Comprehensive Climate Change Policy in Stalemate, But the Tides Still Turn

Despite recent announcements from the Senate leadership that climate change legislation will be put off until spring of 2010 and questions about the fate of the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, CNT is not discouraged about the future of climate action in the U.S. Yes, it is frustrating that Senate action may not occur until a year after the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act in June 2009, and that the Copenhagen talks may result in just an agreement to create a future agreement—rather than binding targets. But global warming is a problem we have created over many years and we are not going to solve it overnight.

CNT has been directly working on climate change issues for a decade and a half and indirectly working to address the problems that impact climate for our entire 31-year history as an organization. Despite recent setbacks, climate action is more on track today that it has been at any time since the Kyoto Protocol was signed (and maybe even before then, since the U.S. never ratified Kyoto).

Why such climate optimism despite the doom and gloom in the news? Many positive advancements are occurring that are not necessarily making the headlines. These examples are paving the way to not only a more definitive climate policy but to a broader awareness to the behavior changes we must take to reduce our greenhouse gas impact.

EPA Reporting Rule
The U.S. EPA issued a regulation in October that requires facilities that emit 25,000 tons carbon dioxide equivalent or more per year to report their 2010 emissions by April 2011. They expect that this will result in 10,000 reporting facilities covering 85 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Reporting emissions isn’t the same thing as reducing them, but mandatory reporting helps us better understand where our emissions are coming from, laying the groundwork for future emissions reductions.

CNT submitted comments during the drafting process for this rule that would make it even more rigorous. We have called for this kind of required reporting for quite some time, and are pleased to see it take shape. Moreover, the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act is seen as a backstop to allow climate action even if the congress does not pass a bill. EPA has not taken that step yet—this rule is just for reporting, not for capping emissions, but that option is still on the table.

Energy Efficiency Block Grant
The vast majority of our greenhouse gas emissions result from our use of fossil fuels, so improving our efficiency not only saves us money, conserves resources, but it will cut our emissions significantly. Therefore it is great news that funds are now being issued to cities under Energy Efficiency Block Grant as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Over 40 municipalities in Illinois have been awarded funding under this program to-date. Each participating government authority must develop an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy and CNT is helping communities in the Chicago region through our Municipal Energy Profile Program which is providing data on energy use and emissions for 283 municipalities in the region.

Executive Order
In October, the White House issued an Executive Order requiring all federal agencies to begin to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. There is a long history of environmental action through executive order, and as the federal government is a major purchaser of goods and services, the changes made have the potential to ripple through the economy. Executive Orders were one of the key strategies CNT analyzed in our work to help develop the Presidential Climate Action Plan.

The “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance” Executive Order will require each federal agency to appoint a Senior Sustainability Officer, calculate the greenhouse gas emissions inventory of the agency, set reduction targets for both direct and indirect emissions, and report annually on progress. The Executive Order addresses sustainability of federal operations broadly, including location efficiency, fleets, waste reduction, green buildings, energy efficient procurement, stormwater, and electronics disposal.

California Assembly Bill 32: Global Warming Solutions Act
As part of its broad sweeping climate change laws, California is leading the way in figuring out the nuts and bolts of creating greenhouse gas reductions. For example, its mandatory greenhouse gas reporting scheme recently released the emissions reports of over 500 facilities in the state, creating a brand new knowledge base for targeting emission reduction actions.

These are just a handful of the many activities that are taking place today that would need to happen under a cap and trade bill anyway. So while CNT supports strong legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there is no time to waste in reducing the harm we are doing to our climate and CNT will continue to work on solutions reduce emissions today and into the future.