Impacts of Rising Temperatures on Human Health and Safety

While many in the Northern Hemisphere may be compiling anecdata this time of year about the impacts of high temperatures on productivity, health, and well-being, several recent studies have made broader attempts to quantify the potential public health threat of climate change from different angles.

A study in GeoHealth, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, investigated the effect of changes in temperature on hyperthermia and cardiovascular emergency department visits for patients age 64 and younger.  The researchers found a strong positive relationship for hyperthermia (but not cardiovascular issues).  They predict that hyperthermia visits could increase by 21,000 to 28,000 by 2050, depending on greenhouse gas emission levels, with an associated price tag of between $6 million and $52 million.

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at activity levels of police officers and food safety inspectors during times of extreme temperatures, finding that both police stops and food safety inspections decrease in periods of hot and cold temperatures.  The researchers found that these temperature extremes also correlate with increases in fatal crash risks and food safety violations.  They note that studies of potential political impacts of climate change have to date focused on more extreme consequences (for example, this study on democratic turnover), but climate change may have independent effects on governmental function on a day-to-day basis as well (that could also lead to more extreme political consequences).

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Mayors and Attorneys General Oppose Proposed Automobile Emission Standards

Earlier this month, EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a proposed rule regarding automobile emission standards for passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2021–2026.  Under the Obama Administration, EPA and NHTSA had enacted rules imposing increasingly stringent standards for each model year.  In contrast, the current proposed rule would flatten the standards and use the same Corporate Average Fuel Economy and carbon dioxide emission standards for model year 2020 through model year 2026.

In addition, the proposed rule would withdraw a waiver previously granted to California allowing the state set its own rules through its Low Emission Vehicle program and Zero Emission Vehicle program.  EPA and NHTSA’s proposed rule states that California has disproportionally focused on greenhouse gas emissions over the past decades, but the purpose of the relevant section of the Clean Air Act allowing EPA to grant the state a waiver was intended to address smog-related air quality problems.

More than 400 mayors, representing 70 million Americans from 47 states, issued a statement condemning this proposed rule.  They argue that because transportation is the largest and fastest-growing source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, automobile fuel economy standards are critical to addressing climate change.

Twenty state attorneys general and the attorney general for the District of Columbia announced their intention to challenge the proposed rule.  This group includes the attorneys general from every jurisdiction that has adopted California’s more stringent standards.  Similar to the coalition of mayors, they argue that “[f]ederal rules to limit tailpipe pollution and improve fuel economy are our best strategy to reduce carbon pollution, improve air quality, and save drivers money on gas.”  According to these attorneys general, the proposed rule would not only have negative environmental impacts, but it would also cost American drivers hundreds of billions of dollars.

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New York Solicits Public Comments on Energy Storage Roadmap, Including $350 Million in Incentives

Last month, New York released its Energy Storage Roadmap, identifying a range of policy, regulatory, and programmatic actions that the state and market actors can undertake to achieve New York’s goal of installing 1,500 MW of storage by 2025.  The Roadmap is one piece of Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision strategy, which proposes that 50% of the state’s electricity needs come from renewable energy sources by 2030.

The Roadmap makes seven broad recommendations:

  1. Retail Rate Actions and Utility Programs.  The Roadmap proposes to “[i]mprove . . . retail [rate design] to send more accurate price signals that correspond to the system‐wide and locational value of peak load reductions and to reduce financing barriers.”
  2. InvestorOwned Utility Roles.  This proposal is aimed at enabling development of a market‐based storage sector.  The Roadmap proposes to align utility incentives to that end by clarifying the role and business model for investor‐owned utilities to manage the full customer bill and leveraging assets, such as storage and non‐wires alternatives (NWAs).
  3. Direct Procurement Approaches through NWAs, Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and New York State Leading by Example.  The Roadmap proposes to “[e]xpand the market by employing direct procurement approaches through utility NWAs,” as well as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) RECs that can pair large‐scale renewables with energy storage.  It also proposes to leverage the state’s purchasing power to act as a catalyst for early adoption of storage to power public buildings.
  4. Market Acceleration Incentive.  Department of Public Service Staff recommends “establishing an approximately $350 million bridge incentive statewide . . . to accelerate adoption of customer-sited storage and storage sited on the distribution or bulk systems, including pairing with [solar photovoltaic systems].”
  5. Addressing Soft Costs Including Barriers in Data and Finance.  Here, the Roadmap proposes to “[p]ursue cross‐cutting actions to reduce barriers including expanding access to more granular system load data to target highest‐need locations on the electric system, lowering costs (e.g., permitting, interconnection, and capital costs), and insuring access to a skilled workforce.”
  6. “Clean Peak” Actions.  This proposal is aimed at aligning “storage approaches with Department of Environmental Conservation . . . draft combustion turbine peaking unit regulations to reduce NOx and develop approaches to differentially value peak carbon reductions.”
  7. Wholesale Market Actions and Distribution / Wholesale Market Coordination.  The Roadmap recommends developing “approaches to directly or indirectly access wholesale market values (including capacity and ancillary service values) by modifying wholesale market rules to better enable storage participation, including dual market participation (i.e., where storage provides both distribution system and wholesale system services).”

The Department of Public Service and NYSERDA will convene technical conferences on August 7 and 21 to facilitate broad stakeholder engagement in the Roadmap.  All interested parties are invited to submit comments by September 10 and reply comments by September 18 in Case No. 18-E-0130, In the Matter of Energy Storage Deployment Program.

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EIA Releases Annual International Energy Outlook

Earlier this week, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its International Energy Outlook 2018.  The report focuses on the impacts of macroeconomic conditions and growth patterns on energy markets in China, India, and Africa.  EIA notes that economic development in these regions is “likely to have important implications for global energy markets because of increased demand from the production and provision of goods and services.”  The U.S. may be impacted in its role as an energy exporter.

The report finds that China will remain the world’s largest producer of energy-intensive goods in 2040.  Despite the projection that India will have the world’s largest population and the fastest-growing economy, total energy use and energy use per capita in India is lower than in China or the U.S.  The report anticipates an expansion of the manufacturing sector and increase in industrial energy use in African countries.

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D.C. Circuit Vacates FERC Hydropower Licensing Decision

Earlier this month, the D.C. Circuit vacated a FERC order renewing a hydroelectric license issued to Alabama Power Company.  FERC had granted Alabama Power Company a new 30-year license in 2013 to continue operating seven hydropower developments along the Coosa River (collectively, the Coosa Project), over the objections of a number of public and private conservation groups (collectively, the Conservation Groups).

The relicensing of hydropower projects requires action from a number of federal and state agencies.  The dispute in this particular case revolved around the interaction of three federal statutory schemes:

  • The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  Federal agencies are obligated under NEPA to analyze and consider the environmental consequences of proposed major federal actions.  NEPA does not, however, prohibit federal agencies from taking actions that have adverse environmental effects, so long as they have analyzed and considered these effects.  An agency must prepare a detailed Environmental Impact Statement for actions that will have a significant impact on the environment.  But, an agency may first conduct an Environmental Assessment to determine whether the proposed federal action will significantly impact the environment and thus requires an Environmental Impact Statement.
  • The Endangered Species Act.  The Endangered Species Act is administered by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which lists animal and plant species as threatened or endangered.  Federal agencies must consult with FWS to ensure that any action “authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency . . . is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat of such species.”  As part of this consultation process, FWS issues a biological opinion explaining whether the action is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species.  If it determines that the action is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a species, but will result in incidental “taking” (defined broadly to include harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting), the biological opinion must specify reasonable and prudent measures to minimize the impacts of such incidental taking and set terms and conditions for the agency action to go forward.
  • The Federal Power Act.  FERC is required by the Federal Power Act to ensure that any licensed hydropower project is “best adapted to a comprehensive plan for improving or developing a waterway or waterways.”  In doing so, FERC is to give “equal consideration to the purposes of energy conservation, the protection, mitigation of damage to, and enhancement of, fish and wildlife (including related spawning grounds and habitat), the protection of recreational opportunities, and the preservation of other aspects of environmental quality.”

The Conservation Groups filed petitions for review of FERC’s decision to grant a new license for the Coosa River Project, alleging violations of each of these laws.  The D.C. Circuit agreed that the relicensing of the project violated NEPA and the Endangered Species Act, and that these violations also meant that FERC had violated its Federal Power Act obligations.

The NEPA issue centered on FERC’s conclusion that relicensing would not have any significant environmental impacts and its decision not to issue an Environmental Impact Statement.  The D.C. Circuit identified two fatal flaws with FERC’s NEPA analysis.  First, FERC failed to consider and address multiple indications that the project could have significant environmental impacts, such as substantial effects on fish passage and dissolved oxygen levels.  Second, NEPA requires an agency to consider the cumulative impacts of past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions as part of its analysis, to ensure that actions are not segmented into separate, smaller actions that individually have only insignificant environmental impacts.  Here, the D.C. Circuit concluded that FERC did not properly consider cumulative impacts because it largely ignored the effects of past actions in this part of the Coosa River and did not offer any substantive analysis of how the impacts of those past actions would interact with those resulting from the issuance of a new 30-year license.

For the Endangered Species Act issue, the Conservation Groups argued that FWS’s biological opinion was legally deficient.  The D.C. Circuit agreed, finding that the biological opinion failed to incorporate degraded baseline conditions into its analysis.  For example, FWS largely omitted discussion of fish passage and seasonal flows from its analysis, arguing that these are part of the historically degraded condition of the relevant river segment and would remain unaffected by the relicensing.  The D.C. Circuit, however, explained that FWS was nevertheless required by law to account for the effects of degraded conditions on threatened species.  The court also concluded that the biological opinion failed to show a rational connection between its factual findings and the conclusion that the Coosa River Project will not jeopardize listed species or adversely modify critical habitat, because the opinion estimated that 90 to 100 percent of several listed species in certain sections could be “taken” yet concluded that the relicensing was not likely to jeopardize listed species or adversely modify critical habitat.

The court vacated the licensing decision and remanded the case back to FERC for further proceedings.

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