Lawsuit Against the EPA Could Thwart U.S. Compliance with the Paris Agreement
The US has less than a decade to reign in its greenhouse emissions, yet two dozen states plus some energy companies are suing to avoid meeting the proposed standards
KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
The environmental protection agency is being sued by 24 states, energy companies, and some utilities companies, all in an attempt to stop its clean power plan. It’s initiative to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants still burning fossil fuels. Here’s President Obama announcing the plan back in August of 2015.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our climate is changing. It’s changing in ways that threaten our economy, our security, and our health. This isn’t an opinion, it’s fact backed up by decades of carefully collected data and overwhelming scientific consensus and has serious implications for the way that we live now. We can see it and we can feel it. Hotter summers, rising sea levels, extreme weather events like stronger storms, deeper droughts, and longer wildfire seasons. All disasters that are becoming more frequent, more expensive, and more dangerous.
BROWN: The clean power plan is supposed to be the United States ticket into the Paris Agreement which is the multinational coalition signed in December of 2015 where governments agreed to try to limit the rise in the average global temperature to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius. Our next guest says that based on the US emission we are way off target for meeting that goal. Dr. Jeffrey Greenblatt is a scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. He has studied greenhouse gas reduction strategies at the local, state, and national levels since 2001. He’s also coauthor of a recent report titled assessment of the climate commitments and the additional mitigations of policies of the United States. Welcome to the Real News.
JEFFREY GREENBLATT: Thank you. Good to be here.
BROWN: Thank you so much for joining us while you’re in Guadalajara, Mexico attending the International Astronautical Congress but back here on Earth we’re seeing more alarming statistics on the global temperatures being broken and also the amount of CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere. Dr. Greenblatt, tell us about your analysis of the clean power plan and how you deduced that it falls short of the Paris Agreement pledge?
GREENBLATT: Sure I’d be happy to. Well first of all we analyzed a whole lot more than just the clean power plan. In fact, we looked at all the recent policies that the US has either enacted or is planning to enact soon that will help to lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The clean power plan obviously plays an important role there but there were about 15 or so polices that we examined in the course of our analysis to see how much greenhouse gases could be reduced between now and 2025 which is the compliance year for our pledge to the Paris Agreement.
BROWN: And how much does the United States fall short of this pledge so far?
GREENBLATT: Well it depends on which policies you’re including. If you only include the ones that are already enacted legislation or they have been rules that have been finalized by the EPA as well as rules or policies that may have been finalized by various state governments very recently, we’re probably going to be less than half of the emissions reductions needed in order to get to our pledge. However, if you include some additional policies that are still in the proposal stage as well as in some policies besides that the United States government is trying to get into law, then we actually could get a lot closer within a few hundred million tons which is actually just a couple percent away from the target.
BROWN: So what is that equate to in the amount of coal or natural gas power plants that that represents what we’re trying to get to? Like how many coal and power plants are we talking about still burning fossil fuels here in the US?
GREENBLATT: Well I’m sorry I can’t give you a precise answer for the number of coal fire power plants but we’re talking about reducing our emissions from the 2005 level by almost a third. While we’ve already gotten some of the emissions reductions kind of for free because with the fall in natural gas prices, there has been a shift away from coal combustion and toward natural gas. But it is still a large drop from where we are today and where we need to get to in 2025. So we’re essentially cutting roughly a quarter of the emissions out of the economy from all sectors, electricity, buildings, transportation, and emissions of non CO2 greenhouse gases.
BROWN: So Dr. Greenblatt in your study you also looked at other sectors other than power plant emissions rather that are also big emitters of greenhouse gases. So how much would we need to cut those emissions by to meet the Paris Agreement goals from those other [inaud.] burning greenhouse gases.
GREENBLATT: Sure. Sorry to interrupt there. Well as I said, depending on how many of the policies that we examine, do you want to count in your total we may actually get quite close if we do all of these but it tends to be a collection of small reductions from numerous sectors. So just to give you a couple of examples besides the electricity sector we have increasing efficiency of buildings themselves. We have increases in electric vehicles. We have reductions in methane emissions from sources like landfills as well as oil and gas operations.
We also have a phase out of sort of high global warming gases which are mostly the hydrofluorocarbons used for refrigeration and air conditioning and leaks from those actually contribute substantially to our greenhouse gas burden as well. So looking across these different sectors and some cases that may be as small as 10 million tons which is a fraction of a percent of annual US emissions. Another case is it could be upwards of 100 million tons or more. You add that all up and we get on the way to our Paris Agreement target.
BROWN: So out of curiosity Doctor, how does the United States compare to some of the other signators of the Paris Agreement. Are we the worst offenders when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions or is there somebody worse than us perhaps?
GREENBLATT: Well there is one-person sort of worse if you define worse in terms of how many greenhouse gas tons we emit annually, we were the largest emitter for many decades until China with its enormous economic growth outpaced us a few years back. So we’re now number 2. But it isn’t something that we aspire to be number 1 again by any means. We love to be number 100 or something. In terms of our leadership in carbon reductions though I have to say that while the US does not look like it’s going to meet our Paris Agreement yet with the current policies we are well on our way and we have also set an ambitious goal for ourselves and if it was easy, it would not serve as a good example for the rest of the world and would not as substantial of a contribution to global greenhouse gases.
BROWN: So on the flipside of that, who in the Paris Agreement community, who is doing it best? What country is leading the way in renewables, in making sure that we are cutting emissions, whom should we perhaps be trying to emulate?
GREENBLATT: Well you’ve caught me unawares there. I haven’t look at the pledges of all the other nations having just focused on the United States for the past 9 months or so. But what I can tell you is there are a number of countries, particularly those in Europe that have already achieved much greater levels of say renewable energy generation in their electricity grid. They drive more efficient vehicles; their homes are more efficient so it’s a rough rule of thumb. The average European uses anywhere from like 50% to even a third of the energy of the US. But that necessarily isn’t a fair comparison.
Americans have to drive further for their activities. We also have more industry. We live more spread out so it’s true that the US does us more energy per capita but you can’t always make a 1 to 1 comparison there. I will say and not to sound like I’m championing the US too much but in terms of leadership it is a very significant first step and we would like to be more in the position of high renewables usage and high efficiency that as I just mentioned, so far our European neighbors have already achieved. But this set of policies is pushing us in that direction and I believe that over time would be able to get there, in fact we must.
BROWN: And what sort of policies beyond the green power plan would need to be implemented for the US to be able to meet the Paris Agreement commitments?
GREENBLATT: Well there is no one magic policy that if we passed that everything else will work out and emissions will fall like a rock. It’s probably going to be a combination of many different policies but there are many emissions reductions out there to be had. Just starting with the vehicle sector, a lot of us are aware that there are more electric vehicles coming into the market now. The price is becoming much more affordable. Several researchers, colleagues of mine have reason to believe that in a couple of decades more than half of the vehicles on the roads might be electric and electric vehicles have the potential to vastly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from that sector if the electricity comes from relatively low carbon energy sources such as lots of wind, solar, even nuclear energy.
So if we’re moving our electricity sector in that direction then that will certainly have a more applicative effect in the vehicle sector. But there’s also ways that we can reduce our emissions in industrial processes by increasing the efficiency of various operations. We can also do more to increase the efficiency of our appliances and our vehicles as well. Particularly in the heavy duty vehicle sector, notwithstanding our recently passed legislation that’s aiming to improve that substantially.
BROWN: We’ve been joined by Dr. Jeffrey Greenblatt. He is a scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory based in Berkeley, California. He studied greenhouse gas reduction strategies at the local, state, and national level since 2001. He’s also author of the recent report titled Assessment of the Climate Commitments and Additional Mitigation Policies of the United States. He’s been joining us today from Guadalajara, Mexico. Dr. Greenblatt we appreciate your time and your analysis today, thank you.
GREENBLATT: You’re welcome. My pleasure.
BROWN: And thank you for watching the Real News Network.
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