‘Great Day for Clean Energy’ as Supreme Court Gives Renewables a Boost

SCOTUS upholds rule meant to incentivize electricity conservation and idle dirty fossil fuel power plants normally used during periods of high demand

— by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

“Demand response provides tremendous benefits to our environment, helps consumers save money and makes our electricity grid more reliable,” says Earthjustice. (Photo: Image Catalog/flickr/cc)

In a decision heralded as “great news for consumers and the environment,” the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a rule meant to incentivize electricity conservation and idle dirty fossil fuel power plants normally used during periods of high demand.

As Timothy Cama explains for The Hill, the court ruled (pdf) that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) “did not exceed the authority Congress gave it when it wrote its ‘demand response’ rule, mandating that electric utilities pay customers to reduce use during peak demand periods.”

At the Natural Resources Defense Council blog, senior attorney Allison Clements offered further background:

In 2011, FERC (the agency that regulates our country’s high voltage electric transmission grid) issued a landmark rule called Order 745, which set compensation for demand response in wholesale energy markets. Under the rule, grid operators are required to pay demand response participants the same rates for reducing energy use as those paid to power suppliers for producing energy from resources like coal, natural gas, and wind and solar power. FERC said the rule reflected the common sense view that “markets function most effectively when both supply and demand resources have appropriate opportunities to participate.”

With its ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court essentially affirmed FERC’s position—and in turn, gave clean energy “a huge boost,” Clements said in a press statement. That’s because, she explained, “[i]f grid operators can count on fast-acting customer responses rather than plants that need more advanced notice to come online, they will have greater flexibility to meet electricity demand in situations when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.”

What’s more, said Sierra Club staff attorney Casey Roberts, “demand response programs make energy cheaper, ensure the reliability of the grid, and protect our air and water from fossil fuel pollution.”

As Politico points out:

The agency’s win is seen as a big loss for large “baseload” power sources like coal, natural gas and nuclear in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest, which have seen their profits decline over the last several years as electricity consumption has eased and renewables grew. Now they have to compete with industrial customers and others who will at times be paid at market rates to reduce their electricity use without having the costs of operating and maintaining a power plant themselves.

“This is a great day for clean energy and the health of a more affordable, stronger power grid,” added Earthjustice managing attorney of clean energy Jill Tauber on Monday. “Demand response provides tremendous benefits to our environment, helps consumers save money and makes our electricity grid more reliable.”

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Interior Department Protects Special Areas within National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska

In case you missed the big news this week, a staggering 11 MILLION ACRES of the most important wildlife habitat in the Western Arctic gained protection in a move hailed by conservation groups and Alaska Natives.

The Western Arctic – the largest expanse of undisturbed public land in the US – is home to some of the world’s greatest caribou herds as well as the country’s largest concentration of grizzly bears. It’s also home to gray wolves, peregrine falcons, muskoxen, bald eagles, and beluga whales.

The announcement from the Obama administration that roughly half of the entire Western Arctic will be protected from harmful activities like oil and gas development is a huge relief to all those who care about the majestic Arctic.

Earth Justice Press Release, February 21, 2013, Washington, D.C. 

Today, the Department of the Interior issued a Record of Decision that formally adopts a new Integrated Activity Plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve). Located on Alaska’s North Slope and almost 22 million acres in size, the Reserve is our country’s largest single unit of public land. The final plan appropriately protects five unique Special Areas including Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon, Peard Bay and Colville River in the Reserve, which are critical to fish, wildlife, recreation and Alaska Native subsistence. The announcement of the final Integrated Activity Plan wraps up a multiyear planning process, and is the first ever comprehensive plan that has been completed for the entire Reserve.

imageMore than 400,000 Americans, including sportsmen, Alaska Native subsistence users represented by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group and villages, tribes and other organizations representing more than 90 villages in Alaska called for protection of the wildlife and special places within the Reserve. Alaska Natives have relied upon the Reserve’s resources for thousands of years for their subsistence use and continuance of their culture.

Conservation groups look forward to continuing to work with the Department of the Interior to refine needed protections for key special areas within the Reserve. The groups have the following quotes:

“We thank the Department of the Interior for protecting special areas within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska,” said Cindy Shogan, Executive Director, Alaska Wilderness League. “The Department of the Interior has crafted a plan that protects and recognizes the vital role of subsistence, scenic and recreational values, and unique wildlife values. The Reserve is home to our most iconic wildlife, like caribou, muskoxen, grizzly bears and beluga whales. Thank you for protecting this special place for future generations.”

Brian O’Donnell, executive director for the Conservation Lands Foundation stated, "I applaud the Obama administration’s final plan for the Reserve. Through this plan, the administration and Secretary Salazar protected key wildlife habitat and areas critical to Native subsistence."

“The plan is a huge step for conservation of the Western Arctic, an area increasingly stressed by climate change, and provides critical protections for key lands in the Reserve and the wildlife dependent on it, including migratory birds from around the world, caribou, bears, wolves, beluga whales, and walrus,” said Martin Hayden, Vice President, Policy and Legislation for Earthjustice.

image“By protecting 11 million acres of Arctic wetlands and wildlife nurseries, this final decision proves that sound energy policy and conservation can go hand in hand. And not only that, they must,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “We strongly endorse the plan as a victory for birds, wildlife, and America’s future. It says that some places really are too precious to drill, and there’s no better example than the Teshekpuk Lake area, one of the planet’s most prolific bird factories.”

“This plan will protect hundreds of thousands of caribou; the environmentally sensitive Teshekpuk Lake that’s a crucial migratory bird habitat, and some of the most remote and wild land left in America. It is a bold step that will safeguard one of America’s wildest and most ecologically important places from the hazards that come inherently with energy development,” said Charles Clusen, director of national parks and Alaska projects for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The area-wide plan provides more enduring protections for vital Teshekpuk Lake wetlands, and shields sensitive wildlife including migratory birds and caribou from risky oil development, spills and industrial activity,” said Pamela A. Miller, Arctic Program Director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center in Fairbanks. “The plan also affords protections for other remarkable areas like upper Colville River and Utukok Uplands for caribou, bear, wolf, and wolverine, and coastal estuaries like Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay where rich marine life thrives.”

“The Reserve coastline and adjacent ocean waters of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas support an abundance and diversity of Arctic marine mammal species and other wildlife.” said Stan Senner, Director of Conservation Science for Ocean Conservancy. “We are grateful that the Department of the Interior’s plan provides meaningful protection for key coastal areas, including polar bear habitat, walrus and spotted seal haul out areas, and coastal habitats important to beluga whales.”


"The special places in Alaska’s western Arctic are some of the wildest and most important wildlife habitat in North America. The Utukok uplands are the calving grounds for our nation’s largest caribou herd, the tundra and wetlands around Teshekpuk Lake provide nesting habitat for waterfowl and shore birds, and beluga wales and seabirds ply the waters of Kasegaluk Lagoon," said Dan Ritzman, Alaska Program Director for the Sierra Club. "The Obama Administration’s plan protects these and other special places and provides for the subsistence needs of the local communities. We applaud the administration for taking critical steps forward in conserving and protecting some of our most pristine wild places."

“We are grateful to the Obama administration for a fair and thoughtful decision that balances conservation, Alaska Natives’ needs for subsistence resources, and the nation’s demand for energy,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “This strategy protects incredibly valuable wildlife habitat for caribou, bears and migratory waterfowl in the Western Arctic, yet still allows industry access to the majority of economically recoverable oil in the reserve. It’s a plan that meets the needs of all Americans.”

More Protective Soot Standard Will Save Lives, Protect Fragile Environments

— Press Release by EarthJustice, June 15, 2012

Soot. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally proposed updated clean air standards that will prevent thousands of premature deaths and take steps toward clearing hazy air. The EPA’s proposal comes in response to legal action filed on behalf of the American Lung Association and the National Parks Conservation Association by Earthjustice. The groups called upon the EPA to adopt final protections against particle pollution that follow the Clean Air Act’s requirements to protect public health and iconic national parks.

Particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise—these are deaths that would not have occurred if the air were cleaner.

The groups are pleased that the EPA has at last proposed new limits on fine particulate matter or PM2.5, one of the deadliest and most dangerous forms of air pollution. Breathing particle pollution can cause premature death, heart and lung damage, and potentially even cancer and developmental and reproductive harm. This pollution also harms plants and wildlife inside protected natural sites, such as national parks, and negatively impacts the health of the hundreds of millions of people who visit these sites every year. The EPA will take public comment on a range of annual and daily standards, which are set to protect against long- and short-term exposure to particle pollution. EPA proposed choosing either 12 or 13 micrograms per cubic meter of air for the annual standard and 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air for the daily standard. The groups urge an annual standard of 11 micrograms per cubic meter of air and a daily standard of 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

The agency is also proposing separate standards to limit the visible haze caused by particle pollution in many communities and national parks. The proposal includes two possibilities for daily standards, either 28 or 30 deciviews (a measure of “haziness”). To adequately combat the visibly filthy air pollution that mars vistas throughout the nation, the groups urge a stronger standard, no higher than 25 deciviews.

“Particle pollution kills—the science is clear, and overwhelming evidence shows that particle pollution at levels currently labeled as officially ‘safe’ causes heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks,” said Albert Rizzo, MD, Chair of the Board of the American Lung Association. “The Clean Air Act gives the American public the truth about pollution that is threatening their lives and health—just as they would expect the truth from their doctor.”

“This proposal is long overdue,” said Paul Cort, the Earthjustice attorney who represented the Lung Association and NPCA in legal proceedings. “The fact that the EPA has been put back on track by the courts is an important first step in this process, but now the agency needs to set strong final standards to protect people from this deadly pollution. The law requires it, and the millions of Americans who live in areas made filthy by particle pollution desperately need it.”

“Every year, millions of people visit our national parks expecting clean air and clear views,” said Mark Wenzler, NPCA Vice President of Climate and Air Quality Programs. “But they instead find their health compromised and the beauty of these sites degraded because of lax controls for particle pollution. The EPA has the authority to correct this, and for the health and welfare of our national parks and the many people who visit and enjoy them, it needs to act now to correct this problem.”

Soot or particle pollution—a microscopic mixture of smoke, liquid droplets and solid metal particles released by sources such as coal-fired power plants, factories and diesel vehicles— causes thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks and asthma attacks every year. The particles are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream, making soot one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution. The particles also contribute heavily to the haze that enshrouds many of our cities and national parks.

Earthjustice, the American Lung Association and Clean Air Task Force collaborated to produce a report last year titled Sick of Soot: How the EPA Can Save Lives By Cleaning Up Fine Particle Pollution. The report found that an annual standard of 11 μg/m3 and a daily standard of 25 μg/m3 could spare the American public every year from as many as:

  • 35,700 premature deaths;
  • 2,350 heart attacks;
  • 23,290 visits to the hospital and emergency room;
  • 29,800 cases of acute bronchitis;
  • 1.4 million cases of aggravated asthma; and
  • 2.7 million days of missed work or school due to air pollution-caused ailments.

The EPA will now publish the notice proposing the new standards in the Federal Register and take public comment. According to an agreement reached in principle by EPA, the Lung Association, NPCA, and various states, the agency will sign a final rule by no later than December 14, 2012.

Sam Edmondson, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2005
Jeff Billington, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 419-3717
Mary Havell, American Lung Association, (202) 715-3459