Category Archives: economics

Smart City Pioneers: Forging Solutions to Early Challenges

Collaboration between SUEZ, Wharton IGEL and Knowledge@Wharton

February 14th, 2018

Many share the hope that today’s troubled urban centers can be transformed into tomorrow’s smart cities. At a recent conference, “Smart Utilities: A Bridge to Smart Cities of the Future,” co-sponsored by Suez and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), some early pioneers in this effort shared their experiences and thoughts.

Laying the Groundwork: Philadelphia’s Strategic Approach to Becoming a Smart City

Rather than tackle individual projects piecemeal, as so many cities have done, Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) decided to create a roadmap that would guide and ensure long-term coordination of its wide-ranging projects.

Collect, Crunch, Collaborate: Fresh Approaches to Smart Cities’ Core Functions

Utilities are among those embracing the promise of smart technology by collecting and sharing data with customers. They — and others providing critical services to cities, campuses and industry — are using human and machine intelligence to capitalize on the data pouring in from these smart systems. And they are finding ways to save money by sharing resources and collaborating.

Smart Money: Developing New Funding Mechanisms for Smart Initiatives

Few of the methods traditionally used to finance infrastructure projects are of much help when it comes to funding smart city initiatives. Fortunately, creative new approaches are being pioneered by cities, utilities, investors and businesses across the country.

Read the full report here
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Energy Policy Now: The Local View of Fracking

Featuring Daniel Raimi is a senior research associate at Resources for the Future, where he focuses on energy and climate policy. He also teaches energy policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, and is a faculty affiliate at the University of Michigan Energy Institute.

January 17th, 2018

The view of Americans on the environmental and economic implications of fracking continues to be sharply divided a decade after the shale revolution began. But the author of a new book, The Fracking Debate, finds more nuanced perspectives in wellhead communities.

The shale revolution in the United States is now more than a decade old.  In the intervening years, energy companies have tapped vast, previously uneconomical oil and natural gas resources through a suite of technologies, including hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, and horizontal drilling. The results have been dramatic. Today the U.S. is a leading producer of oil, and the top global supplier of natural gas.

But the shale revolution has also bred controversy as the country has struggled to balance fracking’s economic and environmental impacts. Those for and against fracking have often gone to great lengths to promote their views. Along the way, previously quiet communities, from Pennsylvania to North Dakota, have struggled to accommodate waves of drilling rigs and energy workers.

Guest Daniel Raimi spent several years traveling the country to get to know the communities where fracking takes place. His travels led to a new book, The Fracking Debate: The Risks, Benefits, and Uncertainties of the Shale Revolution. In it Raimi seeks to relate the perspective of communities, and citizens, on fracking’s front lines, and provide unbiased answers to some of the biggest questions surrounding fracking.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts, industry and policy leaders on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society. 


Building a Green Empire

Netronix Pic

By Julie Spitkovsky, Netronix, Inc.

You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand.  Raising awareness, sharing information and cultivating interest about indoor air quality are important tools for building design professionals to exploit at the start of the design process to achieve optimal indoor air conditions from the start of a project through building occupancy.

Getting people to break habits is extremely difficult.  Paul Scialla, Founder and CEO at Delos explains, “Our built environments can shape our habits, regulate our sleep-wake cycle, drive us toward healthy and unhealthy choices, and passively influence our health through the quality of our surroundings.  We spend 90% of our time indoors, and by incorporating a variety of healthy design, construction and operations strategies through evidence-based programs such as the WELL Building Standard, we have a profound opportunity to advance human health, well-being and productivity for everyone.”  

“Our built environments can shape our habits, regulate our sleep-wake cycle, drive us toward healthy and unhealthy choices, and passively influence our health through the quality of our surroundings.”

Occupant health is a clear economic incentive. In 2007, a study by Mudarri and Fisk estimated that annual costs of asthma attributable to dampness and mold exposure in homes were between $2.1-4.8 billion. By 2014, studies in the health sector revealed reductions in mortality rates, bloodstream infection rates, and medicine consumption in green hospitals, compared to conventional hospitals, indicating that some of these effects could occur because of improved IAQ. Fewer sick days, reduced employee turnover, and fewer medical errors are compelling incentives to design spaces that incorporate evidence based research findings.  


Consumer products and building materials emit dangerous gases like VOCs, Formaldehyde and Carbon Dioxide, influencing indoor air quality.  Many of these types of compounds were not present half a century ago. According to the EPA, examples of consumer products and building materials that are also sources of indoor air pollution include office furniture, flooring, paints and coating, adhesives and sealants, wall coverings, office equipment, wood products, textiles, and insulation.  In 2010, the World Health Organization established guidelines for maximum thresholds of Formaldehyde at .08 ppm, though there are few guidelines for other gases, environmental conditions and particulate matter (the WHO only first identified particulate matter as an indoor pollutant in 2006, explicitly recognizing the limited availability of resources). Indoor air quality (IAQ) is enhanced by using materials that have negligible carcinogenic or chemical emissions, are installed with minimal VOC-producing compounds, offer moisture resistance, and require simple, non-toxic cleaning methods and products. Today, more consumer products and building materials are being studied and certified as low chemical-emitting materials in an effort to control and achieve good indoor air quality.  But is this enough?


One premise for green building design is its impact in the energy sector. Today buildings account for 41% of US energy consumption, with nearly half of that usage coming from the commercial sector. Designers have control over energy consumption and indoor air quality factors such as materials, systems, ventilation, the environmental control scheme, and layout. In 2016, the percentage of firms with over 60% green certified projects reached 18 % and is estimated to triple to 37% by 2018. Under LEED standards, Gold Rated buildings earning 39 points are estimated to reduce environmental impact by 50 percent, while Platinum Rated buildings earning 52 points are estimated to reduce environmental impact by almost 70 percent.


Historically the connection between buildings as repositories and gateways of resource flow and air pollution was difficult to measure.  In office buildings, over 1/2 of end use energy expenditures come from heating, ventilating and cooling.  One of the challenges with flushing ventilation, bringing in outside air at night when the building is unoccupied to cool down the building or remove heat, is the re-introduction of outdoor pollutants and generation of new pollutants.  The reaction between outdoor air and indoor materials is a break in equilibrium at the surface of materials causing the emissions of new pollutants, otherwise absorbed by building structures.  Well-ventilated work spaces proved to have lower levels of  CO2 correlating with decreased levels of worker anxiety and increased levels of productivity.  More specific findings in support of the mounting evidence demonstrating the relationship between Indoor Air Quality & productivity tells us there is 61% higher cognitive functioning in green buildings that meet occupant health and energy efficiency standards set by LEED and 100% higher cognitive functioning in buildings with twice the ventilated air rate required for LEED certification (+Green Plus Buildings).  

“…heightened levels of Carbon Dioxide over the course of a school year can have detrimental physical effects on children’s developing respiratory system.”

According to Bruce White, Vice President of Airthinx, Inc. “We are starting to see, and have a clearer picture of  the health effects of indoor contaminants like PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10, CO2, CH2O, VOC’s on building occupants. We see from recent studies out of Harvard, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, USGBC & IWBI, what elevated levels of CO2 alone can do to students and building occupants. Specifically, in children, elevated levels of CO2 can cause wheezing and levels over 1,000 ppm can result in a 10-20% increases in days away from school. That alone affects the school not only in lower test scores, but also in funding from the US Department of Education on attendance levels. More importantly, the prolonged exposure to heightened levels of Carbon Dioxide over the course of a school year can have detrimental physical effect on children’s’ developing respiratory system.”


A poor indoor environment causes occupant discomfort, health problems and poor performance.  Building system performance directly impacts maintenance frequency, equipment life, and energy usage. Understanding the process and possible IAQ endpoints (moisture control, drainage, ductwork protection, HVAC production, use of low VOC building materials, minimum ventilation) encourages improved building design. For example, a life cycle assessment (LCA) addresses the impact of a product through all of its life stages. By executing sustainable design in architecture, there is an opportunity for long-term value through modifiable building systems over the life-cycle instead of least-cost investments.

The impacts of evidence based design, a once value added anomaly, are now a requirement for competitive practice.  Occupants heightened exposure to the availability of data & metrics, conditions them to demand more assured outcomes on expensive building projects.  Architects are in a position to make collective and informed choices that will have a broad impact in the aggregate, such as advising about emission testing protocols to ensure test results can be translated into real world use cases. For example, under LEED, designers can earn up to 15 points for implementing indoor air quality measures.


When considering the options available for indoor air quality management, the exclusive reliance on cleaning the air with filtration systems may not be enough. Air filtration cleaning method results rest on the assumption that ‘dirty’ contaminants are eliminated. Rather, the systems selectively remove some pollutants but not others, and generate new pollutants when the systems are not properly maintained. A reliable counterpart and solution is continuous monitoring of air quality levels in any infrastructure, preserving the integrity of the measurements, producing never before seen analytics and information, and creating better indoor environments, everywhere in the world.  In this way, space planning can be more intuitive and give future projects a greater chance of success.   

Building a collective understanding of the indoor air quality problem and its ecosystem, creates opportunities to make informed decisions and inspires actions to transform indoor spaces. 

Mr. Valentine Lehr, of Lehr Engineering in New York weighs in, “As a consulting design engineer, I am aware that the best intentions and latest technology often fail when needed maintenance and constant monitoring are neglected.  At the heart of this is the cost and effort of monitoring these systems and validating proper operation, both tasks which require human input.  Further, while devices to monitor air content have been available, these are usually singularly specific, expensive and need frequent calibration. In that regard, the Airthinx monitor is a significant development and improvement.  It’s low cost, easy installation, ability to monitor multiple potential contaminants and ease of integration with BMS and specialized monitoring/alarm centers allows for an unprecedented number of devices to be installed, and the original design intent to be fully maintained, assuring high IAQ.”

The solution, developed by Netronix’s IoT platform, guarantees the highest standards of security, reliability, and scalability of the network, and enables quick deployment of devices in commercial, retail & residential buildings with simple, affordable integration into any built environment. Each Airthinx IAQ device has nine built-in sensors (PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10, CO2, CH2O, VOCs, Temperature, Humidity, & Pressure), measuring air quality with industrial accuracy, at a fraction of the cost, making air quality monitoring financially feasible at room level.

“Its low cost, easy installation, ability to monitor multiple potential contaminants and ease of integration with BMS and specialized monitoring/alarm centers allows for an unprecedented number of devices to be installed, and the original design intent to be fully maintained, assuring high IAQ.”

The advantage of a portable device that fits in the palm of a hand with data available instantaneously from a mobile phone, iPad or desktop is accessibility to information, anytime, anywhere.

Knowledge is power!



Economic and Health Benefits of Sustainable Innovation in Health Care

By Philip Susser and Govind Mattay; Posted October 2nd, 2017

With the devastating impact of climate change beginning to hold a more tangible space in the global consciousness, there is an ever-pressing need for the healthcare sector to innovate and adapt to a new era of environmental accountability. While accounting for 17% of the GDP, the US health care system is also responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, 12% of acid rain formation, 9% of criteria air pollutants. The population health impact of these perverse environmental contributions are staggering. A 2016 study found that 470,000 disability adjusted years of life (DALY’s) were lost associated with health care related pollution. To put that in context, preventable medical errors resulted in a similar number of DALY’s lost – a source of mortality that has historically received much negative press, and was consequently addressed in the Affordable Care Act.

The major challenge that stems from this particular source of morbidity and mortality is that the health care system is inherently complicated, with a supply chain that includes many different products coming from a wide variety of producers. Other industries have had an easier time adjusting due to the greater simplicity of their production processes. These industries have successfully addressed issues of supply chain management by creating certain “indexes” to track the impact of their products on the environment. The Higgs index, developed in 2012, is used by fashion and footwear companies to track a product’s environmental impact. Mindclick, a supply chain sustainability company, is working to develop a similar system for the healthcare system.

A culture shift in medicine requires hospital executives to recognize the immense health, environmental, and surprisingly, economic benefit of moving towards more sustainable health care delivery. Hospitals have begun to take steps to incorporate sustainability into their models by lowering anesthetic gas waste, minimizing food waste, single use reprocessing devices, and reducing operating room packaging. A 2012 commonwealth fund showed that up to $15 billion in savings could be achieved by taking measures such as these. It will be increasingly important to eliminate the commonly held misconception that these types of measures increase costs — and are only meant for brand image —, and solidify that they in fact dramatically reduce operating costs.

The reprocessing of single-use medical devices has proven to be very successful in both reducing environmental footprints and operating costs for hospitals. Single-use medical devices include surgical instruments such as scalpels, forceps, and scissors, as well as cardiac catheters, pulse oximeters, and tourniquet cuffs. The disposal of these devices is highly regulated and incurs costs that are up to 10 times greater than the disposal of regular waste. Instead of disposing single-use devices, many hospitals are deciding to send them to third-party vendors that reprocess the devices by sterilizing, testing, and repackaging them. The reprocessing process is also highly regulated by the FDA, which ensures the safety of using the reprocessed devices. Many devices can be reprocessed multiple times. Once reprocessed devices can no longer be used, most are recycled instead of being sent to a landfill. The beneficial effects of this practice are enormous. For a 200 bed hospital, reprocessing can eliminate up to 15,000 pounds of landfill waste and cut costs by a million dollars per year.

Hospitals have also begun to focus on reducing energy consumption, as current estimates indicate that hospitals use about 8% of the nation’s energy. Since lighting contributes to a significant portion of hospital’s energy costs, many are beginning to look toward alternative, efficient options such as LED lighting. Hospitals have also invested in annual infrared scanning inspections to identify faulty electrical circuits, which can unnecessarily consume energy. Up-front investments such as these can significantly reduce energy consumption to both reduce costs and improve sustainability for hospitals in the long-term.

The Healthcare Sustainability Club aims to educate future leaders in healthcare about the detrimental environmental effects of current practices and to introduce potential methods to improve the environmental impact of the healthcare industry. Our goal is to get students from a variety of backgrounds to begin to discuss the economic and environmental benefits of sustainable practices. We want future physicians and hospital executives to prioritize environmental sustainability and to innovate new ways to improve our environmental impact.




Don’t Let Funding for Our Water System Become a Pipe Dream

By Bill DiCroce, President & CEO, Veolia North America

During the campaign, President Trump frequently described a $1 trillion plan in infrastructure investments to fix crumbling roads, bridges, and airports while creating good-paying jobs. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also recently outlined several priorities for an upgrade to the country’s infrastructure, suggesting the administration may announce a plan sooner rather than later.

Given the Trump administration’s intention to deliver its first full-year budget to Congress this week, and with apparent plans to deal with infrastructure in a separate bill, we in the water industry want to underscore how important it is to include water and wastewater initiatives in both conversations.

Water issues once seemed a distant concern to Americans, but today we are grappling with myriad crises — from chronic droughts in the West to fast-growing metropolises in the Sunbelt unable to meet surging demand and clean drinking water challenges. Perhaps more important, as our water mains, pipes and overall systems grow older — many were first built in the early 20th century — the bill for replacing or repairing them could approach $270 billion, according to the latest estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Our ability to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective water and sewer services is vital to the U.S. economy. Clean water is a valuable national asset that can attract new investment in manufacturing, research and development and can help differentiate the U.S. in the world economy. How we manage our water resources is of great strategic importance to every citizen. This investment in our infrastructure is vital to growth, and the federal government needs to play a key role in making those investments.

The president has previously said he may favor tripling the funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a loan assistance authority for addressing wastewater needs that has proven vital to jump-starting key projects. He has also shown support for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a federal-state partnership to help ensure safe drinking water.

These are both strong starting points — as is this month’s announcement that the EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program will provide $1 billion in credit to finance over $2 billion in water infrastructure investments — but a longer-term, more comprehensive infrastructure bill is necessary to repair and replace America’s many aging water and wastewater systems.

Investment is also needed for training. About one-third of the current water workforce is eligible for retirement, a phenomenon that will slow our efforts to modernize infrastructure and could lead to dangerous quality control issues. State and local governments must work with the private sector, trade schools, community colleges and universities to close this emerging skills gap.

Not only are these jobs important for our water quality and safety, they’re economic drivers. According to a study from the Value of Water Coalition, for every $1 million earmarked for water projects, upwards of 15 jobs are created, either to support water infrastructure design and construction directly, or in related industries.

And here’s the thing about water-related jobs — they can’t be exported or outsourced overseas. These employees work right here, in cities and towns across America.

While healthcare, tax reform and the budget dominate the congressional agenda, we believe it is critical that they find the time to take up water-related issues. Creating incentive programs such as tax credits to facilitate water reuse projects, co-digestion and resource recovery would strengthen already existing sustainability efforts.

Supporting private investment in water and wastewater infrastructure would go a long way to supplement any legislation passed by Congress. Finding the right regulatory balance would encourage innovation by providing incentives for new private investment in green infrastructure and energy derived from the wastewater treatment process.

The American water industry — both the public and private sector — delivers safe, clean water to homes, schools, farms and businesses in cities and towns across the U.S. each day. But the burgeoning infrastructure crisis casts doubt on our collective ability to deliver.

It’s time for all of us to come together — private companies and local officials, state and federal governments — to make water part of our national infrastructure renewal.


This piece was originally posted as an op-ed for The Hill. That article can be found here.


U.S. Environmental Regulatory Trends: Past, Present and Future

By Larry Cahill, CPEA, Wharton IGEL Alumni Advisory Group member

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”  Thomas Jefferson


Thomas Jefferson was a very smart man.  Perhaps though, his view of the purpose of government has been lost over time.  Recently there has been much discussion on the economic damages inflicted by the federal government related to the regulatory burden that industry faces in the United States.  Although these discussions are not solely limited to environmental regulatory burdens, many do believe that the pendulum has swung too far in controlling industrial operations and their air, water, and waste discharges.  I am not one of those individuals.  Yes, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland no longer catches fire.  And Pittsburgh’s success as a city is no longer defined by the smoke being emitted from the stacks of its steel industry plants.  And the hidden Love Canal surprises are hopefully behind us.  Yet, there continues to be noteworthy cases of major environmental incidents and non-compliances across the nation. The 2015 Volkswagen “clean diesel” scandal is only one of many.  Did you know that every single year for the past 20 years the U.S. Department of Justice has charged some 200 to 300 individuals with committing environmental crimes?  That might not seem like many but in total these are criminal charges against over 5,000 individuals, not simply civil charges for exceeding permit limits or discharge standards.

One could logically ask the question – Where does the U.S. stand today with regard to environmental regulations and enforcement as the country experiences a new presidential administration with an uncertain regulatory philosophy and strategy?  Are we indeed better off and is it time to take the foot off the gas or is there still much work that needs to be done?  Recent regulatory and enforcement data released by the U.S. EPA help us to better understand where we are presently as a country and where we might be headed.

Environmental Laws: The Historical Setting

The First Earth Day occurred on April 22, 1970 in the midst of a nationwide college campus strike protesting the Vietnam War.  Protests in the streets all over the land.  Hmmm… Sound familiar?  That year of 1970 became a springboard for the passing of major federal environmental laws in the U.S.  As shown in Table 1, in the next two decades, some 12 critically important environmental, health and safety laws were passed.  Interestingly enough, eleven of the twelve were authorized and signed by Republican presidents; a legacy that is sometimes forgotten or ignored.  Each law, of course, required the creation of regulations to accomplish the stated goals.  And indeed that has occurred.

TABLE 1:  Major U.S. Federal Environmental Legislation (1969-1986)


Year Title

Signing President

1. 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Nixon (R)
2. 1970 Clean Air Act (CAA) Nixon (R)
3. 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Nixon (R)
4. 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) Nixon (R)
5. 1972 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Nixon (R)
6. 1972 Noise Control Act (NCA) Nixon (R)
7. 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) Nixon (R)
8. 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Ford (R)
9. 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Ford (R)
10. 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Ford (R)
11. 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) Carter (D)
12. 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) Reagan (R)


Environmental Regulations: The Current Setting

All federal regulations, including those created by the EPA, are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), published annually by the Government Printing Office.  That is, each year the CFR is released to the public and it contains all current and updated regulations effective on July 1st of that year.  The individual volumes for each year are usually available in January or February of the following year.  The EPA is responsible for the 37 volumes of Title 40 of that Code.  By early 2017 the EPA had released the 2016 CFRs effective July 1, 2016.  The total page count for EPA’s Title 40 regulations in 2016 was 27,074, the most on record. (See Figure 1) Combined with OSHA’s 3,096 pages in Title 29 there were, for the first time, over 30,000 pages in total, with EPA regulations accounting for 90% of that total.

In taking a closer look at the data, some interesting additional facts emerge.  For example:

  • Recent Growth.  There was an approximately 800 page, or 3%, increase in the number of pages in Title 40 in 2016.  This increase was almost twice as large as the total page count in 1972, the first year of regulatory codification.
  • Distribution by Media.  Approximately 66% of the pages in Title 40 are devoted to Clean Air Act regulations.  This represents roughly 17,750 pages, meaning that the Clean Air Act alone has almost six times as many pages of regulations than all of OSHA’s Title 29 Code.
FIGURE 1: Growth of U.S. EPA Regulations (1972-2016)


  • Comparison with the U.S. Tax Code.  By comparison, the 30 thousand pages of EHS regulations is only about 40% of the total page count of ~75,000 pages in the federal tax code.
  • Comparison with the Dow.  Interestingly, if one does the calculations for the 1972-2016 period, there is a 95% statistical correlation between the growth of environmental regulations and the growth of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA).  Granted this is some outside-the-box thinking, but could this mean that regulatory growth is good for the economy!?

Will Environmental Regulations Continue to Grow?

Will the growth of federal environmental regulations continue or has it peaked?  One way to anticipate the answer to the regulatory growth question is to take a look at the Agency’s Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda, which was last released on November 17, 2016 (as part of the Executive Branch’s Unified Agenda) in the Federal Register.  This is a spring and fall requirement for all regulatory agencies[i].  In November the EPA listed 203 additional regulations (not pages, but individual regulations) that either had been recently promulgated (but not yet codified) or were under development.

Eventually, all of these new regulations will be added to Title 40, continuing the growth, unless there is a concerted effort to halt the regulatory development process; more on that later in this chapter.  It is very interesting to note, as depicted in Figure 2, that each of EPA’s Semi-Annual Regulatory Agendas from 1999 to 2011 listed somewhere between 350 and 450 regulations under development, a consistency that is stunning.  This means that for over a decade, there were always around 400 regulations under development on the docket.  Interestingly, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of regulations listed to roughly 200 from years 2012 to 2016.  Maybe the regulatory pipeline is beginning to empty.

FIGURE 2: EPA Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda Trends


Yes, there are still regulatory gaps

In spite of the fact that there are now over 27 thousand pages of federal environmental regulations, there remain some additional risks and vulnerabilities that have yet to be addressed appropriately at the federal level.  Three of those that have surfaced on environmental audits of industrial facilities over the past 30 years are:

  • Water Storage Tanks. For large firewater and other water supply above-ground storage tanks, there is no requirement for tank integrity testing or secondary containment protections.  These tanks are often located adjacent to electrical substations and transformers in utility areas where a tank breach could short out the entire electrical system of the site and possibly the surrounding community.  And history tells us that large volumes of unexpected water releases can do considerable damage to facility equipment.  In 2011 a tsunami disabled the backup generators at the Fukushima, Japan nuclear power plant resulting in a meltdown of three nuclear reactors.  One global consumer products company has recognized this water storage issue as an unacceptable risk and has developed a corporate standard that requires secondary containment for all above ground storage tanks worldwide.
  • Hazardous Waste Storage.  Hazardous waste stored at 90-day accumulation areas require only that drums and containers be labeled, physically intact, and inspected weekly.  Surprisingly there is no federal requirement that containers be placed on an impervious surface incorporating secondary containment protections.  Thus, a pretty much unlimited amount of containers and drums holding hazardous waste can be stored directly on the ground for up to 3 months at these locations. Several states, including Massachusetts, have recognized this as a gap and require additional protections such as secondary containment for accumulations areas.
  • Accidental Discharges of Hazardous Substances.  Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Planning requirements promulgated under Section 112.7 of the Clean Water Act regulations are designed to prevent the accidental release of only oil-containing substances into the nation’s waters.  Facilities subject to the regulations must develop an SPCC Plan that is certified by a Professional Engineer and must provide appropriate containment and/or diversionary structures or equipment to prevent a discharge of oil. New Jersey is one state that has recognized that regulating only oil in this way is a gap and has promulgated Discharge Prevention, Containment and Countermeasure (DPCC) regulations that cover not only oil but numerous other hazardous substances.

There are certainly other gaps as well and also existing regulations that require additional clarification.  A great example of the need for clarification are the “weekly”, “monthly”, and “annual” requirements found in many environmental regulations.  Be assured that there have been many lively discussions among site staff, regulators and auditors over whether “annual” means every 12 months or once a year.  There is a big difference in the two interpretations.

U.S. EPA Enforcement Activity Remains Substantial

The EPA has had a substantial enforcement program throughout its history.  EPA’s current Enforcement budget is approximately 10% of its total $8.1 billion budget and, for comparison purposes, is 35% more than the entire budget of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  On December 19th, the EPA released its enforcement results for fiscal year 2016, which ended on September 30, 2016.[ii]  Included in those results were data on administrative, civil judicial penalties, and criminal fines assessed.

As shown in Figure 3, EPA issued $5.8 billion in civil and criminal penalties in FY2016, the most ever in history.  However, the great majority of the penalties issued were due to a $5.6 billion settlement with BP Exploration & Production for Clean Water Act violations stemming from the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout and subsequent oil spill.  Note further that the 2013 penalty amount of approximately $2.6 billion was impacted significantly by billion dollar penalties against Transocean and BP, again for the Deepwater Horizon incident.

FIGURE 3: U.S. EPA Enforcement Penalty Trends


Notwithstanding the two Deepwater Horizon enforcement actions in 2013 and 2016, on average, over the past ten years the EPA has issued approximately $200 million in civil and criminal monetary penalties each year.  This should be viewed together with the over 5,000 individuals that have been charged with environmental crimes by the DOJ over the past 20 years.  These numbers are not inconsequential.  And with almost a billion dollars being spent annually by EPA on enforcement, environmental noncompliance remains a serious issue, unmatched by any other country.  As EPA has stated in its FY 2013 OECA National Program Manager Guidance, we will “aggressively go after pollution problems that make a difference in communities.  EPA will use vigorous civil and criminal enforcement that targets the most serious water, air and chemical hazards, as well as advance environmental justice by protecting vulnerable communities”.[iii]

The Cautionary Tale of December 2016

So where does that leave us?  Should there be a continuing emphasis on environmental regulatory compliance and enforcement or should we indeed take the foot off the gas as some would propose.  Well, if the fortnight in the middle of December 2016 tells us anything, this is not the time to ease up.  Take note of the following headlines taken from that very short period:

  • DuPont agrees to pay $50 million in natural resource damages to resolve claims stemming from the release of mercury in the 1930’s and 1940’s from its Waynesboro, VA plant (December 16th).
  • Michigan’s Attorney General brings more criminal charges over the Flint, Michigan water crisis, including felony charges against two former state appointees and two former city officials (December 20th).
  • Volkswagen reaches $1 billion deal with the USDOJ and California in the ongoing diesel emissions scandal (December 21st).
  • A federal jury finds DuPont liable for $2 million in compensatory damages for an individual’s cancer stemming from the dumping of Teflon manufacturing chemicals (C8) into the Ohio River. An additional 3,500 cases are pending (December 21st).
  • Shell Oil will pay $22 million to the city of Clovis, California for chemical (TCP) found in drinking water supply (December 27th).

Frankly, it’s hard to believe that all five of these incidents occurred over a two-week period in the last month of 2016.  They suggest that the U.S. is nowhere near where it needs to be with respect to the environment.  Continuing oversight is needed and both public and private sector institutions need to be held accountable for meeting, if not exceeding, regulatory requirements.

What Might Change

During the 2016 presidential campaign and now with the new Trump Administration in place concern has been expressed over the regulatory burden placed on U.S. industry and the regulated community in general.    It should be noted that this concern is nothing new.  For example, on January 18, 2011 President Obama issued Executive Order 13563, “Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review”.  The Order required a government-wide review of existing rules “to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.  It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules…”[iv]  In response to President Obama’s Executive Order, EPA created the Regulatory Development and Retrospective Review Tracker (Reg DaRRT), which provides information on the status of EPA’s priority rulemakings, as well as information on the status of retrospective reviews of existing regulations.  One positive outcome of the Executive Order was the July 31, 2013 issuance of a final EPA rule on solvent-contaminated wipes that reduced the regulatory burden on tens of thousands of facilities using these wipes routinely.

What is different today is the approach that is being proposed by the current Administration.  President Trump has said numerous times that his goal is to eliminate as many as 75% of all existing federal regulations.  The first step in that effort was the January 30, 2017 issuance of an Executive Order: “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.”  This Order calls for every “one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination with the goal of zero incremental costs.”  As with most Executive Orders further guidance will be required and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget is required to develop that guidance.  In fact, on February 2, 2017 the White House issued guidance stating that the Order would only apply to “significant” regulations, as defined in Executive Order: “Regulatory Planning and Review”, issued by the Clinton Administration in 1993.  Significant regulations are those imposing an annual economic cost ≥$100 million.  The Director must also identify the total amount of incremental costs that will be allowed for each agency for each fiscal year.

This “one in, two out” approach, if enacted as stated, obviously will have significant impacts on federal rulemaking within all agencies including the EPA.  As stated previously, the EPA in its November 2016 Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda listed 203 new regulations under development or review.  Will this mean that if all of these regulations are put forward that over 400 other, existing regulations must be eliminated?  As arbitrary as this sounds, the answer today is yes.

Another potential impact caused by the Executive Order would come from the new chemical requirements in the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act signed into law on June 22, 2016.  The Act requires that the EPA evaluate and communicate the risks of existing chemicals from the current inventory of 83,000 chemicals in use in the U.S.  The first 10 chemicals were identified on November 29, 2016 and include asbestos, carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride, and trichloroethylene.  If an assessment determines that a chemical poses an unreasonable risk the Agency must mitigate that risk within two years.  Further, for each risk evaluation completed, another must be initiated with at least 20 ongoing evaluations being conducted by the end of 2019.  Does this mean that any resultant rule addressing mitigations for a particular high-risk chemical cannot be promulgated unless two other unrelated rules are eliminated?  This seems rather arbitrary as well.  Perhaps in this and other cases the “significant regulation” threshold will have a moderating impact and the effects will not be as severe as expected.

Another regulatory reform initiative taking place but receiving considerably less attention is the use of the Congressional Review Act enacted in 1996, which allows lawmakers to take certain actions for those laws enacted during the waning days of an administration.  The Congress has already used this power to rescind EPA’s Stream Protection Rule promulgated in December 2016, which sought to protect the nation’s waterways from debris generated by coal surface mining activities.  Congress is also attempting to rescind the EPA’s revised Accidental Release Prevention Requirements contained in its Risk Management Program final rule issued on January 13, 2017.  A bill to rescind the rule has been introduced in the House as of this writing.  Historically, the Congressional Review Act has been used sparingly but this has not been the case in early 2017.

In sum, there is strong evidence that significant regulatory reform is ahead driven by a Republican Congress and Presidency.  One can only hope that logic will prevail and that protection of human health and the environment will continue as a fundamental goal for the nation.

Why the EPA’s Mission Remains Critically Important

With good reason President Nixon created the EPA in 1970.  The Agency’s basic mission is to protect human health and the environment.  This is accomplished with an $8 billion budget and 15,000 full time equivalent staff.  Although it often is not evident in our daily lives, we have all been impacted in a positive way by the Agency’s efforts and programs.  Consider if you will the scope of the Agency’s oversight and responsibilities:

  • Nationwide Facility Coverage.  Over 800,000 facilities in the U.S. generate air emissions, wastewater, and hazardous waste at a level sufficient to require regulatory oversight through mechanisms such as Title V air permits, NPDES wastewater discharge permits, and/or hazardous waste generation and disposal requirements.  That’s an average of 16,000 facilities per state where there is regulatory oversight and controls over the release of pollutants.
  • Hazardous Waste Generation.  There are over 26,000 large quantity hazardous waste generators in the U.S., generating over 33 million tons of hazardous waste annually.  These generators are required to manage the wastes properly and report to the EPA every other year on their activities.
  • Toxic Releases.  There are over 22,000 facilities in the U.S. that release listed toxic chemicals at a sufficient level to require reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) requirements of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.  Over 3.3 billion pounds of toxics were released nationally in 2015.  TRI reporting has resulted in a better understanding of pollutants in our environment and has driven a reduction over time of releases.
  • Superfund Sites.  As a result of the 1980 passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) some 1,188 “Superfund” sites have been cleaned up as of November 30, 2016.  However, there remain 1,337 National Priorities List (NPL) Superfund sites yet to be cleaned up.
  • Toxic Chemicals.  There are 85,000 chemicals inventoried and regulated under the Toxics Substances Control Act.  These include materials containing asbestos and PCB’s, which were considered “miracle” products when first produced.  Very few of the inventoried chemicals have undergone meaningful risk assessments to determine hazards posed to human health or the environment.  The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act signed into law on June 22, 2016 contains provisions to assure that these assessments are conducted.

It is important to note that, save for the Superfund sites, all of the chemicals, wastes, releases, and discharges discussed above are being managed in compliance with existing environmental regulations.  Do we really want to eliminate 75% of these regulations resulting in fewer controls over discharges and releases?


The future of environmental regulation in the U.S. is cloudy indeed.  It is really too soon to tell exactly what might be the impact of President Trump’s Executive Order and other pending regulatory reform initiatives.  It would be prudent to keep a close watch…


[i] The Regulatory Flexibility Act and Executive Order 12,866 require Spring and Fall Regulatory Agendas.

[ii] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Fiscal Year 2016 EPA Enforcement and Compliance Annual Results,” Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, December 19, 2016.

[iii] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, FY 2013 Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), National Program Manager (NPM) Guidance, April 30, 2012, p. 6.

[iv] Obama, Barak, “Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System”, Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2011.


Kleinman Cetner’s Energy Now Podcast – The Many Fronts of Trump’s Environmental Deregulation Effort

Submitted by Andy Stone, Communications Manager, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy

President Trump is moving forward with his campaign pledge to roll back environmental protections, most notably with his late March executive order instructing EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to withdraw the Clean Power Plan.  In the latest episode of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy’s podcast series, Energy Policy Now, Penn law professor Cary Coglianese takes a look at the multiple legal and political tools the Trump administration is using to reduce protections, including executive orders, defunding of agencies with environmental oversight, and use of the previously obscure Congressional Review Act.   Coglianese lays out the challenges each strategy will face, and the potential for regulations to be rolled back or to endure.


Closely tied to the issue of climate change is the economic outlook of the electric utility industry, which is increasingly tasked with the role of enabling the transition to clean power, yet will face lower electricity demand as a result.  In a second new episode, former Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Sonny Popowsky takes a look at the challenge that distributed energy presents to electric utilities’ profitability.  Popowsky, who is an advisory board member of the Kleinman Center, also explores the costs to consumers that could result from efforts to balance the growth of rooftop solar, energy efficiency and related technologies with the need to maintain a power grid that equitably serves all.


Energy Policy Now Podcast – Carbon Reduction Strategies

Submitted by Andy Stone, Communications Manager, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy

Two strategies stand out in the effort to reduce carbon emissions on an economy-wide scale. Carbon Cap and Trade, and Carbon Taxation, have been implemented with varying degrees of success in recent years, while taking very different approaches to reducing emissions.

The latest episode of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy’s Energy Policy Now podcast takes a look at the mechanisms by which these strategies seek to reduce emissions, and the political and economic considerations that may make one or the other a best fit for a particular nation or region.

The episode features James Hines, Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Michigan, and an editorial adviser to the Kleinman Center.


After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy

By Eric W. Orts, Guardsmark Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; Faculty Director, Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership

October 10, 2016

David Orr asked me to serve as a rapporteur for the conference that he organized (with a little help from his friends) at Oberlin College and was held from October 5-7, 2016, and I happily agreed. Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership was one of the first of a number of other organizations to agree to co-sponsor this conference, but the work of attracting a remarkable group of leading experts fell mostly to David and his staff. And what an impressive group they assembled! I have gone to conferences relating to the topic of climate change for more than twenty years, and this was by far the most impressive group of its kind. Headline keynotes were given by celebrity “top influencers” including Bill McKibben, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Steyer. In addition, the top executives of organizations including the Sierra Club ad CERES attended, as well as such other well-known names as Gar Alperovitz, Robert Kuttner, Hunter Lovins, and Bill Ritter.

My charge here is to attempt to review the overall course of the conference and to distill some of the major themes. My apologies in advance to anyone at the conference who may feel that I give them short shrift. Inevitably, my own intellectual bias will intrude in selecting the most important themes, but I hope to be as objective as possible in my reporting role. I will also try to be brief.

The conference divided roughly into three parts which were addressed on each day. Of course, different speakers crossed over into different areas, but in general there was an attempt to follow an agenda of organization that would lead to cumulative learning and engagement. Day 1 was devoted to a series of presentations on “theory.” Day 2 focused on elements of the post-carbon “next economy.” Day 3 considered “politics.” This report will follow this division, with transitional keynotes discussed as bridges between the categories.

Day 1: Theory

Elements of the theory needed to make progress on addressing the very large problem of global climate change were addressed by various presentations. These elements included the following.

Vision of sustainability. One must have a working definition of the goal one seeks to accomplish, and perhaps the best reference one can give here is to David Orr’s most recent book, Dangerous Years: Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward (2016). Both economics and politics are necessary to engage, as well as the science providing a background understanding of the challenge. A social transformation is needed to wean human civilization from the destructive use of fossil fuels—namely, coal, oil, and natural gas—and to replace them with renewable energy—such as solar, thermal, wind, and others. Making progress in greater efficiency and conservation in the use of energy is another imperative.

Systems approach. The study of interactions between the natural environment and social behavior and organizations requires a theoretical orientation appreciative of systems, rather than a reductive focus on linear processes. The “next economy” requires innovative new design and reform at both micro (local) and macro (global) levels.

Ethics and values. A general theoretical challenge is to incorporate a new sense of sustainable values and ethics into the social processes of business, work, capital markets, politics, and government. Views of business and markets as concerned strictly with “profit maximization” are inconsistent with this moral requirement. Seeing government as only a game used by people to gain power and influence is similarly impoverished.

Optimistic narratives and stories.   We know from studies in psychology that “optimism is functional” (see Martin Seligman’s work), and a general prescription from the conference seems to be that an optimistic attitude is best even when dealing with the very hard facts of current and impending climate change, including the relentless rise in global concentrations of greenhouse gases, and the fact that average global temperatures continue to set new records. Several presenters noted that 2014, 2015, and 2016 have been progressively the warmest years on record. Fourteen of the last fifteen years have been the hottest ever recorded. Nevertheless, theoretical attitudes toward solving the problem cannot succeed if they fall victim to pessimistic despondency and inaction. New language, metaphors, and concepts are needed. My own view, for example, is that rethinking the purpose and design of business firms is needed as one part of the larger solution (see Orts, Business Persons (2015)). Various presenters focused also on a need to rethink traditional concepts such as “capital” and “eco-system services.” The meanings of “sustainability” itself and somewhat newer ideas of “resilience” are also evolving.

Measurement and accountability. Scientific assessment of progress at all levels is needed as part of the theoretical background. Progress cannot be assumed, and the Paris Agreement opens the door toward better international accounting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions and various mitigation or adaptation strategies adopted by and within nation-states. Other large institutions, such as business corporations and nonprofits, should also install reliable internal accounting standards and practices, following the well-known mantra that “you manage what you measure.” Questions were raised about whether older measures of economic progress such as gross domestic product (GDP) continue to be useful—or whether it would be better to develop and follow new measures of well-being, sustainability, happiness, and freedom from hunger and homelessness.

Fairness and justice. Other key principles—emphasized, for example, by Nikki Silvestri—are fairness and justice, including especially racial justice. The phenomenon of Trump indicates also that many poor and working class whites in the United States have been hurt by current status quo policies. Everyone should be considered when making proposals for change, reform, and reinvention. Progress on climate change will not occur unless all citizens and consumers are respected and included.

McKibben Keynote

Bill McKibben provided a keynote in Finney Chapel at the end of the first day, and as a leading environmental activist (and indeed perhaps the best known activist who led the fight that shut down the Keystone Pipeline) his discussion focused on the need for a citizens’ movement to counteract the inertia and special interests supporting the status quo. McKibben struck three main themes.

Time.   First, climate change is unlike other social problems because incremental, slow progress will not be enough. Adverse effects from global warming are occurring faster than had been predicted twenty years ago. Arctic ice has melted. Ocean have acidified. Very soon, vast amounts of methane may release into the atmosphere from northern tundra landscapes. “If we do not solve [the problem] fast,” said McKibben, “we will not solve it.”

Stop fossil fuels now. According to one recent report, coal, oil, and natural gas companies own reserves that amount to four to five times the amount of carbon that can be safely emitted without blowing through the two degree Celsius average global temperature ceiling agreed as a target in the recent Paris Agreement. Another more recent report has found that current resources already being tapped by these companies will be enough to push the world past two degrees. For McKibben, and for some other environmentalists at the conference, such as the Sierra Club, this means that all expansions of fossil fuel production and distribution should be opposed and, if possible, immediately halted.

Force the change. McKibben sees the status quo, as represented by big fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and their political influence, as the primary obstacle to positive change. Citizens coming together in a broad-based movement is the only way to counter the political influence of big oil and other large energy companies. A “Keystone-ization” needs to spread to other controversies, such as the current standoff at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to block the Dakota Access pipeline. There has been a long string of recent victories, and McKibben makes a strong argument that these should continue. Politics at the national level also matters, and McKibben opposes Trump on grounds that his campaign denies climate science and threatens to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Day 2: The Next Economy

                  Day 2 was devoted mostly to what the “next economy” in a post-carbon world would look like. Some participants, such as Gar Alperovitz, focused on the need for new local initiatives that break with the standard model of capitalist financing and management. Many examples of creative grassroots economic development were given, and a key lesson from many presentations is that good jobs are necessary for any environmental reform to succeed. The next economy must provide for secure and well-paid new jobs, because otherwise there will be no political will to make the change from business-as-usual. At the same time, other participants, such as Hunter Lovins, argued that big companies must become part of the solution too. Unilever and Walmart were discussed as positive examples, though a general consensus appeared to support the view that most large corporations were clueless, too casual, or actively dissembling (greenwashing). This widespread lack of true engagement by most businesses in finding climate solutions needs to change.

The financial markets play a large role in the problem as well. Mindy Lubber, the CEO of Ceres, examined various success stories of institutional investors pressuring public companies to disclose risk and performance measures regarding greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission has an important task to set “materiality” disclosure standards relating to climate change. Although the size of social impact investing may not yet have had a huge influence, it seems to be growing, and interest on college and university campuses regarding investment policies for endowments (including divestment) has been increasing too.

Mark Campanale of Carbon Tracker provided a well-received analysis of the “carbon bubble” that he and his colleagues have found in the disclosures of fossil fuel companies. A large percentage of assets currently owned by these firms “can’t be burned” if the two degree limit is to be respected. As a result, many of these companies may be financially overvalued—on the optimistic assumption that the political will is forthcoming to curtail this business model. At the moment, however, major investors do not seem perturbed—and they appear to be betting, then, that the two degree limit will be exceeded.

As for solutions, Campanale and other pointed out that the scale of the problem requires massive government (as well as private) investment. Historical low interest rates should be used to finance as much as $70 trillion in global investment in the repair and enhancement of infrastructure, including new smart grids and the development of renewable energy sources. (This very large number compares with $60 trillion as the approximate value of all publicly traded companies in the world.) A number of presenters spoke of the need for a scale of investment to address climate change similar to the expenditures made in fighting World War II. (And one questioner usefully asked: What will be the equivalent of a “Pearl Harbor moment” to provide sufficient motivation for this scale of investment?)

The need to engage with all people, especially those who feel disenfranchised or ignored by globalization, was emphasized, including urban black and white rural populations. Religious groups provide an essential organizational nexus for transformation at the local level. And leaders such as Pope Francis can have large influence at the global level. The role of cities, which account for 72 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, is also key. Joan Fitzgerald noted that the average greenhouse gas emissions in large cities were commonly much less that the average emissions of their countries as a whole. For example, average per capita emissions in New York and San Francisco are less than a third of average emissions of the United States as a whole.

New paradigms were also discussed, such as a need to move toward an objective of “plenitude,” as advocated by Juliet Schor, instead of economic growth. An attitude of plenitude adopts a view that natural resources should be enjoyed rather than exploited. And climate change policies need to fit into a larger strategic template that include other large-scale problems, according to Mark Mykleby and Patrick Doherty. Sustainability should go hand-in-hand with policies promoting economic prosperity and national security.

Brune Keynote

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, gave a transitional keynote speech that echoed McKibben’s call to oppose the expansion of the fossil fuel industry as a primary target. He first noted an impressive record of success for environmentalists, particularly in the Beyond Coal campaign. Of 200 coal plants proposed fourteen years ago, for example, 90 percent were stopped by coordinated activism and litigation. Six years ago, there were 523 coal plants in the United States, and today more than half of them have been retired. The well-known example of stopping the Keystone Pipeline has been replicated by a string of recent environmentalist victories against similar pipelines and projects. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the overall cost of solar and wind technologies has become very competitive with, and often cheaper than, traditional coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear alternatives.

Brune then drew several lessons from his experience that provided a bridge to discussion about politics in the final day of the conference.

Keep winning. Recent environmentalist victories against the expansion of fossil fuel facilities should continue and, if possible, accelerate.

Reach out to Republicans and Independents as allies. Brune was the first to tag this theme which was later repeated by others. Many of the Sierra Club “wins” have occurred in very politically conservative areas of the country. Climate change cannot remain a cause only of one major party in the United States. Polls show majorities of Republicans believe in climate science and support transitional strategies (despite the rhetoric to the contrary expressed at the top national level). Supermajorities of the American public support policies to counter climate change as well, including many business leaders.

Get active.   People must organize and vote in order for change to happen. Solutions also must work for everyone (a repeated theme throughout the conference). Businesses that embrace climate friendly policies should be welcomed. And “what victory looks like” must include new well-paying jobs, including for unemployed coal miners and persistently marginalized populations.

Moss and Steyer Keynotes

A tag-team keynote session with Otis Moss and Tom Steyer highlighted themes of religion, race, and generational engagement as important. Moss reflected on his own effort to explain and translate environmental issues such as climate change to his religious constituents in order to make change “by any greens necessary.” Environmental justice links with racial justice in the United States, and Moss also emphasized the essential task of engaging younger people.

Tom Steyer agreed with the need to engage youth and described his efforts with NextGen Climate which, for example, has a presence now on fifty college campuses in Ohio. Steyer cited polls that indicated extremely high levels of support for clean energy solutions (around 80% of younger voters) and a transition to a 100% clean energy economy (91% of Millennials according to one poll).

Religious leaders are important as well, and the recent encyclical by Pope Francis carries great weight. Historically conservative icons such as leaders in the military provide another fulcrum from which change may be leveraged.

Day 3: Politics

It is fair to say that the outsized Arnold Schwarzenegger stole the show on the last day of the conference. The former Republican Governor of California made an impassioned case for both parties to tackle the challenge of climate change in a bipartisan manner. His catchphrase, riffing on a famous speech by Obama, was that “there is no Democratic water and Republican water; no Democratic air and Republican air.” He embodied pleas by other participants that Republicans had to come to the table, and he was hard to miss or ignore.

Sharing the stage with Tom Steyer, a Democrat who is known for bankrolling politicians who embrace climate friendly positions, the former Governor elevated California as an example that the rest of the United States could follow. Simply “copy us,” said Schwarzenegger, and I “guarantee” economic growth as well as climate progress. He compared California’s economic and environmental success to Germany’s.

In addition, Schwarzenegger emphasized that the fossil fuel companies (which he described as mostly coming from Texas) had to be opposed. He claimed, with respect to their attempts to lobby against reform, that “we terminated them.” (At the same time, he recognized the ability to work with them on climate-friendly projects such the introduction of hydrogen fuel by Chevron in California.) He reiterated a theme heard throughout the conference that policies to address climate change had to provide good jobs too. In his view, California provides an example for other states (including Ohio and Texas) that green policies can lead to economic prosperity. Interestingly, Schwarzenegger found that some of the biggest opponents of environmental policies or initiatives were in fact environmentalists. For example, proposals to build new solar plants in deserts were opposed and delayed on grounds of threats to endangered species such as tortoises.

Steyer largely agreed with Schwarzenegger on the main points. Both argued for economic growth (which was a contested idea for other participants who see a conflict emerging between growth and sustainability). Both emphasized the importance of jobs. Both made the case of a shift toward bipartisan engagement at the national level.

Earlier in the day, Robert Kuttner provided an incisive commentary on the current political situation. White working class people hurt by governmental policies for several decades appear to have become a wild card supporting the likes of Trump and his anti-establishment, anti-globalization, and anti-science rhetoric. Commenting on “the presence of prophetic voices” at the conference, such as McKibben, Kuttner argued that the deeper roots of Trumpism had to be recognized and countered in order to establish a political consensus to address climate change.   He argued against the “liberal elitism” that embraced climate change as a major issue and yet ignored large losses in wealth and well-being of large swaths of the population. A “possible politics” to remedy the situation could focus on reducing levels of material consumption and reversing the incentives that encourage what he called “predatory capitalism.” He also echoed calls by others at the conference for a massive investment in infrastructure, taking advantage of historically low interest rates. Climate change is a challenge “such as we’ve never faced,” he said, and we are “groping for analogies (but not in Trump’s sense of groping).” Kuttner concluded with one memorable quote from the conference, reflecting on the need to take our grandchildren’s perspective into account: “We need not just to be right; we need to win.”


Many others paid tribute to David Orr at the conference, and his inspiration informed many contributions. I will do so here as well, and mention again that these reflections are sifted through my own particular lenses. I would urge interested readers to consult sources provided at the conference for further avenues of self-edification and engagement. I will leave the last word to Orr, though, and quote the following from his new book, which I believe embraces the spirit of the conference overall:

I do not believe that we are fated to destroy the Earth by fire, heat, or technology run amok. But if there is a happier future it will come down to this: to act with compassion and energy, our hearts must be in it; to act intelligently, we must understand that we are but one part of an interrelated global system; to act effectively and justly, we must be governed by accountable, transparent, and robust democratic institutions; and to act sustainably, we must live and work within the limits of our natural system over the longterm. (Dangerous Years, p. xi)

If we are as a civilization in some measure successful in addressing the massive challenge of climate change, the Oberlin conference on “After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy” will have had some role in inspiring and informing this future success. It was a privilege to be there for the experience, for the education, and for the inspiration.


Practises that make sustainable development a reality

By Willem Adrianus de Bruijn

The only way to survive with more than seven billion consumers is that each and every one of them spends his money only on products that keep nature in perfect condition.

Consumers will do so the very moment that they are allowed to deduct from their taxable income the money they spend on such products. They will then be driven by self interests and financial interests, two powerful drives in the behaviour of mankind, to maintain ways of living that keep the integrity of Nature.  To safeguard this integrity will be the goal with which these consumers spend their money.

They will continue to demand goods and services that do not impair the environment until they live in harmony with nature.  Then they will not pay income taxes anymore.  The damages to the environment done by the ways of living of consumers will at that time have been reduced to zero.  The costs of these damages by our present ways of living are more than the amount of income taxes, which consumers pay.  When consumers do not harm nature more public funds will therefore be available.

Another way to remunerate the consumer for keeping nature sound is by reimbursing him with a percentage of the purchase price of the ecological products he buys.  This percentage could be an average of the income tax rates consumers pay.  This method can also be applied in countries where consumers do not pay income taxes.

Producers will have to satisfy the demand of these consumers by supplying the goods and services that sustain the good condition of nature.  The goal, which producers pursue will then be the same as the goal of the consumer, to maintain the integrity of nature.  This will be the sense of the development of the economy.

The sense of development is determined by the goal with which the consumer spends his money.  This is a new concept, which I have founded in the science of economy.

The only goal with which the consumer can spend his money in the present economy is, Consume more.  This goal is sustained by the macro economic practise of maintaining growth in development.  Growth in the development of the economy implies producing more, however production figures are incorporated in the statistics of the GNP’s only if that what is produced is also sold, thus consumed.  To maintain growth in development implies therefore that consumers consume always more.

It is not possible to continue consuming more of limited resources without inevitably depleting them.  Having consumed more of the limited resources of this planet since commerce began and particularly since the beginning of the industrial revolution has brought us to the limits of nature, where commerce is stagnating.  No growth is possible anymore, except in economies where the limits of nature have not yet been reached, as was the case in China.  The statistics about the economies in the industrialised and developed countries show that there is no more growth in the development of these economies.  Even the approximately 0% interest rates central banks maintain, like the FED and the ECB, cannot get the economies going again, let alone growing.

When producers and consumers pursue the goal of maintaining the integrity of Nature, the macro-economic practise to keep the economy going will become, to preserve this integrity in the development of the economy.

The prerequisite to remunerate the consumer for buying products that leave the environment unblemished is based on three new concepts.

As explained above, one is, the consumer determines the sense of development with the goal, which he pursues when he spends his money.

Another one is, the consumer has a professional responsibility in the operation of the economy, namely to maintain ways of living that safeguard the integrity of Nature.  It is indeed only the consumer who can ensure this integrity, because he can do it by adapting his ways of living until he lives in agreement with nature.

A third concept is, in order to achieve an optimum efficiency in the utilisation of resources, costs have to be managed at the source of the incomes, which they generate. This means that the people who earn the incomes should manage the costs with which they create them.  When consumers manage the costs of living the efficiency of utilising natural resources in their ways of living will eventually attain the best possible efficiency.  At that moment more than enough goods and services will be produced so that there is no more poverty because there will be enough for everybody.   Everyone can then enjoy compatible levels of well being.  People who share satisfaction live in peace.

This will happen when the consumer is paid for managing his costs of living in order to safeguard the integrity of Nature.  The sooner this is done, the quicker the ecological- and economic crises are solved, poverty is terminated and people will live in peace.

Not to remunerate the consumer for doing his job leaves him consuming more and thus further damaging the planet until it is destroyed.  The time left to do so seems to end in 2030, according to the Club of Rome.  It is less than half a generation away.

Considering the logic to reward the consumer for keeping the environment in impeccable state, the theory sustaining the need to pay the consumer is not one to be discussed but one to be applied.  Any activity should be undertaken to oblige lawmakers to legalise these payments.  Knowingly refusing to do so makes from these lawmakers criminals committing crimes against humanity.