EPA roll back of fuel economy standards and what it means for Canada

pick up truckOn April 3, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its decision  in a midterm evaluation of the fuel-economy standards for light vehicles manufactured in 2022-2025.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued his  Final Determination , supported by  a 38-page analysis – which overturned the evidence of a 1,200-page draft Technical Assessment Report completed under President Obama in 2016. This opens up the uncertainty of a new rule-making process, with vehement opposition from the State of California, which is entitled to set its own emissions standards, as well as other players in the U.S., including  over 50 mayors and state Attorney Generals from across the U.S., who issued their own  Local Leaders Clean Car Declaration  . The Declaration  states: “ Whatever decisions the Administration may make, we are committed to using our market power and our regulatory authority to ensure that the vehicle fleets deployed in our jurisdictions fully meet or exceed the promises made by the auto industry in 2012.”  Within the auto industry, parts-makers represented by the Automotive Technology Leadership Group (including the  Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association, and the Aluminum Association)  support the existing standards .  The Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers  trade group, which represents Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen, have pushed for lower standards since the Trump inauguration.

All of this matters for Canada for at least two reasons:  1).  95% of vehicles manufactured in Canada are exported to the U.S., and thus our fuel emissions regulations have been developed in collaboration with the U.S. EPA – most recently to govern production for  2017 – 2025 models, and 2).  transportation represents the 2nd highest source of emissions in Canada.  The WCR surveyed  Canadian reaction in March 2017, when Donald Trump first authorized the EPA review.  Now, with the decision published, recent reaction appears in  “Canada in tough position if  Trump Administration lessens vehicle standards”  in the Globe and Mail (April 1);  the National ObserverScott Pruitt delivers another Trump-era shock to Canada’s climate change plan” ( April 2) ;  “Trump’s fuel economy rollback leaves Trudeau in a bind: Follow the U.S., or take a stand” (April 3)  in the Toronto Star , which quotes the the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, as saying  that “both Canadian consumers and climate efforts could be harmed if Trudeau decides to maintain a higher standard for Canada than Trump does for the U.S.” .   Unifor, representing most Canadian auto workers, has not issued a reaction yet, although president Jerry Dias was quoted in March 2017 in “ Auto workers union takes aim at Trump’s examination of fuel standards” in the Globe and Mail, stating that he “would fight any attempt to roll back environmentally friendly regulations in the auto industry ”.

For well-informed U.S. reaction, see  “Stronger fuel standards make sense, even when gas prices are low ” in The Conversation; “Why EPA’s Effort to Weaken Fuel Efficiency Standards Could be Trump’s Most Climate-Damaging Move Yet” in Inside Climate News (April 2 ) ;  from the American Council for an Energy- Efficient Economy “EPA fails to do Its homework on light-duty standards” ;  and  “Auto Alliance Pushed Climate Denial to Get Trump Admin to Abandon Obama Fuel Efficiency Standards”  in  DeSmog  (April 2).

 

 

 

 

 

Trump’s solar tariffs may impact solar jobs worldwide

solar installers on roofDonald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on solar panels and washing machines on January 23  was roundly criticized on many grounds – most frequently, the impact on jobs in the solar industry, as stated in the  New York Times Editorial on January 23 ,“Mr. Trump’s Tariffs will not bring back manufacturing jobs”.   The Times supported their opinion with several articles, including  “Trump’s Solar Tariffs are clouding the industry’s future” (Jan. 23) , which states: “Far more workers are employed in areas that underpin the use of solar technology, such as making steel racks that angle the panels toward the sun. And the bulk of workers in the solar industry install and maintain the projects, a process that is labor-intensive and hard to automate.” The Solar Energy Industries Association in the U.S. response is here, and their Fact Sheet (Feb. 2)  explains the terms and impact of the decision. The Solar Foundation released its 8th annual Jobs Census on February 7, revealing the first-ever year of decline in the number of jobs, but still a census of over 250,000 workers.    For a thorough overview, see the Fact Checker article by the Washington Post,  “Trump says solar tariff will create ‘a lot of jobs.’ But it could wipe out many more” (Jan. 29).

Three Canadian solar companies immediately filed a suit against the tariffs in the U.S. Court of International Trade, arguing that they violate NAFTA. The EU, China, South Korea, and Taiwan have also filed complaints at the World Trade Organization.  For a deeper look at the possible implications for other countries, including Canada, consider the complexity of global trade:  From an excellent overview in  The Energy Mix: “Trump Solar Tariff may be opening salvo in trade war”: “Although China appeared to be Trump’s intended target, the tariff on solar cells and panels will mostly hit workers in other countries. Thanks to dispersed supply chains—and partly in response to previous U.S. tariffs—solar photovoltaic manufacturing is a global industry. Malaysia, South Korea, and Vietnam all hold a larger share of the U.S. market than China does directly. And all are entitled to seek remedies under various trade agreements.”   The Energy Mix item refers to “U.S. tariffs aimed at China and South Korea hit targets worldwide”    in the New York Times (Jan. 23), which adds:  “Suniva, one of the American solar companies that had sought the tariffs, filed for bankruptcy protection last year, citing the effects of Chinese imports. But the majority owner of Suniva is itself Chinese, and the company’s American bankruptcy trustee supported the trade litigation over the objections of the Chinese owners.” From Reuters,  “Why the US decision on solar panels could hit Europe and Asia hard”  states that Goldman Sachs estimated that the tariffs implied “a 3-7 percent cost increase for utility-scale and residential solar costs, respectively …. Two key exclusions with respect to technology and certain countries (Canada/Singapore, among others) were included as part of the (initial) recommendation.” Canadian Solar , founded in Canada but a multinational traded on NASDAQ,  is one the world’s biggest panel manufacturers.

For an overview of the current state of the U.S. renewable energy markets and labour force, including solar, see  In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the new American Workforce  (Jan. 2018) , co-authored by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Meister Consultants Group.  Highlights:  there are  4 million clean energy jobs in the U.S., with wind and solar energy jobs outnumbering  coal and gas jobs in 30 states.  Quoting the IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review for 2017 ,  the In Demand report states that: “The solar industry grew 24.5 percent to employ 260,000 workers, adding jobs at nearly 17 times the rate of the overall economy in 2016.”  The coal industry employs 160,000 workers in the U.S.  In Demand  compiles statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy, International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and many others, about current and projected clean energy markets and employment in the U.S.: renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative vehicles, and energy storage and advanced grid sectors.

 

LEED Green buildings deliver energy savings, reduced emissions, and health benefits – including reduced absenteeism

A new study which examined  how LEED-certified green buildings had performed over a 16 year period reported that the green buildings delivered $7.5B in energy savings, $1.4B of benefits in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and a further $4.4B in public health benefits.  Those health benefits included an estimate of 21,000 lost days of work avoided in the U.S. alone; other health benefits derive from avoiding an estimated 172–405 premature deaths, 171 hospital admissions, 11,000 asthma exacerbations, 54,000 respiratory symptoms, and 16,000 lost days of school in the U.S.  The results are summarized in “Harvard study: Green buildings deliver nearly $6bn in health and climate benefits” ;  the full study appears as “Energy savings, emission reductions, and health co-benefits of the green building movement” in the  Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology online (Jan. 30) (restricted access).  The  study was commissioned by the engineering company United Technologies Corporation and conducted by researchers at Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.  Buildings studied were located in the U.S., China, India, Brazil , Germany and Turkey.

LEED office Burnaby Willingdon

Willingdon Office building, Burnaby B.C. – photo from the website of  Lighthouse Sustainable Building Centre

Although Canada was not included in the study, on January 22, the Canada Green Building Council  announced  that Canada ranked second amongst countries outside the U.S. for its LEED-certified buildings, with  a current total of 2,970 projects totaling more than 40.77 million gross square meters of space.  The 2017 annual Top 10 Countries and Regions for LEED list is compiled by the U.S. Green Building Council to recognize LEED  markets outside the U.S., which remains the largest market at 30,669 projects with 385.65 million gross square meters of space. China is the largest market outside the U.S., followed by Canada, followed by India, Brazil, and Germany.   In February 2018,  certification and professional credentialing services for LEED and other energy-efficiency programs in Canada will change, with the launch of a joint venture  between the Canada Green Building Council and for-profit Green Building Certification Inc. Canada ( GBCI). The relationship of the two bodies is outlined in their press release .

California’s progressive policies yield better job growth and wage growth than Republican comparators

UC Berkeley logo_laborcenterA November 2017 report from the Labor Center at University of California Berkeley  examined the “California Policy Model” –  defined as a collection of 51 pieces of legislation and policy implementations enacted in California between 2011 and 2016 – and found that with progressive policies such as minimum wage increases, increased access to health insurance, reduction of carbon emissions and higher taxes on the wealthy, the state showed  superior economic  performance  in comparison to Republican-controlled states and to a simulated version of California without such policies.  According to  “California is Working: The Effects of California’s Public Policy on Jobs and the Economy since 2011“,  the suite of progressive policies resulted in superior total employment growth , superior private sector employment growth, and higher wage growth for low-wage workers from 2014 to 2016. All the while, keeping the state on track to meet its 2020 GHG emissions targets.  The  environmental policies included in the analysis were: starting in 2006, AB 32, which committed the state to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020;  regulations under AB 32 in 2012 and 2013, which introduced the state cap and trade program;  SB 350 in 2015 and 2016,  committing the state to greater use of renewable energy and further improvements in energy efficiency ; and SB 32, which raised the emissions reduction goal to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.  The report warns that  enforcement of labour standards and a lack of affordable housing remain as challenges facing the state, and also admits to possible weakness  regarding the second of its two methods of analysis, the synthetic control statistical method.

 

Increasing frequency and intensity of heat stress bring dangers to outside workers and will trigger migration

The 40-plus temperatures and melting asphalt of Australia’s latest heat wave  seem hard to understand for North Americans shivering under a polar vortex, but both temperature extremes relate to climate change, and both can be deadly for vulnerable groups, including outdoor workers.  On December 22, a new scientific paper was published in Environmental Research Letters and summarized in layman’s terms by Climate News Network as  “Humidity is the  real heat wave threat”  (December 24).   In “Temperature and humidity based projections of a rapid rise in global heat stress exposure during the 21st century”  in Environmental Research Letters,   scientists at Columbia University’s  Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory used numerous models to project  frequency of high wet-bulb readings, (a scale which combines heat and humidity). The authors project that in the south-east U.S., where current wet-bulb temperatures now reach 29 or 30°C only occasionally, such highs could occur 25 to 40 days per year by the 2070’s or 2080’s,  and wet-bulb temperatures of 35°C  could occur on one or two days a year.  (35°C on a wet-bulb scale is considered the limit of human survivability.)

The situation would be worse in parts of South America,  China, and especially in Northeast India and coastal West Africa, where there is little cooling infrastructure, relatively low adaptive capacity, and rapidly growing populations. The authors conclude that “ heat stress may prove to be one of the most widely experienced and directly dangerous aspects of climate change, posing a severe threat to human health, energy infrastructure, and outdoor activities ranging from agricultural production to military training.” One might add, to any outdoor worker, including those in agriculture, construction , delivery, and emergency responders.

Similar warnings were published for farmers in Asia in “Deadly heat waves projected in the densely populated agricultural regions of South Asia” in Science Advances (August 2, 2017),  summarized by Inside Climate News.    Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles concluded  “The most intense hazard from extreme future heat waves is concentrated around densely populated agricultural regions of the Ganges and Indus river basins.”

But a recent article from Climate News Network  shows that we’re all in this together.  ” Warming drives climate refugees to Europe”  (Dec. 22) summarizes a study which combined EU asylum-application data with projections of future warming, and concludes that even under optimistic scenarios, asylum applications to the EU would increase by 28% by 2100 . The article concludes “Though poorer countries in hotter regions are most vulnerable to climate change, our findings highlight the extent to which countries are interlinked, and Europe will see increasing numbers of desperate people fleeing their home countries.”