Obama's emissions reduction goal may require congressional action, experts say

By Whitney Forman-Cook

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 8, 2015 - The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee heard conflicting expert testimony Wednesday on whether President Barack Obama's promise to cut U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could be achieved without additional legislation.

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Obama announced his target to cut net GHG emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 in late March at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The plan to meet the goal is formally referred to as the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC).

Jeffrey Holmstead, an environmental attorney who primarily represents companies and trade groups in the energy industry, told the Senate panel that the policies implemented under the authority of the Clean Air Act will not be enough to meet Obama's target.

“It is unclear how the administration could possibly fulfill its commitment to China and the rest of the international community without new legislation,” he said.  

Holmstead hypothesized that the White House's plan may include additional regulations that haven't been announced, including restrictions on the agriculture sector, such as mandating conservation tillage or limiting the application of fertilizer, because the industry “is responsible for significant GHG emissions that are not yet regulated.”

David Bookbinder, a consultant and former EPA employee, told the panel that the emissions reductions projected by the EPA and outlined in the administration's INDC show that the country is not on the path to meet Obama's target.

According to his calculations, the U.S. would have to eliminate 1,189 million metric tons (MMT) of annual GHG emissions over the next ten years to meet Obama's goal, but the maximum emissions reductions expected based on existing proposals and policies is 840 MMT, “leaving the U.S. 349 MMT short (about 29 percent)” of the lower end of the 2025 target.

Karl Hausker, the senior fellow for the World Resources Institute's climate program, and Sarah Ladislaw, the director and senior fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' energy and national security program, both disagreed with the pessimistic projections.

Obama's goal is “ambitious,” they said, but “achievable.”

In combination with existing policies and proposals, like the EPA's Clean Power Plan, “we can achieve a low-carbon future by harnessing key drivers of economic growth” at the state level and in the private sector through “more efficient use of energy and natural resources, smart infrastructure investments and technical innovation,” Hausker said.

He said large U.S. corporations, like Cargill and Mars, as well as the oil company Exxon, are leading the charge, advocating for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

“This isn't just a plan that got hatched in the White House,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. “They (Cargill and Mars) understand that climate change is real. And we (Congress), on a bipartisan basis, have done things like approve funding for bio-digesters in the (Farm Bill) to help reduce methane” emissions produced during beef and dairy production, he said. USDA also announced its own climate change goals for American agriculture in April.

“We have to believe in innovation,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “We can do it.”

Markey pointed to northeastern states' Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap and trade program that reduced the states' collective emissions by 40 percent between 2005 and 2013. During the same period, Markey said the region's GDP increased eight percent.

This is the kind of leadership the U.S. needs to show on the world stage, Ladislaw said.

“The global community will not mobilize and coordinate the mitigation action necessary to limit (global) warming without leadership from major economies” like the U.S., she said. Obama's climate leadership can “lead by example through domestic action,” she argued, and “create a durable international framework for climate action.”

Obama is scheduled to negotiate specific climate change action with other world governments at the United Nations climate meeting, being held in Paris this December.

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