A New Path on Emissions

Source: By JOHN M. BRODER, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013

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World Resources Institute. Under a “go-getter” regulatory scenario, the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, a new analysis suggests.
In his second inaugural address, President Obama promised to take on climate change as a priority in his second term. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he said at the start of one of the longest passages devoted to a single subject in the speech.

But the president did not detail exactly how he intended to act, given the hostility in Congress and industry to taxes on carbon dioxide emissions or any broad-gauged legislative effort to address the problem. Officials said that he would put some flesh on the bones of his promise in his State of the Union address next week and in his budget proposal.

Mr. Obama has a limited number of administrative options for cutting climate-altering gases and meeting his public pledge of reducing United States greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

On Wednesday, the World Resources Institute offered a helpful guide to how the administration might keep the president’s promise. The report, “Can the U.S. Get There from Here?” lays out a series of policy steps the administration can take without Congressional action or approval.

The measures are largely familiar to students of the topic: carbon dioxide limits for existing power plants; additional steps to cut emissions of non-carbon climate gases like hydrofluorocarbons, used in refrigerants; controlling the escape of methane from natural gas production, storage and transportation; and increasing the efficiency of home appliances, furnaces and air-conditioners.

“The administration has multiple ways to move forward with smart policies to reduce U.S. emissions,” said Nicholas Bianco, the lead author of the study. “The best opportunity is to enact new standards for existing power plants, which represent one-third of all U.S. emissions. The administration has the ability to put the U.S. on track to meet its commitments, and can do so in a cost-effective and efficient manner.”

Two years ago, the institute issued a similar study but found that the United States could not meet the 2020 goal without significant Congressional action.

But in the last two years, the rate of emissions growth has slowed because of a widespread shift among utilities from coal to natural gas as a primary fuel source and the impacts of new efficiency rules for cars and trucks on petroleum consumption.