U.S. needs to strengthen federal, state policies to meet 2025 emissions target—report

Source: Lisa Friedman, E&E • Posted: Thursday, May 28, 2015

The United States can fulfill its Paris climate change pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, but only by expanding existing federal regulations and imposing new state-level measures, a new study by an environmental think tank finds.

The report by the World Resources Institute argues that the United States can even exceed its target of cutting emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Doing so, it says, would require an ambitious combination of measures that includes boosting the current proposed limits on coal-fired power plants while also “pushing the envelope” on energy efficiency and the regulation of emissions from natural gas.

“The administration set an ambitious target. It can be reached with existing laws and state action, but we can’t coast there,” said Karl Hausker, a senior fellow at WRI and lead author of the report.

The study comes as diplomats prepare to meet in Bonn, Germany, for a midyear round of U.N. climate change negotiations. The talks among 192 countries are aimed at developing a new global agreement that is expected to be signed in Paris in December.

At the heart of that agreement are the “intended nationally determined contributions,” or INDCs, that developed and developing countries alike are expected to submit, laying out their plans for cutting emissions in the years after 2020. The Obama administration released its plan in March and in it declared it can meet its goal under existing federal law — though the White House did not offer any data to back up its assertion.

The WRI analysis finds that meeting the 26 to 28 percent target hinges strongly on the administration’s enacting U.S. EPA’s still-pending Clean Power Plan rule on power plants. It also will require stronger federal appliance efficiency standards, boosting car and truck fuel efficiency, setting new emissions standards for natural gas-fired power plants and curbing the production of potent greenhouse gases used in cooling appliances, known as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.

Getting to 30 percent by 2025 and even further by 2030 is also possible, the report finds. That would involve strengthening the Clean Power Plan, while assuming that the costs of renewable energy will continue to drop. If states then deploy more clean energy, the analysis argues, it could lead to carbon cuts in the power sector alone of 45 percent below 2005 levels.
A ‘realistic commitment’ for Paris?

Mark Wagner, vice president of government relations at Johnson Controls, a Milwaukee-based energy services company that specializes in creating efficient energy systems, said the study shows action will be required on all fronts.

“There is no one silver bullet that’s going to make all this happen. We’ve got to come at it from all angles,” he said.

Jeff Holmstead, a partner at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP and a former assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, noted that any calculation of meeting or surpassing the U.S. target assumes that the Clean Power Plan is implemented — and that, he said, is far from a sure bet, given the attacks in Congress and the courts.

“But even if you take that at face value and you assume everything [the administration] has identified is as aggressive as they say it is and it’s implemented on time … they don’t even come close to 26 percent,” he said. “I assume other countries are sophisticated enough to know that this is not a realistic commitment.”

While other countries have generally lauded the Obama administration for making climate change a top domestic priority, many also openly admit they are concerned about whether the United States can meet its goal — particularly if Republicans take the White House in 2016.

Hausker acknowledged the international concerns and said the report points to political will as the top challenge, not technical or economic capacity.

“The government will have to carefully push for emissions reductions across virtually all sectors,” he said. “This is not something we can just coast on with what’s in the pipeline.”