Dan Lashof, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air Program, recently spoke at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies about the future of climate change regulation on a panel with Dale Bryk, Director of the Energy & Transportation Program and a senior attorney with NRDC, and Vera Pardee, senior attorney in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.
YCELP: What is the future of cap-and-trade as a policy solution in the United States?
DAN LASHOF: As my colleague Dale Bryk mentioned, there are a number of states that are moving forward with cap and trade; the European Union has a program that has been up and running for awhile, and they’re making it more robust and effective over time. Australia is in the process of adopting a program.
At a national level, I think the U.S. will eventually come back to it because the substantive and political reasons why it had been a focus of efforts in the past are still valid. And while it’s been politically tainted – and that will last for a while – I think eventually people will see it as a more effective mechanism than the more piecemeal approach, which, by necessity, will be pursued over the next few years.
YCELP: What do you see as the policy or regulatory mechanisms most likely to provide the largest greenhouse gas reductions?
DAN LASHOF: For the foreseeable future, and provided that EPA retains its authority under the Clean Air Act, I think that the biggest opportunities are from regulations EPA will be issuing for power plants and other large industrial sources under Section 111.
There are also significant reductions that are in the pipeline as a result of the vehicle performance standards developed jointly by EPA, the Department of Transportation and the California Air Resources Board, both passenger vehicles and now, for the first time, heavy-duty trucks.
YCELP: What EPA regulation during this current administration has accomplished the most in terms of GHG reductions?
DAN LASHOF: The light-duty vehicle standards that cover model year 2012 to 2016 are definitely the most significant. Those could potentially be surpassed by the regulations that EPA is currently working on that would apply to power plants.
YCELP: Are there other measures or legislation pending that could prove to be a real push forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
DAN LASHOF: There are a couple of others that I would identify: one is the regulation of methane leaks from the oil and gas system, which is really important because methane has a higher global warming impact per ton than carbon dioxide. Getting those regulations in place would clear away one of the concerns that has been raised about potentially switching from very dirty coal plants to natural gas as a cleaner source because there is enough uncertainty now about how much methane is leaking to call into question what the net benefits of doing that are. If EPA was able to issue strong regulations requiring good housekeeping in oil and gas production, then it would be a much clearer benefit from a climate perspective.
The other area, which people haven’t been paying much attention to, but has significant potential has to do with industrial gases like hydrofluorocarbons where there are significant emissions and very high global warming potential gases so reductions could have a big payoff.
YCELP: Is there any legislation or measures pending that could be a real setback?
DAN LASHOF: The Keystone XL pipeline, which is clearly directly within the jurisdiction of the Obama administration to decide to provide a permit, and the extra emissions associated with shifting to dirtier fossil fuels like tar sands oil could erode some of the benefits associated with the vehicle standards and the power plant standards.
The other threat, which is only partially within the administration’s control, but they do have some leverage over it, is Congressional threats to EPA’s rules – either generically or individually.