Advancing Urban Policy:
Environmental Policy  November, 2013
This edition of Advancing Urban Policy, the monthly e-newsletter of the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, features research and thought leadership from across the country related to Environmental Policy. It highlights articles on energy efficiency and policy, water resources reform, climate change, greenhouse gas regulations, bio-fuel, combined sewer systems, the Great Lakes, and more. Advancing Urban Policy will wrap up the year by featuring topics related to Public Finance & Budgeting (December). We welcome your ideas and submissions. They may be sent to: 


Edward (Ned) W. Hill, Ph.D., Dean



 Energy Policy: National 


Recommendations on Energy Efficiency


For decades, America's energy news trended from bad to worse, beginning with the oil crises of the 1970s. However, NRDC recently conducted an exhaustive analysis that found a remarkable turnaround. Extensive new government data reviewed by NRDC shows much of the credit can be given to a huge and inexpensive energy resource that deserves far more attention: energy efficiency. In fact, over the past 40 years Americans have found so many innovative ways to save energy that we have more than doubled the economic productivity of the oil that runs our vehicles and the natural gas and electricity that runs almost everything else. Factories and businesses are producing substantially more products and value with less energy.


As a result, across the United States: total energy used per dollar of goods produced is down, gasoline per mile driven is down, and the cost of energy services down. Most importantly, positive energy trends are substantially reducing our national carbon footprint, putting the United States on track to meet President Obama's target of a 17 percent emissions reduction by 2020.


IEEE-USA recommends energy policy to advance the recent energy turnaround and energy efficiency on the local, state, and national level. The policy recommendations include the electrification of transportation, expansion of renewable electric generation, and construction of smarter infrastructure.



Learning from Germany's Clean Energy Misstep


Germany's renewable energy sector is among the most innovative worldwide. Clean energy provides 25 percent of the country's energy demand. Germany has the greatest share of wind and solar power among the G20 countries. However, this rapid growth has come at a cost: the highest energy prices in Europe. A new report by the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, provides some hard truths, and discusses three important lessons for the United States:


       Lesson 1: Nuclear free is not a clean energy option. 

       Lesson 2: If you want to save money, synchronize national energy incentives.

       Lesson 3: It's important to coordinate energy storage and renewables. 





Congress Should Scale Back the Renewable Fuel Standard to Zero


The first Federal Renewable Fuel Standard was established in 2006 as a result of the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 2005. Standards for the program went into effect September 1, 2007. In 2007, the Energy and Independence Security Act (EISA) created new laws, some of which have significant impacts on the Renewable Fuels Standard. Subsequently, the original version of the standard, referred to as RFS1, was modified and released as the updated RFS2. This latest version of the Renewable Fuels Standard has been in effect as of 2009, and since then has had several phase-in periods for the implementation of updated specifications. The EISA requirements passed in 2007 reset the renewable fuel volume requirement to 36 billion gallons by 2022 instead of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.


RFS2 also incorporated specific annual volume requirements for newly established categories of renewables. The implementation of fuels categories expanded the list of fuels used to meet the mandate under RFS2 to include both on-road and off-road, marine, and locomotive diesel fuel. The law set volume standards for three new categories of renewable fuels including cellulosic, biomass based diesel, and advanced renewable fuels. This was done with the purpose of promoting the development of new, sustainable, and less controversial sources of renewable fuels with significantly lower lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.


However, some opponents of Federal Renewable Fuel Standard view the EPA's Revision as an admission of an unworkable policy.   Recently, there has been indication that a middle ground may soon be reached - a policy draft of EPA's proposed fuel standards regulation for 2014 reveals a possibility for the RFS mandate to be scaled back. 



Is Biopower Carbon Neutral?


Congress has expressed interest in biopower-electricity generated from biomass. Biopower, a base load power source, has the potential to strengthen rural economies, enhance energy security, and improve the environment, proponents say. Biopower could be produced from a large range of biomass feedstocks nationwide. Feedstocks are renewable, biological material that can be used directly as a fuel, or converted to another form of fuel or energy product. Feedstocks such as corn starch, sugarcane juice, sugarcane, grass crops, and woody plants are used to derive fuels like ethanol, butanol, biodiesel, and other hydrocarbon fuels.


One challenge to biopower production is a readily available feedstock supply. At present, biopower requires tax incentives to be competitive with conventional fossil fuels. If Congress considers a renewable electricity standard or other measures that include biopower, there may be concerns about the carbon neutrality of biopower. Congressional support for biopower has aimed to promote energy diversity and improve energy security, and has generally assumed that biopower is carbon neutral. The premise that biopower is carbon neutral has come under scrutiny as its potential to help meet U.S. energy demands and reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is more closely examined. Interest in the carbon classification of biopower is in part due to sustainability and air quality concerns. Where the feedstock supply for biopower originates, if it is managed in a sustainable manner, and whether the associated air quality impacts from biopower generation are tolerable are questions that are part of the biopower carbon-neutrality debate.  



Energy Policy: Ohio 


Renewable & Energy Efficiency Standards Save Money 

Ohio State University (OSU) researchers find that Ohio's renewable and energy efficiency standards have saved ratepayers 1.4 percent since inception, and predict that weakening of the standards will result in higher energy bills, fewer jobs, and increased emissions over the coming decade. Ohio Senate Bill 221 (SB 221), which became law in 2008, includes provisions for renewable energy and efficiency improvements. To better understand the economic implications of these provisions, Advanced Energy Economy Ohio Institute (AEEOI) engaged The Center for Resilience at OSU to perform an energy-economic modeling study, resulting in estimates of the economic, environmental, and social benefits associated with this legislation.OSU analyzed two alternative scenarios, one retrospective and the other prospective.


Ohio Environmental Council Proposes SAFER GAS Act for Oil & Gas Drilling


The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) has proposed new drilling regulations that call for a sweeping upgrade to state oil and gas laws. The proposed regulations intend to protect Ohioans from the risks of horizontal, hydrological fracturing. To implement and enforce existing laws, as well as the SAFER GAS Act, the OEC is calling for a 5 percent tax rate in the state severance tax on oil and gas, with 100 percent of revenue dedicated to increased inspection and enforcement, capping old orphan wells, and addressing local impacts.


The eco group's proposal, dubbed the SAFER GAS Act, calls for:

  • stronger safeguards against air and water pollution from oil and gas drilling
  • stepped up enforcement and transparency by the Ohio DNR and Ohio EPA
  • greater industry and government accountability, including permit appeal rights for affected citizens
  • stronger consumer protections for landowners who lease their land for drilling 



Energy Efficiency Will Make Ohio Stronger


Ohio's electric power sector produces nearly half of the state's carbon emissions, well above the national average. Ohio's electric power industry is the second largest polluter of carbon emissions in the nation, and the largest contributor of sulfur dioxide, according to Policy Matters Ohio. 


Inefficiency causes these high emission levels. Nearly 70 percent of all energy used by Ohio's electric power industry is lost during generation and transmission. This waste of scarce resources cannot be justified - it's a huge drain on the economy that squanders about $20 billion worth of energy each year, the equivalent of nearly 5 percent of the state's economy.


Ohio can use its natural resources more wisely. This means investing in combined heat and power technology, relying more on renewable energy, and making homes and businesses more efficient and the manufacturing sector leaner and greener. Ohio needs to preserve and enhance its energy efficiency law, which requires electric utilities to upgrade the grid and invest in efficiency. Ohio's clean energy laws will help bring the electric power sector into the 21st century, use fossil fuels wisely, and diversify our energy portfolio so Ohioans will be less dependent on volatile fossil fuel prices.  





House Water Resources Bill: Shortcomings Threaten to Overshadow Reforms


According to The Heritage Foundation, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRDA),H.R. 3080, contained provisions aimed at eliminating bureaucratic red tape, reducing the project backlog of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and increasing the role of local or private entities in authorized projects. However, some of the reforms proposed by WRDA could either fail to deliver on their promises or introduce new complications. 



Evaluation of Green Alternatives for Combined Sewer Overflow Mitigation


Sewer overflows are a major environmental and financial challenge across the country. Many communities, in particular urban areas with aging infrastructure, are combating neighborhood decay and contending with combined sewer overflow (CSO) mitigation for aging and insufficient sewer systems. Combined sewer systems, which are largely located in older and heavily-populated urban areas, are sewers that are designed to collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipe. Most of the time, combined sewer systems transport all of their wastewater to a sewage treatment plant where it is treated and then discharged to a water body. During periods of heavy rainfall or snowmelt, however, the wastewater volume in a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the sewer system or treatment plant and is then discharged directly into the environment.


During heavy rains, the combined flow of sewage and storm water is typically more than wastewater treatment plants can handle, and the combined (sanitary & sewage) sewer pipes discharge the excess sewage and storm water into streams. Such discharges create polluted waterways that expose humans and wildlife to pathogens and toxins. Given the high cost of these challenges, it is not surprising that communities are looking for solutions that offer cost savings or other benefits. Green infrastructure (GI) and low impact development (LID) are garnering more attention as communities find ways to manage their wastewater infrastructure issues. These green solutions are often endorsed because of the additional environmental, social, and economic benefits they produce. This article reviews a growing body of reports and case studies and attempts to quantify these benefits as economic impacts. 



Great Lakes


New Policy Priorities Emerging in Fight to Protect Great Lakes: Rise in Algae Growth, Low Water Levels and Changing Climate among Concerns Being Raised in the Region


For Great Lakes advocates, the past decade has been marked by one important policy milestone after the next.  


First, a more protective interstate compact was enacted to prevent long-distance, large-scale diversions of water outside the basin and to improve conservation and management policies within it.


Second, the long fight for more federal funding was won with creation of the historic Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Over the past four years, funding for the initiative has topped $1.3 billion - for projects in the region's eight Great Lakes to clean up toxic "hot spots," prevent the introduction of invasive species, and protect wetlands and other habitat.

Third, prodded in part by the legislative and legal actions taken by states in this region, the federal government last year strengthened its standards for how vessels must manage their ballast water - the most common cause of aquatic invasions in the Great Lakes over the past 50 years.


Lastly, for the first time in a quarter century, U.S. and Canadian officials revised the bi-national Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Much broader in scope than previous versions, the new agreement sets a framework for the two countries to address the impacts of invasive species, habitat degradation, and climate change.

Climate Policy: National  


A Global Solution to Climate Change 


New legislation to deal with the global problem of climate change is more viable now than it was in the past. Although climate change denial still exists in the U.S., the international community generally accepts the science.  This could indicate that reaching an international agreement might be easier than reaching a domestic agreement. If an international agreement is reached, the U.S. must propagate legislation that will pass not only the political process, but also judicial review. It is possible that climate change deniers will try to undermine any climate change agreement in court. Environmentalists must be aware of not only possible political solutions, but also potential fallout of judicial determinations. 



Changing Climate, Unchanging Act, Improvising Agency, Enabling Court: The Story of Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA


Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA amplifies the Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. Both cases declare the Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Under the motor vehicle provision of the Act, Massachusetts v. EPA prodded EPA into regulation of greenhouse gases, and Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA affirmed both EPA's obedience to Massachusetts v. EPA and the agency's new willingness to extend greenhouse gas regulation to stationary sources. The cases are significant because they together stimulated and sustained the first controls on greenhouse gases in the United States, altering a status quo in which greenhouse gas emissions were free - not taxed or regulated or otherwise constrained. 


A Realistic Timetable for Greenhouse Gas Regulation under the Clean Air Act


In a speech at Georgetown University on June 25, President Obama gave extended attention to America's policy on climate change. The plan he offered contained several elements, including promoting renewable energy, but the centerpiece was regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act (CAA), especially from existing power plants, which generate around 40 percent of the nation's CO2 emissions.


According to the President's timetable, a rule for existing power plants must be proposed by June 1, 2014, and finalized by June 1, 2015; and guidelines for State Implementation Plans must be produced by June 30, 2016.  Figure on at least another couple years for states to formulate their plans and receive approval from the EPA - the best case scenario, then, would see effective rules on existing power plants kicking in around 2020.   



The First Cut is the Deepest: EPA Proposes First GHG Cuts for Power Plants


On September 20, 2013, the EPA formally proposed the first-ever national carbon pollution limits for new power plants, seeking to sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA standard, which would apply only to newly constructed plants, would require coal-burning facilities to capture about 40 percent of their carbon dioxide emissions using the new Carbon Capture and Sequestration technology. The proposal also sets caps for natural gas fueled plants.


With this rule proposal, EPA is utilizing the authority granted it under Massachusetts v. EPA to regulate GHGs emitted by stationary sources for the first time ever. Moreover, this first step is a pivotal piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, in which Obama intends to take executive action to evade congressional gridlock and move ahead with climate change regulation. This includes a rule imposing emissions limits on existing sources, to be proposed in June, 2014. 


The Many Benefits of a Carbon Tax


The United States confronts serious policy challenges from an unsustainable budget deficit, a tax and regulatory system that most experts agree is inefficient, and the long-term threat from climate disruption. A carbon tax offers a policy that can help address all three challenges by combating climate change, curbing the rising debt level, and helping achieve efficient reforms to current policies. Climate change poses serious risks to both the environment and the economy. Scientists project that, depending on future GHG emissions, by 2100 average global temperatures will be 2F to 11.5F higher than now. These higher temperatures will raise sea levels and produce more-frequent, extreme, and damaging weather events, such as wildfires, heat waves, storms, and droughts.


These changes will disrupt ecosystems and crop production, increase heat-related deaths, require costly adaptation, and produce many other monetary and nonmonetary consequences. While much remains to be learned about the potential impacts of climate change, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that lower GHG concentrations will produce lower climatic disruptions; for that reason, it is prudent to take steps today to curb emission. Some climate-related regulations are in place, and more are pending under the EPA's Clean Air Act authority. But the current approach to addressing climate change is inefficient and costly. Emissions standards, energy-efficiency standards, renewable electricity subsidies, and biofuel mandates are only a few examples of costly or ineffective policies. Indeed, current approaches can induce costs of each ton of abated carbon that are substantially higher than the U.S. government's estimate of the benefits, leading to negative net social benefits. A carbon tax could replace many such inefficient environmental and energy policies. 


Climate Policy: Cleveland, Ohio  


Cleveland Climate Action Plan: Building Thriving and Healthy Neighborhoods


The global increase in greenhouse gas emissions has created social, economic, budgetary, health, ecological and security impacts for cities across the country, prompting local governments to plan differently for the future. In 2006, Mayor Frank G. Jackson signed the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement, indicating that the City of Cleveland takes climate change seriously.


The Cleveland Climate Action Plan is designed to build off of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Action and Resources Guide and the annual sustainability summits. There are 33 actions in this plan designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating conditions for a sustainable economy, a healthy community, and a Cleveland resilient and adaptable to changes in climate.  


Saving Energy at Home


Environmental Health Watch, a nonprofit organization in Cleveland, Ohio, offers 13 energy saving tips to help consumers reduce energy use and save money at home.


Did you know...

that the Levin College of Urban Affairs
has an Energy Policy Center and is the home to the Great Lakes Environmental Finance Center? Levin College also offers a Master of Arts in Environmental Studies and a BA in Environmental Studies. 

Advancing Urban Policy: Environmental Policy was created with counsel from Wendy Kellogg, Ph.D., Sanda Kaufman, Ph.D., and Nicolas Zingale, Ph.D.; compiled by Hama Bbela, graduate assistant; edited by Roslyn Miller, consultant.

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