In both his Inaugural Address and the State of the Union Speech, President Barack Obama affirmed that dealing with climate change was a priority of his second term. Unfortunately, many things that need to be done to reduce carbon pollution require action from Congress.
Action from Congress is an oxymoron. About half of the members of Congress, mostly Republicans, deny global warming and man’s influence on climate change. They are influenced by the fossil fuel lobby and its campaign contributions.
There are steps, however, that the president can take without Congress. Various NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are urging the Obama Administration to establish an inter-agency task force to reduce short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) as a key strategy to reduce near-term climate change impacts. These include black carbon, methane, and hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs).
Short-lived climate pollutants are the most damaging air pollution source to health around the world. Reduction of these pollutants may be the fastest way to slow down global warming. Methane, black carbon, and HFCs have short lives in contrast to carbon dioxide which remains in the atmosphere for centuries or longer. If emissions of these substances are substantially cut, their atmospheric levels quickly come down and thus their contribution to climate change is diminished.
Policy brief outlines specific steps to reduce short-lived pollutants
In a policy brief released last week entitled “Domestic Policies to Reduce the Near-Term Risks of Climate Change,” the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) identifies a range of administrative actions that can be taken under existing authorities to reduce black carbon, methane and hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs).
“While reducing carbon emissions is critical to long-term efforts to address climate change, curbing greenhouse gases with shorter lifetimes will do more to limit warming and related impacts in the near term,’’ the C2ES Senior Advisor Stephen Seidel, co-author of the paper, said in the release.
"As the nation's largest fleet operator, landowner, purchaser, and property manager, the federal government has the ability and the responsibility to lead by example in limiting its emissions of short-lived climate pollutants,'' Seidel added.
The report suggested several specific things the president can do:
1. The president could issue an executive order directing federal agencies to buy products made without HFCs, retrofit or replace their dirtiest diesel engines to reduce black carbon emissions, and increase the capture of methane emissions from gas and oil wells and coal mines on federal lands.
2. Strengthening Environmental Protection Agency rules or programs, where cost-effective options exist, to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations, landfills, coal mines, and animal feeding operations.
3. Phasing out HFC-134a, used in new car air conditioners and other applications, wherever more environmentally acceptable alternatives are available.
4. Developing programs to accelerate the retrofitting or replacement of existing diesel-powered trucks emitting black carbon; and
5. Demonstrating the feasibility of changing the timing of planned burning in northern states to reduce impacts of black carbon on Arctic regions.
The Obama administration has taken many steps already to reduce carbon pollution without Congress. Chief among them is the agreement to increase fuel efficiency which by 2020 will cut the amount of gas a car uses in half thus reducing tailpipe pollution by the same amount.
Unfortunately, the EPA just postponed its roll out of new rules to reduce black carbon pollution from coal power plants and other sources.
Hopefully the president will take some of the steps the C2ES has recommended.