Clean Energy

A New Effort to Save the Ozone Layer and Protect the Climate

By Ernest Moniz and Gina McCarthy

As world leaders gathered at the United Nations this week, the Obama administration and global partners today announced several unprecedented steps to secure an ambitious amendment to the Montreal Protocol. This successful global agreement is already putting Earth’s fragile ozone layer back on track to full restoration. But an ambitious amendment would dramatically cut down on the usage of damaging greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs.

HFCs are commonly used in air conditioning and refrigeration applications around the world. They can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide and their emissions are increasing by 10 to 15 percent on an annual basis globally. That’s why we must continue working to replace HFCs with more climate-friendly alternatives. And an amendment to the Montreal Protocol is the best way to do that.

Last year, global leaders agreed to “work within the Montreal Protocol to an HFC amendment in 2016.” Coming to an agreement among nearly 200 countries is never easy, and considerable differences still need to be bridged. But we’re confident that an amendment will be reached during final negotiations at the next Montreal Protocol conference in Rwanda next month.

Today’s announcements include four main components that will help ensure a strong outcome during the conference:

  • One: Including an appropriate “early freeze date,” when production and consumption of HFC refrigerants must stop increasing in so-called Article 5 countries (i.e., those in need of assistance). During an event in New York this morning, ministers representing more than 100 countries rallied behind an ambitious amendment with an “early freeze date.”
  • Two: 16 donor countries and philanthropists announced their intent to provide $80 million in fast start support to Article 5 countries. $27 million in funding from donor countries is being offered to help Article 5 countries jump-start their efforts to design and implement programs that reduce HFCs. It will be provided as long as an ambitious amendment with a sufficiently early freeze date is adopted this year. Meanwhile, $53 million from philanthropists will help countries maximize economic benefits during this transition through various energy efficiency programs. This is the largest-ever package of fast-start philanthropic support for boosting the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment. The Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that a 30 percent improvement in air conditioner efficiency can double the climate benefits of an amendment. DOE has long invested in research and development, as well as standards to improve energy efficiency, including in the air conditioning sector where transitioning to HFC alternatives is important. For example, our Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial partners with governments to spur efficiency policies and programs that yield billions of dollars in consumer savings while cutting carbon pollution. Today’s announcements will super-size this work, bolstering the confidence of all countries that they can cut energy costs as they phase down HFCs.
  • Three: Today, the Energy Department also published a report with the results of a testing program to evaluate the performance of HFC alternatives in hot climates. This is important because some countries have raised questions about whether HFC alternatives can perform as well as current refrigerants in those conditions. Today’s new results demonstrate that HFC alternatives can perform just as well as current refrigerants even under the harshest conditions. In fact, they sometimes perform even better. Today’s report focuses on rooftop air conditioning units that are popular in countries such as Saudi Arabia, but a similar testing program in 2015 that focused on mini-split air conditioning units came to the same conclusion. In both cases, the testing program was conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and guided by an international panel of technical experts from a broad and diverse set of countries.
  • Four: To round out the announcements today, hundreds of companies and sub-national governments – represented through associations or individually – voiced support for an ambitious amendment. That list of supporters includes major global firms that rely on air conditioning and refrigeration in their operations like 3M, Dell, Microsoft, Nike, Red Bull, Symantec, and Unilever, and it demonstrates that there is a strong coalition of stakeholders seeking a strong outcome in Rwanda next month.

In addition to taking these steps, we look forward to advancing our joint collaboration on the Energy Star program. For more than two decades, this program has helped American citizens and businesses learn more about energy-efficient products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We also look forward to continuing to work with our international partners as we take a giant step toward meeting the goals of the historic Paris Agreement. And we will push to secure the strongest possible HFC amendment next month in Kigali.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Unleashing Innovation for a Clean Energy Economy

By Gina McCarthy

One of America’s greatest assets is the ingenuity of its people. President Obama has been driving that theme home since the beginning of his Administration. At EPA, we’ve seen time and again that by unleashing homegrown American innovation, we can bring about big wins for both the environment and the economy.

Just look at renewable energy – today the U.S. generates three times as much wind power, and 20 times as much solar power as we did in 2008. And since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of a solar electric system in the U.S. has dropped by half. At the same time, the U.S. solar industry is creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

Photo of windmills with a blue sky.

And look at the auto industry – we’ve set historic fuel efficiency standards that promise to send our cars twice as far on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade—a move that will reduce pollution and save families money at the pump at the same time. Today, every major U.S. automaker offers electric vehicles. And since 2009, the American auto industry added more than 250,000 jobs.

These are wins all around. That’s why states, communities, and leading private sector companies are investing in clean energy innovation. Because it’s is good for the environment and it’s good for business. There are countless state-based projects already underway to reduce energy waste, boost efficiencies, and vastly increase the amount of energy solar panels can produce from the sun.

We’re already seeing tremendous progress across the country – including the development of smart, low-cost technologies that help households save on their energy bills. On this front, the state of Illinois is moving ahead at full speed.

Photograph of Administrator Gina McCarthy speaking at a podium.

Just last week, I was proud to join officials from the City of Chicago, utility companies, citizen groups, and two energy-technology companies – Nest and Ecobee – as they announced a major new initiative to get one million “smart” thermostats into northern Illinois homes by the year 2020.

The innovative partnership offers rebates that will nearly halve the cost of thermostats that allow residents to control the temperature of their homes via mobile device. And the technology is “smart” because it adapts to user behaviors over time. The new program is bringing together utilities, environmental organizations, consumer groups, private companies, and the state commerce chamber – all working together toward an ambitious energy efficiency goal.

The one-million smart thermostats effort is a prime example of the power of innovation and partnerships in solving tough problems. Because when we bring diverse skills, perspectives, and expertise to the table, we get creative solutions. The Illinois program will bring efficiencies that move the needle against climate change and it will help consumers’ savings on their energy bills at the same time. That’s a win-win.

And it’s precisely the kind innovative thinking that states across the country are using to help meet the requirements laid out in EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which launched this past summer.

The Plan puts the U.S. on track to slash carbon pollution from the power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. And when we cut carbon pollution, we also cut harmful smog- and soot-forming pollutants that come along with it.

We’ll start seeing health benefits in the near term, and by 2030, we’ll avoid thousands of premature deaths and hospital admissions, tens of thousands of asthma attacks, and hundreds of thousands of missed school and work days.  In that same year, the average American family will see $85 a year in savings on their utility bills. That’s another win-win.

The bottom line is— America knows how to innovate, and solutions are already here. Technology and innovation are turning what used to be daunting challenges into real, profitable opportunities. The kinds of innovative thinking we’re seeing in Illinois and elsewhere are our best shot at seizing them.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Sustainability for All

By Deeohn Ferris

Untitled-2In many of our communities, if sustainability is going to be sustainable, our nation’s green economy and the investments that flow from those policies must reflect the undeniable fact that all communities are not at the same starting point.  In far too many of our neighborhoods, people who are raising families and working hard to make ends meet face a combination of environmental, social and economic challenges that result in grave hardship.  If the race to sustainability is a race to the top, some of our communities can take the elevator.  Others only have stairs, and some of them have asthma too!

Regarding what’s going on locally and on-the-ground, equitable development is the central point from where the hard issues within sustainability must be dealt with up front.   The real on-ramp to sustainability means recognizing and addressing the inter-relationship of the challenges in our communities. Negative environmental impacts, disproportionate impacts, vacant properties, brownfields, health disparities, blight — these conditions are ubiquitous in neighborhoods where people of color and people with low incomes and less wealth live, work, learn, worship, and play.  Achieving equitable and sustainable development means thoroughly rebuilding our communities – not just the bricks and mortar – but really rebuilding the country’s social and economic fabric.

Untitled-2Thus, to make a fairer starting line for all in our country, we need to recognize opportunities to support the communities that have the greatest proportion of pollution and public health problems. For example, minimizing health disparities by deliberately providing fairer access for health care in low income and minority communities would save these residents billions of dollars in averted medical costs and gained productivity. Ameliorating such persistent inequities is critical for bringing about stability in communities—increasing fair access to housing choices, better schools, better jobs, sustained economic growth – and thus improving their overall ability to achieve community sustainability.

All across the country, dedicated folks are working to address these disparities.  But people of color and low-and-moderate income populations are still struggling for opportunity. Reversing this unfortunate trend necessitates a national transition to sustainability and the emerging green economy, which provides important new ways to tackle community revitalization as well as opportunities to do so in an equitable manner. Some examples of green economy priorities and tools that could address these disparities include:

  • Ensuring the right to a clean, safe environment for everyone.
  • Establishing inclusive decision making structures that provide resources and facilitate community engagement in planning and investments.
  • Making certain that decision-making is democratic, transparent and fair.
  • Distributing the economic and health benefits of energy conservation through green housing and retrofits.
  • Creating jobs that are safe, green and upwardly mobile.
  • Emphasizing workforce preparedness, development, and training.
  • Providing financial and other incentives that encourage entrepreneurship and local ownership of renewable energy and renewable energy technologies.
  • Guaranteeing that there are sufficient transportation options, including affordable public transit that gets people to jobs.
  • And ensuring the highest quality education and food security for all of our children.

Untitled-3Which neighborhoods are built and rebuilt and how they are built and rebuilt have far-reaching consequences in the race towards sustainability. Prioritizing historically disadvantaged and distressed communities to engage and benefit from sustainability outcomes is an investment in the future.  I believe everyone in our nation should have the same opportunity to flourish.  But achieving such a lofty goal requires community sustainability with conscious linkages to social and economic equity goals, green economy tools and environmental justice.

About the author: Deeohn Ferris is President of Sustainable Community Development Group, a not-for-profit national research and policy innovator dedicated to advancing sustainability and public health through equitable neighborhood development, smart growth and the green economy.  She is a former EPA enforcement lawyer, now a renowned provider of equitable development expertise and technical assistance that tackles sustainability in communities of color and low wealth neighborhoods.   Deeohn was on the ground floor of drafting the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 and the first Chair of NEJAC’s Enforcement Subcommittee.   

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.