Nicholas Bianco, Franz Litz, Thomas Damassa and Madeline Gottlieb
This report presents an analysis of potential GHG emissions reductions under existing U.S. federal authorities and announced state actions through 2030.
If federal agencies and states pursue the path of “go
getters” and move strongly to achieve the reductions
published literature suggests are technically feasible
in the sectors analyzed, the U.S. could achieve
significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,
which approach but fall short of President Obama’s
Copenhagen pledge to reduce emissions 17 percent
below 2005 levels by 2020.
If, however, federal agencies fail to capitalize on
available reduction opportunities and states fall short
on their announced plans to reduce emissions, middleof-
the-road or lackluster reductions will result, falling
far short of the 17 percent reduction by 2020 goal.
Longer-term reductions post-2020 are less certain
under all analyzed scenarios, primarily due to
uncertainty about how quickly aging power plants
will be replaced and the transportation sector
can be transformed. Regulatory policies can drive
technology, but without knowing what technological advances will happen and when, it is difficult to
project the tightening of regulatory standards.
All scenarios under current federal authority and
announced state plans show the United States far off
the pace of reductions the IPCC suggests are necessary
by mid-century to prevent average global temperatures
from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius.
While the results of the analysis suggest that existing
federal regulatory tools can be used effectively to
reduce emissions alongside state actions, it is clear
that the federal government and states will need to achieve reductions beyond those identified in even
the most ambitious regulatory scenario if the United
States is to meet its Copenhagen commitment. Some
of these reductions might be found in regulatory
policies not analyzed here, such as agricultural and
forest lands management (approximately 7 percent
of the U.S. inventory) or transportation planning
(approximately 27 percent). Implementation of other
environmental policies that encourage high-emitting
sectors to modernize could also yield more reductions,
such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, ozone and ash disposal
regulations affecting aging coal plants.
Among the existing federal regulatory tools most
useful to achieve reductions are the mobile source and
New Source Performance Standard provisions of the
Clean Air Act, as well as the existing authority under
Title VI of the Act to reduce hydrofluorocarbons. The
vehicle fuel efficiency authority of the Department of
Transportation is also important. State action that
contributes reductions beyond federal regulatory policies
will likewise be essential to meeting reduction goals.
The analysis shows that a
significant portion of the reductions can be achieved
in non-energy emissions. It is expected that these non-energy reductions can be accomplished without
energy price increases.
It is likely that the U.S. Congress and states will
need to step up to augment existing regulatory tools,
especially if the United States is to gear up to reduce
emissions by the approximately 80 to 95 percent
needed by 2050 to ward off the most deleterious
effects of climate change.
WRI’s analysis of potential greenhouse
gas emissions reductions by federal and state
governments suggests a range of potential
outcomes is possible. On the federal level, whether
reductions are achieved at the lower end or upper end
of the range shown in Figure 1 depends on the extent
to which the Obama Administration and subsequent
administrations use existing regulatory authority to go
after reductions shown to be technically possible in the
literature. On the state level, whether reductions are
realized at the lower or upper end of the range projected
in Figure 2 depends similarly on the continued resolve
by governors and legislative leaders in the 25 states
counted as having taken actions. The findings set out
here represent an assessment of what is possible given
available inputs for some key sectors. It does not include
potential emissions reductions achievable through federal
policies to reduce vehicle miles traveled, management of
agricultural lands and forests, new federal investments
in areas such as energy efficiency, renewable energy
infrastructure, or other areas that could yield reductions, nor new federal legislation of any kind.