Guess What? Climate and Energy Policy Matter!

Guess What?  Climate and Energy Policy Matter!

Even after Sandy roared ashore in New Jersey and New York and its storm surge pushed climate change back into national politics, however briefly, it remains fashionable in Washington to pretend that the problem of carbon emissions and climate adaptation will solve themselves. Guess what? There is no evidence for this belief. Among some politicians and in much of the mainstream news media, the recession, the low US prices for natural gas and the closing of some old and unprofitable coal fired power plants have some saying that “the market” is bringing down US greenhouse gas emissions. Nonsense. The recession and a slow recovery have impacted US emissions, of course. But market forces will not avert climate change and they won’t allow Democrats and Republicans in Washington to avoid their responsibilities. First, the market is not pushing old power plants to upgrade their technologies and reduce a host of their polluting emissions (mercury, particulates, sulfur, etc.). Federal and state laws and regulations are doing that. Second, state, local and national policies already enacted – insufficient as they are – are having significant effects on current emissions and projected future emissions. In fact, a recent report by The Center for Climate Strategies estimates that nine existing policies are responsible for over 50% of the reductions in US carbon dioxide emissions now projected for 2020 - against estimates made only a few years ago. Only about a quarter are attributable to economic changes, they argue. What policies are changing US emissions, ever in the absence of a federally enacted climate change law? At the state level, a host of energy efficiency policies and initiatives, some renewable portfolio standards, changes to building codes and incentives for more renewable energy are helping to bend the curve on US emissions. So too are the Obama administration’s increases in the so called “CAFE standards” that will drive up the required miles-per-gallon of new cars and trucks every year through 2025. While Washington sleeps its way through the climate crisis – which Congressional leaders seem determined to keep doing even as they debate how many billions to spend rebuilding the Northeast after Sandy’s visit – some state and local governments and some officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are trying to shake Congress and point it toward the reality of our changing climate. Policy matters. Rather modest policies are already helping to slow, and in some cases reduce, the growth in US greenhouse gas emissions. New York Governor Cuomo promises that he and the “empire state” will redouble their efforts to lead on climate change (while NJ Governor Christie remains noticeably silent on such commitments). To achieve larger emissions reductions we need bigger policies, not some sort of half-hearted faith that magical market forces will solve problems we have created for ourselves.