The world's continued reliance on fossil fuels as its main source of energy is quite literally endangering the ability of the planet to sustain life as we know it. The effects of climate change have long since been under way, and our nascent efforts to adapt to it have barely begun to come to grips with the disruption that lies ahead.
Of course, it's not just climate change that should be warning us away from such reliance on fossil fuels. The burning of oil, coal, and natural gas to run automobiles, power various industrial processes, and create electricity for a myriad of uses also results in a range of lung-choking emissions, creating air pollution that kills tens of thousands of Americans each year.
With federal climate legislation once again part of the national conversation, the role of carbon pricing continues to be a hot-button issue. Some bipartisan initiatives center on a federal carbon fee, while the Green New Deal resolution introduced in the House is silent on market mechanisms, reflecting continuing policy debates among the diverse groups engaged in the initiative. This issue brief explains how carbon pricing is necessary, and then argues that it is both practically and politically insufficient for achieving a clean energy transition.
Man-made climate change poses a severe threat to the future health of the planet and all that live on it. The good news is that we know what causes it, and know how to slow it down, and even stop it. The bad news is that we have made far too little progress.
While efforts to slow and prevent climate change are vital, another important avenue for communities and policymakers is adaptation to what can no longer be prevented. This CPR paper explores community-level strategies for adaptation, with a focus on community participation.
All that said, the U.S. economy and indeed, most Americans' very way of life, is predicated on the ready availability of energy. So how can we save the planet, protect Americans from air pollution, and still drive automobiles?
In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency issued its Clean Power Plan, delivering on a key Obama Administration priority to move the nation toward clean energy. The regulatory package took aim at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, the vast majority of which burn fossil fuels to produce electricity. It relied on state-specific planning to reduce emissions significantly over a multi-year period. In anticipation of the plan's release, a group of 11 CPR Member Scholars, led by coordinating editor Alice Kaswan, wrote The Clean Power Plan: Issues to Watch (CPR Paper #1506). It identified a number of questions vital to the success or failure of the initiative. Read the introduction to the paper.
In 2016, Kaswan and fellow CPR Member Scholar Kirsten Engel took a close look at the methods EPA used to establish the carbon-emission reduction targets at the heart of the Clean Power Plan, and concluded that the Plan left significant reductions on the table. CPR published Kaswan and Engel's analysis in Untapped Potential: The Carbon Reductions Left Out of EPA’s Clean Power Plan(CPR Paper #1607). Their deep dive into the data revealed that EPA's decision to apply a single, national, "performance rate" for fossil fuel power plants, instead of rates tailored to each of the three "interconnections" that together make up the U.S. power grid (the Eastern Interconnection, Western Interconnection, and Texas Interconnection), meant that the western states and Texas will not be required to meet more stringent standards that EPA concluded were within their reach. As a result, the nation’s power plants will pump almost 400 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere per year beyond the levels EPA concluded were achievable based upon analyses of regional reduction opportunities.
Unsurprisingly, once EPA published the Clean Power Plan in final form, opponents immediately took their case to court, asserting that the rule set emissions reduction targets that were overly ambitious, and that the Environmental Protection Agency had exceeded its Clean Air authority in adopting the Plan. The Supreme Court responded by staying implementation of the plan, while the case worked its way through the courts. On September 27, 2016, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, heard arguments in the historic lawsuit challenging the plan. The following week, four experts joined in an online panel discussion co-sponsored by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) and the Hoover Institution.
Kirsten Engel, Charles E. Ares Professor of Law, University of Arizona James E. Rodgers School of Law; CPR Member Scholar
Andrew Grossman, Partner, BakerHostetler; Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute
David Driesen, University Professor, Syracuse University School of Law; CPR Member Scholar
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration and the GOP majority in Congress have taken dead aim at the Clean Power Plan, promising a rollback. Mindful of the importance of the Clean Power Plan to the effort to save the planet from the worst effects of climate change, CPR Member Scholars are tracking and combating the Administration's efforts.
In March 2017, President Trump traveled to the Environmental Protection Agency, where, surrounded by coal industry leaders and lobbyists, he signed an executive order directing EPA to begin dismantling the plan. CPR's Robert Verchick blasted the President's order, calling it an "irresponsible assault on a host of health, safety, and environmental safeguards that protect people and save lives. Unraveling the Clean Power Plan," he continued, "will be more difficult than sending out a tweet, but if Trump and his administration succeed, their attacks on clean air rules will have serious consequences for the American people, including thousands more asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, and otherwise preventable deaths."
Carbon Pricing: Essential But Insufficient. In her July 2019 issue brief, CPR Member Scholar and Board Member Alice Kaswan explains that while setting a price on carbon emissions is essential to addressing climate change, it's not sufficient on its own. Rather, we need a comprehensive, visionary approach to a green transition that includes but does not rely on carbon pricing. Also in PDF.