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The signing of a global climate accord, in Paris France, at COP21, is a historic moment. Some, from the science community, such as James Hansen [1], may see it as a fraud, because it does not go nearly far enough in truly resolving the problem. For instance no global tax on carbon was included. However, an attempt to get such a specific and far reaching policy would have most likely stalled all other efforts to come to an agreement. A global tax on carbon would be extremely helpful in curtailing CO2 emissions, but there are many more options which we can start using now. One of the most important things to understand about this agreement is that it publicly acknowledges falling short of the mark, and it defines a process in which every five years countries reexamine their CO2 emissions goals to see if further cuts can be made[2]. This is a very rational approach because of the complexity of climate change, and how new technologies can help countries realistically meet their CO2 emission goals.

President Obama has been courageous in his efforts to get the United States (U.S.) to pull its head out of the sand and take a leadership role in confronting climate change. To appreciate this, one must understand the level of opposition confronting his efforts. No where can this be seen more clearly than the resistance to the EPA's Clean Power Plan (CPP) [3]. Possible the most irrational example of this is in the state of North Carolina. Governor Pat McCrory, of North Carolina, has made his opposition to the CPP clear [4]. Donald R. van der Vaart, who McCrory appointed head of the states Department of Environmental Quality [5], denied the existence of climate change during a Congressional hearing on the CPP. McCrory and van der Vaart are joining a law suite against the EPA [6], and have announced a proposal, for the CPP, that is intentionally designed not to meet the EPA’s requirements [7]. Beyond the usual cuckoo talk, what makes this so irrational is that the state of North Carolina has no commercially viable fossil fuel resources of its own [8], but has had success developing Solar Energy [9], largely due to the State Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, that was implemented by the previous administration, and  which has been attacked [10] by the current administration. 

The CPP is the Obama administration attempt to respond to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in Massachusetts vs. EPA, and subsequent rulings, that stated greenhouse gases (GHG), such as CO2 and methane, are air pollutants that are covered by the Clean Air Act (CAA), and in short required the EPA to make a decision on this matter [11]. The CPP is also a key part of the Obama administrations effort to enable the U.S. to begin mitigating the effects of climate change, and to promote such efforts among the International Community, like he did at COP21. Specifically, the CPP regulates GHG emissions from direct emitters, such as Power Plants which account for approximately 33% of U.S. GHG emissions, using section 111 of the CAA [12]. The plan is that by 2030 it will reduce emissions in that sector by 32% [13]. Section 111 applies to sources that are not currently being regulated under other sections of the CAA, and that the EPA administrator in her judgment finds "causes, or contributes significantly to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare" [14]. Section 111(b) applies to new, modified and reconstructed sources by establishing standards, and its implementation under the CPP is not being challenged. On the other hand, section 111(d) is for existing sources, and it is being challenged. 

Under section 111(d) of the CAA, the EPA's CPP "is establishing CO2 emission performance rates for two subcategories of existing fossil fuel-fired EGUs, fossil fuel-fired electric steam generating units and stationary combustion turbines". States are responsible for coming up with a plan "that meet the emission performance rates using best system of emission reduction” (BSER). The EPA has stated that the BSER can be a "combination of emission rate improvements and limitations on overall emissions at affected Electricity Generation Units (EGUs)." The EPA says this can be accomplished using three supply side building blocks, 1) reducing emissions of the specific EGU, substituting increases generation from 2) lower-emitting existing natural gas combined cycle units (NGCC), and 3) new zero-emitting renewable energy units. States can also use programs which improve demand side energy efficiency [15]. By not just focusing on each EGU, this approach is designed to give states the flexibility to design a plan that is tailored to each states power sector. For instance North Carolina has already been investing in Solar Energy, so it could continue to do so, and use the energy produced from solar to reduce the energy being generated from coal fired steamed plants, lessening the amount of CO2 being released and saving money by not burning coal. Opponents of the CPP, such as Governor McCrory and van der Vaart, have put up an array of contradicting reasons why GHG can not be regulated under section 111(d) of the CAA [16]. It seems like the main point of this approach is to confuse people about the CAA [17]. However, the Supreme Court has not been confused, so far, and continues to support the EPA. 

What may be most interesting about the opposition, is how many of their criticisms go against the tide of technological change in the Power Sector. The Power Sector is in the middle of a technological revolution, where electricity generation is becoming far more distributed, because of renewable energy and large-scale energy storage, and transmission is becoming far more interconnected, because of smart-grids and micro-grids. Governor McCrory should understand this, because he was once employed by Duke Energy. But their approach makes even less sense if you consider the revolution taking place on the other side of the wire, in energy efficiency. Light-emitting diodes (LED), in your television and light bulb, are leading this revolution, using over 80% less electricity [18] than incandescent bulbs. In North Carolina one of the major uses of electricity is to cool homes and businesses using air conditioners. Hybrid liquid desiccant air conditioning systems, which dehumidify air using a salt brine before sending it to the compressor, have been shown to provide 26–80% energy savings [19] over traditional vapor-compression air conditioners, depending on climates humidity. It is very humid in North Carolina during the summer! The EPA's CPP has been designed to enable states to take advantage of this revolution, by not focusing only on the EGU. The opposition on the other hand look like old fuddy duddies stuck in their ways, and not willing to accept the change in times.

References

  1. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/12/james-hansen-climate-change-paris-talks-fraud
  2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/paris-accord-is-a-big-win-for-obama-even-as-climate-dangers-still-loom/2015/12/12/bd6c5758-a044-11e5-8728-1af6af208198_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_obamaparis-145pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory
  3. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/10/23/mess-of-lawsuits-set-to-challenge-clean-power-plan
  4. http://www.indyweek.com/news/archives/2015/08/10/fact-checking-gov-mccrorys-hissy-fit-over-proposed-epa-carbon-rules 
  5. http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/denr-head-takes-a-potshot-at-the-epas-climate-change-plan/Content?oid=4663639
  6. http://wfae.org/post/mccrory-will-sue-epa-over-carbon-rule
  7. http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/blog/energy/2015/11/n-c-agrees-to-submit-alternate-clean-power-plan.htm
  8. http://www.danugroup.org/blog/2015/08/12/shovel-baby-shovel/
  9. http://www.seia.org/research-resources/2014-top-10-solar-states
  10. http://www.utilitydive.com/news/nc-house-passes-bill-to-freeze-renewable-portfolio-standard/395277/
  11. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/03/washington/03scotus.html?pagewanted=all.[Accessed: 11-Oct-2014]
  12. http://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/what-epa-doing
  13. http://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/global-warming/reduce-emissions/what-is-the-clean-power-plan
  14. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/7411
  15. http://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-energy-efficiency-clean-power-plan
  16. http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/guest/denr-blog/-/blogs/secretary-van-der-vaart-s-statement-on-federal-clean-power-plan
  17. http://blogs.edf.org/climate411/2015/02/13/misguided-legal-attacks-on-clean-power-plan-seek-to-undermine-clean-air-act-public-participation/
  18. http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/how-to/a10104/everything-you-need-to-know-about-led-light-bulbs-16542040/
  19. http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/salty-ac-gains-traction-in-the-market

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