Power Plant Global Warming Rule
The EPA issued a proposed rule (May 11) that seeks to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants using fossil fuels. US power plants account for an estimated 25% of US carbon emissions. The EPA currently does not regulate carbon emission levels.
The rule will require coal- and some natural gas-fueled power plants to gradually capture 90% of carbon emissions. EPA estimates that about a quarter of natural gas plants will be affected, with the rules applying to those that produce at least 300 megawatts and run 50 percent of the time or more. Targeted natural gas plants would have the option of converting to hydrogen power which does not produce emissions, though hydrogen fuel does require energy to produce (though hydrogen can be produced with clean energy sources).
The expectation is that for at least coal-fueled power plants, the rule will speed up their inevitable future shutdown and replacement more quickly than is likely without this rule.
The EPA estimates the rule will lead to the avoidance of 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) entering the atmosphere between 2028 and 2042, equivalent to the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles. It will also result in cutting “tens of thousands of tons” of particulate matter such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
EPA claims that the rule sets achievable targets based on available technology, along with a long-lead time for compliance.
The proposal will face heavy opposition both from within Congress and through Federal courts. Lawsuits will argue that the EPA does not have clear and specific authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, and that such authority should be explicitly provided by Congress before any EPA regulation.
It could take years to fully adjudicate the regulatory process, including resolving future lawsuits, before this proposed rule can be finalized and implemented. An act of Congress providing explicit authority for EPA to regulate in this area could speed up the process, but this is highly unlikely in the current Congress.
Natural Gas Hookup Bans
New York became the first state in the US (April 2023) to ban natural gas hookups for most newly-constructed buildings.
Electric heating and cooking will be required in all new buildings shorter than seven stories by 2026, and by 2029 for taller buildings. There are exceptions for restaurants, hospitals, and some other types of buildings.
Some municipalities around the country have enacted their own laws that are currently being phased in (e.g., New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco), but New York is the first to enact a state-wide law. California is implementing a rule to phase out gas heating systems 2030, but did not go as far as banning home gas cooking.
There is indication that the New York law will be challenged in the courts.
EU Pollution Tax
The European Union formally approved (April 18) a plan to impose a “Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism” (CBAM) on certain imports, as part of a broader plan of measures approved last December to reduce EU carbon emissions 55% by 2030.
The EU claims that the law will incentivize non-EU countries “to increase their climate ambition and ensure that EU and global climate efforts are not undermined by production being relocated from the EU to countries with less ambitious policies.”
The CBAM will apply to iron and steel, cement, aluminum, fertilizers and electricity, potentially to indirect emissions (i.e.,those that result from an organization's activities, but are actually emitted from sources owned by other entities), and downstream products such as screws and bolts and “similar articles” of iron and steel.
The EU-approved legislation must still be approved individually by member EU countries before being put into place.
Long-term Auto Emissions Standards Rule
The Biden Administration announced an EPA rule (April 12) that proposes new long-term car and truck auto emissions standards at levels intended to accelerate the US manufacturing and purchase of electric vehicles (EVs).
Under the proposal, emissions standards for light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles (i.e., most cars and trucks) will begin to increase for the 2027 model year. Current standards cover model years 2023-2026. As higher standards are phased in, EPA believes that manufacturers will be unable to meet the standards without a majority shift of production emphasis to electric vehicles.
EPA calculates that under the proposed new standards, EVs could account for 67% of light-duty vehicle sales and 46% of medium-duty vehicle sales by the 2032 model year. Greenhouse gas emissions will drop 56% compared to expected levels for the 2026 model year for light-duty vehicles, and 44% for medium-duty vehicles.
The EPA is also proposing more stringent standards for “vocational vehicles” (e.g., delivery trucks, refuse haulers, public utility trucks, transit, shuttle, school buses, etc.) and tractors, though these would not be as sweeping as the proposed car and truck changes given the unique challenges of converting such vehicles to clean fuels and electricity.
At least with respect to the higher standards for cars and trucks, there is concern about the significant challenges of converting the majority of US car and truck manufacturing to electric vehicles, and also attracting consumers to such products.
That being the case, an argument can be made that the only way to convert the US to a majority electric vehicle fleet is to push for change through a combination of aggressive laws, rules and incentives. Otherwise, the conversion may take too long to complete given global warming concerns.
The proposal will be open for public review and comment. There is no certainty on a time frame for finalizing higher standards, though the process is likely to extend into next year at a minimum.
EPA Rule on Air Toxins from Chemical/Polymer Plants
The EPA issued a proposed rule (April 6) that the agency claims will “significantly reduce” certain hazardous air pollutants from chemical plants, including the toxic chemicals ethylene oxide (EtO) and chloroprene, that are known or suspected to cause cancer and other problem health effects.
Under the proposal, chemical air regulations would be updated in a manner that would result in a 6,053 ton reduction in targeted emissions. The reduction will include a 58 ton-per-year reduction in ethylene oxide (EtO) and a reduction of 14 tons per year in chloroprene.
The rule also targets benzene, 1,3-butadiene, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride; as well as “emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds by more than 23,000 tons a year.” Facilities that make, store, use or emit the targeted chemicals will be required to monitor levels of targeted air pollutants entering the air at the fenceline of the facility.
The rule is subject to a public comment period. It is not known when the rule will be finalized.
EPA Rule on Power Plants and Toxic Emissions
The EPA issued a proposed rule (April 5) intended to reduce “hazardous” air pollutants, such as Mercury, from coal power plants based on the latest advancements in pollution control technologies. The proposal updates rules that last received a significant update in 2012.
Specifically, EPA is proposing a 67% reduction in the emissions limit for filterable particulate matter (fPM) for existing coal-fired power plants to control emissions of nickel, arsenic, and other non-mercury hazardous air pollutant metals.
The rule is also proposing a 70% reduction in the emissions limit for mercury from existing lignite-fired sources, a limit applied to other types of coal-fired power plants. Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages.
The rule is subject to a public comment period. It is not known when the rule will be finalized.
Latest UN Climate Change Report
The United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Sixth Assessment Report (March 19) and had several important conclusions based on the most recent data and observations:
Global warming will continue to increase in the near term (2021-2040) mainly due to increased cumulative CO2 emissions in nearly all considered scenarios. In the near term, global warming is more likely than not to reach the world warming target of 1.5°C even under a very low GHG emission scenario and is likely, or very likely, to exceed the target under higher emissions scenarios.
Every world region is projected to increasingly experience concurrent and multiple changes in climatic impact-drivers. Heatwaves and droughts are projected to become more frequent. Due to relative sea level rise, current 1-in-100 year extreme sea level events are projected to occur at least annually in more than half of all tide gauge locations by 2100 under all considered scenarios.
Limiting warming at this point would not prevent continued changes in the climate system––sea level rise is unavoidable for centuries to millennia due to continuing deep ocean warming and ice sheet melt, and sea levels will remain elevated for thousands of years. That being the case, any “deep, rapid and sustained” greenhouse gas emissions reductions would limit further sea level rise acceleration and projected long-term sea level rise commitment.
All modeled pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot, and those that limit warming above the target to 2°C, involve rapid and deep and, in most cases, immediate greenhouse gas emissions reductions in all sectors during this decade.
Adaptation options feasible and effective today will become constrained and less effective with increasing global warming. With increasing global warming, losses and damages will increase and additional human and natural systems will reach adaptation limits.
The report also lists a multitude of options for policymakers to dramatically reduce emissions ranging from those clearly achievable (e.g., conversion to solar and wind power) to those that would likely present a significant challenge (e.g., adjusting worldwide diets).
EPA “Good Neighbor” Smog Rule Finalized
The EPA issued a final rule (March 15), proposed more than a year ago, to reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxide (NOX) pollution from power plants and other industrial facilities across 23 states. The rule is intended to improve air quality for persons “living in downwind communities,” who face sickness due to such pollution.
Current Federal law under the Clean Air Act includes a “Good Neighbor” provision requiring each state’s air quality plans to prohibit emissions that either “significantly contribute” to nonattainment or “interfere with maintenance” of federal air quality standards in another state.
Under the rule, beginning in 2023 power plants in impacted states will participate in a revised Cross-State Air Pollution Rule ozone season trading program that seeks pollution reductions through “through immediately available measures, including consistently operating emissions controls already installed at power plants.” Further pollution reductions will be phased in over time and will reflect reductions that can be achieved through new emissions control measures.
The EPA says that with this final rule, ozone season NOX pollution will decrease by approximately 70K tons from power plants and industrial facilities in 2026. By 2027, the emissions budget for power plants will reflect a 50% reduction from 2021 ozone season NOX emissions levels.
Global Temperature Results - 2022
NOAA released 2022 annual global temperature results (January 12). NOAA says that 2022 was the 6th warmest year on record, with average land and ocean surface temperature 1.55 degrees fahrenheit (0.86 degree celsius) above the 20th-century average of 57 degrees (13.9 degrees celsius).
The 10-warmest years on record have all occurred since 2010, with the last nine years (2014-2022) among the 10-warmest years.
Upper ocean heat content reached a record high in 2022, surpassing the previous high in 2021. The four highest heat content years have all occurred during the last four years.
Antarctic sea ice coverage was at a near-record low at 4.09 million square miles, with just 1987 having lower coverage.
Ozone Layer Improvement
The United Nations released (January 9) its most recent report (issued every four years) on the status/results of the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 agreement multilateral environmental agreement guiding international production and consumption of about 100 man-made chemicals considered to be ozone depleting substances.
The report finds that the condition of the earth’s ozone layer has been improving steadily and, if current policies and practices remain in place the layer is expected to collectively recover to 1980 values by 2040, though around the Artic and Antartic 1980-level recovery will not occur until 2045 and 2066, respectively.
The ozone layer is critical to life on earth because it absorbs biologically harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation coming from the Sun.
Strengthened Soot Standards
The EPA issued (January 6) a proposed new air quality soot standard. The proposal raises the standard currently at 12 micrograms per cubic meter, to a level of 9-10 micrograms per cubic meter. Federal standards drive law and regulation at state and local government levels tailored towards meeting the standard.
Soot can penetrate deep into the lungs and can result in serious health effects that include asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death, disproportionately affecting children and older adults, those with heart or lung conditions, as well as communities of color and low-income communities throughout the United States. Soot particles are emitted by construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks, and fires, often directly from power plants, industrial facilities, and vehicles.
The EPA claims that the higher standard will result in an estimated reduction of 4,200 deaths, 270K lost work days, and $43 billion in net health care cost savings by 2032.
The regulation will undergo a public comment and review period. The EPA says that it expects final regulations to be implemented later this year.
Emissions Rule for Heavy Duty Vehicles
The EPA finalized a rule (December 20) intended to cut pollution from heavy-duty vehicles and engines, with higher standards to be implemented by the 2027 vehicle model year. A proposed rule was issued in March.
While the final rule is weaker than the proposed rule, smog- and soot-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) are still expected to be cut by about 30 percent by 2045, and the standards will be 80% stronger than those existing today. The proposed rule had touted NOx pollution would drop by 60%.
Anyway, the EPA emphasized that it will be continuing to push for zero-emissions vehicles for the future, and will also be issuing another proposed regulation in the spring for greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles. The agency will also be issuing a proposed multi-pollution standard for medium-duty trucks.
Energy Efficiency & Federal Buildings
The Biden Administration released (December 7) a Federal buildings energy standard that the Administration claims will lead to a 30% reduction in Federal building energy use by 2030.
Achieving the reduction would be accomplished in two key ways:
Impose a standard that requires Federal agencies to cut energy use and electrify equipment and appliances to achieve zero scope 1 emissions in 30 percent of buildings by square footage by 2030. To reach this goal, agencies will buy heat pumps, electric water heaters, and other energy efficiency and building system technologies supported by the Inflation Reduction Act.
Issue a proposed rule requiring new/newly-renovated Federal buildings be electrified; most importantly meaning that such buildings will install/replace systems that do not utilize fossil fuels for heating, with an 90% on-site emissions reduction by 2025 and full decarbonization by 2030 for such buildings.
The Administration says that 25% of the US government’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the government’s building inventory.
COP27 Draft Agreement on Climate Change
The 27th United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP27) will likely end up being remembered more for what it did not accomplish than what was actually agreed to.
Under the terms of a draft agreement (November 17), conference participants reaffirmed the commitment to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to keep global temperatures from rising no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) during this century. Participants also agreed, in general terms, to establish a new developing country fund for losses and damages.
The core challenge of COP27, however, was not met: new or strengthened commitments to specific actions that help ensure the world actually meets the Paris Agreement target.
In advance of COP27, the UN released (October 26) a synthesis of the latest country global warming reduction contribution plans (166 plans covering 95% of total global emissions). Together, the plans suggest that temperatures will rise by 2.5, a full degree above the target. If this happens, the world faces potentially massive climate impacts such weather events that cause significant loss of life and livelihoods, food and water supply-impacting droughts and floods, and significant natural species losses.
There was at least one centerpiece measure agreed to as part of the Conference: an agreement brokered by the United States to provide $20 billion in public and private financing to Indonesia over 3-5 years to help move the country off of coal-generated energy reliance. There was also more than $230 million in other forms of financial commitments from other developed nations to less-developed countries that are facing elevated climate-change impacts, though mostly from Germany ($170 million).
The draft agreement language points out that worldwide investments of an estimated $4 trillion in clean energy are needed annually to get the world to net-zero emissions by 2050. In addition, during the last Conference (COP26), developed nations agreed to provide $40 billion per year in climate “adaptation financing” for poorer countries, but have so far not begun to live up to that commitment.
In addition, written agreement language calls for phasing out and rationalizing "inefficient fossil fuels subsidies;" however, other language minimizes that policy statement by stating that any subsidy changes should be made "in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards just transitions."
Moreover, proposed agreement language advanced by less developed countries was not included which called for phasing out fossil fuels entirely. While there is language in the draft agreement calling for curtailing "unabated use" of coal, the language does not commit to actually phasing out its use, and there is no similar language for oil or natural gas.
Instead of agreeing to comprehensive measures to prevent the increasing likelihood of catastrophe, the Conference instead turned its focus towards securing an agreement with less developed nations on a loss and damage fund, for compensation tied to the inevitable negative climate outcomes.
Under the language of the agreement approved in the final hours of the conference, a new fund will be established to assist “developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, in responding to loss and damage, including with a focus on addressing loss and damage by providing and assisting in mobilizing new and additional resources.”
A “Transitional Committee” will be established to work out the details of the fund, such as identifying “the elements of the new funding arrangements” and “identifying and expanding sources of funding.”
There was neither a written commitment to a specific funding level, nor a specific or implied cost-sharing regime. Recommendations from the Committee will be considered by COP28, in November of 2023.
Methane Gas Reduction
The EPA announced updated proposed rules (November 11), connected primarily to the oil and gas industry, to reduce methane gas emissions. Methane is a significant contributor to greenhouse gasses and climate change. The updated proposed rules were announced as part of the rollout of climate actions by the United States during the 2022 United Nations climate conference (COP 27).
During the 2021 UN conference (COP 26), more than 100 countries signed on to a US-EU methane reduction agreement setting a policy goal of a 30% reduction in methane emissions by 2030 from a base, 2020 methane emissions level. In advance of the conference, the EPA announced (November 2021) the issuance of a proposed rule to address methane emissions focused primarily on the oil and gas industry.
Among the proposed rule's key elements: a monitoring program for both new and existing well sites and compressor stations; a zero emissions standard for pneumatic controllers, which account for 30% of emissions from the oil/gas industry; and standards to eliminate gas venting, including capturing/selling gas where a gas line is available.
In tandem with the 2021 proposed rule, the Administration released a U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan addressing actions focused not only on the oil and gas industry, but also emissions from landfills, abandoned coal mines, and agriculture, among other areas.
The EPA says that the new updates to last year's proposed rules “provide more comprehensive requirements to reduce climate and health-harming air pollution, including from hundreds of thousands of existing oil and gas sources nationwide.” The updates will “promote the use of innovative methane detection technologies and other cutting-edge solutions” and also includes a “Super-Emitter Response Program” that will require oil/gas operators to respond to credible third-party reports of high-volume methane leaks.
With these changes, the EPA estimated that emissions under the proposed rule would be cut by 87% below 2005 levels, up from 74% from last year's proposal. A final rule is expected sometime in 2023.
The U.S. the oil and natural gas industry is the largest industrial source of methane emissions, emitting more methane than the total emissions of all greenhouse gasses from 164 countries combined. The EPA estimated in the past (2019) that there are 3.2 million abandoned wells, with 2.1 million unplugged.
In January 2022, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that it is ready to distribute the first installment of Infrastructure Act funding intended to address orphaned wells. The Infrastructure Act included $4.7 billion for programs to plug, remediate, and reclaim orphaned wells on Federal, State, and Tribal lands.
The first installment of funding -- nearly $1.2B -- provided formula grants to States that submitted a Notice of Intent indicating interest in applying for a formula grant for the proper closure and cleanup of orphaned wells and well sites. A total of 26 States were deemed eligible by DOI for first stage funding, with another $1.4 billion in formula grants expected in the future.
The Senate voted to ratify the Kigali Amendment pertaining to a global reduction of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The treaty, agreed to in 2016, calls for an 85% reduction in global HFCs by the year 2036. The Senate vote was 69-27.
This action is consistent with already-implemented U.S. policy in that it follows a final EPA rule published in October 2021 implementing a mandate for an 85% HFC reduction that was included in the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020.
California Phase-Out of Natural Gas Heaters/Furnaces
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) passed a package of measures (September 22) to meet Federal health standards for ozone which leads to smog.
Included in the measures is a requirement to phase out gas heating appliances by the year 2030, which would effectively ban sales of new water heaters and furnaces powered by natural gas. California will be the first state to enact such a plan. While gas furnaces burn cleaner than those powered by oil, they still produce carbon dioxide. And, ultimately, electric water heaters and heat pump heating systems rely on electricity which can be generated by renewable energy sources.
The measure does not ban gas stoves, though many cities and towns in California, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, have regulations that either ban or discourage gas-fueled stoves in new buildings.
The CARB decision follows other recent California state decisions to end ratepayer subsidies for gas line extensions, as well as a decision to end sales of fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2035.
First Large Scale Carbon Capture Project
The first large scale carbon capture and storage project in the United States is moving forward. Carbon Capture Inc. announced (September 8) that it will build its capture and storage facility – “Project Bison” – in Casper, Wyoming. This decision is likely a direct result of the inclusion of direct air capture tax incentives in the recently-enacted Inflation Reduction Act.
The company claims the facility will begin operations next year, scaling up to remove 5 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually by 2030. The company says it will utilize Class VI wells to permanently sequester the carbon dioxide it removes.
Direct carbon capture is somewhat controversial in that opponents argue it is a waste of resources when business and utilities are continuing to pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and that funding should instead be used to accelerate the transition to clean energy. Opponents also question its viability given the energy needed to run large-scale systems. Advocates argue that this can be a promising tool to help stabilize the atmosphere during the transition to clean energy.
Ultimately, we likely will need more real system experience in the use of large-scale systems before making conclusive judgements about benefit and viability of this approach.
Major Energy Efficiency/Clean Energy Legislation
The recently-enacted Inflation Reduction Act (August 2022) includes an estimated $370 billion in clean energy and energy efficiency incentives. Proponents of the Act claim that the measures collectively will yield an estimated 40% reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Examples of the key provisions include:
$9 billion in consumer home energy rebate programs.
10 years of consumer tax credits for home energy efficiency and clean energy improvements.
A $4,000 consumer tax credit for lower/middle income individuals to buy used clean vehicles, and a $7,500 tax credit to buy new clean vehicles.
$30 billion worth of production tax credits to accelerate U.S. manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and critical minerals processing.
$10 billion worth of investment tax credits to build clean technology manufacturing facilities, such as facilities making electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels.
Supreme Court Decision on Clean Air Regulation
The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision (June 30th) that the EPA lacks adequate authority in law to regulate power plants using its current regulatory approach, which advances reduced emissions goals given climate change concerns. In general, the EPA’s explicit legal authority focuses on the regulation of emissions levels tied to public safety, not emissions levels as affecting global climate. While the EPA may have implied authority to regulate emissions to address climate change tied to power plants, the Court majority believes that given the significance of such regulation on power generation, the EPA should only do so if given more explicit authority from Congress.
The Supreme Court’s majority decision embodies what has become known as the “Major Questions Doctrine,” which some believe is a guiding tenet of the current conservative-leaning Court. The Doctrine has implication on all matters where Congressional direction/intent is not necessarily direct and clear.
The dissenting minority opinion of the Court held that current law is explicit enough, arguing that Section 111 of the Clean Air Act directs EPA to regulate stationary sources of any substance that “causes, or contributes significantly to, air pollution” and that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” Climate change, the minority argued, clearly endangers the public’s health and welfare.
The implication of this decision is significant for current regulations in place today that at the very least nudge States and localities to transition power plants away from fossil fuels over the long term. While many are, or will do so irrespective of EPA regulation, in all likelihood this will lead to the delay or permanent deferral of some transitions and/or emissions-reducing measures. Congress could provide more explicit authorities in law, but with narrow majorities in the Congress and the strong objection of some States, this is unlikely.
In a statement after the Court’s decision, the Biden Administration said that it will look for “ways that we can, under federal law, continue protecting Americans from harmful pollution, including pollution that causes climate change.”
New Warming Data
NOAA released (May 23rd) the results of research on global warming, finding that greenhouse gas pollution trapped 49% more heat in the earth’s atmosphere in 2021 than in 1990.
It is no surprise that NOAA identifies carbon dioxide as the biggest culprit (80%) being the most abundant human-emitted greenhouse gas, and because the gas remains in the atmosphere for centuries. Methane and Nitrous Oxide are the second and third, respectively, most impactful gasses, with all three accounting for 96% of excess heat trapped in the atmosphere since 1750.
NOAA precviously announced (April 6th) that its scientists during 2021 observed a record increase in the level of methane in the atmosphere as well as the continued rapid increase of carbon dioxide.
On methane, NOAA observed an increase of 17 parts per billion (ppb), the largest annual increase recorded since systematic measurements began in 1983. The prior year’s increase (2020) was 15.3 ppb. Estimates are that fossil fuel production results in 30% of worldwide methane emissions.
While methane is 25 times more powerful at trapping heat, it does not remain in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide. Consequently, the gradual growth of carbon dioxide is potentially more impactful to long-term warming. Carbon dioxide rose for the 10th consecutive year by more than 2 parts per million, which NOAA claims is the fastest sustained rate of increase in the 63 years since monitoring began.
Climate Change Report - IPCC: Working Group III
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that all member governments approved (April 4, 2022) the Summary for Policymakers of Working Group III of the 6th Assessment Report to be completed this year. Working Group II’s Summary on the impact and risks of climate change was released in February 2022.
Working Group III focused on mitigating climate change. Among the key conclusions:
Reaching the current global goal of limiting warming to no more than 1.5°C (2.7°F) will require global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030. At the same time, methane emissions will need to be reduced by about a third.
Effective policies, infrastructure and technology enabling lifestyle and behavior changes could facilitate a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Lower energy consumption in cities and other urban areas can be achieved with electrification of transport in combination with low-emission energy sources, enhanced carbon uptake and storage using nature, and through zero energy or zero-carbon buildings which already exist “in almost all climates.”
Reducing emissions in industry can be achieved through greater efficiency including through the reuse/recycling of products and minimizing waste, and by progressing beyond pilot stages for no/low emissions production processes.
The IPCC believes that if we do not reach near term targets, then longer term targets likely cannot be reached and the world will not be able to limit the significant problems associated with climate change.
Miles-Per-Gallon Efficiency – CAFE Standards
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced (April 1, 2022) final Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars and light trucks following its initial proposals in a September 2021 proposed rule.
New CAFE standards will grow efficiency by 8 percent per model year between 2024 and 2025, and 10% for 2026. The new CAFE standards should result in an industry-wide fleet average for cars and light trucks of 49 miles per gallon (MPG) in model year 2026, an increase of 10 MPG above the 2021 model year. The Department estimates that the new standards will result in more than 200 billion fewer gallons of fuel used through 2050 and reduce carbon emissions by 2.5 billion metric tons.
As a point of comparison, EPA data provide that the United States collectively produced about 6.5 billion metric tons of carbon emissions in 2019 alone, with transportation (all sources, not just passenger vehicles) accounting for 26% of the total.
Federal Net-Zero Emissions
The Biden Administration issued an Executive Order (EO, 14057) and a Federal Sustainability Plan both focused on the Federal Government's contribution to reducing carbon emissions. The EO sets five outcome goals:
100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity (CFE) by 2030, at least half of which will be locally supplied clean energy to meet 24/7 demand;
Purchasing of 100 percent zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) by 2035, including 100 percent zero-emission light-duty vehicles by 2027;
Net-zero emissions from federal procurement no later than 2050, including a Buy Clean policy to promote use of construction materials with lower embodied emissions;
Net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045, including a 50 percent emissions reduction by 2032; and,
Net-zero emissions from overall federal operations by 2050, including a 65 percent emissions reduction by 2030.
The Biden Administration announced (November 2021) that it would not, at this time, seek to replace a Trump Administration-era rule governing U.S. aircraft emissions. The Trump-era rule implemented the first-ever emissions rules for aircraft, negotiated internationally during the Obama Administration.
The Biden Administration stated that it agrees tougher standards than current rules are needed, and that it will begin to push for more stringent international standards within the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Tied to this issue is a release (November 2021) by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of a climate action plan to put US aviation on a path toward achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The plan describes what is being done, or will be done, to assist in meeting a net-zero goal both in the Federal Government and the private sector. Actions cover aviation technology efficiency, alternative fuels, and advancements in engines and airport operations.
Infrastructure Bill - Carbon Capture/Removal
The Infrastructure Act includes, among other things:
$3.5 billion over FY 2022-2026 for projects that contribute to the development of four regional direct air capture hubs.
$2.5 billion to expand the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Carbon Storage Validation and Testing program to include large-scale commercialization of new or expanded carbon sequestration projects and associated carbon dioxide transport infrastructure.
$1.2 billion for FY 2022-2023, and $900 million for FY 2024-2026, for a new CO2 Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (CIFIA) program, providing loans for CO2 transport infrastructure projects.
$310 million for FY 2022-2026 for grants to States and localities to purchase products derived from carbon capture oxides.
COP 26 and Forest Conservation
More than 100 countries at COP 26 agreed to stop and reverse deforestation by the year 2030. Brazil is included among the signatories. The commitment is backed by $12 bill in public funding and over $7 billion in private commitments. The Biden Administration stated it would ask Congress for $9 billion in support towards conserving forests.
Biden Administration Global Warming Policy Goals
Key Global Warming policy goals established by the Biden Administration include:
An overarching United States greenhouse gas reduction goal (announced April 2021) of a 50 to 52 percent reduction of 2005 greenhouse gas pollution levels by 2030.
An electricity generation goal, announced along with the overarching greenhouse gas reduction goal, which provides that the United States will generate 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035. Presently, (non-nuclear) renewable sources of energy (e.g., solar and wind primarily), account for only about 20% of utility-generated electricity.
An electric vehicles and mileage/emissions goal announced via an Executive Order (August 2021) providing that by 2030, 50 percent of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold will be zero-emission vehicles, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel cell electric vehicles.
An aviation emissions goal (announced September 2021) providing that the United States will reduce by 30 percent U.S. aviation emissions by the year 2030 through the annual production of 3 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuels. Aviation emissions encompass about 11% of transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions.
A community solar capacity goal was (announced in October 2021) providing that community solar capacity would be expanded to five million homes by 2025, up from an estimate of 600,000 homes today. Community solar encompasses members supporting a solar array, usually located near their community. Members receive a portion of the revenue from the energy produced, typically as savings on their monthly electric bill.
An offshore wind generation capacity goal was (announced January 2021) within Executive Order 14088. The goal provides for increasing offshore wind generating capacity by 30% (+30 gigawatts) by 2030.
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Furnaces and Water Heater Standards - Final Rule
This Final Rule of the U.S. Department of Energy reverses a Trump Administration rule permiting less efficient furnaces and water heaters to continue to be sold if they were using so-called "noncondensed venting" (condensed and noncondensed systems are defined primarily by the method such systems are vented). This Rule keeps such systems subject to the rules of condensed vetting systems.
Status: this Final Rule was published on December 29, 2021.
Paris Agreement on Global Climate Change
The key element of the Paris Agreement is a specific global warming goal affirming prior agreements to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but also that countries should strive to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Other goals include peaking emissions as soon as possible (recognizing that it will take longer for developing countries), with net greenhouse gas neutrality in the second half of the century.
Status: the Agreement was put into place on November 4, 2016, the Trump Administration removed the United States from the Agreement in 2017, and the Biden Administration returned the United States to the agreement in 2021.
European Green Deal
The European Green Deal is the policy strategy of the European Union (EU) regarding climate change with goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, and to become carbon neutral by 2050. The Deal is now complemented by subsidiary strategies in support of meeting these goals.
Status: implementing strategies of the European Green Deal were launched at the beginning of 2020.
Clean Cars & Trucks - Executive Order
This Executive Order sets forth the policy of the Biden Administration that half of all new vehicles sold by 2030 be zero-emissions vehicles, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel cell electric vehicles.
Status: this EO was published on August 10, 2021.
Fossil Fuel Guidance for the MDBs
This is guidance of the Treasury Department specifying the United States voting policy position on developing country projects funded through Multilateral Development Banks (e.g., the World Bank). Specifically, the guidance expresses overarching opposition to new projects using coal and oil (with limited exceptions); narrow support to natural gas projects; and, support for carbon capture, use & storage (CCUS) and methane abatement projects (See CSIS Q&A).
Status: the guidance was adopted on August 16, 2021.
Phase Down of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has issued a Final Rule setting forth a schedule to reduce HFC production and use 85% over the next 15 years. In 2036 alone, the year the final reduction step is made, EPA expects this rule to prevent emissions of the equivalent of 171 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) – roughly equal to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from one out of every seven passenger vehicles registered in the United States.
Status: this Final Rule was published in the Federal Register on October 5, 2021.
Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) implemented a final rule that will increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for passenger cars and so-called "light duty" trucks by an average of 8 percent per year, each year between 2024 and 2025, and another 10% for 2026. As a result, the fleet-wide miles-per-gallon standard will increase to 48 mpg by 2026.
Status: this rule was finalized on April 1, 2022.
Light Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Final Rule
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a Final Rule putting new federal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards in place for passenger cars and light trucks for Model Years (MY) 2023 through 2026. The EPA claims the standards are "the strongest vehicle emissions standards ever established for the light-duty vehicle sector", and that the standards will result in avoiding more than 3 billion tons of GHG emissions through 2050."
Status: this Final Rule was published in the Federal Register on December 30, 2021.
This is a proposed rule of the U.S. Department of Energy that sets a "backstop" standard for lightbulbs of 45 lumens per watt. Lightbulbs that fail to meet this standard cannot be sold in the United States. This would likely bring all but a few uncommon types of bulbs under an efficiency standard.
Status: this proposed rule was published on December 13, 2021.