C2ES Outlines Steps to Cut U.S. Emissions of Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

Press release
March 12, 2013
Contact: Laura Rehrmann, press@c2es.org, 703-516-4146

C2ES Outlines Steps to Cut U.S. Emissions of Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

WASHINGTON — As evidence mounts that climate change is increasing the risks of extreme weather, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is outlining steps the federal government can take to reduce short-lived climate pollutants affecting our climate now.

In a policy brief being released today, Domestic Policies to Reduce the Near-Term Risks of Climate Change, C2ES identifies a range of administrative actions that can be taken under existing authorities to reduce black carbon, methane and hydrofluorocarbons (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,’’ said C2ES Senior Advisor Stephen Seidel, co-author of the paper.

For example, 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.

“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 said.

Other steps outlined in the report include:

– 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;

– Phasing out HFC-134a, used in new car air conditioners and other applications, wherever more environmentally acceptable alternatives are available;

– Developing programs to accelerate the retrofitting or replacement of existing diesel-powered trucks emitting black carbon; and

– Demonstrating the feasibility of changing the timing of planned burning in northern states to reduce impacts of black carbon on Arctic regions.

“EPA has taken some initial steps to reduce these emissions,” Seidel said. “However, more can and should be done.”

A year ago, the United States, five other countries and the United Nations Environment Programme launched the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants. Since then, 21 countries and more than 20 additional non-state partners have joined the coalition, whose objective is to develop new national and regional actions to address these pollutants.

Read the brief.

About C2ES: The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address the twin challenges of energy and climate change. Launched in November 2011, C2ES is the successor to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

A Synopsis of Federal Options for Reducing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

Federal Leadership – Through issuance of a new executive order (or additional guidance under EO 13514), the president can mandate that federal agencies buy products made without HFCs, retrofit or replace their dirtiest diesel engines to reduce black carbon emissions, and facilitate the capture of methane emissions from gas and oil wells and coal mines on federal lands.

Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Operations – EPA can develop a mix of options to reduce methane emissions from the production, processing, transmission, and distribution of oil and natural gas. The agency should examine options for achieving cost-effective methane reductions at existing oil and gas operations and throughout the value chain.

Methane Emissions from Landfills – EPA can revise its 1996 rules regulating the emission of smog-forming and hazardous air pollutants at solid waste landfills to regulate methane directly and increase the number of landfill sites covered.

Methane Emissions from Coal Mines – EPA can list coal mining as a major source category of methane, set standards limiting those emissions from new sources where reductions can be achieved cost-effectively, and issue guidance to states requiring regulation of existing sources as well.

Methane from Animal Feeding Operations – EPA can limit methane emissions from the largest animal feeding operations where cost-effective reductions are feasible, and USDA can support voluntary incentive programs for smaller sources.

HFCs – EPA can remove HFC-134a from its list of acceptable alternatives for use as the refrigerant in car air conditioners based on the timely introduction of more environmentally acceptable alternatives, and determine whether HFC-134a should be removed from the approved list for other uses, such as aerosols, flexible foams, and other refrigerants.

Black Carbon Emissions from Diesel Engines – EPA can develop expanded incentive-based programs to retrofit or accelerate the replacement of existing heavy-duty diesel engines to reduce emissions of black carbon.

Black Carbon Reductions from Seasonal Fire Management – The Department of Agriculture can work with northern states with significant planned burning for agriculture or forestry to demonstrate the feasibility of shifting spring fires to seasons less likely to contribute to Arctic melting.

A Primer Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of about 12 years. The natural gas sector is the No. 1 manmade source of methane emissions in the United States, from leaks or intentional routine releases. Solid waste landfills and coal mines are also major sources.

Black carbon results from incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels. Its major sources are diesel cars and trucks, cook stoves, forest fires, and agricultural open burning. Its brief atmospheric lifetime, measured in weeks, means black carbon’s climate effects are felt in the short term and are strongly regional. Black carbon particles, which give soot its black color, darken snow and ice, increasing their absorption of sunlight and causing them to melt more rapidly.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a family of industrially produced chemicals widely used in refrigeration and air conditioning. They were developed to replace ozone-depleting substances (chlorofluorocarbons – CFCs) a few decades ago. But HFC-134a, used in auto air conditioning and by far the most widely used of these compounds, has a very high global warming potential with an atmospheric lifetime of 13 years.