ELPC in the News

AP News: Michigan’s Consumers Energy to stop burning coal by 2040

Michigan’s Consumers Energy to stop burning coal by 2040

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Consumers Energy will phase out electricity production from coal by 2040 to slash emissions of heat-trapping gases that cause global warming, the Michigan utility’s president and CEO told The Associated Press.

The utility plans to generate 40% of its power from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy by then, Patti Poppe said in an interview ahead of the public announcement Monday. She said the utility will also will rely on natural gas, hydropower and improved efficiency to meet customer needs.

Consumers Energy and DTE Energy Co., which supply most of Michigan’s electricity, are among many U.S. providers moving away from coal even as President Donald Trump’s administration boosts fossil fuels and seeks to unravel former President Barack Obama’s policies that promoted cleaner power.

“We believe that climate change is real and we can do our part by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and we also believe it doesn’t have to cost more to do it,” Poppe said. “We believe we’re going to be on the right side of history on this issue.”

Coal is becoming less competitive as the cost of producing renewable energy steadily falls, she added.

Environmental groups praised the move after the utility officially announced the move Monday. But they also urged the utility to make the transition from coal to renewable sources in less than 22 years.

….

Consumers Energy owns two wind turbine farms and buys power from a third. It co-owns with DTE a hydroelectric plant on Lake Michigan. The utility says it is upgrading its natural gas infrastructure around the state.

Along with its renewable energy plan, Consumers Energy also announced a five-year plan for reducing its environmental footprint that includes saving 1 billion gallons of water, reducing waste sent to landfills by 35% and restoring or improving 5,000 acres of land.

The utility says its customers include 6.7 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents.

DTE last year pledged a carbon emissions cut of more than 80% by 2050 by phasing out coal, boosting wind and solar energy, and building a 1,100-megawatt natural gas plant. The company described the new gas facility as essential to providing reliable and affordable power while reducing carbon emissions.

Environmentalists contend DTE and Consumers Energy should make bigger commitments to renewables instead of gas.

“Gas prices are unpredictable. They’re low now but there’s no certainty they will be in the long term,” said Margrethe Kearney, staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “There’s zero fuel costs for wind and solar.”

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Michigan Utility to Independent Generators: We Don’t Need You Right Now

 

Michigan Utility to Independent Generators: We Don’t Need You Right Now

By Andy Balaskovitz

A major Michigan utility says it doesn’t need new generation from renewable energy developers, and it shouldn’t be forced to pay for it.

Michigan has become the latest battleground over a decades-old federal law known as the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA.

The law essentially requires utilities to buy power from small, independent producers when doing so will save money for ratepayers.

In multiple states recently, that’s opened the gates for a flood of utility-scale solar projects, which can now routinely sell power at utilities’ avoided cost rate — defined as the incremental cost a utility pays for not generating the electricity itself. Utilities have begun to push back, lobbying for state and federal reforms.

Michigan regulators spent months reviewing how much independent producers should be paid and in November settled on a new, lower rate. One of its largest utilities, though, argues even that number is too high.

Consumers Energy told regulators in December that it doesn’t project a need for new generation capacity in the next decade, and that as a result it should be allowed to sign PURPA contracts at an even lower rate. Developers say they couldn’t build projects with such low compensation.

Solar and clean energy advocates have also scoffed at Consumers’ projection, which assumes the company will continue to operate four coal-fired units through 2030. Critics also note that Consumers plans to build 625 MW of its own wind and solar, even though the Michigan Public Service Commission hasn’t formally approved those plans. Meanwhile, the utility projected growing capacity need as recently as September 2016.

In November, the MPSC approved new avoided cost rates for Consumers, which has 33 PURPA contracts in place across its service territory. The rates hadn’t been updated for about two decades. It also ruled that if the utility’s capacity needs are met for the next decade it could enter PURPA contracts at a far lower “planning resource auction” rate.

The commission suspended its ruling on Dec. 20 based on formal opposition from hydroelectric and biomass owners. The same day, Consumers filed a motion asking that its PURPA rate be reset to the lower figure, and since then at least three developers have objected, saying those lower rates would jeopardize upwards of 800 MW worth of solar projects. Michigan had roughly 100 MW of solar capacity installed statewide at the start of the year.

“These issues need to be resolved quickly. There is a market for renewable energy that’s being paralyzed here,” said Margrethe Kearney, staff attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “That is going to damage the market and disadvantage ratepayers who want more renewable energy.”

California-based Cypress Creek Renewables says Consumers is stalling 700 MW and $3 billion in investments in Michigan “over the next few years.” And Geronimo Energy filed testimony stating 70 MW worth of plans are on hold.

Six other utilities have pending cases before regulators to set PURPA avoided cost rates, including DTE Energy, which is also seeking permission to build a nearly $1 billion natural gas plant to make up for generation lost by retiring coal units. Critics of that plan say new PURPA contracts could help make up for the capacity shortage.

“It means people want to come to Michigan and build solar at a cost that is lower than (the price) DTE and Consumers could do it,” Kearney said, even though not all of that capacity is likely to be built. “That’s a good sign of a healthy market.”

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Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

 

Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

By Karen Uhlenhuth

Another threat to energy conservation programs has emerged in the Iowa Legislature.

One week after a bill to repeal utilities’ energy efficiency requirements surfaced in the state Senate, a broad public utility reform bill is set to reach a subcommittee Thursday.

The study bill (SSB3093) would let large industrial customers opt out of efficiency programs, allow utilities to apply a different cost-effectiveness formula, and also require each initiative be cost-effective on its own instead of evaluating the portfolio as a whole. It would also cap efficiency spending at 2 percent of a utilities’ revenue.

“It’s a significant scaling back of energy efficiency, and a step away from our leadership on energy efficiency,” Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Josh Mandelbaum said.

The bill, set to be discussed in a Commerce subcommittee meeting Thursday, was introduced by State Sen. Jake Chapman with support from Interstate Power & Light, one of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities.

Chapman did not respond to an interview request.

Interstate Power spokesman Justin Foss responded to questions about the bill with a brief statement:

“Iowa has been a pioneer in renewable energy and energy policy, providing economic growth for the state. To maintain this leadership position, Iowa needs updated policies to continue to promote the integration of new energy technologies, reduce regulatory inefficiencies, help customers save money, and provide even more opportunities for business growth and job creation.”

Other supporters include Black Hills Energy, a smaller investor-owned utility, the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, and the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. MidAmerican Energy is seeking similar changes in its next five-year energy efficiency plan, now under consideration by the Iowa Utilities Board.

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Under Rauner, penalties sought against Illinois polluters have plummeted

Well before the Trump administration began shifting responsibility for enforcing environmental laws to the states, Illinois already had slowed down the policing of air and water pollution under Gov. Bruce Rauner.

A Tribune analysis of enforcement data shows that since the Republican businessman took office in 2015, penalties sought from Illinois polluters have dropped to $6.1 million — about two-thirds less than the inflation-adjusted amount demanded during the first three years under Rauner’s two predecessors, Democrats Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich.

Rauner’s enforcement record during the past three years also pales in comparison to the final year in office of the state’s last Republican governor, George Ryan. Adjusted for inflation, the penalties sought since Rauner took office are less than half the amount demanded as Ryan wrapped up his four-year term in 2002.

One of the main reasons enforcement is on the decline statewide is the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has cut back sharply on using its most powerful tool: referring cases to the state attorney general’s office for civil or criminal prosecution.

During Rauner’s first year as governor, the EPA referred 73 cases to the attorney general — by far the lowest number since 1991. The annual average during his tenure is 80.

By contrast, the EPA sent 198 referrals a year on average during Blagojevich’s first three years in office and 144 during the same time period under Quinn, the Tribune analysis found.

“I have been dismayed by the sudden dropoff in the number of IEPA referrals to my office,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement. “The failure to thoroughly investigate and refer violations of the laws has dangerous consequences for people’s health and the environment.”

. . .

Federal enforcement actions nationwide have declined significantly since Scott Pruitt took over as EPA administrator, the Environmental Integrity Project and others have found. Veteran staff at the U.S. EPA’s Chicago office said it has become more difficult to file cases under Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general repeatedly challenged federal clean air and water regulations.

Pruitt’s new pick to lead the agency’s Chicago outpost, Cathy Stepp, is a former Wisconsin state official who rolled back enforcement of anti-pollution laws while serving in the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Howard Learner, president of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, said cutbacks at the federal and state level threaten to erase hard-fought victories that led to cleaner air and water.

“If you don’t have enforcement, the good guys who follow the law are put at a competitive disadvantage,” Learner said. “It sends a message to polluting industries that the cop on the beat is looking the other way.”

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Toledo Blade: ELPC Continues Push for EPA to Declare Lake Erie Open Waters Impaired

Environmentalists Make Renewed Push for U.S. EPA to Declare Western Lake Erie Impaired
By Tom Henry |

Now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reversed itself on the western Lake Erie impairment issue, environmentalists are pressing for a court ruling that would commit state and federal officials to impose tough new rules on farms and other sources of algae-growing runoff that flows into area waterways.

In a 25-page memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo this week, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center is imploring Senior Judge James G. Carr for a ruling that would force the U.S. EPA to declare the Ohio portion of western Lake Erie impaired within 30 days — thereby making it consistent with action taken by Michigan in 2016.

Then, according to the ELPC and its client, Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, the agencies should be compelled to do an extensive, fingerprint-like analysis to discover exactly where the basin’s phosphorus and nitrogen is coming from on a site-by-site basis.
It would be unlike any ever done before, and would be followed up with a major crackdown on the pollution to get to the root of the problem once and for all, the groups argue.

Their request is a supplement to a 188-page motion the two groups filed immediately after the U.S. EPA reversed itself on Jan. 12, when the federal agency conceded in a letter to Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler that it erred in going along with his agency’s plan to keep Ohio’s portion of western Lake Erie off its 2016 biennial list of impaired water bodies.

The U.S. EPA said in that letter it revisited the issue and — 14 months later — determined Ohio’s 2016 biennial report was “incomplete and thus not fully consistent with the requirements” of the federal Clean Water Act and U.S. EPA regulations.

In their latest filing, ELPC attorney Madeline Fleisher told Judge Carr she remains concerned the U.S. EPA is playing a shell game and trying to stall until the next biennial reporting period this fall. The judge has previously stated he would like to rule on this case this spring, before the 2018 algae season begins.

“The remedy for an admittedly illegal delay is not more delay,” Ms. Fleisher wrote for the opening sentence of her memorandum.

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U.S. News & World Report/AP: US Agency Reverses Course on Lake Erie Toxic Algae Decision

 

U.S. Agency Reverses Course on Lake Erie Toxic Algae Decision

By JOHN SEEWER, Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants Ohio to do another review of Lake Erie to determine whether it should be declared impaired by toxic algae blooms that have become a recurring threat in recent summers.

The agency in a letter to Ohio’s environmental director said it was reversing an earlier decision that had agreed with the state’s assessment that the western end of Lake Erie should not be listed as impaired.

The EPA’s reversal issued last week didn’t go as far as ordering the lake to be designated as an impaired watershed. Instead, it said the state’s list of impaired waters was incomplete and didn’t properly evaluate the lake’s waters.

Several environmental groups have sued the EPA saying the lake should be classified impaired because algae blooms are preventing the waters from meeting basic quality standards. The designation could pave the way for increased pollution regulations in the shallowest of the Great Lakes.
Michigan proposed in 2016 designating its portion of Lake Erie as impaired, but Ohio resisted doing the same for its entire section.

Craig Butler, director of Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency, said the state will do the review but needs more details from the federal agency. It remains unclear, he said, is what the standards are that should trigger an impaired designation for the lake’s open waters.

Butler said the U.S. EPA earlier told the state that it doesn’t have a way to gauge the algae’s impact. He said the state is working with university researchers to come up with such a measurement standard.

“We have never said that Lake Erie doesn’t have problems,” Butler said.

Algae outbreaks have fouled drinking water twice since 2013 and are a threat to fish and wildlife. Last year’s bloom stretched along the shores of Ohio, Michigan and Ontario, Canada, and was among the largest in recent years.

Scientists largely blame phosphorus-rich fertilizer runoff from farms and municipal sewage overflows for feeding the algae growth.

Backers of listing the lake as impaired hope it will bring increased regulations on how farmers fertilize their fields and dispose of livestock manure.

The U.S. EPA’s change of course is welcome but doesn’t ensure adequate protection for the lake, said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which sued over Ohio’s refusal to designate its western section as impaired.

The federal agency should order Ohio to immediately develop plans known as “total maximum daily loads,” which would impose specific limits on phosphorus flows into the lake, Learner said. Instead, the U.S. EPA appears willing to wait for a new state evaluation due in April.

“They seem to be kicking the can down the road,” Learner said.

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E&E News: In Reversal, EPA Yanks Approval of Ohio’s Lake Erie Assessment

 

In Reversal, EPA Yanks Approval of Ohio’s Lake Erie Assessment
By Ariel Wittenberg

U.S. EPA says it no longer approves of Ohio’s decision to omit parts of Lake Erie from a list of impaired waters that environmentalists say is critical to reducing toxic algae blooms there.

At issue is Ohio’s 2016 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, which found shorelines and areas of Lake Erie near drinking water intakes were impaired, but not its open waters.

EPA’s initial approval of the report in May was dubbed a “rubber stamp” by environmental groups. They responded with a lawsuit.

Now, the agency is withdrawing that approval, saying it has re-evaluated the report and “determined that the submission is incomplete and thus not fully consistent with the requirements of Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act and EPA’s regulations.”

In a letter to Ohio regulators, EPA’s newly confirmed Office of Water assistant administrator, David Ross, said the state did not fully consider all of the readily available data on nutrient pollution in the open waters of Lake Erie that fall within the state’s boundaries.

“The EPA acknowledges that the EPA Region 5 previously approved Ohio’s 2016 List in full,” Ross writes. “The EPA, however, is now exercising its inherent authority to reconsider prior decisions in order to ensure conformity of this action to the applicable statutory and regulatory requirements with respect to the open waters of Lake Erie within Ohio’s boundaries.”

The letter comes just three months after the federal government filed a response to the litigation from the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, saying the groups “fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

An EPA spokeswoman declined to comment further on the letter to Ohio and the ongoing case, saying, “EPA does not comment on pending litigation.”

Designating a body of water as impaired means the state and federal government must design action plans and restore the waters to a healthy quality.

Those actions could involve setting a “pollution diet,” or total maximum daily load (TMDL), for phosphorus and nitrogen entering Lake Erie.

In their lawsuit, the groups argued that devising action plans for parts of the lake, rather than all of it, would not fully address the algae bloom problem there.

Madeline Fleisher, an ELPC attorney, called Ross’ letter a “vindication” because EPA is conceding it was wrong to approve Ohio’s analysis.

But, she said, that’s not enough to end the lawsuit. “The EPA letter admits that they were wrong, but it essentially says, ‘We are not going to do anything about it,'” she said.
Fleisher noted that EPA is now asking Ohio to resubmit a new evaluation by April 9, essentially asking the state to redo its analysis in its regularly scheduled 2018 water quality report.

That request is contrary to EPA’s own regulations, Fleisher says, which require the agency to do its own evaluation of impairment designations it disagrees with.

“If a state has not gotten it right, then kicking it back to them for a do-over may not take things farther,” she said.

ELPC and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie have asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to make a ruling in the case requiring EPA itself to assess whether the open waters of Lake Erie are impaired.

“What really matters is actually solving the problem Lake Erie is suffering from, and this letter is not sufficient to do that,” Fleisher said.

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Toledo Blade: Federal EPA reverses course in Lake Erie impairment issue

 

By Tom Henry

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reversed itself on the western Lake Erie impairment issue, admitting it was wrong to approve a Kasich administration plan that has fundamentally kept the status quo of voluntary incentives for agricultural runoff intact.

While stopping short of agreeing it should immediately designate the lake’s open water as impaired, the federal agency said in a Jan. 12 letter to Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler it has reevaluated the state’s submission from Oct. 20, 2016, and determined it is “incomplete and thus not fully consistent with the requirements of Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act and EPA’s regulations.”

It further stated the Kasich administration’s submission did not adhere to its obligations to assemble and evaluate all data and information about nutrients in Lake Erie within the state’s boundaries.

Howard Learner, executive director of Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, told The Blade on Tuesday morning the U.S. EPA’s reversal is a significant development that should lead to court-ordered action for the lake and the Toledo metro region’s 500,000 people who depend on it for drinking water.

“The effect of what’s going on here is the U.S. EPA has confessed error on the merits of the case,” Mr. Learner said. “The U.S. EPA is recognizing the factual reality that western Lake Erie water is impaired by [agricultural] pollution.”

The letter, signed was shared on a federal holiday — Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — with the ELPC. The ELPC was preparing to meet a Tuesday deadline set by Senior Judge James G. Carr of U.S. District Court for a motion for summary judgment. The motion is 188 pages long.

The ELPC represents Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, which was founded by activist Mike Ferner in response to the 2014 Toledo water crisis. The two groups sued the U.S. EPA several months ago over the lack of an impairment designation. The judge has indicted he wants that case resolved by this April or May, before the 2018 algae season.

“Courts shape remedies all of the time. The judge is in a position now to tell the agencies it’s time to step up to the plate,” Mr. Learner said. “It’s not permissible for agencies to violate the Clean Water Act by pretending the western basin of Lake Erie is not impaired when clearly it is.”

The U.S. EPA, which approved the Ohio plan to maintain the status quo May 19, wants all of the state’s remaining data on western Lake Erie nutrient pollution by April 9. The ELPC said in its motion for summary judgment it is seeking a more “expeditious resolution.”

Mr. Butler said the U.S. EPA told him prior to issuing the letter that it was reversing itself, and that the Ohio EPA is “working on developing a response.”

“We’ve never said there’s not a problem in the lake,” Mr. Butler said. “We think this designation as impaired or not doesn’t impact our path forward. Our commitment is as strong as it’s ever been. This is an ongoing, never-ending focus for us.”

Mr. Butler also revealed that the state agency’s reluctance to designate the lake as impaired goes beyond a desire to maintain the status quo. He said the U.S. EPA cannot define itself what exactly it takes for a body of water as large as western Lake Erie to be designated as impaired.

Mr. Butler characterized the ELPC’s push for an impairment designation as “an academic argument.”

He declined to predict how Judge Carr will rule.

A spokesmen for the U.S. EPA said their the agency planned to provide The Blade a response Wednesday.

Judge Carr has presided over several major environmental cases involving Lake Erie, including years of litigation on Ottawa River restoration efforts and the city of Toledo’s consent order with the U.S. EPA over sewage overflows.

Michigan declared its much smaller portion of western Lake Erie impaired in 2016.

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WBEZ Worldview: Howard Learner discusses what cities can do to fight climate change

“New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio authorized a lawsuit against five major oil companies yesterday, hoping to recoup the costs imposed on the city by climate change. In 2012 New York’s streets and subways flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and rising sea levels have strained ocean infrastructure around the city.

‘Sandy taught us how destructive weather events exacerbated by climate change can be,’ a statement from de Blasio’s office said. The city is also divesting pension funds from the fossil fuel industry.

While climate change’s acute effects like rising sea levels aren’t as immediately threatening to Chicago, we’re going to see what the city can do to fight climate change with Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. We’ll also discuss President Trump’s statements yesterday on U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.”

Click Here to listen to the full segment. 

OpEd Des Moines Register: Iowa Cities Can Drive Climate Action with Paris Accord in Flux

Iowa Cities can Drive Climate Action with Paris Accord in Flux
by Howard A. Learner

While President Trump steps back from climate reality by withdrawing the United States from the landmark Paris Climate Accord, mayors in Iowa and across our country are stepping up to fill the void.

The recent North American Climate Summit brought together 50-plus mayors to sign the Chicago Climate Charter, committing to take initiatives to help meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s pollution reduction goals.

Now is the time for these municipal declarations of support to become real solutions to climate change problems. In short, take effective actions to reduce carbon pollution in ways that achieve environmental and economic development goals together.

Des Moines, Dubuque, Fairfield, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and other municipalities have pledged to seize opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Growing local solar energy, storage and energy efficiency creates jobs, saves money, attracts investment and avoids carbon pollution. Local energy production keeps energy dollars in our communities, instead of paying to import electricity generated by coal, gas and uranium. Clean electric vehicles and buses in municipal fleets reduce fuel and maintenance costs, and avoid pollution. Improving energy efficiency in city buildings saves taxpayer money, reduces pollution and lessens maintenance costs.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is proud that many Iowa cities are saying they want to be part of global climate change solutions. We will work with cities to adopt high-value actions to reduce carbon pollution in ways that are tailored to Iowans and set strong goals. Here are three ways that Iowa cities can transform their public commitments into meaningful climate actions:

Achieve 100 percent renewable energy for municipal electricity needs by 2022: Iowa is a wind power champion, and solar energy and energy storage capacity are accelerating as prices fall while technologies improve. Iowa cities can achieve 100 percent renewable energy by using locally produced wind power and solar energy plus storage, purchasing clean renewable energy from third parties, and securing renewable energy credits from new wind and solar projects.

Clean up municipal fleets: All new purchases should be electric vehicles (except in special cases). Our nation’s transportation sector now produces more greenhouse gas pollution than the electric power sector, which is finally moving on a cleaner path. Iowa cities should buy electric vehicles (EV) or other zero-emission vehicles for non-emergency fleets. Cities can create demand to drive the EV market forward while reducing pollution. EVs have fewer moving parts and lower maintenance costs than internal combustion engine vehicles. EV operating costs are lower and more predictable. Using wind and solar energy to power EV charging stations accelerates a cleaner transportation system.

Rapidly improve municipal building energy efficiency: Smart energy efficiency investments produce cost savings and less pollution. Why wait? Many payback periods are short and the savings come fast. Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs is a no-brainer cost-saver and pollution-reducer. Antiquated HVAC systems and old appliances waste money and allow more pollution. Smart energy efficiency products, technologies and controls are available. The time has never been better for cities to reduce their energy bills and cut pollution through energy efficiency improvements.

Iowa cities are leading by saying that they’ll step up with climate actions. The hard and most important work now comes next: transforming these declarations and sincere aspirations into real actions that reduce carbon pollution.

Cities can seize climate action opportunities by moving forward with these three specific initiatives for clean energy, clean transportation and energy efficiency that will produce significant pollution reduction results. Let’s work together to turn words into deeds, achieve economic and environmental benefits together, and help advance the Paris Climate Accord goals.

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