Federal

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions seeks to inform the design and implementation of federal policies that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Drawing from its extensive peer-reviewed published works, in-house policy analyses, and tracking of current legislative proposals, the Center provides research, analysis, and recommendations to policymakers in Congress and the Executive Branch. Read More
 

Why we shouldn’t throw out flood insurance reform

It’s not surprising that homeowners in flood-prone areas are asking their representatives in Congress to protect them from higher flood insurance bills.

Here’s the question. Who is going to protect them from higher floods?

Congress in 2012 did the right thing in fixing a broken flood insurance system that has fallen $24 billion in debt, largely because the price of flood insurance hasn’t for many years matched the risk of a flood. Now, both the House and Senate have passed bills that would undo many of these reforms.

Congress should find a way to address both the immediate and long-term concerns of their constituents, and the rest of the nation. We can’t ignore the plight of families facing hefty insurance increases, and we must ensure that the process of making flood insurance reflect flood risk is fair and transparent. But we also can’t ignore the increasing costs and risks associated with growing coastal development in an era of rising seas and heavier precipitation.

Among the problems with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that we outlined in a C2ES brief:

Extreme Weather and Resilience: An Ounce of Prevention

A recent Senate hearing highlighted some of the progress U.S. communities are making, and the major challenges they face, in better coping with costly extreme weather events — including those, such as heat waves and coastal flooding, whose risks are heightened by climate change.

Sen. Tom Carper, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, noted that the “frequency and intensity of these extreme weather events are costing our country a lot - not just in lives impacted – but in economic costs, as well.” Nearly 130 weather-related events in 2013 caused more than $20 billion in losses in the United States.

Extreme weather is costly, not only to federal, state, and local governments, but also to businesses and individuals.

Much of the Senate testimony echoed key findings in our report, “Weathering the Storm, Building Business Resilience to Climate Change.”  Three key points made at the hearing were:

2014 State of the Union Resources

In his fifth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama again put the issue of climate change before Congress and the American public, and reaffirmed his determination to use the powers of the presidency to strengthen America’s response.

  • Read our views on the State of the Climate.
  • Read Eileen Claussen's statement on the president's 2014 State of the Union address.
  • Read Manik Roy's blog post, exploring three key statemenst from the president's address.

From President Obama's remarks, as delivered:

Now, one of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy. The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.

One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas. My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities. And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.

It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.

And even as we’ve increased energy production, we’ve partnered with businesses, builders, and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months, I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.

Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.

C2ES has assembled a list of resources on federal climate and energy issues.

Climate Change Science

The draft National Climate Assessment (NCA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Working Group 1 report, both released in 2013, affirm previous scientific findings that human-induced climate change is underway and that avoiding the worst consequences will require significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information, see:

Extreme Weather

A single weather event says nothing about climate change. But weather patterns are shifting as the planet warms. Average global temperatures are higher than they were 30, 50, or 100 years ago. Climate scientists tell us to expect more frequent and intense heat waves, more severe droughts in some regions, more expansive wildfires, and more intense downpours.

For more information, see:

Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed standards for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new power plants and is working on rules for existing power plants, which are responsible for 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

For more information, see:

Climate Resilience

As part of the Climate Action Plan, federal agencies are supporting local investments in climate resilience and have convened a task force of state, local and tribal officials to advise on key actions the federal government can take to help strengthen communities against future extreme weather and other climate impacts.

For more information, see:

Vehicle Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Standards

New standards will nearly double the fuel economy of new cars and light trucks by 2025, while lowering their carbon emissions by 40 percent. These measures represent the largest federal step ever aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. EPA has started technical work on fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles starting in model year 2018.

For more information, see:

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is the second-fastest growing energy source behind natural gas. For 2012, renewable energy was responsible for 12.2 percent of net U.S. electricity generation with hydroelectric generation contributing 6.8 percent and wind generation responsible for 3.5 percent.

For more information, see:

Natural Gas

New drilling technologies such as hydraulic fracturing (sometimes called fracking) have vastly increased the amount of recoverable natural gas in the United States and elsewhere. These advances are projected to significantly alter energy economics and trends, and open new opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information, see:

Coal

While some power plants are switching to natural gas, coal remains a major source of energy for U.S. electricity generation. Coal has the highest carbon content of all fossil fuels, and coal accounts for about 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon capture-and-storage technologies offer the potential to sequester emissions from coal combustion.

For more information, see:

Clean Energy Support

All sources of energy – fossil fuels, nuclear power, and renewable energy – receive some form of federal support, whether as a grant, loan, loan guarantee or tax credit, and whether for research, development, demonstration or deployment. Nuclear, hydro, wind, biomass, geothermal and solar produce zero greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information, see:

Reducing Dependence on Foreign Oil

Net imports of oil peaked in 2005, and since then have declined from 60 percent to about 40 percent of total U.S. consumption. Contributing factors include reduced consumption due to vehicle fuel economy standards and renewable fuels, and increased domestic production.

For more information, see:

Energy Efficiency

Increasing energy efficiency can save consumers money, reduce energy consumption and reduce greenhouse emissions. The president’s Climate Action Plan sets a goal of doubling energy productivity by 2030 relative to 2010 levels.

For more information, see:

Leading by Example

In his climate plan, the president set a goal for the federal government to consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020—more than double the current goal of 7.5 percent.

For more information, see:

International Climate Change Leadership

Climate change is a global challenge that requires a global solution. An effective strategy will require commitments and actions by all the major emitters. In addition to working toward a 2015 international climate agreement, the president has called for multilateral and bilateral efforts with China, India and other emitting countries.

For more information, see:

The State of the Climate

As President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his State of the Union address, we believe it’s a good time to take a look at the state of our climate: the growing impacts of climate change, recent progress in reducing U.S. emissions, and further steps we can take to protect the climate and ourselves.

The consequences of rising emissions are serious. The U.S. average temperature has increased by about 1.5°F since 1895 with 80 percent of this increase occurring since 1980, according to the draft National Climate Assessment. Greenhouse gases could raise temperatures 2° to 4°F in most areas of the United States over the next few decades, bringing significant changes to local climates and ecosystems.

'60 Minutes' story on clean tech omits climate change

A recent "60 Minutes" story highlighted the demise of a few high-profile clean-tech companies that received federal funding. The story neglected to report why clean technology is vital to the future of our economy and environment in the first place, and therefore why it makes sense for the government to promote the development of wind and solar energy, electric vehicles, and other clean tech. Simply put, the goal is to transform our economy from one based on fossil fuels that emit heat-trapping gases to one based on clean energy that won't contribute to global climate change.

The Federal Climate

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President Obama has outlined a wide array of steps to reduce carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency, expand renewable and other low-carbon energy sources, and strengthen resilience to extreme weather and other climate impacts. We outline early progress and the challenges ahead.
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The federal climate: A look back and ahead

A year ago, the path ahead for climate action at the federal level was murky. Congress clearly had little appetite for climate and energy legislation, and while President Obama had declared that climate change would be a priority in his second term, the details were hazy.

Heading into 2014, there is a clear direction and a credible and comprehensive plan for action. The Climate Action Plan the president announced in June outlines a wide array of steps his administration plans to take using existing authorities to reduce carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency, expand renewable and other low-carbon energy sources, and strengthen resilience to extreme weather and other climate impacts. 

Given congressional paralysis, this plan is likely to be the blueprint for U.S. climate action for at least the next three years. The reaction at the United Nations climate conference last month in Warsaw showed that other countries have noticed, and are encouraged to see stronger U.S. action.

A key step in implementing the plan was the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal in September to limit carbon emissions from new power plants. Other elements of the plan that have already seen movement include:

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Information technology and sustainability

Federal agencies trying to meet tougher sustainability mandates can make significant progress toward their goals by taking advantage of more efficient data storage and other information and communication technologies.

At the NextGov Prime 2013 conference, Scott Renda of the White House Office of Management and Budget and I outlined some of the ways these technologies can lead toward a greener government that saves energy – and money.

Climate change bills in the 113th Congress

The first year of the 113th Congress (2013-2014) draws to a close with no passage of climate-specific legislation, but signs that some in Congress understand the importance of addressing this issue. More bills were introduced that support climate action than oppose it. (For brevity, we refer to all legislative proposals as “bills.”)

Here’s a by-the-numbers look at what Congress has done so far this term explicitly referencing climate change or related terms, such as greenhouse gases or carbon dioxide:

  • 131 climate-specific bills have been introduced, surpassing the 113 introduced during the entire 112th Congress (2011-2012), and perhaps on track to match the 263 of the 111th Congress (2009-2010).
  • 81 of the bills (62 percent) support climate action in some way.
  • 31 bills are intended to build resilience to a changing climate, compared with nine introduced in the previous Congress.
  • 30 bills have bipartisan co-sponsorship. Of these, 16 support climate action in some way.
  • 25 bills, five of them bipartisan, would block or hinder the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Two such bills have passed the House, though are unlikely to be passed by the Senate and signed into law.
  • 12 of the bills supporting climate action were written by Republicans, while eight bills opposing climate action were written by Democrats, showing that climate issues don’t always fall neatly along partisan lines.
  • 7 of the 16 bipartisan bills that support climate action promote energy efficiency. The bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill is considered to have the best chance of enactment of any energy measure in this Congress.
  • 3 bills would block or hinder federal agencies from using the social cost of carbon in federal rulemaking.
  • 2 bills seek to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.

Sandy Anniversary is a Reminder of the Need for Better Protections

A year after Hurricane Sandy, more work remains to be done to help families and communities fully recover. But another pressing need, not only for those who were in Sandy’s wake but for all of us, is to learn from the storm’s devastating impacts and reduce the risk of future damage and loss of life.

Hurricane Sandy's estimated $65 billion in damages make it the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history, surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina.

Building resilience to the impacts of major coastal storms like Sandy—and to other types of extreme weather that are becoming more intense and frequent as a result of climate change—will require a commitment to better protect infrastructure and implement  policies to help get people out of harm’s way. Both efforts should take into account how future sea level rise can amplify storm surges, potentially making future impacts greater than what we’ve experienced in the past.

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