U.S. Missing The Mark On Climate Policy

The following is a guest Op-Ed from David Gattie, Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Georgia. I asked him to summarize the following after seeing a similar discussion he was having online in order to share with our readers. – Charlie

President-elect Donald Trump recently announced that his choice to head up the US Environmental Protection Agency would be Scott Pruitt, an Attorney General from the oil- and gas-producing state of Oklahoma and frequent court room nemesis of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Angst abounds as many on the environmental left fear that with Pruitt at the helm the U.S. electric power sector will be free to further escalate its carbon emissions in record amounts and elevate global CO2 to levels that threaten the global climate system.

For the past few years, EPA has focused on efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in the U.S. electric power sector; most recently through the Clean Power Plan, which proposes to reduce CO2 from the power sector by 32% indexed to 2005 levels. The rule has been a lightning rod in the regulatory world and generated plenty of legal battles. With so much effort put into promoting and defending this as a much-needed rule to reduce global carbon and dial back the threat of global climate change, you might think the U.S. power sector is out of control in CO2 emissions and this rule would substantially reduce global carbon. But, you’d be wrong.

To elaborate, consider five energy-CO2 questions pertaining to the top 15 economies in the world, based on gross domestic product (GDP), with each question answered graphically:

Which countries have the highest total energy consumption?

Figure 1

Which countries consume the most fossil fuel to generate electricity?

Figure 2

Which countries consume the most coal?

Figure 3

Which countries emit the most CO2?

Figure 4


How much CO2 does the U.S. electric power emit compared with global CO2 emissions?

Figure 5

Summary Observations

* China leads the world in energy consumed, electricity generated from fossil fuels, coal consumed, and total CO2 emissions;

* In 2015, India surpassed the U.S. in coal consumption;

* Of the three countries (the U.S., China and India) only the U.S. has decreased coal consumption and CO2 emissions over the past 15 years, primarily in the power sector;

* U.S. climate policy via EPA’s Clean Power Plan focuses on further CO2 reductions in the electric power sector, which has already reduced emissions 20.5% indexed to 2005 and is currently at 1993 levels—without regulations;

* U.S. environmental regulations also require power plants to control other emissions (e.g., sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and mercury) which is an economic disadvantage with competing countries where similar regulations and costly control technologies are not systemic and public health is compromised

* These public health rules are necessary, so this isn’t a complaint, it’s a reality;

* The U.S. power sector contributes 6.3% of global CO2 emissions while supporting 24% of global GDP.

* The U.S. is the world’s largest economy at about $18 trillion, while global GDP is approximately $73.4 trillion.

A clear pattern emerges from these graphs; namely, China is the main source of CO2, the U.S. has leveled off or is decreasing CO2 emissions (led by the power sector), and India is in the initial stages of ramping up energy consumption and CO2 emissions to support its economic growth. If CO2 is the issue of global concern, then this illustrates where global carbon reduction efforts should be focused.

It also illustrates how misguided U.S. regulatory efforts are to enact rules for an industry that is already reducing emissions without regulatory pressure and that, in the global context, contributes so little CO2, yet supports so much of the world’s economic activity. In this regard, Figure 5 is quite telling.

I don’t pretend to know what Scott Pruitt will do as EPA Administrator. What I do know is that ongoing disinformation portraying the U.S. electric power sector as the major contributor to current global CO2 emissions is detrimental, and continued efforts to reduce global carbon on the backs of the U.S. power sector are misplaced.

David Gattie is an Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Georgia. The views reflected here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Georgia. He can be contacted at his blog: https://davidgattieblog.wordpress.com/


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