The National Wildlife Federation advocates for policies to reduce U.S. carbon pollution and ensure a stable climate for wildlife and future generations.
The high costs of climate change caused by carbon pollution are already being felt around the globe. Sea level rise, melting glaciers, and shifting wildlife range are just a few of the costs of carbon pollution that are threatening wildlife. Locally, drought, wildfires, and extreme weather events have been increasingly common across the US and have had negative impacts on wildlife and habitat. Currently, emitters of carbon pollution can use the atmosphere as an open sewer, fully externalizing the high costs of carbon pollution onto society and wildlife. We need policy mechanisms that will shift the costs of carbon pollution to the polluters and will result in carbon reduction emissions across all sectors, including the energy, transportation, industry, agriculture, and commercial and residential sectors. Establishing a price on carbon that will internalize the costs of carbon pollution for the polluters is one of the most straightforward options for achieving the necessary greenhouse gas reductions.
Carbon pricing can come in two main forms: a cap-and-trade program or emission trading program, and a carbon tax. Both of these policies achieve a similar result because they both shift the costs of carbon pollution from society as a whole to those responsible for the pollution. An economy-wide carbon pricing program would create incentives for polluters to invest in carbon pollution reduction technology and give the renewable energy industry a competitive edge over energy generation options that have high pollution costs.
Carbon taxes set a known price on carbon emissions, but do not set a specific limit on emissions. Emissions reductions are achieved by making the market more competitive for low carbon fuels that do not have the costs of higher carbon fuels. Carbon taxes are desirable because they create an investment environment with a long term set price on carbon, but the resulting carbon reductions are less predictable. British Columbia has a carbon tax in place that has successfully resulted in emission reductions.
An Emission Trading System sets a limit for carbon emissions while allowing the market to determine the resulting price of carbon. This carbon pricing option has advantages because it is more likely to guarantee a set level of reductions. An ETS requires the creation of a new commodity and market: emission allowances. These allowances (also called credits or permits) are bought and sold on an open market and are already being used in California and by several Northeast states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Hybrid systems are often an effective way to ensure the desired emission reductions are met. Many counties, including Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, use a combination of both a carbon tax and an ETS program, especially those covered by the European Union's ETS. In addition to these two policies, it is also possible to add in carbon offset programs, which allow conservation measure that store carbon to be counted toward carbon reduction goals. The need for the carbon sequestration capabilities of our natural ecosystems is of critical importance when it comes to a holistic view of carbon reductions, and valuing these systems within an overall carbon pricing scheme can be an important component of carbon pricing policies.
Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent greenhouse gas in the United States. As of 2015, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for 82 percent of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and emissions from the power sector (electricity generation) account for about 29 percent of those emissions. As the largest source of emissions, addressing pollution from the energy sector is of critical importance.
The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon dioxide levels by 32 percent (from 2005 levels) by the year 2030. The CPP will achieve this both through the regulation of power plants and the promotion of clean renewable energy. In January 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the CPP, that put on hold the requirement that states move forward with State Implementation Plans (SIPs), which are flexible, state-based compliance plans to meet state reduction goals. In spite of this stay, many states recognize the importance of these regulations and the importance of promoting burgeoning renewable energy sources and are choosing to move forward with the SIP process. However, some states have chosen to wait until a final court decision on the CPP is issued. Fortunately, market forces are pushing our power sector towards low emission renewable energy sources and the timeline for CPP is long, so the stay is not a major setback. Still, any slowing of progress towards compliance with the CPP leads to a greater risk of surpassing the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit and increases the risk of runaway climate change—a scenario in which we will have little control over global environmental changes like sea level rise, extreme weather, drought, and wild fire. The window of opportunity to act on climate change is shrinking, and without comprehensive federal policies like the CPP we will have little ability to affect global temperature change.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and is the second biggest source of carbon emissions after carbon dioxide, accounting for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Methane has 25 times the climate change impact of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, but that impact is even higher in the short term—80 times as potent over a 20-year period.
Of these emissions, nearly 42 percent come from methane waste from oil and gas development infrastructure. With the use of new technology, the oil and gas industry has expanded rapidly across the U.S. However, regulations have not kept pace with this development so methane waste and pollution have become significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed regulations on new and modified sources of methane pollution from oil and gas production and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed regulations on new and existing sources of methane waste of oil and gas production on federal and tribal lands. These are important steps to curbing methane emissions, but further steps are needed. The EPA must quickly move forward with regulations for existing sources of methane pollution from oil and gas production, as well.
In 2015, the EPA proposed rules to limit methane emissions caused by new oil and gas developments. To compliment these rules, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also proposed methane regulations for new and existing sources on federal and tribal lands. Together, these two proposals offer a much needed federal solution to human caused methane pollution in the United States, but there is more that needs to be done. The EPA should next propose rules for existing methane sources, which make up 29 percent of all U.S. methane emissions.
Why We Need Strong Methane Regulations:
To learn more about the impacts of methane on our health and wildlife and the ongoing efforts to curb this pollution check out our fact sheets and reports.
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