When it comes to planet-warming emissions, the United States is at a crossroads.
Emissions from electricity generation have seen an overall downward trend in recent years. But emissions from transportation stubbornly continue to balloon, as Americans keep favoring big gas-guzzling cars.
The power sector has gotten some help. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade system covering nine Northeastern states, has provided a market-based incentive for power plants to reduce their pollution.
Now, a coalition of Northeastern states is looking to craft a regional cap-and-trade system for cars.
That’s never been done before. And it raises a host of thorny policy questions.
For one thing, power plants are stationary sources of pollution. But cars are mobile sources that can cross state lines, making tailpipe emissions a trickier problem.
“There’s been a successful effort to reduce electric-sector emissions. And now the states have an opportunity to pivot and really focus on the largest source of CO2 emissions in the country,” said Jordan Stutt, director of carbon programs at the Acadia Center, a Boston-based environmental group.
“Frankly, the science is making it all the more clear that we need to act quickly on this,” Stutt said. “So even though the transportation sector is notoriously difficult to clean up, that’s no longer a good enough excuse.”
RGGI works by setting a declining cap on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants. Facilities that exceed the cap must purchase carbon allowances at an auction. The revenue from the sale of carbon allowances goes toward state projects that promote clean energy.
Since RGGI’s inception in 2009, power-sector emissions in the Northeast have dropped 40%, propelled by the program as well as market forces. The new effort, known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative, could slash transportation-sector emissions between 29% to 40% by 2030, according to a report by the Georgetown Climate Center.
That could provide a strong counterpunch to President Trump’s rollbacks of environmental regulations, said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, which has emerged as a ringleader of TCI.
“The folks in the bubble around Washington who only think about federal policy might be missing out in thinking that what happens with the Trump administration is really all that’s happening on climate,” said Arroyo at an interview in her D.C. office near the U.S. Capitol.
“It’s definitely bad and very consequential that we don’t have federal leadership,” she said. “However, in the absence of federal leadership, the states have been leading on this.”
Trump may be lending a new urgency to TCI, but planning for the program started well before his presidency.
The Georgetown Climate Center initially convened a conversation among states in 2010. At that time, the discussion was broadly focused on ways of collaborating on clean transportation.
In 2015, states narrowed their focus to the possibility of a regional cap-and-trade system for the transportation sector. And in 2018, they officially committed to designing such a program (Climatewire, Dec. 19, 2018).
To outside observers, it may seem like TCI has taken a while to get off the ground. But multiple people interviewed for this story rejected that viewpoint.
“I mean, it is true that we haven’t gotten to the real meat of a policy discussion until the last couple of years,” said Bruce Ho, a senior advocate in the Climate and Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But now that we have the states focused on transportation, I think they’re actually making a lot of progress and have made some ambitious commitments.”
To be sure, there have been some hiccups along the way. Most notably, Virginia was a late addition. The Old Dominion didn’t commit to the program until September 2018 under Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who succeeded Terry McAuliffe, another Democrat.
“I don’t think I would characterize the [McAuliffe] administration as resisting the effort,” said Chris Bast, chief deputy at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, who was appointed by Northam. “I think there’s lots of work to do on climate change, and the McAuliffe administration moved forward very aggressively in a number of different ways. The Northam administration is continuing to move forward on that path, and we’re also ramping up additional action on other paths.”
Another hiccup came when New York didn’t sign on to the November 2018 announcement from TCI states that they would work to develop a regional cap-and-trade program. The Empire State was a glaring omission from the announcement, despite its longtime participation in TCI planning discussions (Climatewire, Dec. 20, 2018).
New York may ultimately decide to come on board, given the state Senate’s passage last month of ambitious legislation mandating a net-zero-emission economy by 2050, said Ho of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“With the recent climate bill in New York, the state is poised to make progress across the economy, and transportation will be a necessary part of that,” Ho said. “So we hope that TCI will be part of the package the state uses to achieve its climate targets.”
States have committed to developing a model rule by the end of this year. Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles told E&E News he remains confident that states can meet this goal.
“I view 2019 as the year of clean transportation,” Grumbles said.
‘Who are the regulated entities?’
Currently, a cap-and-trade system for transportation exists only in California and Quebec.
The California program works by capping emissions from fuel distributors that emit at least 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. The overall cap declines 3% annually from 2015 to 2020, and faster from 2021 to 2030. Facilities that exceed the allowance must purchase credits at quarterly auctions.
“California’s program has been a success, and it’s generated significant revenue to support clean transportation and clean energy. So it’s great news for the Northeast that these states are moving forward with this,” said Carol Lee Rawn, senior director for transportation with Ceres, a nonprofit that works with businesses and investors to promote sustainability.
Still, designing a regional cap-and-trade system for nine Northeastern states presents its own unique challenges.
“When you look at such a large cap-and-invest program like this, it gets pretty complicated,” said Dan Sieger, undersecretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
“We’ve really tried to focus on the complexity of a fuel supply chain when you get into the New England and Northeastern states,” he added.
States have wrestled with one complex question in particular: What should be the regulated entity that needs to cap its emissions and purchase carbon allowances?
“Who are the regulated entities? Where in the fuel supply chain would they be? They’re very clearly not going to be consumers or gas stations,” said Chris Dempsey, director of Transportation for Massachusetts, an advocacy group.
“They’re also not going to be the extractors who are taking the oil out of the ground,” Dempsey said. “It’s going to be somewhere in the middle.”
In a 2018 paper, the Georgetown Climate Center dismissed several options, including consumers and gas stations. It ultimately pinpointed prime suppliers, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration defines as companies that produce or transport petroleum products across state boundaries.
There are roughly 100 prime suppliers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, including refiners and fuel importers. The EIA requires them to submit detailed reports on how much fuel they transport across the region.
“It’s a much simpler way to regulate than going to the oil extractors, where the oil could be going anywhere,” Dempsey said.
Oil and gas companies have actively lobbied against federal clean transportation policies, including fuel economy standards and electric vehicle incentives (Climatewire, March 4).
But Arroyo said TCI has gotten little pushback from fossil fuel interests so far — including from the prime suppliers that stand to be most affected.
“So far, we’ve gotten a very positive reaction. People are coming to meetings. People are grateful to be invited. And that includes representatives from trade associations and oil companies,” Arroyo said.
“I mean, knock on wood,” she added, rapping her knuckles on a wooden table. “We’re not picking up on a lot of industry backlash at these meetings. But it’s still in the early days, and there’s not a concrete proposal out there yet.”
Sabrina Fang, a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute, said the oil and gas trade association would carefully evaluate the final TCI proposal to ensure that it doesn’t raise gas prices for consumers.
“Any proposal that would impact businesses and families should be reviewed with an eye toward balancing environmental progress with potential impacts on consumer energy costs,” Fang said in an email. “API will review specific legislative and regulatory proposals once they are released for serious consideration.”
American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers declined to comment, as did BP America.
While industry has refrained from criticizing TCI, environmental justice advocates have shown no such restraint.
Georgetown Climate Center could do a better job of reaching out to the low-income and minority populations that have historically borne the brunt of pollution from transportation, said Ramón Palencia-Calvo, director of Chispa Maryland, a Latino organizing program.
“A lot of us are saying that we were not at the table when the policy was being designed,” Palencia-Calvo said.
Georgetown Climate Center held all-day workshops in Boston and Newark, N.J., earlier this year. Another workshop is planned for July 30 in Baltimore. But attending those events requires traveling and taking off from work — a luxury not everyone can afford.
“As a paid advocate, I can look for funding to travel to those places because that’s my job,” Palencia-Calvo said. “But for other community members, it is burdensome to participate.”
Palencia-Calvo stressed that the bulk of revenue from the sale of carbon allowances should be invested in low-income and minority communities.
“In terms of specific programs, it’s about improving walkability, public transit, bike lanes and things of that nature,” he said. “Of course, it’s also about making sure that there’s affordable housing near those new transportation routes, and people don’t get displaced by gentrified areas.”
Somewhat ironically, equity was the focus of the recent workshop in Newark.
“I think there was a pretty broad consensus that there are ways you could implement TCI that would be inequitable,” said Dempsey of Transportation for America, who attended the workshop.
“So if all we did with the funds was subsidize electric vehicles and make them less expensive, that’s probably not an equitable policy, because the benefits wouldn’t trickle down to marginalized people,” he said. “But if we’re investing those dollars in public transit or electric buses or safer biking infrastructure, those are things that would benefit all communities.”
TCI ultimately illustrates the myriad challenges of crafting a sweeping climate change policy.
To that end, it can serve as a lesson for the raft of Democratic presidential candidates looking to take on Trump in 2020.
Several candidates — including former Vice President Joe Biden and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro — have called for the United States to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Others have proposed a quicker timeline, with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee urging 100% clean electricity by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2045.
Absent from these ambitious policy proposals, however, are detailed plans for cleaning up the transportation sector.
At a Democratic debate last month, for instance, Biden endorsed a “full electric future” by 2030. But he didn’t specify how, exactly, the country would phase out gas-powered cars in just over a decade (Climatewire, June 28).
“I think it’s good for politicians — whether they’re a governor or a senator or somebody running for president — to have those kind of aspirational goals,” Arroyo said. “And clearly, those goals are in line with what the science is telling us to do to decarbonize our economy.”
But, she added, “our experience with TCI has shown that it takes time to effectuate those changes. And there’s really no substitute for the hard work of rolling up your sleeves, doing the analysis and bringing everyone to the table to have the policy be robust and enduring.”
Oboe player dies in fall at concert hall before performance
A Miami symphony oboe player died after she tumbled down a flight of stairs minutes before a season-opening concert performance, the band said.
Greater Miami Symphonic Band member Janice Thomson, 62, hit her head Sunday when she fell on the tile floor of the lobby of the Maurice Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables, according to the symphony’s Facebook page.
One concertgoer said she was in the lobby purchasing a ticket when she heard a “bone-crunching splat,” the Miami Herald reported.
“We turned around and everyone was screaming and she was on the floor bleeding,” Grace Harrington told the newspaper. “Everyone was running to get her. They were screaming for a doctor.”
Thompson was rushed with internal bleeding to Jackson South Medical Center, where she succumbed Monday to her injuries, the Miami Herald reported.
The Greater Miami Symphonic Band said Monday that it will dedicate their Dec. 10 concert to Thomson.
“As has been our tradition, we will have an unoccupied seat in the oboe section with a single rose on it,” the band wrote on Facebook.
By James Smith
Venice Floods Because of Highest Tide in 50 Year
VENICE, Italy (Reuters) – Venice’s mayor called the city a disaster zone on Wednesday after the second highest tide ever recorded swept through it overnight, flooding its historic basilica and leaving many squares and alleyways deep under water.
A local man from Pellestrina, one of the many islands in the Venetian lagoon, died when he was struck by lightning while using an electric water pump, the fire brigade said.
City officials said the tide peaked at 187 cm (6ft 2ins) at 10.50 p.m. (2150 GMT) on Tuesday, just short of the record 194 cm set in 1966.Night-time footage showed a torrent of water whipped up by high winds raging through the city centre while Luca Zaia, governor of the Veneto region, described a scene of “apocalyptic devastation”.
Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the situation was dramatic. “We ask the government to help us. The cost will be high. This is the result of climate change,” he said on Twitter.
He said he would declare a disaster zone and ask the government to call a state of emergency, which would allow funds to be freed to address the damage.
Saint Mark’s Square was submerged by more than one metre of water, while the adjacent Saint Mark’s Basilica was flooded for the sixth time in 1,200 years – but the fourth in the last 20.
A flood barrier was designed in 1984 to protect Venice from the kind of high tides that hit the city on Tuesday, but the multi-billion euro project, known as Mose, has been plagued by corruption scandals and is still not operative.
Brugnaro said the basilica had suffered “grave damage”, but no details were available on the state of its mainly Byzantine interior, famous for its rich mosaics.
Its administrator said the basilica had aged 20 years in a single day when it was flooded last year.
‘ON ITS KNEES’
Some tourists appeared to enjoy the drama, with one man filmed swimming across Saint Mark’s Square wearing only shorts on Tuesday evening.
“Venice is on its knees.. the art, the basilica, the shops and the homes, a disaster.. The city is bracing itself for the next high tide,” Zaia said on TV.
The luxury Hotel Gritti, a landmark of Venice which looks onto the Lagoon, was also flooded.
On Wednesday morning the tide level fell to 145 cm but was expected to rise back to 160 cm during the day.
Local authorities and the government’s civil protection unit will hold a news conference at 1100 GMT.
The overnight surge triggered several fires, including one at the International Gallery of Modern Art Ca’ Pesaro, with hundreds of calls to the fire brigade.
Video on social media showed deep water flowing like a river along one of Venice’s main thoroughfares. Other footage showed large waves hammering boats moored alongside the Doge’s Palace and surging over the stone sidewalks.
“A high tide of 187 cm is going to leave an indelible wound,” Brugnaro said.
Much of Italy has been pummelled by torrential rains in recent days, with widespread flooding, especially in the southern heel and toe of the country.
In Matera, this year’s European Capital of Culture, rain water cascaded through the streets and inundated the city’s famous cave-dwelling district.
Further bad weather is forecast for the coming days.
Reporting by Riccardo Bastianello; Writing by Crispian Balmer, Giulia Segreti and Gavin Jones; editing by Grant McCool and John Stonestreet
Disney Plus streaming package debuts Tuesday with Marvel, Star Wars and more
The new service is $7 a month, commercial free
NEW YORK — Disney will sprinkle its pixie dust on the streaming arena Tuesday, as its Disney Plus service debuts with an arsenal of marquee franchises including Marvel and Star Wars, original series with a built-in fan base and a cheap price to boot.
The $7-a-month commercial-free service is poised to set the standard for other services like WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock to follow, as major media companies behind hit TV shows and movies seek to siphon the subscription revenue now going to Netflix and other streaming giants.
Disney’s properties speak to its strengths. Besides classic characters such as Snow White and Pinocchio, Disney has Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic — big names that most people would recognize. Disney Plus will also have all 30 past seasons of “The Simpsons.” Original shows include “The Mandalorian,” set in the Star Wars universe, and one on the Marvel character Loki.
“I really love both the Star Wars and Marvel franchises and I grew up watching classic Disney shows and movies so I do think there will be enough content for me,” she said.
Marlina Yates, who works in marketing in Kansas City, said she signed up because of her husband’s enthusiasm about the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian” and her daughter’s “love affair with princesses and everything Disney.”
Disney Plus’s $7 a month price is about half of the $13 Netflix charges for its most popular plan, and there are discounts for paying for a full year up front. Disney is also offering a $13 package bundling Disney Plus with two other services it owns, Hulu and ESPN Plus. That’s $5 cheaper than signing up for each one individually.
Everything won’t be available to stream right away, though, as Disney needs to wait for existing deals with rival services to expire. Recent movies missing at launch include the animated Pixar movie “Coco” and the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.” Others like “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” haven’t been released for streaming yet. Disney expects 620 movies and 10,000 TV episodes by 2024, up from 500 movies and 7,500 episodes on Tuesday.
Disney has said that it is losing about $150 million in licensing revenue in the most recent fiscal year from terminating deals with Netflix and other services. But Disney is betting that what it makes through subscriptions will more than make up for that — at least eventually.
Disney is boosting its subscription base initially with heavy promos, much as Apple TV Plus has done and HBO Max and Peacock plan to do. Members of Disney’s free D23 fan club were eligible to buy three years of Disney Plus service up front for the price of two years. Customers of some Verizon wireless and home-internet plans can get a year free.
The hope is that subscribers will stick around once they see what the service offers.
Long-term success is by no means guaranteed. With a slew of services launching, subscription fees can add up quickly. Consumers might be reluctant to drop an existing service such as Netflix or Amazon Prime to pay for something untested.
“I can’t keep up with so many services. It gets expensive,” said William Pearson, a Drexel University student who describes himself as a “massive” Marvel fan but already pays for Netflix, HBO and the DC Comics streaming service.
But compared with other newcomers, experts believe Disney will have no problem gaining — and keeping — the 60 million to 90 million worldwide subscribers it is targeting for 2024. It took Netflix twice as long to get to 90 million.
“Disney Plus has a gigantic array of content and a library that’s unmatched, so it feels like an easy addition for consumers to get a gigantic library at that low price,” said Tim Hanlon, CEO of Vertere Group.
Bernie McTernan, internet and media analyst at Rosenblatt Securities, said Apple’s venture into streaming, Apple TV Plus, has to build brand recognition for its new shows, while viewers may have difficulties seeing what HBO Max offers beyond the standard HBO subscription.
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