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States Are Decoupling Their Emissions From Economic Growth—Federal Policy Be Damned


Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Decarbonization is happening. But it needs to happen faster.

by Stephen Lacey

December 08, 2016

In 2012, fresh off his win in the presidential race, Barack Obama started talking about climate change. Just not in the way his base wanted.

“If the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that,” he said in his first press conference after the election.

Obama was slammed by the left for his “lame” comments implying that economic growth and climate action are mutually exclusive. (This was before John Podesta joined the White House and made climate a top-tier issue for the president.)

Although very few people realized it, by that point America had proven that cutting carbon emissions didn’t have to come at the expense of economic output. In 2006, 2010, 2011 and 2012, the U.S. grew its GDP while also reducing carbon emissions. It happened again in 2015. This year will be the same.

From 2000 to 2015, America’s national GDP grew by 30 percent while emissions declined 10 percent.


The reasons are complex and often contested. But it’s clear that a combination of economic restructuring (good and bad), consumer behavior, and fuel switching in the energy and industrial sectors is responsible.

According to a new analysis from the Brookings Institution, 33 U.S. states have now decoupled their emissions from economic growth. And the trend is only strengthening.

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Once an Oil Executive, Now a Crusader Against Fossil Fuel Stocks

Common Sense




Louis Allstadt at Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, N.Y. A former oil executive and a town trustee for Cooperstown, he is credited with influencing a move to divest a pension fund of fossil fuel stocks.


Emma Tannenbaum for The New York Times

The trustees of Cooperstown, N.Y., hardly expected their village (population 1,834) to emerge as a flash point in a national debate over climate change and socially responsible investing.

But when they voted in October to divest the pension fund they oversee of all fossil fuel holdings, Cooperstown became the first community in the nation to do so — not just coal (like Stanford University), but also oil and gas.

Just as the divestiture movement has roiled college campuses across the country, pitting environmental activists against college endowment managers, the trustees’ decision caused a stir locally. The town treasurer and tax collector publicly opposed the move, and a village resident took to the local newspaper to suggest the trustees were indulging their personal causes at the expense of prudent portfolio management.

The issue has upset the usually tranquil village on the shores of scenic Otsego Lake, which bills itself as “America’s hometown” and is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Talk of carbon neutrality and fiduciary duty has at least temporarily supplanted Donald J. Trump, who easily carried Otsego County.

Cooperstown “is abuzz,” said Jim Kevlin, the editor and publisher of the local newspaper, The Freeman’s Journal (founded in 1808 by James Fenimore Cooper’s father) and its companion website,

“I’ve gotten into arguments with a lot of my friends,” said Louis Allstadt, a retired Exxon Mobil executive and town trustee credited with spearheading the divestiture movement (or blamed for it, depending who you ask). “Even at my weekly lunch group.”

Mr. Allstadt is emerging as something of a small-town hero in the divestiture movement, in part because he has gone full circle on the issue, from managing all of Mobil Oil’s exploration efforts in the United States, Canada and Latin America and helping oversee Mobil’s merger with Exxon during a 31-year career in the industry, to an antifracking, anti-fossil-fuel activist.

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Illinois passes huge, bipartisan energy bill, proves democracy still works

Nuclear plants will stay open and clean energy will flourish.

Updated by David Dec 8, 2016, 8:30am EST


First the Cubs, now this? (Thinkstock)

Last week, the Illinois legislature passed a sweeping, comprehensive new energy bill. With the possible exception of California’s recent bill, it might be the most significant state energy legislation passed in the US in decades.

The Future Energy Jobs Bill (SB 2814) is notable not only for its scale, but for the process that produced it. A wide variety of stakeholders were involved in negotiations, from utilities to environmental-justice advocates. The Illinois legislature is controlled by Democrats, but the bill passed on bipartisan votes in both houses and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed it into law on Wednesday.

This is small-d democratic politics doing its slightly seamy but ultimately effective transactional work: heterogeneous interests and opposing political parties, negotiating to forge a compromise in which nobody gets everything they want, but everyone gets something, and mutual goals are advanced.

It sounds ordinary. But in 2016, it’s like seeing a giant wooly mammoth lumber by. Hey, I thought those were extinct!


<img src="" alt="wooly mammoth">

Illinois, basically. (Wikipedia)

Even if your appetite for state-level energy politics is limited, it’s worth spending a moment contemplating this story. I call it, Democracy: Sometimes It’s Not a Dumpster Fire.

(As a bonus, the climate may be a triple winner in the process.)

The parties to the deal

There were three groups behind the final agreement, and at one point, each of them was backing its own legislation. But the legislature made it clear that it would only pass a bill if they could all get together behind a compromise.

  1. Exelon and its nuclear plants

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Democrats’ Domination May Save California Climate Program


Chevron wants to expand its refinery operations in Richmond, Calif., which are affected by the cap-and-trade program. Residents of the low-income city oppose the expansion because of its air pollution and history of accidents. (YT Blue/flickr)

By John Upton

Climate Central

DECEMBER 8, 2016

As Democrats in Congress confront the specter of watching as the country’s climate policies are dismantled by President-elect Trump, key gains by the party in California could help Sacramento take over as the nation’s leader in the fight against global warming.

With a Democrat last week securing the final seat in the state senate, the party held onto its supermajority there. It also expanded its majority in the Assembly beyond the two-thirds supermajority threshold.

California Democrats will try to use their supermajorities to extend cap-and-trade beyond 2020.

Those supermajorities may prove pivotal for climate policy in a high-profile state — one with the nation’s largest population, which releases more greenhouse gas pollution overall every year than any other. California is home to one of the world’s biggest economies, it’s an influential leader globally on climate policy, and it recently adopted some of the most ambitious goals for slowing warming.

Trump’s cabinet nominees, his anti-climate campaign rhetoric and Republican opposition to environmental rules suggest federal climate legislation and regulations could be eviscerated by the new White House and Congress. Meanwhile, Golden State Democrats will be trying to use their supermajorities to extend an imperilled landmark climate program — called cap-and-trade — beyond 2020.

Such an extension would almost certainly require two-thirds lawmaker approval in the state assembly and senate. That’s because lawmaking rules in California are different for taxes and fees than for other kinds of bills, which can be passed with simple majority votes.

“California is headed in a very different direction than the rest of the country,” said Gabriel Metcalf, president of San Francisco-based think tank SPUR. “The importance of California’s climate strategy is not just that it’s a big state with a big population. It’s also that it will be something that the rest of the country is paying attention to.”

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California Air Resources Board Chair Sounds Off On New EPA Head

Thursday, December 8, 2016 | Sacramento, CA | Permalink

Billy Wilson / Flickr

California's top pollution regulator says her agency is not changing its approach to climate change and air regulation due to the election of Donald Trump and his nominee for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

State Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols says California will continue to tighten limits on emissions, even if the EPA scales back its efforts.

President-elect Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to run the agency. A frequent court opponent of the EPA, Pruitt has rejected mainstream science on climate change and is expected to work to restrict the agency's environmental regulations, which he has called fedreal overreach.

Nichols, a former EPA assistant administrator, says such efforts would be constrained by the Clean Air Act--a federal law the agency will still have to enforce.

"This isn’t something a new EPA Administrator can come in and just reverse by edict," Nichols said in an interview with Capital Public Radio. "Now, a determined band of marauders who were willing to continue efforts to withdraw, repeal, and overturn every single regulation that was ever developed under the Clean Air Act, could probably do a fair amount of damage."

Nichols says even then, the state plans to continue its own regulation under the federal law.

climate changeEPAair resources board


Ben Bradford

State Government Reporter

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Will standing up to Trump hurt California’s economy?

DECEMBER 8, 2016 4:00 PM


Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, center, urged President-elect Donald Trump to refrain from mass deportations as the new Legislature convened on Monday. Rich Pedroncelli The Associated Press


Special to The Bee

Rob Lapsley is president of the California Business Roundtable. He can be contacted at

California’s top elected leaders are making it clear they will push back hard against any efforts by President-elect Donald Trump to undermine their progressive policy agenda.

These not-so-veiled threats, in combination with the supermajorities legislative Democrats hold, are giving the business community grave concern that job growth could be collateral damage in a partisan agenda against the Trump administration.

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State Plans to Develop EV Grid Integration Communications Standard

8 DEC   2016

—William J. Kelly

California utility regulators are poised in the coming year to decide on utility investments aimed at integrating a growing number of electric vehicles into the grid. The utility plans, due next month, are to include ways charging can be interrupted during demand response events and also allow the grid to take power from onboard batteries as needed.

To accomplish that, the grid operator, utilities, electric vehicle chargers, electric vehicles, vehicle owners and others must be able to communicate seamlessly with one another. State officials say that will require them to set a vehicle-grid integration communications standard.

“We’re going to need to lead,” said CPUC Commissioner Carla Peterman at a meeting on the issue in Sacramento Dec. 7.

Lawmakers and the governor have directed the state to plan for a million electric vehicles on roadways by 2020. Peterman said that necessitates the commission to make rulings on vehicle grid integration next year.

The CPUC will get vehicle grid integration spending plans from that state’s three big investor-owned utilities on Jan. 20 under SB 350. That law, enacted in 2015, requires the utilities to begin implementing their spending plans in 2018, according to Amy Mesrobian, CPUC analyst.

SB 350 requires that utilities spend ratepayer money on vehicle-grid integration to support “widespread transportation electrification” as one of the key ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030.

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PG&E poised to install 7,500 electric car chargers

By David R. Baker

December 8, 2016 Updated: December 8, 2016 4:38pm

    Early last year, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. proposed spending $654 million to install 25,000 electric-car chargers across Northern and Central California — the largest charging program the nation had ever seen.

    Those plans have since been scaled back, though they are still ambitious.

    Next week, California utility regulators are expected to vote on a considerably smaller, $130 million version of the program, after a long debate that raised fundamental questions about how public charging stations should be financed and installed.

    Should utilities own them? Is it fair to have utility customers who drive gasoline-powered cars — in other words, most utility customers — help cover the costs? Can they be put in places that encourage apartment dwellers and lower-income families to give electric cars and plug-in hybrids a try?

    The program facing a vote Thursday at the California Public Utilities Commission is a compromise attempting to balance the interests of PG&E, consumer advocates and the companies that install charging stations. Most everyone involved in the debate can find some elements they like and others that deeply disappoint them.

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    Sacramento proposed Indigenous People’s Day in October – until Italian Americans objected

    DECEMBER 8, 2016 12:00 PM


    Christopher Columbus kneeling, holding a flag and sword with two other men holding flags upon arriving to America. There are other men on land and in boats behind Columbus and three ships in background. Library of Congress

    Sacramento protesters participate in Day of Solidarity against Dakota Access Pipeline

    Tami Greeson, of Brentwood joined a large group protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Hundreds of people protested Tuesday in downtown Sacramento against the construction of an oil pipeline in the Dakotas near tribal land. Protests have been ongoing in r

    Hector Amezcua The Sacramento Bee


    After backlash from local Italian Americans, the Sacramento City Council this week shelved a plan to make Christopher Columbus share his October holiday with indigenous people.

    Councilman Eric Guerra, who introduced the resolution last week, on Tuesday removed the provision creating an Indigenous People’s Day that fell on Columbus Day. Instead, he asked city staff to find calendar dates for separate days honoring Native Americans and Italian Americans.

    As part of the same resolution, the City Council backed protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline who say the oil project poses environmental dangers to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

    The Columbus Day compromise was hammered out last week between local representatives of the Native American and Italian American communities.

    “We’re really excited about this,” said Bill Cerruti, director of the Italian Cultural Society of Sacramento, who spoke in favor of the plan on Tuesday. “I was jazzed about the whole thing, the whole outcome,” he said after the meeting.

    Cerruti said local Italian Americans “softened up” council members during a weeklong push of meetings, phone calls and emails after The Sacramento Bee reported last week that the council was considering turning the second Monday in October into Indigenous People’s Day. That date marks the federal Columbus Day holiday; the city does not observe it.

    Although the city intended to keep both celebrations on the calendar, Cerruti said some people in his community weren’t happy about the suggestion.

    But Guerra facilitated a conference call in which Native American and Italian American community members reached the compromise, Cerruti said.

    Guerra said the Columbus controversy “sparked an inspiring conversation,” that led to both groups acknowledging “that we need to recognize each others’ cultures.”

    In the same resolution, the City Council agreed to formally oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline being built from North Dakota to Illinois.

    In recent weeks, protesters near Standing Rock Sioux land have faced off against police in an attempt to change the route of the $3.8 billion pipeline. Opponents include a recent contingent of 2,000 veterans, including some from Sacramento, who traveled to the site to in support of the action.

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    Governor’s friend sues to lift coal-shipping ban in Oakland

    By Bob Egelko Updated 6:25 pm, Thursday, December 8, 2016

    • pastedGraphic.pdf

    Photo: Connor Radnovich, The Chronicle

    Phil Tagami at the site of a development at the Oakland Army Base in Oakland, California, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015.

    The would-be shipper of coal from the Port of Oakland, a company controlled by a longtime friend of Gov. Jerry Brown, has sued Oakland for outlawing coal handling and storage within its borders, saying the ban interferes with interstate commerce and with federal authority over the transportation of hazardous substances.

    The City Council unanimously passed the ordinance in July with the support of environmental groups, who said coal trains emit hazardous dust particles, and burning coal releases carbon dioxide that worsens global warming. In August, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, prohibiting the state Transportation Commission from funding future coal-handling ports, though it would not affect Oakland.

    The suit was filed in federal court Wednesday by a company called Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, which had signed a contract with the city in 2013 to build a $250 million shipping terminal as part of a 130-acre development at the site of the former Oakland Army Base. The coal would be shipped by rail from Utah and could amount to 10 million tons a year, more than three times as much coal as California ports now send overseas.

    “Restricting any commodity on political grounds puts a cloud of uncertainty over the entire project,” said Phil Tagami, chief executive of California Capital and Investment Group, which controls the shipping company. “What will be the next commodity to which the council objects?”

    Tagami has been a friend of Brown’s for 20 years and owns the seven-story building near Oakland City Hall where Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, were married in 2005. As mayor of Oakland, Brown appointed Tagami to the Oakland Port Commission in 2000, and as governor he has named Tagami to the California Lottery Commission and the state medical board.

    Brown has also been a leader in California’s efforts to combat global warming by reducing carbon pollution. In signing the ban on state funding of future coal ports, he praised Oakland’s action and said the state’s goal should be to “eliminate the shipment of coal” through its ports.

    The lawsuit contends opponents’ fears of coal-dust pollution are exaggerated.

    The ports of Long Beach, which exports coal, and Pittsburg, which ships the coal product petcoke, have kept emissions in check by using insulated coverings on their shipping terminals, lawyers for Tagami’s company said. They said pollution-control technology would keep emissions from the Oakland port “negligible.”

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    How natural gas and nuclear have made the US greener – times two

    PROGRESSH A new study by Brookings found increases in natural gas and nuclear energy for electricity generation have allowed parts of the US to 'decouple,' with states reducing their carbon dioxide emissions but seeing their economies grow.

    By Ben Rosen, Staff DECEMBER 8, 2016 Save for later

    Two-thirds of US states saw their economies grow while they reduced their carbon-dioxide emissions from 2000 to 2014. They did this by relying more on natural gas and nuclear energy for electricity production and less on coal, according to a report published Thursday by the Brookings Institution.

    Thirty-three states, primarily in the Northeast and South, as well as the District of Columbia, reduced their carbon emissions while they grew their gross-domestic products (GDP) during those years, a term known as “decoupling.” Many Northeastern states reduced their carbon emissions by increasing the amount of electricity they generate from natural gas, while parts of the South did so, in part, because they rely on nuclear energy.

    Several analyses from earlier this year already found dozens of countries decoupled, a feat once thought near impossible because renewable energies were thought to hurt economic growth. In fact, the World Resources Institute (WRI) found in April that the United States is the largest country to experience multiple consecutive years of decoupling. But the study by the Brooking Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program is the first of its kind to examine this trend state-by-state.

    The study also comes as the world’s nations are poised to experience a shift in how they power their economies and lives, although the direction now remains unclear. In addition to 2015 being the first year in a decade with flat global carbon emissions, it also saw the passage of the Paris climate agreement. But President-elect Donald Trump could reverse this momentum. During his campaign, he promised to revive the coal industry, and tear up environmental regulations that he says hurt the economy.

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    Trump Picks Scott Pruitt, Climate Change Denialist, to Lead E.P.A.



    Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, at Trump Tower in Manhattan on Wednesday.


    Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling Mr. Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change — and much of the E.P.A. itself.

    Mr. Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign. Mr. Trump has criticized the established science of human-caused global warming as a hoax, vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, and attacked Mr. Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, as a “war on coal.”

    Mr. Pruitt has been in lock step with those views.

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    Pipeline, rail projects could bring tar sands oil to Bay Area

    By David R. Baker

    December 7, 2016 Updated: December 7, 2016 3:14pm

    1. pastedGraphic.pdf

      Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

      IMAGE 1 OF 6

      A man walks on a trail in front of an oil tanker docked at the Chevron refinery long wharf in Richmond, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013.

      Planned oil pipelines and rail projects tied to Canada’s tar sands could lead to a boom in tanker traffic along both the West and East coasts and heighten the risk of spills, according to a report released Wednesday by an environmental group.

      The report, from the Natural Resources Defense Council, argues that if four oil transport projects move forward, the number of tankers and barges carrying crude from the oil sands in U.S. waters could jump twelvefold by 2021.

      Many of those ships would head to California, the authors argue, because the state’s oil refineries were designed to handle heavier grades of crude.

      Such shipments, they say, pose a particular danger, because the most common product shipped from the oil sands — dilbit, short for diluted bitumen — quickly sinks in water, making cleanup difficult. The bitumen extracted from the tar sands has the consistency of peanut butter and must be mixed with lighter hydrocarbons for shipment. Those lighter hydrocarbons evaporate when spilled, letting the bitumen sink.

      “Current spill technologies and techniques aren’t designed to address it,” said author Josh Axelrod, a policy analyst with the council’s Canada Project. “These spills create a whole slew of new challenges for spill responders.”

      The report comes days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would seek an alternate route for the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, which had drawn fierce opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and fossil fuel opponents. Pipeline projects, most notably the Keystone XL pipeline extension, have become flash points in the fight over climate change, pitting environmentalists against the oil industry and construction unions.

      President Obama blocked Keystone, while President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly said he would approve the contentious project. But some pipeline projects that could affect the United States lie entirely in Canadian territory, designed to connect the land-locked oil sands to the global market.

      Extracting hydrocarbons from the sands requires more energy and releases more greenhouse gases than most oil drilling. Environmentalists see blocking pipelines as a way to prevent oil sands production from increasing.

      On the West Coast, the council focuses on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion proposed by Kinder Morgan.

      The project would nearly triple the capacity of an existing pipeline that snakes from Alberta to Vancouver, laying a new set of pipes alongside the old. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the project last week, although it still needs the approval of British Columbia officials.

      The expanded pipeline would be able to carry up to 890,000 barrels per day — more than Keystone XL. While about 60 tankers per year now fill up at the existing Trans Mountain terminal, the increased capacity could fill 348 more per year, according to the report. The authors argue that much of the increased tanker traffic would head to refineries in the Bay Area and the Los Angeles area.

      A proposed oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, Wash., planned by Tesoro Corp., would add to that traffic, according to the report.

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      Pipeline protesters in West Texas asking for help from Standing Rock

      Posted by David Hunn

      Date: December 06, 2016


        Fireworks fill the night sky above Oceti Sakowin Camp as activists celebrate after learning an easement had been denied for the Dakota Access Pipeline near the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on December 4, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

        Protesters were arrested in West Texas on Tuesday morning near a pipeline being built from the Permian Basin to Mexico.

        Members of the Big Bend Defense Coalition were protesting Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners construction of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline in Alpine. The Brewster County Sheriff’s office arrested two: coalition founder Lori Glover and Alpine resident Roger Siglin.

        “We must protect our water, challenge corporate greed, and come to our senses on the truth of fossil fuels and climate change,” said Glover, who had chained herself to the project’s gate.

        Former oil field worker Arajoe Battista chained himself to a fence there but was not arrested, the sheriff’s office said.

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        SunPower to cut 2,500 jobs amid struggles in the solar industry

        BY IVAN PENN

        December 7, 2016, 3:15 p.m.

        A San Jose solar company announced plans Wednesday to cut 2,500 jobs, including about 200 in California, as part of an effort to restructure operations and reduce expenses.

        Most of SunPower Corp.’s layoffs, which represent 25% of its workforce, are expected to come from its operations in the Philippines, the company said.

        SunPower Chief Executive Tom Werner said that "given the current market dislocation, we have made the strategic decision to implement a broad restructuring program to position the company for sustained, long term profitability.”

        “We believe that our restructuring initiatives will enable us to successfully navigate through the current market transition and maximize cash flow while successfully positioning the company for the next phase of industry growth,” said Werner, who has led SunPower since 2003 and oversaw the company’s growth from 35 employees to 8,000.

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