Wednesday, July 16, 2014

EPA 111(d) and SGCC research on American attitudes

By Patty Durand, Executive Director, SGCC

A new report titled Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change outlines projected economic consequences for the United States was released in June and it’s an eye-opener for several reasons. The headline alone told me two things. First, this was a balanced attempt to assess the issue and its impacts. Second, global warming is going to profoundly impact our future with deeply negative economic consequences. The report echoed President Obama’s May 6 findings released in the third National Climate Assessment and his action plan for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. 

Let’s examine these elements in the continuing debate over EPA 111(d), then we’ll turn to our SGCC research to connect the dots.

As the New York Times covered in an article, “
Bipartisan Report Tallies High Toll on Economy From Global Warming”, the “unusual bipartisan alliance of political veterans said that the country and business leaders in particular must wake up to the enormous economic risk” of climate change. Further:

“More than a million homes and businesses along the nation’s coasts could flood repeatedly before ultimately being destroyed. Entire states in the Southeast and the Corn Belt may lose much of their agriculture as farming shifts northward in a warming world. Heat and humidity will probably grow so intense that spending time outside will become physically dangerous, throwing industries like construction and tourism into turmoil.”

The report, as previously noted, came on the heels of the current president’s own climate change assessment and action plan, which led to his executive order to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce new rules on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, also known as
EPA Rule 111(d). Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. EPA’s 111(d) rules are largely constitutional and may proceed.

Much of the opposition to the president’s executive order and the U.S. EPA’s proposed rules for power plant emissions focused on dire forecasts for a resulting, explosive rise in electricity prices. However, in a recent National Public Radio article that addressed that point, “
Will EPA's New Emission Rules Boost Your Power Bill? It Depends,” NPR concluded that generalizations are inappropriate.

“As a general rule … consumers living in areas that draw power from coal-fired plants are likely to see the biggest increases in their bills. Then again, consumers in those states already pay less than the national average. The EPA estimates the cost of compliance at about $8 billion a year but points out those costs would be offset by improvements in public health and other benefits. But because states will have a lot of leeway in how they meet the new standards, much of what electricity will cost will be shaped by what state policymakers eventually decide.”

Another recent NPR article, “States Say Cutting Down On Carbon Was Easier Than Expected,” reported the widely known fact that a coalition of nine Northeast and mid-Atlantic states entered into a mutual cap-and-trade coalition in 2005 to cut emissions. The result?

“The nine states now in the program have reduced carbon pollution 40 percent,” the reporter found. “Their economies have grown. And as for electricity bills, they went up at first but then they went down.”

Thus, the wild suggestions that electricity bills will increase “85 percent” are simply false. And, as it turns out, the implication that Americans will not support improved air and water quality in exchange for modest increases in their bills is also false. 

When Americans speak for themselves, as they do in the surveys incorporated into SGCC research on related issues, they show a willingness to pay more on their electricity bills in exchange for environmental benefits. 

Specifically, in our “
Consumer Pulse and Segmentation Research Program – Wave 4
,” published last November, the majority of respondents said they are open to rate increases to expand their utility’s clean energy sources. More than six in ten would be willing to pay $2, $5, or $15 more per month, with support evenly distributed across those amounts. More than half of all respondents said they would be willing to pay an increased amount to support an expansion of their utility’s solar energy generation.

Ultimately, Americans recognize both the immediate human health benefits and the long-term climate implications of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and the majority are willing to pay incrementally more for clean energy to address their concerns. That’s a fact.