Wednesday, August 28, 2013
ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner penned an op-ed published in today’s Chicago Sun-Times.
Chicago should lead the way in slowing global warming
BY HOWARD A. LEARNER
A recent Chicago Sun-Times’ editorial [“Global Warming Is Real. It’s Our Fault. Let’s Fix It” — August 21] explains that climate science is conclusive. We need to act now to make a difference. Solving climate change problems is the moral, business, policy, political and technological challenge of our times. Fortunately, there are steps forward that are good for jobs and economic growth and good for our environment and public health.
Chicago should be a leader in advancing smart solutions with innovative modern technologies.
First, energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to climate change problems. Modern lighting technologies and HVAC systems, Energy Star appliances that keep getting more efficient, and improved pumps and motors avoid pollution, save businesses and people money on utility bills, support retrofitting jobs and keep money in Chicago’s economy.
These efficiency opportunities are no-brainers. Why would anyone favor wasting energy and money?
Illinois’ Energy Efficiency Performance Standards leverages billions of dollars in new efficiency investments, and the City’s Retrofit Chicago program accelerates efficiency improvements in commercial, municipal and multifamily residential buildings. Full speed ahead with both “tried and true” energy efficiency programs and innovations that push the envelope.
Second, let’s shift from old coal plants that emit carbon pollution and, instead, develop more clean, renewable energy generation. The highly-polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants have been shut down, and Chicago’s electricity supply procurement now requires “no coal.” That’s progress. Suburban municipalities should likewise shift away from coal to purchasing more renewable energy. That’s smart for our regional economy and environment.
Third, Chicago is a national and global wind energy hub. We’re home to 13 major wind energy corporate headquarters, just hosted the American Wind Energy Association’s convention and will soon host Solar Power International. Illinois is the nation’s No. 4 state for wind power development and is home to many manufacturing companies that have retooled to make wind energy equipment that’s powering more of the nation.
What’s needed? Illinois’ legislators should update the Renewable Energy Standard statute, which was based on ComEd’s power purchasing before the new wave of municipal aggregations. This modernization will spur more wind and solar energy development. Implementing Chicago’s SunShot plan can remove barriers to distributed solar on building rooftops while also seizing opportunities to convert underutilized industrial “brownfields” into productive solar “brightfields.” That’s a win-win-win: Less pollution, more economic growth and more jobs.
Fourth, cleaner, more efficient cars save us money at the gas pump, reduce carbon pollution and improve national security by cutting oil imports. Federal clean car standards require a fleetwide average of 35 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025. Government and business fleets should purchase more electric, hybrid and natural gas vehicles that pollute less and save on fuel prices. Ford, Chrysler and Mitsubishi Motors: Let’s build the next generation of clean cars here in Illinois!
Fifth, the Midwest should catch up to Asia and Europe in developing modern, higher-speed passenger train service that will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and spur economic growth. That can transform the region’s transportation infrastructure. The Chicago-hubbed Midwest high-speed rail network connects 11 major metropolitan areas and more mid-sized cities in-between. There are 460 Midwest rail equipment supply-chain businesses.
What’s needed? Federal transportation investments to upgrade more rail crossings, tracks, bridges, signals and other infrastructure. It’s time to prioritize modernizing Union Station to make this regional rail hub a great gateway for Chicago visitors.
Let’s fix our global warming problems. Chicago should lead the way in advancing solutions that are good for our environmental future and economic growth together.
Howard A. Learner is executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based environmental and economic development advocacy organization.
Monday, August 12, 2013
In the spring and summer of 2013, ELPC approached climate scientists across the Midwest and asked: What does climate change mean to your state? What can your state do to help address this global issue? The answers we received became a series of op-ed articles that were published in leading papers across the region. Click here for links to stories.
Monday, August 12, 2013
August 12, 2013
Joyce Penner and David Skole:
Taking action on climate now is key for Michigan’s future
Last summer seemed like a climate change prediction come true. We experienced our warmest March on record, late April and early May frosts, and a June through August drought. The unseasonably warm spring and lack of summer rain destroyed our cherry and apple crops, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural losses. It didn’t take 100 years of historic data and complex general circulation models to demonstrate that something was out of the ordinary.
Unlike last year, this year’s spring got off to a cooler, soggier start. April was the wettest on record, and March through May was our coldest since 2008. Fortunately, our billion-dollar agricultural sector is faring rather well, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture reporting that our top soil moisture levels and various field, fruit and vegetable crops are all looking good.
To some, the contrast between this year and last year might seem proof that climate change is not real, but years of vigorously tested climate-related data suggest otherwise. Michigan is, in fact, changing.
Using a combination of field, atmospheric and historic data, we know that annual temperatures are increasing nationwide. We are 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer today than we were at the turn of last century. We’ve seen both an increase in our regional precipitation and shifts in the timing of when the rain falls. We’ve seen a longer frost-free season that decreases groundwater recharge and threatens our lake and river levels. We’ve seen a significant increase in extreme weather. Our record high temperatures now outnumber our record lows by 2 to 1, and floods and droughts are becoming much more commonplace. There is an overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that these changes are exacerbated by human actions, and without proper and immediate intervention, the negative impacts of climate change will continue to grow in the future.
While there is little we can do to change the natural variations within the earth’s climate cycles, there are steps we can take to limit the human contribution to climate change. We can clean our air and reduce heat-trapping gases by asking for state and federal carbon standards for existing power sources. We can create jobs and reduce our dependence on out-of-state-sourced coal by increasing our use of in-state renewable energy and supporting robust energy-efficiency efforts. We can allow our 19 million acres of public and private forest lands to act as efficient carbon sinks by calling for improved management of these majestic resources. We can, as empowered citizens, understand that taking measures to mitigate climate change today means a healthier environment for us and our children, financial savings and economic growth for our families and our state, and a rebirth of Michigan as a technological and industrial leader.
Whether we live in a major city or spend our days tending orchards, climate change is real and impacts us all. If we remain silent and fail to act on one of the most pressing issues of our time, climate predictions indicate that Michigan stands to lose much more than cherries.
Joyce Penner is the associate chairwoman for atmospheric science and Ralph J. Cicerone distinguished university professor of atmospheric science at the University of Michigan. David Skole is a professor of forestry at Michigan State University.
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Friday, August 2, 2013
EACH of us took turns over the past 43 years running the Environmental Protection Agency. We served Republican presidents, but we have a message that transcends political affiliation: the United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally.
There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts: our world continues to warm, with the last decade the hottest in modern records, and the deep ocean warming faster than the earth’s atmosphere. Sea level is rising. Arctic Sea ice is melting years faster than projected.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Bending the Global Temperature Rise Arc
Howard Learner, Executive Director, ELPC
The OECD’s International Energy Agency (IEA) recent report focuses on the question of what to do about climate change realities.
IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven explains: “We recently passed a grim milestone with the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere topping 400 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is uncharted territory in the history of humans. While it does not represent a tipping point per se, that milestone is symbolic of our failure to respond adequately, and to fulfill our own national and international pledges to limit average global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius over the long term.”
The science is clear that global climate change is occurring. That debate is over. How much can mitigation measures bend the arc on rising temperatures?
The IEA proposes four ways in its “4-for-2 degrees Celsius Scenario” strategy for countries to substantially reduce carbon pollution by 2020 that would make it possible in theory, at least, to eventually limit global temperature increases:
- “Targeted energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry and transport account for nearly half the emissions reduction in 2020, with the additional investment required being more than offset by reduced spending on fuel bills.
- Limiting the construction and use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants delivers more than 20 percent of the emissions reduction and helps curb local air pollution. The share of power generation from renewables increases (from around 20 percent today to 27 percent in 2020), as does that from natural gas.
- Actions to halve expected methane (a potent greenhouse gas) releases into the atmosphere from the upstream oil and gas industry in 2020 provide 18 percent of the savings.
- Implementing a partial phase-out of fossil fuel consumption subsidies accounts for 12 percent of the reduction in emissions and supports efficiency efforts.”
Let’s focus first on energy efficiency because it’s the best, fastest and cheapest approach to reduce carbon pollution. Energy efficiency ties together several of the IEA’s climate change mitigation recommendations to transform our energy economy in ways that are less polluting and advance clean technological innovations.
The quiet revolution of energy efficiency technological improvements is flattening electricity demand in the United States. Refrigerators, air conditioners and many household appliances are more energy efficient, and, over time, people are replacing their older home equipment with newer, more efficient models. Commercial HVAC and lighting retrofits add more efficiency, and modern industrial pumps and motors use electricity more frugally. The emergence of high-efficiency LED lighting over the next five years is a game changer that can save businesses and people money, avoid waste and avoid pollution.
Policy advances and technological innovations are coming together. Federal and state appliance and equipment efficiency standards are saving people and businesses’ money while reducing pollution. Consumer-funded investments through utilities’ energy efficiency programs are achieving results. R&D labs are advancing technological innovations that drive more efficient devices and products to global consumer markets. Transferring and export these technology advances to developing countries can mitigate carbon pollution.
Energy efficiency is flattening demand in U.S. electricity markets, as shown by the recent PJM capacity market auction for 2016 in which prices dropped 60 percent over the prior year. That’s having a sharp economic impact on potential coal plant retirements, which is another one of the IEA’s policy goals.
The quiet revolution in energy efficiency and accelerating technological innovations can help to bend the temperature rise arc. Let’s advance the public policies which go hand-in-hand with energy efficiency technological improvements to achieve climate change mitigation solutions.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
July 2, 2013
Why Chicago is a winner with president’s Climate Action Plan
By Howard Learner
President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan is a turning point for global leadership on climate-change solutions. The president is stepping up with comprehensive executive actions to reduce carbon pollution and accelerate renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean-vehicle solutions. In the classic Chicago tradition of “what’s in it for us,” here’s why Chicago is a big winner.
• Mr. Obama’s plan aggressively advances renewable energy development to address climate change. Thirteen North American or global wind-power companies have their headquarters in Chicago. Illinois is fourth in the nation for wind-power development and is home to many manufacturing companies that make wind-energy equipment. That’s a winner.
• The president greenlighted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to move forward with Clean Air Act standards to reduce carbon pollution from new and existing coal plants that compete with Exelon Corp.’s nuclear plants. That’s good for public health and follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision. The clean-air standards also boost the competitive position of Chicago-based Exelon’s nuclear fleets. By contrast, the parent companies of almost all Illinois coal plants are based in California, Missouri and Texas, and about 75 percent of the coal they burn is from out of state.
• Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to climate change. The president’s plan highlights the Better Buildings Challenge for commercial and industrial buildings to become at least 20 percent more energy-efficient by 2020 and expands this program to multifamily housing.
Chicago’s strong downtown and its location as the Midwest’s commercial center benefits from this focus. The city’s Retrofit Chicago program to reduce energy use in commercial, municipal and residential buildings can save businesses money on utility bills, reduce pollution and create jobs. Local energy-efficiency retrofit businesses are growing and offering more job opportunities.
• Plans to advance creative financing approaches for energy-efficiency retrofits will help Chicago’s mostly older housing stock. Mr. Obama announced a July meeting, convened by the Federal Housing Administration, bringing together the lending community and other key stakeholders to identify ways to factor energy efficiency into mortgage underwriting and the appraisal process for home sales and refinancings.
• Mr. Obama announced plans to partner with industry leaders and other key stakeholders to further increase fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks, buses and vans. Chicago is a transportation and trucking center. Reducing fuel consumption through more-efficient engines and other advanced equipment technologies and logistics can help untangle Chicago’s gridlock while saving on fuel costs and reducing carbon pollution.
The president’s program advances his core principal that “there is no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.” The Climate Action Plan is a landmark move forward for common-sense climate change solutions that are good for our environment, good for our economy and really good for Chicago.
Find online at: http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20130702/OPINION/130709975/why-chicago-is-a-winner-with-presidents-climate-action-plan#ixzz2XtlhgT1F
Monday, July 1, 2013
Monday afternoon, ELPC’s Howard Learner joined Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ’s Worldview to talk about President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.
“This a turning point for presidential leadership, US leadership, and global leadership on climate change action,” Learner told McDonnell.
Listen to the interview.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
In Wednesday’s coverage of President Barack Obama’s Climate Change Plan, the Des Moines Register spoke with ELPC’s Howard Learner, who zeroed in on the promise the plan holds for the region’s renewable energy industry:
“The president’s emphasis on renewable energy is “a big winner for Iowa,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. In addition to being a major wind energy producer, Iowa also has become a hub for turbine manufacturing, from spinning blades to nuts and bolts.
Opening more public land to wind generation should keep those plants running strong, he said.
‘To the extent that the president’s climate action plan moves forward, that’s good for more wind power developments in Iowa, that’s good for job creation, that’s good for economic growth and it’s good for the environment,’ Learner said.”
Read the whole story at http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20130626/NEWS/306260041/1136/comm06/?odyssey=nav%7Chead.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 25, 2013
HOWARD LEARNER, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER STATEMENT
ON PRESIDENT OBAMA’S CLIMATE CHANGE INITIATIVE
“The United States Supreme Court has twice confirmed the EPA’s statutory responsibility to reduce carbon pollution in order to protect our public health and environment. President Obama is implementing the law and advancing common sense solutions to climate change realities and extreme weather events, which impose huge economic and social costs,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Solving global climate change problems is the moral, business, policy and political challenge of our generation. The President is leading with focused solutions that are good for economic growth, good for job creation and good for our environment.”
Friday, June 21, 2013
Iowa View: It’s time for Iowa to lead on climate change
Written by GREGORY CARMICHAEL AND EUGENE TAKLE
Iowa seems to have become a state of extremes.
Last year, record early warmth prompted fruit blossoming in March and corn planting in early April, only to be severely challenged by late freezes and widespread drought. This year, a cold start to the planting season, followed by the wettest spring on record, has delayed planting and produced widespread soil erosion from extreme rainfall.
Last year along the Mississippi River, low water brought barge traffic to a standstill. This year, barges were halted when locks near St. Louis were overwhelmed by rising waters. In recent weeks, both central and eastern Iowa have had major flooding, which might have rivaled previous records if these patterns had persisted one more day.
While a recent arrival to our state might wonder if extreme weather is the norm and a longtime Iowan might question whether a new normal has arrived, all of us are likely asking, “What’s going to happen next?”
Unfortunately, climate science cannot tell us for sure what the next season or year will bring. It can, however, help us understand which way our future weather is trending. Using a mixture of modeling, historic records and field studies, climate scientists investigate how changes to atmospheric processes can affect long-term trends in our state.
These tools, along with years of extensive study, have shown us that heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and methane and black carbon resulting from combustion of fossil fuels are relentlessly shifting our future toward more extreme events.
Though weather events and climate change are not always related, we know that the last few decades have brought shifts in weather patterns. What we once considered 500-year floods are now occurring much more frequently than expected. Extreme high temperatures are now, by conservative estimates, twice as likely to occur as extreme lows.
Iowa has experienced, first-hand, billion dollar losses due to extreme precipitation and drought. Unfortunately, these events are becoming much more commonplace. While some of these shifts have been caused by natural variations within the Earth’s climate system, we know that human activity is now a leading driver in creating more disruptive weather and climate.
Fortunately, Iowa is in a strong position to be a leader in reducing climate change losses and growing a more sustainable economy.
As one of the nation’s largest producers of wind power, we should ask our federal leaders to establish stronger policies promoting renewable energy. As a center of innovation, we can continue to develop effective flood control approaches that protect our communities, reduce runoff and improve water quality. Finally, as one of the largest agriculture-based economies in our country, we can push the envelope on developing drought-resistant crops and more sustainable land-management practices that protect our soil as well as the health of our waterways.
Though Iowa’s extremes have brought very real and sometimes painful losses to many communities and farms around our state, our suffering need not have been in vain. No matter what tomorrow’s weather brings, our state can become a model of sustainability and energy efficiency so that “as Iowa goes, so goes the nation.”
GREGORY CARMICHAEL is a professor of chemical and biochemical engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. EUGENE TAKLE is director of the climate science program and a professor of atmospheric science and agricultural meteorology at Iowa State University.
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