When environmental rules and regulations are promulgated there are rules which include comment periods where interested parties can submit their suggestions about the proposals. This post describes the process, the comments submitted to the recent Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) stakeholder meeting and includes the comments I submitted.
I have extracted my disclaimer from my comments for use here. I have been involved in the RGGI program process since its inception. In the final years before my retirement I analyzed air quality regulations that could affect electric generating company operations and RGGI was one of the regulations reviewed. The opinions expressed in these comments do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with; these comments are mine alone. I believe the majority of the stakeholder opinions expressed at meetings and in submitted comments are, in my opinion, very naïve relative to the actual burden implementing their preferred alternatives, overly optimistic about the potential value of continued RGGI reductions and ignore the potential for serious consequences if things don’t work out as planned.
Ideally the comment period enables stakeholders to suggest modifications to the rules or schedules that make the final rule better. Of course the definition of better depends on where you are coming from. Pragmatic environmentalists in industry generally comment on topics that they think will affect their ability to comply with the proposed rules or address issues related to compliance obligations, primarily related to reporting. Our comments depend on evidence so we are careful to provide evidence for our assertions.
I have never worked on the other side of the dynamic between regulators and the regulated community so I am not sure how responses to comments are handled. Generally agencies are required to address all comments submitted and if the responses are debatable the regulated community can litigate the rule to address that problem. It is not clear how regulators handle quality vs. quantity of comments. If there is one comment that makes a strong argument on a particular point and many comments that argue the opposite side of that point with weak technical or purely emotional arguments who wins? There is no doubt in mind however, that even in the most professional regulatory agency with the most educated and experienced staff, that ultimately most decisions are made by political appointees who can ignore the strongest technical arguments depending on the political agendas involved.
In this case the Stakeholder meeting presented the plan for the future of RGGI that includes tightening the emissions restrictions, extending the program beyond 2020, and tweaking some of the program elements. As of the date of this writing, October 19, 2017 there were 12 comments listed for the September 25, 2017 meeting in addition to mine. Eight comments from organizations and a combined into one comment total of 2,051 individual comments from members of the Sierra Club commended the states for their proposal to reduce the emissions cap after 2020. The NY Independent System Operator commented that the analysis used to justify the rule had not handled the New York electric system correctly and that should be corrected. The Environmental Energy Alliance of New York (EEANY) pointed out that substantive issues they had raised throughout the program review process had not been addressed so it was prudent to slow down the implementation schedule. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection submitted comments that seemed to be the issues RGGI needs to address before they would consider re-joining the program. Here is a summary of the comments:
- Commends the states for their proposal to extend and strengthen the program through 2030.
- The City of New York
- Supports the cap emission reduction and formation of ECR but notes that RGGI States must go further if they are to align with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
- Collaborative for RGGI Progress
- Voices strong support for the states’ consensus draft program recommendations released August 23, 2017.
- Voices strong support for the states’ consensus draft program recommendations released August 23, 2017.
- Reiterates prior comments that were not addressed
- Recommends delaying implementation of the cap reductions until we see what happens when the effects of earlier revisions become effective
- Joint Comments (4 Industry Organizations)
- Overall, supports the proposed changes and the extension of the program through 2030. We believe that the base cap has been set at a reasonable level
- Specific recommendations for tweaks for improvement
- Joint Comments (35 Environmental Organizations)
- Thanks for open, transparent and responsive process
- Strongly supports reducing the emissions cap
- Recommendations for further reductions and tweaks to program
- Joint Comments (16 Environmental Justice Organizations)
- Supports proposal
- Recommends stronger caps and more restrictions
- NJ Department of Environmental Protection
- Requested specific information relative to NJ participation in RGGI
- Offered some criticisms of the supporting documentation
- Requested corrections to NY electric system modeling for IPM analyses
- Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR)
- As health professionals who recognize the adverse health impacts of climate change and the need to mitigate those impacts now, we support the governors’ decision to strengthen the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) by committing to further cut carbon pollution.
- Sierra Club Members (2,051 Individuals)
- These comments were form letters signed by Sierra Club members that thanked the States for protecting the climate, reducing pollution, creating jobs, and growing the economy by reducing the cap.
My recommendation is the same as EEANY. Because past reductions are not going to be as easy as in the past it would be prudent to delay further emission reduction requirements.
In my opinion, all RGGI policy decisions have been and were in this case made for political reasons. As such no amount of technical arguments are ever going to win the day. You might ask then why bother submitting comments. Frankly, the only reason I go through the motions because if the problems I have documented actually happen I want to be in a position to say don’t blame the affected sources because RGGI was told that this could happen and the comments were ignored.
I am submitting these comments on the September 25, 2017 RGGI Program Review Meeting and the proposed revision to the emissions cap in light of the RGGI Investment Proceeds report that was issued after the meeting. Based on the CO2 reduction numbers claimed in the Proceeds report the revised emissions cap appears to be risky and threatens the credibility of the program. It would be prudent for RGGI to delay implementation of any cap reductions post-2020 to determine the feasibility of meeting additional reductions based on the actual rate of CO2 reductions produced by RGGI and other programs.
CO2 Reductions from RGGI Investments
Before I use results in the Investment of RGGI Proceeds in 2015 report I want to comment on a relevant issue with it. The Executive Summary notes that “the RGGI states have reduced power sector CO2 pollution over 45 percent since 2005”. There is no better example of the pervasive mis-direction in the reporting on the impact of RGGI in this document and the RGGI reports overall than this statement. The casual reader would certainly conclude that the RGGI program itself was responsible if not for the entire reduction at least a sizeable portion of the reduction. However, looking at CO2 reductions in the RGGI states that is not the case. In the first place, the program started in 2009 not 2005. As shown in Table 1, the reduction from the last year before RGGI (2009) was instituted was 31%, much less than the 45% claimed. (Note that my numbers don’t match the RGGI report which I believe is because I relied on the EPA Clean Air Markets Division database with the assumption that summing all the annual CO2 from the all programs that report CO2 was a good enough approximation. If RGGI only summed data from RGGI-affected units it could certainly account for the difference between numbers.)
However, it is even worse. CO2 emissions in 2015 were 41 million tons less than the 2006-2008 baseline so the investments that were projected to avoid the release of 20.5 million tons of CO2 could account for no more than 50% of the observed reduction. The 20.5 million decrease is only a 16.1% reduction from the 2006-2008 baseline. This is consistent with the white paper submitted to RGGI by the Environmental Energy Alliance of New York which showed that RGGI is only responsible for between 24% and 5% of the observed reduction.
Importantly, there is an implication to the RGGI investments “success” with carbon reductions relative to the proposed 30% reduction in the emissions cap. The proposed program revisions released last month for RGGI call for an annual post-2021 cap reduction of 2,275,000 tons per year. In the Proceeds Investment Report, Table 1 Benefits of 2015 RGGI Investments, it lists the annual benefits of 2015 investments and shows an annual CO2 reduction of 298,410 tons. As also shown in the white paper submitted to RGGI by the Environmental Energy Alliance of New York the affected electrical generation units have made most if not all of the cost effective reductions possible from their operations. As a result, future reductions will have to come from sources outside the affected units and RGGI has no track record providing any assurance that its investments will be sufficient to meet the targets proposed. The fact is that RGGI has not provided a roadmap for the 30% reductions that they have proposed so it is not clear how this will work.
I have personal serious doubts where the additional reductions will come from. There is a lot of hopeful reasoning if the presumption is that other state programs will provide the necessary energy changes needed to reduce CO2 emissions from the affected entities. Even though it has been said before, I will say it again: if a compliance entity has no allowances available to cover emissions their only compliance alternative is to stop running. If that happens then RGGI will have a whole lot of explaining to do in order to salvage any credibility as a template for a successful control program.
RGGI has never quantified the potential impacts of their program on global warming. In order to address that shortcoming I have adapted data for RGGI emissions in Table 2 RGGI 30% Reduction Impact on Global Warming from the analysis in Analysis of US and State-By-State Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Potential “Savings” In Future Global Temperature and Global Sea Level Rise. The original analysis of U.S. and state by state carbon dioxide 2010 emissions relative to global emissions quantifies the relative numbers and the potential “savings” in future global temperature and global sea level rise from a complete cessation of all CO2 emissions in the RGGI region as well as the proposed 30% reduction.
My analysis shows current growth rate in CO2 emissions from other countries of the world will quickly subsume any reductions in RGGI CO2 emissions. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and based on trends in CO2 emissions growth over the past decade, global growth will completely replace an elimination of all 2010 CO2 emissions from RGGI states in 190 days. The proposed 30% reduction in the RGGI emissions cap will result in an additional reduction of 22.5 million tons but global growth will completely replace the expected reductions in 10 days.
Furthermore, using assumptions based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports we can estimate the actual impact to global warming for a change to the cap. The proposed 30% reduction in the RGGI emissions cap will result in an additional reduction of 22.5 million tons which is projected to ultimately impact global temperature rise by a reduction, or a “savings,” of 0.00033°C by the year 2050 and 0.00069°C by the year 2100.
These predicted temperature savings for the 30% RGGI emission reduction have to be put in context to fully appreciate their insignificance. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Requirements and Standards for NWS Climate Observations states that: “The observer will round the entered data to whole units Fahrenheit”. The nearest whole degree Fahrenheit (0.55°C) is over 1600 times greater than the projected change in temperature so the impact will not be observed.
Another way to relate to the savings is to compare those temperatures differences to climatological temperature variation. Table 3 RGGI 30% Emission Reduction Temperature Savings compares the projected temperature savings to the temperature climatology of Syracuse, NY. I chose Syracuse because I live there but using any location in the RGGI states would show similar numbers. On an annual basis the temperature range for the highest and lowest recorded temperatures in Syracuse was a 129 deg. F which is 214,000 times greater than the temperature difference that would result from the proposed 30% reduction in emissions. On a seasonal basis the ranges between the daily maximum, minimum and average are all listed and the lowest ratio is that the daily minimum temperature range over the year is 77,000 times greater than the temperature difference that would result from the proposed 30% reduction in emissions. There also is a range in temperature every day and the maximum, minimum, and average hourly maximum and minimum difference ranges are listed. The lowest ratio is for the minimum difference between the observed maximum and minimum temperatures and that is over 22,000 times greater than the temperature difference that would result from the proposed 30% reduction in emissions.
Unfortunately those numbers still don’t completely reflect the futility of claiming that the 30% RGGI emission reduction is anything other than a symbolic gesture. A more relatable context would be to consider them in relation to typical changes in temperature with elevation and latitude. Generally, temperature decreases three degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 foot increase in elevation above sea level. The temperature difference projected for the 30% reduction in RGGI emission is equivalent to a one inch drop in elevation. The general rule is that temperature changes three degrees Fahrenheit for every 300 mile change in latitude at an elevation of sea level. The temperature difference projected for the 30% reduction in RGGI emission is equivalent to going south 159 feet. Given that those changes are insignificant compared to everyone’s daily experience it is clear that no environmental impacts caused by global warming could possibly be affected with this emission reduction.
RGGI has been a success inasmuch as it has successfully demonstrated how a cap and auction program can be run, has contributed to the observed CO2 reductions and has provided worthwhile investments in energy efficiency, energy conservation, and ratepayer direct bill assistance. On the other hand, RGGI has no demonstrated success providing the magnitude of CO2 reductions necessary to meet the proposed post-2021 cap reduction of 2,275,000 tons per year. Therefore, it would be prudent for RGGI to delay implementation of any cap reductions after 2020 to determine the actual rate of CO2 reductions produced by other programs. As shown in my analysis of global warming impacts there is no pressing environmental impact rationale to implement reductions as proposed. The success and the credibility of the program itself is endangered by the reckless insistence on a further 30% reduction in emissions at this time.