We’ve been expecting that the current US Administration will attempt to dismantle the Obama climate and water rules. Indeed, Congress and the president have already begun selling out the nation’s waters by using “Congressional Review” to repeal the Stream Protection Rule that was passed in December 2016 and meant to begin protecting watersheds, and the people who depend on them, from coal mining waste, and selling out Native American rights to safe water supplies with the US Army Corps of Engineers having their arms twisted to violate NEPA Environmental Impact Statement procedures in order to push completion of the Dakota Access Pipe Line project, as discussed in the above links on this blog.
Much of this, especially the removal of the Stream Protection Rule, appears to be action mainly aimed at spiting the Obama environmental legacy. It is not in line with common sense, or defending the common man. West Virginia will be the main stream polluter – and its already downtrodden citizens the main sufferers. The stream rule itself would have had little to do with the failure of the coal industry, however. Its coal has been on the decline for decades. Its sulfur content is higher than e.g. Wyoming coal, and even east coast firms and power plants found shifting to WY coal cheaper and cleaner than continuing to consume the high sulfur coal – in part because the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 – proposed by the 1st Bush administration and passed by WIDE margins in the House (401-21) and Senate (89-11) – introduced a market trading mechanism for Sulfur Oxides (SOx) – in order to reduce threats to human welfare from acid rain and other local and regional air pollution concerns. It’s been a highly successful cap and trade program! It’s an excellent model for fighting climate change! It’s saved millions of dollars, lungs, lives, and other valuable amenities we care about. Acid rain in the Northeast has been significantly reduced – with benefits the ecosystems and humans alike.
It is not in the vein of the Nixon Administration that started the EPA and brought into existence many of the original environmental protections and is even identified by some as the most environmental president ever (with some contention from Teddy Roosevelt and others), or even the later Republican administrations, whose actions certainly helped businesses with some cost, particularly to natural resources conservation, but also developed the use of market forces for amenities like cleaner air and water and pushed benefit-cost analysis for better decision-making in complex tradeoffs. Today – all nuance and balance appears lost – the “2 for 1” Executive Order on regulations, among other things, makes that quite clear.
But political games were already starting to interfere with such highly successful regulation half a decade ago. In an insightful and informative policy piece from 2012, energy economists Richard Schmalensee (note: you can benefit from his open courseware Energy Policy course at MIT here) and Robert N. Stavins (who has a great blog here, currently under siege) concluded:
At a time when environmental protection in general and climate policy in particular have become highly polarized in the U.S. Congress, the outlook for an efficient and effective national climate policy is not good. In particular, the tarnishing of cap-and-trade by conservatives as a potential instrument of action may make it even more difficult to give serious consideration in the future to this and other market-based approaches to environmental protection.
Now on to the present – where details of his pending executive actions are starting to leak since Scott Pruitt has been confirmed as the head of the EPA. Since the details are still unofficial, I’ll leave their discussion for another day. They appear to focus on increasing fossil fuel production in the US, perhaps especially coal – at the expense of our air, waters, health, and public lands.
Because of this, I want to remind you that many of you – in the US and abroad – can have a consumer impact on the outcomes here – even if we can’t stop the laws. And this “voluntary green power market” is growing both at the household and large firm level. Below are the National Renewable Energy Lab’s figures for 2015:
77.9 million MWh is a good start. The overall sales and direct use of electricity to all consumers in 2015 was 3,900 million MWh, however (with 36% of this being residential), so voluntary green sales are only about 2% of the total and there’s room for improvement!
Take a little time today to consider your home energy mix, and adjust it favorably, joining the 4.3 million US electricity customers in the market already. It’s something many of us may have thought little about, especially since there used to be little choice in electricity providers. But in many states you now have the ability to switch electricity companies with a simple phone call. Let electricity deregulation do some good and use your consumer power.
Everyone in the US can check their regional mix here. Switching your household provider is often very easy (15 minutes or less!) and comes via state connections, which can be found through the Department of Energy here. More extreme solutions may involve “going off the grid” at least partly – or becoming an independent renewable energy provider yourself, with options ranging from private geothermal HVAC to recently promised Tesla solar roofs (as well as many existing home panel options) to wind and beyond.
In the UK, you can check here and start on the switch to cleaner fuel. In Ireland, you can get started here. In Japan, start here. And so on throughout the world via googling “switch energy provider” and the like. Private actions cannot fully counter the global solutions we need to solve climate change – but they certainly can move us in the right direction. And possibly save you money, or at least improve wealth distribution away from the megalithic energy companies, in the meantime.
Cover photo of Acid Deposition damaged gargoyle. Photo credit: Nino Barbieri (Own work)[GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html),CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons