A day after the Senate pulled the plug on a comprehensive climate bill, a new report shows the U.S. could reduce greenhouse gas emissions 14 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 by aggressively using existing state and federal policies.
A 14 percent reduction, however, falls short of President Barack Obama’s Copenhagen commitment, as well the emissions reduction targets put forth in the most recent climate legislation that was put forth and failed over the last year. It also pales in comparison to the cuts most scientists say is needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
“The study highlights both the need to pass climate legislation and the importance of preserving existing authorities,” Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, which wrote the report, said in a statement. “The study’s findings make it very clear that current efforts by Congress to curb U.S. EPA authority will undermine U.S. competitiveness in a clean energy world economy, block control of dangerous pollutants, and put the U.S. at odds with its allies.”
As Lash alluded to, the 14 percent reduction calculated by WRI is far from assured, given recent attacks on the EPA and state laws. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), for example, tried and failed to rein in the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, while a push from Big Oil-funded organizations in California put the fate of the state’s aggressive climate change law on the November ballot. At the same time, some have backed off participation in regional emissions trading programs, such as Arizona, which distanced itself from the Western Climate Initiative because of the economic downturn.
The 14 percent reduction would require pushing existing laws and regulations to the fullest extent possible under a set of circumstances the World Resources Institute calls the “go-getter” scenario. The Obama administration and states would have to maintain “steadfast resolve” in order to achieve this upper range of emissions reductions.
The WRI study also evaluated the potential results from three other scenarios: a “lackluster” scenario with efforts in the lower range of what is technically possible; “middle-of-the-road,” based on the medium range of what is technically feasible, with moderate regulatory ambition; and a “business-as-usual” scenario.
It found that “lackluster” state and federal efforts would only push emissions to 6 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, while a “middle-of-the-road” approach would trim emissions 9 percent by 2020.
Keeping concentrations of carbon dioxide emissions below 450 parts per million, considered to be the upper range needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change (but considered by some to still be too high) would require emissions reductions of 36 percent to 48 percent by 2020.
The most effective tools in the U.S. regulatory arsenal are the Clean Air Act’s mobile source and New Source Performance Standard provisions, its Title VI authority to reduce hydrofluorocarbons, and the Department of Transportation’s vehicle fuel efficiency authority.
Additional state level action would be needed to close the gap, as well as some regulatory policies not included the report, such as transportation planning and forest lands management. Existing tools will also need to be beefed up to meet long-term emissions reduction goals.