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Cities, States, Businesses Drive Down U.S. Carbon Pollution While Trump Prepares to Deregulate Methane Emissions

Karsten Würth (@inf1783)/wikimedia commons

While the Trump administration prepares to undercut Obama-era controls on methane emissions from oil and gas operations, more than 3,000 U.S, cities, states, businesses, investors, counties, regional associations, faith communities, and post-secondary institutions are on track to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 17%—and possibly by as much as 24%, bringing the country close to meeting its promised target under the Paris Agreement.

“Today, we are almost half-way to the original U.S. target under the Paris Agreement of 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025,” Bloomberg Philanthropies states, in a report this week on its America’s Pledge campaign. “Across the country, real economy actors have established policies and commitments which, as they are implemented, will drive continued, substantial progress towards the Paris pledge.”

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The report points to the combined economic clout of the governments and institutions that have signed on to the pledge. “The economic activity of this ‘coalition of the willing’ is significant, equivalent to that of the third-largest country in the world,” it states. “Specifically, the U.S. states, cities, businesses, and other leaders of the real economy that remain committed to the Paris Agreement represent over half of the U.S. population (173 million people), over half of the American economy (US$11.4 trillion), and over 35% of nationwide GHG emissions.”

On top of the 17% GHG reduction the country stands to bring about through “current federal and real economy commitments, combined with market forces,” the report models the impact of 10 climate action strategies “that are high-impact, near-term, and readily available for implementation by cities, states, businesses, and other actors.” Those steps would bring U.S. emissions down to 21% below 2005 levels by 2025.

The 10 action strategies in this middle scenario are a familiar list: they include doubling down on renewable energy targets, accelerating coal plant retirements, encouraging home and commercial energy retrofits, electrifying building energy use, accelerating electric vehicle adoption, phasing down climate-busting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), stopping methane leaks at the wellhead, reducing methane leaks in cities, developing regional carbon sequestration strategies on “natural and working lands”, and forming state carbon pricing coalitions.

“But ‘readily available’ cannot be our limit,” the report states. “Broader engagement and mobilization of motivated cities, states, and businesses can both serve their immediate short-term priorities and enable continued American leadership on climate.” That engagement, after accounting for “realistic legal and political limits,” can deliver a 24% GHG reduction, “within striking distance of the Paris pledge.”

For the accelerated climate ambition that will be needed between 2025 and 2030, the report states, the analysis “demonstrates that essential deep decarbonization (80% or more by 2050) can be led by the bottom-up efforts of real economy actors—but only with deep collaboration and engagement.”

But while the coalition steps up to the climate leadership the Trump administration has abdicated, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about to “make public a proposal to weaken an Obama-era requirement that companies monitor and repair methane leaks,” the New York Times reports [2], citing internal EPA documents. “In a related move, the Interior Department is also expected in coming days to release its final version of a draft rule, proposed [3] in February, that essentially repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and ‘flaring,’ or burning, of methane from drilling operations.”

The administration has already taken steps to roll back regulations on vehicle tailpipe emissions and carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. “They’re taking them down, one by one,” said Janet McCabe, former acting administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, and an architect of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

“The regulation of methane, while not as widely discussed as emissions from cars and coal plants, was nonetheless a major component of Mr. Obama’s efforts to combat climate change,” the Times notes. “Methane makes up only about 9% of greenhouse gases, but it is around 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere.”

The new EPA and Interior regulations “would allow far more methane to leak from oil and gas drilling operations,” the paper adds.

“These leaks can pop up anytime, anywhere, up and down the oil and gas supply chain,” said U.S. Environmental Defense Fund methane specialist Matt Watson. “The longer you go in between inspections, the longer leaks will go undetected and unrepaired.”

The Times points to climate as the one area where the Trump administration is pursuing its broader deregulatory agenda with any degree of competence.

“In other areas of policy-making, like immigration and health care, they appear to have brought into the administration ideologues who don’t know a lot about policy-making,” said Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council during the Obama years. “But in climate change and energy, they appear to have brought in people who know exactly what they’re doing, and know exactly where the levers are.”