Challenges for EPA’s Top Man In San Francisco

The latest in our series of television interviews with climate change thought leaders

Just about two years ago, Jared Blumenfeld took charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s largest West Coast office, promising “revolutionary” strides forward. But it’s been a tough slog on the climate front, given the political climate in Washington.

Climate Watch Senior Editor Craig Miller sat down with Jared Blumenfeld, Administrator for EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region, to talk climate, green business and smart growth. Their interview airs this weekend on This Week in Northern California, on KQED Public Television 9. The segment is edited from a longer interview; here’s a clip that’s not in the TV version.

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Follow the Carbon: Find the Biggest Greenhouse Gas Emitters Near You

An interactive map with fresh data and more selective features

Detail from EPA's interactive map of greenhouse gas emitters.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has just made tracking greenhouse gases a lot easier. The agency has produced its own map of major GHG producers, with fresh data and customizable features.

Two years ago, when we produced our map of California emitters for Climate Watch, we had to cobble it together with raw data from the state Air Resources Board emissions inventory, numbers that were relatively hard to find and infrequently updated. The EPA’s new map allows you to select your state, zoom into specific regions and view emissions by type and volume. Continue reading

CA, Capitol Republicans Lock Horns over Tailpipe Regs

Committee calls CA Air officials “unresponsive, ” suggests CA stepping on feds’ toes

Updated Monday, November 28, 2011

For California Air Resources Board (ARB) chair Mary Nichols, pre-Thanksgiving prep meant responding to list of requests from Orange County Republican congressman Darrell Issa and his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

As part of its expanding probe into how the newest Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were set, the letter asked for information about how California came up with its vehicle emissions standards and what role state officials played in developing the newly announced federal fuel economy standard. Continue reading

New Federal Fuel Rules Expected Soon, California Poised to Benefit

Stricter fuel standards for cars and light trucks could bring tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the Golden State, one report says.

In July, when the Obama Administration announced a plan for strict new fuel efficiency standards that would require a fleet-wide average for cars and light trucks of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, the sustainable business non-profit CERES reported the move would create nearly 500,000 new jobs nationwide.

“The new jobs will be related directly to the auto industry, and there will be additional jobs because consumers will have more money to spend because they will be saving on fuel,” said Carol Lee Rawn, director of the transportation program at CERES. Continue reading

EPA Chief: Cap & Trade a Distant Hope

Agency head says “green jobs” are the priority now

Remember those national carbon trading bills that were moving through Congress as Barack Obama was setting up shop in the Oval Office? The head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency says: Don’t hold your breath.

EPA chief Lisa Jackson: "What America's talking about right now is jobs."

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s appearance on KQED’s Forum Wednesday seemed to confirm that her boss is picking his battles carefully. “What America’s talking about right now is jobs,” Jackson told host Michael Krasny. “Green jobs are what we have to be working on with everything we do.” The message seemed to be that environmental goals will take a back seat, unless they can be linked to job creation.

Krasny walked Jackson through the checklist of recent controversies, such as today’s decision to postpone greenhouse gas regulations beyond a September 30 deadline, and to let stand Bush-era standards for ozone pollution. Continue reading

Air Board Defends EPA on Capitol Hill

A high-ranking California official appeared on Capitol Hill today to defend the right of the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

James Goldstene, executive director of the state’s Air Resources Board, told members of a House subcommittee that the EPA’s recently released regulations will not create a “regulatory train wreck.”

Goldstene  held up a planned power plant in Northern California to advance his case, saying that the Russell City Energy Plant will stand as an example of how power companies can use the “best available technology” for reducing emissions, as required under a recently issued EPA rule. The plant, to be built on the Hayward shore of San Francisco Bay, is a 600-megawatt plant to be fired by natural gas.

Goldstene’s appearance before the Subcommittee on Energy and Power (part of the Energy & Commerce Committee) was to counter Republican efforts to pull EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, contained in a bill known as the Energy Tax Prevention Act. Goldstene said passage of the bill into law would “send a stark message…that the U-S isn’t serious about being a leader in the future economy.” It would also upstage a ruling by the US Supreme Court affirming the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Goldstene’s full testimony is available as a PDF download.

EPA’s CO2 Rules Old-Hat for California

A much-hyped EPA ruling to regulate greenhouse gases in 2011 doesn’t really change much for California.

A lot’s being made of the move by the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s move to start regulating greenhouse gases in the new year, but policy analysts are greeting it as a relative non-event in states like California (and Massachusetts), which are already moving ahead with their own carbon regulation strategies.

“It’s really a complement to what we’re doing with AB 32,” said California Air Resources Board spokeswoman Gennet Paauwe.

The EPA is acting in response to a 2007 US Supreme Court finding that greenhouse gases fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Air Act, and therefore are subject to regulation by the federal agency.

Critics of the EPA’s move, such as incoming House Energy Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich), say it’s a job-killer that will hurt domestic energy production. Other members of Congress, like California’s Barbara Boxer, support the EPA’s action.

The new regulations will affect power plants and refineries, which together produce about 40% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.  Starting January 2, industry will be required to consider new technologies and implement measures to mitigate greenhouse gas pollution for approval of new facilities and “major modifications” to existing ones.

“This is about taking a look at what technologies are available that can cost-effectively achieve reductions in greenhouse gases,” EPA assistant administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters in a recent conference call. “We set the standards, and the industry themselves figure out the most cost-effective ways to achieve those standards,” she said.

Vickie Patton, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund, says a similar process is already in place for monitoring many other pollutants, and the new ruling simply adds greenhouse gases to the list.

Existing power plants and refineries will have to address greenhouse gas emissions, too, but not for at least a year.  Draft standards (providing details of the new rules) aren’t expected for power plants until July 2011, and December for refineries.  The agency says those standards wont be finalized until mid-to-late 2012 after a long period of public comment. By that time California’s cap & trade plan under AB 32 will be up and running, barring any legal delays.

The EPA says it will be up to each state to devise it’s own plans for implementing the standards.  And that’s where much of the uncertainly lies.  Texas has already refused to cooperate and sued unsuccessfully to stay the EPA ruling, long before the draft standards have been released or any formal process has been established for implementation.

“We’re really early stage,” said McCarthy. “I can’t tell you what types of reductions we hope to achieve. That’s all going to be driven by the technologies that come to our attention through the public comment period.”

Patton says that despite that state’s high profile objections, most states are on board with the federal process.

“Virtually every state in our country has rolled up its sleeves, prepared for this transition, and is ready to begin carrying out these protections to address global warming pollution, except for Texas,” she said.

Patton said that states like California, which has been a pioneer in both new technologies and in emissions regulation, will have “an important voice” as the standards are being developed.

“In the absence of an effective price on carbon or other incentives for industrial plants to choose clean technology, this is very important and useful tool to help the transition to clean energy and industry in California,” said CARB’s Paauwe. But once the AB 32 program is in motion, she said, this regulation could be redundant, as CARB hopes that the state cap and trade program as well as other market incentives will motivate firms to install the cleanest technologies on their own.

At that time, she said, “We can look at whether a separate clean technology process is necessary.”

Feds to States on Global Warming Suit: Back Off

Navajo Generation Station. The place of coal in California's energy diet is shrinking, but that's not necessarily true for the rest of the country. (Photo: Alex E. Proimos via Flickr)

Bit by bit, the US Environmental Protection Agency is moving to limit the gases that scientists say cause global warming. Over five years, the agency is limiting auto emissions and is also requiring new industrial plants to use improved pollution controls

Sooooo, US Justice Department lawyers argue, California, seven other states, New York City and three land trusts should not be suing major utilities, demanding that they reduce global warming emissions.

In papers filed with the US Supreme court this week, Justice Department lawyers argue the authority to curb emissions that cause climate change belongs to the Environmental Protection Agency and to Congress. Continue reading

California Cities Get High Marks for Energy Efficiency

San Francisco

Los Angeles tops a new ranking (PDF) of the 25 U.S. cities with the most energy efficient buildings, released by the Environmental Protection Agency.  With 293 Energy Star-rated buildings encompassing 76 million square feet of space, Los Angeles saves $93.9 million and reduces emissions equal that from electricity use by 34,800 homes, according to the EPA.

Washington, D.C. was ranked second, and San Francisco third.  Two other California cities made the top 25: Sacramento (16th) and San Diego (17th).  According to EPA data, San Francisco has 173 Energy Star buildings (including Hotel Nikko and One Embarcadero Center) that save an estimated $69.4 million in energy costs and reduce emissions equivalent to 24,700 homes. Sacramento and San Diego have 61 and 58, respectively.

As of the end of last year, 9,000 commercial buildings had been awarded Energy Star designation since 1999, representing a combined savings in utility costs of $1.6 billion and a reduction in GHG emissions equal to that of one million homes, according to the EPA.

Buildings that qualify for Energy Star are those that score in the top 25%, based on the EPA’s National Energy Performance Rating System, which compares energy use among facilities of similar types on a scale of 1-100.

EPA’s New Regional Chief: Act Locally

New EPA regional chief Jared Blumenfeld. Photo: EPA

New EPA regional chief Jared Blumenfeld. Photo: EPA

Yesterday I spoke with Jared Blumenfeld, the former head of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment–aka the guy who brought mandatory recycling to San Francisco and banished the phrase “Paper or plastic?” from the city’s supermarkets–by banning the plastic.

Blumenfeld now occupies a vast corner office in the EPA’s Region 9 headquarters, overseeing a territory that includes four Western states and 20 of the country’s largest cities. Born 40 years ago, just as Region 9 came into being, this week he was briefing reporters on his plans to “revolutionize” the region with a tighter focus on environmental justice, enforcement, and making small businesses more efficient.

What do these things have in common? For one thing, they’re all pretty local: specific communities with specific complaints and needs (a profile, incidentally, that fits Blumenfeld’s first initiative to a “T”).

So what about more sweeping changes on, say, climate? You could argue that it’s not the job of a regional head to get mixed up in Beltway politics. But given all the recent drama in Washington around cap and trade, maybe Blumenfeld’s local focus is intentional.

How, I asked him, has the mood in Washington affected his ambitions for EPA Region 9?

“I was looking at a recent poll that showed how many fewer people understand climate change last year than this year,” he replied. “I think the environmental movement has gotten away from the people. We’ve become overly specialized, jargony, focused on large problems no one person can solve.”

Having made San Francisco a considerably “greener” place, maybe Blumenfeld’s first task is to export small initiatives that–for the moment at least–make environmental problems feel local and solveable.

Amy Standen is the lead radio reporter for Quest, KQED’s multimedia science initiative.