Friday, 26 October 2012 10:46

US to Cut Carbon Emissions Despite Cap-and-Trade Failure

Written by  Jessie
Smokestacks in Champaign, Illinois Smokestacks in Champaign, Illinois Dori/CC BY-SA 3.0

It was a sad day in 2010 when Congress failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation.  However, a study by Dallas Burtraw, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, released this month says that the failure had the unexpected consequence of helping to lower greenhouse gas emissions.  There are two reasons why U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are likely to be lower by 2020: regulatory measures and market changes.

This is not to say that there is no need for cap-and-trade or a carbon tax.  On the contrary, they are still necessary to achieve long-term cuts in emissions and to help establish worldwide support on the issue of climate change.  The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) was an energy bill that would cap the amount of carbon dioxide power plants and manufacturers could emit, and set up a system to trade for carbon offsets. 

When ACES failed in the Senate after receiving approval in the House of Representatives, a series of piecemeal measures were put into place.  This hodgepodge of regulatory measures put the U.S. on track to meet a pledge set by President Obama of cutting climate change emissions by 17 percent by the end of this decade.  The first of which this blog already covered is Groundbreaking Fuel Economy Standards.  President Obama pushed for higher vehicle fuel efficiency standards with automakers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when ACES died in the Senate.  Also, the president is pressing for higher emission standards on coal-fired power plants.

Further regulatory measures in the wake of national cap-and-trade’s demise include California and some Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states establishing their own cap-and-trade programs, and 29 states setting clean-energy requirements for utilities. 

Market changes putting the U.S. on the path to lower carbon emissions by 2020 have been covered by this blog also.  Low natural gas prices have been shifting the market away from dirtier coal as power plants' fuel of choice. 

If ACES, also called the Waxman-Markey Bill, had passed the law would have barred the EPA from issuing carbon standards for power plants, refineries or factories.  Furthermore, it may have very well headed off establishing the higher vehicle fuel efficiency standards.  Lastly, under a national cap-and-trade program, any regional or state efforts would be offset by increased emissions elsewhere.

So the planet still needs further, faster and more wide ranging cuts in fossil-fuel use, but the U.S. is on the right path to curbing carbon emissions with the help of some regulatory measures and market changes.

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