Lasting Legacy: 9 Ways President Obama can take action on climate change

by Kate DeAngelis, international policy analyst

As the world’s largest historical emitter and one of the world’s wealthiest countries, the United States must shoulder the greatest share of the burden for making emission reductions. According to the climate fair shares calculator, the United States must reduce emissions by at least 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2025, and provide $635 billion in climate finance in order to pay its fair share.

Friends of the Earth U.S. released the report “Unfinished Business: Ways President Obama can move the United States closer to its fair share of climate action” and it illustrates nine specific actions that Obama can take using existing authority to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Doing so could serve as the basis for a stronger U.S. commitment on climate change.

While Obama has taken historic steps to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, it is not enough when measured against what’s needed, and against the U.S.’ fair share of climate action. With these actions, President Obama could use the next 13 months to cement his climate legacy. We need your help to demand that he does so now!

Tell President Obama: No more excuses! Reduce our emissions now!

Specific Policy Recommendations

1. Use section 115 of the Clean Air Act to force economy-wide GHG reductions from states.

  • Section 115 creates a clear duty for the EPA to take action where U.S. emissions put people in other countries at risk. This section is not limited in scope because it specifically states that it applies to “any air pollutant or pollutants,” meaning greenhouse gases would clearly qualify.
  • The prerequisites for the EPA to take action under section 115 have been met.
  • States must revise their state implementation plans to reduce their emissions further to account for this foreign endangerment.

2. Put forward a broad rule to reduce aviation GHG emissions by making it technology-forcing, including existing aircraft and covering the entire aircraft.

  • Globally, airline operations produced 705 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2013. To put that in perspective, the global aviation emissions industry would rank seventh if included in country emission rankings, just after Germany’s total country emissions.
  • The United States must take the lead in reducing emissions from the country’s aircraft since the United States’ domestic flights account for 24 percent of the world’s commercial aircraft carbon dioxide emissions and 35 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from international commercial flights.
  • The United States cannot wait for the International Civil Aviation Organization to take action because any action it will take will be weak if not counterproductive.
  • EPA rules should cover both new and existing aircraft and apply to the entire aircraft and its operations.

3. Finalize a methane rule for the oil and gas sector that covers existing and abandoned sources and improves detection of leaks.

  • The final methane from oil and gas sector rule must require reductions from existing, as well as new and modified oil and gas wells.
  • In addition, the rule should use the global warming potential of 87 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, which is the more updated and relevant figure.
  • Lastly, the final rule must require better methane detection technology because the EPA is grossly underestimating the amount of methane released from gas wells.

4. Limit methane from flaring and venting on public and tribal lands by ensuring accurate accounting with meters and ending royalty-free flaring.

  • Another impact of the shale oil boom has been the increased use of venting and flaring. Many places have seen huge spikes in venting and flaring.
  • The BLM has been unable to properly regulate venting and flaring. The BLM’s failure to properly regulate these practices has led to rampant methane emissions as well as lost revenue.
  • The BLM’s final venting and flaring rule must increase transparency by requiring that fossil fuel companies accurately collect and report their methane emissions and then make that data publicly available. Mandatory metering at wells on public lands will result in more accurate data that demonstrate the higher amount of venting and flaring.
  • In addition, the BLM should end the allowance of royalty-free flaring and venting.

5. Prohibit the export of liquefied natural gas, as the Department of Commerce has done with crude oil.

  • LNG poses a potentially greater threat to our climate than even coal.
  • Despite LNG’s strong negative impact on the climate, the DOE and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have continued to approve terminals that would export LNG.
  • The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 requires that the president ban the export of both crude oil and natural gas. President Obama should rectify the failure to put forward a ban on natural gas exports with a new rulemaking.

6. Address black carbon emissions through an endangerment finding under the Clean Air Act and using the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

  • Black carbon contributes to climate disruption by absorbing radiation from the sun because of its dark color and being deposited on light surfaces like snow which increases melting.
  • Black carbon falls under the Clean Air Act’s definition of an air pollutant and sufficient information exists to demonstrate black carbon’s serious health effects, so the EPA should regulate it.
  • The United States is chairing the Arctic Council from 2015 until 2017; the United States must take advantage of this opportunity by increasing the understanding and monitoring of black carbon, as well as requiring its reduction.

7. Reduce hydrofluorocarbon emissions from air conditioners, refrigerators and other end uses.

  • The EPA could extend and expand its existing programs and rulemakings to further reduce HFC emissions.
  • The EPA should continue to update the SNAP program by delisting HFCs when alternatives that are safer for the climate become available.
  • The EPA can improve the impact of its HFC regulations by extending the requirements for the servicing and disposal of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment.

8. Prohibit all new leases for fossil fuel exploration and development on public lands and waters.

  • The Obama administration’s climate policies have neglected the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions: fossil fuel extraction.
  • Leasing publicly-owned coal, oil and natural gas to private corporations has resulted in billions of tons of carbon pollution and degraded millions of acres of public land and ocean.
  • Unleased federal fossil fuels comprise as much as 450 billion tons, or nearly 50 percent, of the potential greenhouse gas emissions of all U.S. fossil fuels.
  • Under existing federal laws, the president has clear authority to stop new federal fossil fuel leases.

9. Incorporate the true social cost of carbon in all government decisions.

  • The U.S. government assesses the costs and benefits of major federal regulations affecting greenhouse gas emissions using the social cost of carbon, the estimated climate damage caused by one ton of carbon dioxide.
  • The true social cost of carbon could be nearly $900 per ton of carbon dioxide in 2010 and a staggering $1,500 per ton in 2050.
  • President Obama should expand the use of the social cost of carbon so it is a factor not just in major rulemakings, but also all federal decision making.

Tell President Obama to take executive action to prevent climate chaos!

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