March 30, 2009
In 2007, the US Supreme Court had issued a ruling requiring the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to determine whether C02 emissions endangered public health or welfare. Following pressure from the automobile and fossil power industries and instructions from the White House, the EPA failed to comply with the rule of this Supreme Court.
Now the EPA has come out with the overdue “endangerment finding”. It has recommended considering C02 and other green houses gases, e.g. methane, as a danger for public health and welfare.
Under the Clean Air Act this finding will require the government to draw up regulations governing green house gas emissions from vehicles, fossil-fuelled power plants, chemical plants etc., thus offering a trump card to the Administration in its efforts to convince the Congress of the need to undertake rapid action.
According to available signals from Washington, the US is most likely to pursue a triple approach for enhancing energy efficiency and reducing green house gas emissions.
· Adopt stricter nation-wide fuel efficiency standards for light vehicles.
This is an overdue measure considering the role automobiles play for US green house gas emissions and the low levels of efficiency. By the same token, the Federal government would be able to replace the patchwork of state actions.
· Introduce a cap and trade emissions system for the major C02 emitters, in line with EU regulations.
This is what the White House envisages. The EPA has most recently invited all relevant companies to supply data on their C02 emissions. Ideally such legislation should be adopted in time for the Copenhagen Climate Conference. But that appears very unlikely.
· Offer direct incentives for investments in renewable energies.
The stimulus package provides for around $ 60 billion spending for climate-related investments in smart transmission systems, research etc. The president has also proposed to insert $ 150 billion budget expenditures on renewable energies in the coming 10 years.
These are very positive signals coming from the other side of the Atlantic. But Europeans should be patient. The USA is so much more addicted to oil and coal. Its C02 emissions are roughly twice as big as those of the EU. It will therefore be physically and politically impossible for it to cut its C02 emissions 30 percent below 1990 levels, as the EU had suggested, by 2020! It will take more time to wean off from the oil, coal and gas. But with the new determination of Obama there is at least a prospect this going to happen in the medium term future.
Brussels, 25.03.09 Eberhard Rhein
Author : Eberhard Rhein