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Recent Projects

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  • Reports

    No Turning Back

    August 27, 2018

    For 50 years, California has enjoyed unique authority to regulate air pollution from newly manufactured motor vehicles. While the Clean Air Act preempts all other states from setting their own vehicle emission standards, California can request a waiver to do so if it determines that its standards are at least as protective of public health and welfare as federal standards issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). Once a waiver is granted, other states can adopt California’s more stringent vehicle emissions standards as their own.

    Since the waiver provision was enacted in 1967, EPA has granted more than 50 waivers for California, fully denied only one (a decision it subsequently reversed), and revoked zero. EPA has now proposed to withdraw the waiver California received in 2013 to set its own greenhouse gas emission standards, in conjunction with a weakening of federal greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles in model years 2021 through 2026.

    Because a waiver withdrawal would be entirely unprecedented, neither courts nor legal scholars have previously had cause to discuss the circumstances, if any, under which a waiver might permissibly be withdrawn. This report analyzes whether EPA possesses revocation authority and, assuming it exists at all, when and how such authority may be exercised.

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  • Academic Articles/Working Papers

    Congress and the Executive

    August 15, 2018

    Critics of the administrative state have been urging Congress to rein in regulatory action, claiming that regulations created by executive agencies are undesirable as a matter of policy and are in violation of constitutional principles. In a troubling development, the Trump Administration has also turned away from cost-benefit analysis in order to carry out its anti-regulatory agenda, disregarding an established bipartisan consensus that stretched back several decades.

    This article argues that this anti-regulatory position is unwarranted. These executive regulatory actions produced large net benefits to the American people, were carried out pursuant to authority delegated by Congress, and were reviewed by the courts. By contrast, more robust action by Congress, as long as Congress continues to exhibit its current gridlock on important policy issues like climate change, is unlikely to be beneficial.

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  • Academic Articles/Working Papers

    The Future of Distributed Generation

    August 8, 2018

    As distributed energy generation is becoming increasingly common, the debate on how a utility’s customers should be compensated for the excess energy they sell back to the grid is intensifying. And net metering, the practice of compensating for such energy at the retail rate for electricity, is becoming the subject of intense political disagreement. Utilities argue that net metering fails to compensate them for grid construction and distribution costs and that it gives rise to regressive cost shifting among its customers. Conversely, solar energy proponents argue that the compensation should be higher than the retail rate to account for other benefits that distributed generation systems provide, such as the resulting climate change and other environmental benefits, as well as the savings resulting from not needing to build new installations to provide additional capacity. This ongoing debate is leading to significant changes to net metering policies in many states.

    This article provides an overview of the benefits and the costs of distributed generation and highlights the analytical flaws and missing elements in the competing positions and in most existing policies. We propose an alternative approach that recognizes the contributions to the electric grid of both utilities and distributed generators. The article is excerpted and revised from a longer academic article, Managing the Future of the Electricity Grid: Distributed Generation and Net Metering, which was selected by Environmental Law Reporter as one of the five best environmental law articles published in the 2016-2017 academic year.

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  • Reports

    Toward Resilience

    August 1, 2018

    Grid resilience—generally, the electric grid’s ability to resist/absorb, manage, quickly respond, and recover from/adapt to high-impact, low-probability external shocks—has been a concern for electric utilities and energy planners for decades. While recent extreme weather and cyber security concerns have prompted the federal government to pursue policies that support coal and nuclear power plants, a more systematic focus on resilience will lead to very different solutions than what has been proposed by the Department of Energy.

    Our report aims to assist policymakers in understanding grid resilience and evaluating potential interventions aimed at improving grid resilience. It develops a definition of resilience grounded in academic literature; describes a methodology for calculating the costs and benefits of potential grid resilience improvements; identifies legal authorities that states and federal agencies can use to implement resilience-enhancing policies and investments; and analyzes the Trump Administration’s proposals to support coal and nuclear plants in light of the insights developed in the report.

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  • Issue Briefs

    How States Can Value Pollution Reductions from Distributed Energy Resources

    July 20, 2018

    DERs are a growing part of the U.S. electric system and many state electric utility regulators are looking to more accurately compensate them by paying for a variety of the benefits that these resources provide. Most states are currently focusing on energy and distribution-level benefits, but this approach overlooks the environmental and public health impacts of DERs. Even though some states like California and New York have been working on analyses that include environmental attributes of DERs, few regulators have attempted a thorough evaluation of the environmental and public health benefits. Our report, Valuing Pollution Reduction, lays out a practical methodology for calculating the E value, the highlights of which are captured here. Specifically, this issue brief describes how to appropriately value environmental and public health benefits by monetizing the economic, health, and climate damages avoided emissions would have caused. State utility regulators can use the steps described here, weighing tradeoffs between accuracy and administrability, to implement their own program to holistically compensate DERs.

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  • Policy Briefs

    Analyzing EPA’s Vehicle-Emissions Decisions

    May 1, 2018

    The Environmental Protection Agency sets greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks, and it periodically reevaluates these standards to make sure that car manufacturers can comply. In April 2018, EPA withdrew its previous determination that standards for model year 2022–2025 vehicles were appropriate and would improve public welfare, now saying that more recent information suggests that the standards are too stringent.

    Our policy brief shows that EPA’s claim—that new information indicates that the assumptions underlying the previous determination are unrealistic—is not supported by the evidence. In fact, the opposite is the case. Recent trends in fuel prices, vehicle sales, automaker compliance, and safety all indicate that the existing 2022–2025 standards can be met at low cost while delivering large benefits to consumers and the economy. EPA’s decision to withdraw the standards will instead cause regulatory uncertainty that will hurt the automotive sector while also harming the environment.

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  • Reports

    Capacity Markets and Externalities

    April 30, 2018

    Many states are taking action on climate change by paying zero- and low-emitting electricity generators for avoiding the emissions that fossil-fuel-fired resources would otherwise emit. These “externality payments” help level the playing field between emitting and non-emitting generators. Critics of these policies argue that these payments might negatively affect the efficiency of wholesale electricity markets by reducing capacity prices, which heavily affect how generators enter and exit the market.

    Our report shows why the premises underlying recent reforms, which seek to shield capacity markets from the potential price impact of pollution externality payments, are flawed. The report argues that redesigning capacity markets in reaction to these state policies shows concern for only private generation costs and disregards the fact that externality payments help correct market failures associated with air pollution, improving economic efficiency.

    Rushed market design changes based on the unsupported assumption that state policies negatively affect capacity markets may actually harm the functioning of the markets, while potentially undoing states’ efforts to combat pollution and climate change.

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  • Reports

    Managing the Future of Energy Storage

    April 24, 2018

    Many policymakers assume that increasing deployment of energy storage will automatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in part by helping to integrate renewable energy resources with intermittent and variable generation. This report explores situations in which energy storage systems can in fact lead to increased emissions, and offers reforms to correct for poor incentives while ensuring that energy storage can provide the maximum benefit possible to the grid.

    Policy reforms that account for the range of benefits provided by storage, including reduced air pollution, are required at both state and federal levels. This report recommends that policymakers (1) focus on accurately pricing externalities caused by greenhouse gases; (2) eliminate entry barriers for energy storage systems; (3) and eliminate barriers that energy storage systems face to receiving multiple value streams for the various services they provide. The report outlines steps to realize each of these three goals and provides an overview of state and federal actions currently under way.

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  • Academic Articles/Working Papers

    Environmental Standards, Thresholds, and the Next Battleground of Climate Change Regulations

    April 11, 2018

    Regulations to curtail climate change have the additional benefit of reducing air pollution by accelerating the shift away from carbon-intensive and high-polluting energy such as coal. The benefits from reducing just one air pollutant – particulate matter – account for almost half of the quantified benefits of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Regulatory opponents have launched an aggressive attack on the use of these benefits to justify climate change regulations. They claim that these benefits are not real, are accounted for in other regulations, or should not be considered because they are indirect benefits. This Article collects and analyzes for the first time the robust support for valuing particulate matter and other air pollution reduction benefits. Following an examination of the scientific literature, longstanding agency practices under administrations of both major political parties, and judicial precedent, the authors conclude that particulate matter benefits deserve a meaningful role in regulatory cost-benefit analysis.

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  • Issue Briefs

    How the Trump Administration Is Obscuring the Costs of Climate Change

    March 23, 2018

    When federal and state policymakers account for the impacts of climate change, they regularly use a tool called the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC). The SCC puts a dollar value on the most significant, quantifiable damages caused by each additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted. The most recent estimate of the cost is at least $51 per ton and rising over time. But now, turning its back on years of work, the Trump administration has disbanded the federal group that developed the SCC, and produced a new “interim” estimate claiming that each ton of carbon dioxide causes as little as $1 in climate damages.

    This issue brief describes how the Trump Administration reached this misleading number by ignoring the interconnected, global nature of our climate-vulnerable economy and obscuring the devastating effects that climate change will have on younger and future generations. Though the administration has been proposing rollbacks of environmental rules using this problematic SCC estimate as justification, we explain why federal agencies and state governments should continue using the most recent estimate by the Interagency Working Group that developed the SCC.

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