve reasonable progress at Big Bend, the Guadalupe Mountains, and the Wichita Mountains," said EPA. "These emission limits reflect the degree of emission reduction that can be achieved by seven SO2 scrubber retrofits and seven SO2 scrubber upgrades, but we do not prescribe how the facilities must meet these emission limits. We determined that these emission limits are necessary to achieve reasonable progress based on our four-factor analysis, which demonstrates that the underlying controls are cost-effective and result in significant visibility improvement.

"We propose that those sources whose proposed emission limits can be achieved by installing scrubber retrofits must comply with the emission limits within five years of the effective date of our final rule. We propose that those sources whose emission limits can be achieved by conducting scrubber upgrades must comply with the emission limits within three years of the effective date of our final rule, except for San Miguel, for which we propose compliance within one year because that unit has been recently meeting our proposed emission limit."

EPA’s arguments about use of scrubbers used Big Brown Unit 1 as an example. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) cost-effectiveness calculation for post-combustion controls on Big Brown Unit 1 was based on reducing a projected 2018 SO2 emission level of 23,142 tons per year (tpy) by 90 percent, resulting in a reduction of 20,828 tpy. This results in a cost of $32,766,310/yr, or a cost-effectiveness calculation of $1,573/ton. "However, the installation of a scrubber would allow Big Brown flexibility in fuel choice thus allowing the unit to continue to burn the higher average sulfur fuel it currently burns, instead of moving to the low sulfur coal predicted by [the integrated planning model] IPM," EPA noted.

Comments on this proposal must be received on or before Feb. 17, 2015.

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Environmentalists flood EPA hearing on carbon rules in Denver

July 29, 2014

Fox 31 Denver

DENVER — As two days of hearings on the Obama administration’s proposal to curb carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030, environmentalists and industry groups made their cases — in the hearing room and all across town.

While clean energy companies and mothers standing alongside firefighters pushed the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt the strongest rule possible to address climate change and improve air quality, Republicans stood with representatives of Colorado’s coal industry in the shadows of the state Capitol at a rally organized by Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity and called for the administration to drop a proposal they believe will cost jobs acheter 4 gratuit viagra.

Meanwhile, inside a hearing room on the second floor of the gleaming new EPA headquarters at 16th and Wynkoop in Lower Downtown, hundreds of people, each allowed just five minutes, put their feelings on the record.

The heart of the matter: weighing the potential short-term economic costs with the likely long-term costs of inaction.

"It is far cheaper to act strongly now," said state Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, one of the first people to testify in support of the proposal Tuesday morning.

The proposal is an existential threat to the more than 600 coal power plants across the country.

Under the proposed rule, states will be given flexibility about how to achieve the pollution cuts. Instead of immediately shutting down coal plants, states could choose to reduce emissions by installing new wind and solar generation or energy-efficiency technology, and by starting or joining state and regional "cap and trade" programs, in which states agree to cap carbon pollution and buy and sell permits to pollute.

Looking to combat fears about the economic impact on the industry, the Obama administration Tuesday released a study showing that failing to adequately reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change could cost the United States economy $150 billion a year

While many argued against the rules on the grounds they go too far — Moffat County Commissioner John Kincaid testified that the administration is waging a "war on coal" — others argued that they don’t do enough.

"This rule is just a mere lean in the right direction. It’s just not going to work for us," said Stanley Sturgell, a retired Kentucky coal miner with black lung disease and COPD who flew himself to Denver to testify. Your targets for reducing pollution by 2030 are way too low and do not do enough to reduce our risk from climate change.

"We’re dying — literally dying — for you to help us."

The hearing itself was dominated by environmental advocates pushing the administration to take action.

Meanwhile, the industry made its opposition known at a noon rally in Lincoln Park across from the Capitol.

"Barack Obama these are real Americans and real American jobs," yelled Bob Beauprez, the GOP nominee for governor. "Keep your hands off our jobs, off our families, off our dignity of work!"

Many in Moffat County, where the Twenty Mile Coal plant is the heart of the local economy, also see the EPA rule as a matter of life and death — for the local economy.

"The coal mines are pretty much our entire economy," said Brandi Meek, a mother of two and the Moffat County GOP chair.

Mary Frontczak, an executive with Peabody Energy Americas, the company that operates the Twenty Mile plant, said that the EPA’s plan would make a miniscule difference when it comes to climate change at far too high a cost to her industry and its employees.

"This proposal needs to be withdrawn and there’s overwhelming support for that," Frontczak said. "We’re going to do something that’s not going to have any benefit but will hurt our own people in this country."

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EPA Public Hearing on Carbon Pollution Standards Draws More "Public" than Power Industry Speakers


Gail Reitenbach
POWER Magazine

Interest in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) carbon pollution standards for existing power plants—the "Clean Power Plan," proposed under the authority of the Clean Air Act Section 111(d)—was so high that the agency had to add double the days and double the rooms at all four locations this week. At all locations, power industry speakers were in the minority—not because they were outnumbered, but because they simply didn’t choose to participate. But that doesn’t mean the hearings lacked value or interest. Testimony from a former coal miner, coal industry groups, members of the military, an Olympic medal holder, a climate scientist, environmental groups, and individual citizens demonstrated the range of views on the proposal and the health, climate, and economic stakes.

The hearings, scheduled for Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C., were originally scheduled to be held on a single day at each location. A couple of weeks after the schedule was announced, each site added a day, EPA Media Affairs Officer Lisa McClain Vanderpool told POWER on July 28. All locations also added a second hearing room. More than 200 people were registered to speak on both July 29 and 30 in Denver.

Advocacy groups both for and against the proposed standards, from the Sierra Club to Americans for Prosperity, held rallies and press events at other locations on hearing days, where they spoke largely to those who share their views. Inside the hearing rooms, EPA staff heard a mix of views—and not just from the extremes. (Note that the comments addressed in this story reflect just those heard in one of the two rooms on the first day of the hearing.)

Most attendees at the Denver hearing were from Colorado, but they also came from several other states, including Texas, New Mexico, Wyoming, California, Oregon, Missouri, Kentucky, and New York.

Although the speaker lineup for the Denver hearings in the EPA’s new Region 8 offices changed over the 24 hours prior to and during the sessions (due to no-shows and substitutions), the preliminary posting of speakers at all locations showed that power industry stakeholders were a small minority of those registered to speak.

Power Industry Largely Silent

Among the few power generating company representatives who did show up was Michael Hutcheson, an environmental engineer for Ameren, which serves Missouri and Illinois. Ameren, he said in his five-minute comments, believes the rule is legally and technically flawed and will cause higher customer costs and economic damage to the country. Hutcheson described Ameren’s efforts to reduce emissions, including installing scrubbers and improving efficiency.

"We have made progress in reducing our carbon footprint," Hutcheson said, and the company is adding more renewables, combined cycle capacity, energy efficiency, and retiring coal "at the end of its useful life," and adding plans for more nuclear. Ameren can achieve a 30% reduction "over a slightly longer time frame" with less cost than the EPA’s plan, he said. Hutcheson also suggested the EPA should eliminate the "aggressive interim goals" that begin in 2020 and replace them with a plan for states to come up with a "glide path" for those goals. States should have flexibility to extend the final goal past 2030 for "reliability concerns and rate shock." Ameren believes it could meet the goals by 2035.

Michael Hutchinson
Michael Hutcheson, Ameren. Source: POWER/Gail Reitenbach

Later in the day, I spoke with Hutcheson about the scarcity of other generating companies at the hearings. He said that after the second day was added, he was told he couldn’t speak because there were no open slots, but he traveled to Denver anyhow and got a 9:45 slot. Ameren also sent speakers to the D.C. and Pittsburgh hearings and is submitting written comments.

"We’re still looking at the rule," he said. Other power companies are likely also spending time with lawyers and other advisors parsing the details of the proposal before going on the record with comments. Other generators Ameren has talked to are submitting written comments, so they saw no reason to make oral comments, Hutcheson said.

Co-ops and Munis Particularly Concerned

The one industry cluster that was most visible at the Denver hearing was cooperatives and municipal utilities, which are concerned that their members and customers will be exposed to rate shock should the proposed rule be finalized.

Troy DeJoode, with the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, said their main concern is one of complexity and timelines. "I’m not here to debate the rules," he said. "It’s simply a matter of practicality," noting that he appreciates "the flexibility that EPA has provided the states." He said his group would provide more details in written comments on rate impacts, stranded costs, and other issues.

Rick Gordon, representing Tri-state Generation and Transmission Association, which provides power to 44 electric co-ops, said those co-ops have some of the poorest consumers. He suggested that farmers trying to irrigate their fields and mothers trying to raise their children will pay the price of the regulation. He expressed concern that there was "no consideration of the cooperative model" in the proposed rule, because co-ops cannot recover costs, as regulated utilities can. Because of the former ban on natural gas generation when Tri-State was expanding, co-ops don’t have much gas capacity in their portfolios. He also commented that "EPA may not have the legal authority" to propose the plan, which "expands EPA authority." As did others in the power industry, he called for a "more reasonable timeline."

Dan Hodges of Colorado Springs Utilities, a municipal utility that owns and operates coal, gas, and hydro plants, shared several concerns. Among them, he said that building blocks 3 and 4 and maybe 2 are not necessarily supported by the law. He also feels the proposal timeline is very rushed and puts a burden on utilities to come up with a budget and plan. He shared concern about "errors in the plan" like nameplate capacity (which the EPA used) versus actual certified operating capacity. The push toward gas generation also poses challenges. One gas power plant uses about as much gas as all the gas used in Colorado Springs now, he said, so there are implications for gas demand. He asked the EPA to consider a less-stringent interim goal and said he was concerned residents will get hit by gas increases on both home heating and electricity bills if there are changes in the gas market.

Not all co-ops are against the plan. Megan Gillman, vice president of the Board of Directors of Holy Cross Energy, an electric co-op for the Vail and Aspen area, explained that her utility is moving toward lower-intensity energy. Its 20% renewables by 2015 goal has already been met. She recognizes that power generation resources vary by region, but "climate change is not a local issue." She asked the EPA to consider combustion of vented methane. Holy Cross has partnered with an active coal mine in western Colorado on such a project, but they are concerned that it will count as an increase in carbon emissions for them, not a decrease. She asked the EPA to enable innovative approaches and to consider lifecycle carbon emissions for biomass projects involving woody biomass (of which there is a lot, due to pine beetle kill in the state). She also asked that the EPA ensure accounting for early action.

Tom Smith, director of the nonprofit Public Citizen’s Texas office, said he is also a member of an electric co-op. "The cost of inaction is far too high," he said, citing the costs of crop losses and failures due to drought and wildfires; health impacts, including diseases coming back that had previously been eliminated; the cost of asthma going up; and escalating insurance costs for flood and fire. "No state has the ability to benefit more [from the rules] … than Texas," he said, because of its large role in renewables and natural gas. About 120,000 people are employed in the renewable industry in Texas, he said, and only about 23,000 in the coal industry—"and we mine and burn a lot of coal in Texas," he added. A public utility commissioner had asked him to suggest going back to 2005 for the baseline. He said he thinks co-ops need a separate subsection for their own implementation plans.

Coal Industry and Workers Not Necessarily Aligned

One of the starkest contrasts of the day came right at the beginning. EPA staff indicated that speakers were scheduled according to when they registered, though no-shows and substitutions altered that schedule throughout the hearing. Nevertheless, back-to-back five-minute comments by John S. Kinkaid, Robert Emery, and Stanley Sturgill essentially marked the opposing sides.

Moffatt County (Colorado) Commissioner Kinkaid was one of the rare few who invoked the EPA’s "war on coal" in his remarks and said it would affect his county’s economy. "Coal lifts people out of poverty," he said. The $85,000/year jobs provided by coal mining can’t be replaced by job retraining, he argued. Kinkaid also spoke out against "environmental extremists" and argued that CO2 is not a pollutant.

Emery, who moved to Colorado from North Carolina to escape the negative effects of coal-fired power plant pollution and whose comments included data from reinsurance giant Munich RE regarding the insurance aspects of climate change, said the fossil energy industry could have been a leader in transitioning the energy economy but wasn’t. He and others after him also noted the enormous costs of responding to recent extreme wildfires and flooding in Colorado.

Emery was followed by Sturgill, a retired coal miner who traveled from eastern Kentucky to speak. Sturgill said he knows coal miners need jobs, but maintained that they can be retrained. Sturgill, who said he lives downwind from 56 coal-fired units in Kentucky, has black lung, COPD, and other respiratory ailments. He said he was speaking for the health of the citizens of Kentucky and commented that the proposed rule is "a mere lean" in the right direction. The EPA, he said, is giving states and coal plants too many breaks. "EPA," he concluded, "we’re dying—literally dying for you to help us."

Stanley Strugill
Stanley Sturgill, retired coal miner (speaking). Source: POWER/Gail Reitenbach

Greg Schaefer, vice president of external affairs for Arch Coal’s western operations, spoke a bit later. He is nearing retirement and wonders about the industry’s future. He said he’s concerned that many are trying to shut down the industry without regard for jobs and incomes. Mining operations in Wyoming pay up to $32.90 an hour, he said. His son is a haul truck driver, and other family members are also involved in the coal industry. "EPA is asking a lot from families like mine," he said, especially as the rule won’t do much for climate change, as it’s a global problem. Schaefer also talked about how the coal industry supports Wyoming schools and asked the EPA to withdraw the proposal.

Jonathan Downing, with the Wyoming Mining Association, a statewide trade association for 39 members mining coal, bentonite, and other materials, questioned the EPA’s legal authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants and warned of overreliance on natural gas.

Health, Environmental, and Agricultural Concerns

Individual speakers and those representing groups addressed health issues related to "traditional" coal plant emissions as well as health conditions that are exacerbated by the effects of climate change—from increased heat to increased pests and pollens.

Some spoke purely about generalized concern for the future of children and grandchildren. Others included data in their comments about environmental and health impacts of climate change that they hoped to see mitigated by the EPA’s proposed rule.

Speakers affiliated with the Sierra Club were among the most visible, thanks to their aqua-colored tee shirts bearing the message "I [heart] Clean Air." In the week leading up to the hearing, the Sierra Club made a "high five-figure investment" in a radio campaign designed to get folks out to the hearings. Several speakers were registered to speak at all hearings, but in Denver, there appeared to be additional members in attendance as well.

James Hughes, the first Sierra Club speaker, argued that "The EPA is a mouse trying to put out the fire" in light of the greater power held by the fossil fuel industry.

Bill Corcoran, western regional director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, spoke against the "useful life of coal plants" approach and said the climate can’t wait for the end of that useful life. He urged 35% to 40% emissions reductions from coal plants rather than the proposed 30%. He doesn’t want to see incentives for natural gas and nuclear and said wind and solar are growing in capacity. He argued that the EPA underestimated renewable energy growth opportunities.

Jaime Travis, "head mom" of Colorado Moms Know Best, thanked the EPA. She commented that Coloradans are protective of the outdoors. One-third of hospital visits for children in Colorado are due to lung conditions, she said. "We all have a moral obligation to protect our kids."

Ronnie Citron-Fink, a parent and teacher representing Moms Clean Air Force, traveled from New York to share concern about children with asthma. Climate change is making conditions worse for respiratory conditions, she said.

Cindy Liverance, vice president of programs for the American Lung Association in Denver, is asthmatic and has children with respiratory issues. "We need the Clean Power Plan to protect public health," she told EPA staff. She has to watch outdoor levels of air pollution before engaging in outdoor activities and noted that kids with asthma can’t always play outside at school. When 85 kids with respiratory conditions at "Champ Camp" were asked, they all said they want clean air and "don’t understand why adults keep it dirty."

Dr. Patrick O’Herron, a practicing trauma and acute care surgeon from Oregon, said he was "speaking for thousands" of health care practitioners. He commented on issues of food and water security as well as air- and water-borne diseases. He asked if the plan is the best the EPA can do to protect the health of citizens.

Steve Szbao, a farmer from Longmont, Colo., talked about his personal experience of seeing the benefits of the acid rain program and said he’s worried about weather effects on crop production in the future.

Mark Fix, Montana rancher and irrigator, thanked the EPA for the rule and shared his experiences with "climate weirding." He is a wildfire survivor and also saw a tornado with over 90 mph winds hit his farm last year. He is still cleaning up downed cottonwoods from that event. Fix lost 10% of his heifer calves from sickness and a long winter and detailed the impacts on cattle of unusual freezing and flooding. Those in agriculture have to deal with the weather every day, he said, so "it’s an economic and environmental imperative" for the rule. Fix is a co-op member and said a focus on coal has put his supplier into bankruptcy.
Though attendees were cautioned not to jeer or cheer, out of respect for all speakers and to keep the hearing moving, there was one instance of laughter. Eric Larsen is a polar explorer—“a job you’ve probably never heard about”—with a 72-day no-shower record (which elicited the laughter). “I’m pretty much average in every way,” he claimed, before explaining that he was just back from his “Last North” expedition. He has completed more polar expeditions than any other American in history and goes because “they may not be there” in the future. His expeditions are designed to “connect people to the last great frozen places” and to catalog places for the record. “We are all average people” but have the ability to do amazing things, like reducing carbon emissions, he concluded.

Eric Larson
Eric Larsen, polar explorer. Source: POWER/Gail Reitenbach

Firefighters Concerned

John Lauer was one of two firefighters on Tuesday who spoke in support of the proposed rule. Lauer, a wildland firefighter, cited studies that point to increasing wildfire risk. Though wildfire is natural, a “natural” wildfire moves slowly, he said, but today we have “super fires” moving at an explosive rate, destroying the soil and everything in its path. Lauer fought the Gila Fire, the largest in New Mexico history. He spoke of the cost of fires, including property and human life loss. Proposed regulations reduce the odds of conditions that lead to these fires, he commented. He also spoke well of those in the coal industry who “should be fully supported” in a transition to a new future.

John Laurer
John Lauer, wildland firefighter. Source: POWER/Gail Reitenbach

The Military Perspective

Hal Bidlack, speaking as an individual, is a former member of the U.S. Air Force, holds a PhD from Michigan, worked at the White House on energy security issues, and taught at the Air Force Academy, among other professional accomplishments. “We shouldn’t wait to address looming threats,” he said. He believes too many American leaders have waited too long to address the climate change threat. The military, however, gets it. There are three challenges for Pentagon, he outlined:

  • Climate change is a threat multiplier. It will cause resources to become more scarce. Extreme weather events have already required military response, including to the 2013 typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
  • Climate change will affect homeland security. The effects of climate change affect Colorado, not just polar regions, he noted. The Waldo Canyon fire came within a mile of his home. No single event is proof of climate change, he acknowledged, but the accumulation of them is.
  • Climate change presents a challenge to military bases around the world. Bidlack mentioned Camp Pendleton evacuations due to extreme weather.

ilitary planners customarily operate with incomplete knowledge, he observed. After citing Dick Cheney’s "1% doctrine" (if there’s even a 1% chance of a terrorist act, that justifies action), he observed that too many leaders dismiss overwhelming science showing that climate change is real.

Job Losses Feared—From the Rule and From Climate Change

The arguments about anticipated job losses and electricity cost increases resulting from the proposed standards are familiar and were addressed by coal industry speakers. But speakers representing other groups and industries argued that unless coal generation is curtailed, many other industries will experience catastrophic economic losses. The ski industry was among those representing that side of the issue.

Kaylin Richardson, a pro skier and two-time Olympian, said that over the last 20 years she had been observing climate change and not realizing it. She has trained on glaciers in France and Austria that are disappearing. At the 2010 Winter Olympic games in Vancouver, it wouldn’t get to freezing, which made for scary conditions for competitors. Last year, while in Norway to film a ski movie for Warren Miller Entertainment, there was no bitter cold—above the Arctic Circle. Another year, it rained in Norway in February, she said. And in Colorado, the spring melt season starts two months earlier than historically. She said she’s concerned not just about the loss of great skiing conditions but about business and job losses that result from shorter ski seasons.

Kaylin Richardson
Kaylin Richardson, professional skier. Source: POWER/Gail Reitenbach

Liz Mcintyre, a three-time winter Olympian and member of the National Ski Hall of Fame, among other kudos, lives in Grand County, Colo., and purchases power from a co-op. She said the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is shutting out the voices of many on this issue. "A well-conceived plan is necessary to achieve desired results," she argued. She commented that she had skied on a glacier in France that has now disappeared. To industry, she asked, "what have you been doing for the last 40 years? Is keeping the power on enough?"

Liz Mcintyre
Liz Mcintyre, professional skier. Source: POWER/Gail Reitenbach

Catharine McCormick, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, focused on the experience of Iowa, the leader in wind generation. Mid-America Energy will invest even more in wind in the state to increase wind to 40% of its portfolio, she said. Iowa also has some of the cheapest rates in the country and has attracted Facebook and other tech company data centers. She called for more energy efficiency in the plan, which creates jobs in installation and retrofits.

Chris Votoupal, deputy director of Colorado Cleantech Association, said that group’s members are involved in using all forms of energy and are in support of the proposed regulations. The association has technologies to help assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in all the areas, from gas technology to demand side management, he said. Regarding the cost impacts of the policy, he (like many others) argued that the cost of coal generation doesn’t take into account health effects of coal-fired generation or costs of drought, fire, and floods. The same arguments about cost were raised with previous regulations, he noted, but the higher rates did not materialize.

Moral Oral Arguments

Various religious groups were represented at all four hearing locations.

In Denver, Jim White introduced himself as "a person of science and faith" who is involved with the Lutheran advocacy ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He’s also a full professor at the University of Colorado and has studied ice cores, is a highly cited author (the top half of 1%, he said), and a climate scientist. "At its core, climate change is a moral issue," he commented, one that creates an "intergenerational inequity," as future generations will suffer the consequences. Climate change also has a disproportional impact on poorer people, he observed, before quoting Christ: "Whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me." The proposed plan won’t resolve all the problems, but is a start, he concluded.

Jim White
Jim White, climate scientist. Source: POWER/Gail Reitenbach

A Colorado Focus on Climate Change Impacts and Generation Mix Shift

Matt Jones, Colorado state senator, spoke about the 169 houses lost in Colorado’s 2010 Fourmile Fire in Boulder County, which he fought. That was only one of several recent Colorado wildfires, he noted. He emphasized that it’s not just a Colorado issue. Firefighters are not climate change deniers, he said, citing a 60 Minutes episode on wildfires.

Last year, Jones’ district also experienced an unprecedented flood that damaged 28,000 dwellings and resulted in $3.36 billion in damage. The county is considering a sales tax increase to pay for some of the damage. Jones said it will be cheaper to act now on moving to cleaner power sources than to continue responding to the effects of climate change.

But Colorado isn’t alone in experiencing extreme weather events. Karen Hadden, from Texas, asked the EPA to strengthen the rule. She commented on heat extremes in Texas as well as wildfires and floods in Austin—including an unexpected flash flood that was the worst since the 1800s. Many power co-ops, she noted, are opponents of the proposed rule but could benefit from the rule, she argued. She asked that renewable credits be allowed to be sold across state borders and for nuclear power incentives to be cut because nuclear power is "not clean and not affordable."

Jerry Tinianow, Denver’s chief sustainability officer, said the city wants to know if it will get credit for what it’s already done and expects the rule will provide an economic benefit to the Denver region.

Max Tyler, chairman of the House Transportation and Energy Committee for Colorado, said that because of what the state has done in the past 10 years (mostly in terms of increasing renewable generation), it is well on the way to meeting the EPA goals. He asked the EPA to hold to the 2012 baseline “because the bar is too low at the 30%.” He believes the private sector “can accomplish this with little effect.” In reference to John Kincaid’s comments about Western Slope generation, he noted that the skies may be clear in Craig, Colo., but its coal plant pumps out more carbon pollution than any other stationary source in Colorado. He argued that maximizing profit is a legitimate mission for coal companies and utilities but not for the EPA, and concluded that Colorado’s shift to a cleaner portfolio has been much more cost-effective than anticipated.

Renewables Promoted as Coal Alternative

Several speakers commented that renewables had the ability to supplant coal for power generation. In addition to various environmental groups, a solar industry representative, and individuals, business and civic groups spoke in favor of renewables.

Among them was a representative of the employee-owned New Belgium Brewing Co., a Colorado company that has solar photovoltaic panels on its roofs and that taxes itself for coal power used. It’s also working with the city of Fort Collins on demand response and other energy efficiency measures. “Regulation is required to create appropriate market signals” for cleaner power, the speaker said, noting that Fort Collins was the first city in the state to pass a renewable portfolio standard.

Kyla Maki, with Montana Environmental Information Center in Helena, called for increasing Montana’s emissions reduction targets based on the state’s renewable energy potential. She said Montana’s emission reduction target is the second lowest proposed by the EPA’s plan but thinks the state’s wind energy potential, which is second in the country, should be factored in.

Among the individuals speaking in favor of the proposed plan was Andrew Lane, who said his Army unit won’t let him wear his uniform to the hearing, but he brought it with him. Lane, who is also a graduate student at Arizona State University, said those in support of this plan are not “extremists” and noted that the U.S. military is going green. By 2016, the Navy will use 50% renewable fuels. “For anyone who denies climate science, I don’t know where you are,” he said.

Andrew Lane
Andrew Lane, graduate student and Army. Source: POWER/Gail Reitenbach

Carbon Tax Advocates

Several speakers encouraged the EPA to make a carbon tax at the state level an option in its final rule. They noted that economists, politicians, and scientists have concurred that a carbon tax is the best method of reducing emissions, so they are surprised it wasn’t included in the plan. Some noted that anything labeled a tax seems to have an impossible time of passage at the federal level, but there seems to be greater potential for a carbon tax if handled at the state level.

Catherine Caruthers of Environmental Tax Reform U.S. was among those who cited a report by Regional Economic Modeling Inc. (REMI) that suggests a carbon tax may be a faster, cheaper way to get to the EPA’s goals.

Susan Seacord of Sierra Club said a “well-designed carbon tax” would protect families from rising costs and actually add jobs if monies are returned to the public, citing the REMI study as well as British Columbia’s experience with a carbon tax.

The Public Was Heard at Public Hearings

At the start of Tuesday’s hearings, Sean McGrath, regional administrator for EPA Region 8, noted that more than 300,000 comments on the proposed carbon pollution standard had been received to date. “There are no special comments or special groups,” McGrath said, reminding attendees that comments can also be made online until October 16. The EPA values the diversity of opinion, he said. “Even if you don’t agree with the speaker, please respect them.”

Though various sources predicted that the hearings would be contentious, heated, and require a passport to gain entry, in my eight hours at the Denver hearing, I didn’t hear any cheering or jeering in the building, and I didn’t need a passport to enter.

—Gail Reitenbach, PhD, editor (@GailReit, @POWERmagazine)

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