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Reducing Near-Term U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The United States has committed globally to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. President Obama released a Climate Action Plan which outlines how his Administration will use tools at its disposal to address emissions sources across the economy and achieve this goal. Because the U.S. remains far from the trajectory it needs to be on to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, it is imperative that the Administration takes strong action now.

WRI has a long history of producing timely analysis that examines the impact and value of federal policies. For example, WRI’s recent report Can the U.S. Get There From Here? identified four major opportunities for the U.S. to achieve its 2020 emissions reduction target, including ambitious action under the Clean Air Act on new and existing power plants, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and methane emissions from natural gas systems combined with increased energy efficiency.

WRI also works with business, NGOs, and state and local governments, to think through practical solutions to achieve ambitious regulations.

Power Plants

Addressing greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants is central to the Climate Action Plan. The Clean Air Act authority in this arena is a true federal-state partnership, and the states will play a crucial role in the development and implementation of the standard. With this in mind, we are analyzing options available in key states for complying with ambitious ‘go-getter’ level emission reduction standards for existing power plants. For many states, a combination of meeting existing state standards for renewables and energy efficiency and increasing generation by existing gas plants can lead to significant emission reductions that put the ‘go-getter’ scenario within reach.


Can the U.S. Get There From Here? highlighted the importance of addressing methane emissions from the natural gas sector, and Clearing the Air demonstrated that cost-effective low-emissions technologies are available and could be much more widely deployed. We are currently working to develop an information base to support leadership states in developing emissions standards for oil and natural gas. This analysis will help encourage state leadership in seizing opportunities to reduce methane emissions associated with oil and natural gas production by presenting viable policy options for regulators and legislators to consider, particularly in states with expanding production.

Energy Efficiency

WRI’s work on energy efficiency in recent years has focused on the industrial sector. As the sector with the most greenhouse gas emissions and an important voice in policy discussions, industry is a key area for addressing climate change. Improving industrial energy efficiency is a win-win method for reducing environmental impacts while promoting economic growth. Industrial energy efficiency has the potential to play a role in flexible GHG standards for power plants under the Clean Air Act. In 2007 WRI published Charting the Midwest: An Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in America’s Heartland, and in 2013 WRI published a report entitled Energy Efficiency in U.S. Manufacturing: The Case of Midwest Pulp and Paper Mills. WRI’s industrial energy efficiency work provides research and convening to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions through efficiency improvements.

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