Efforts to cut greenhouse emissions initiated
December 22, 2009
by Jay Sjerven
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — A high-level U.S. delegation to the United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen brought to the attention of negotiators initiatives the United States was undertaking to limit greenhouse gas emissions even as talks aimed at securing a global agreement continued. The initiatives do not require congressional action as they fall under the purview of individual federal agencies.
Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, addressing the conference on Dec. 9, pointed to steps her agency recently took to set the framework for reducing U.S. greenhouse emissions.
“I’m proud to say, hours before I stepped on the plane to come here, I announced E.P.A.’s finalized endangerment finding that greenhouse gases pose a threat to our health and welfare,” Ms. Jackson said.
The finding issued Dec. 7 was the result of a process begun when the Supreme Court in 2007 ruled greenhouse gas emissions may be regulated by the E.P.A. under the Clean Air Act of 1970 if the agency found they are pollutants constituting a threat to the public’s health and welfare. Ms. Jackson said the 2007 ruling was “perhaps the most significant decision ever reached in environmental law.”
“By taking action and finalizing the endangerment finding on greenhouse gas pollution, we have been authorized and obligated to take reasonable efforts to reduce greenhouse pollutants under the Clean Air Act,” Ms. Jackson said. She added the E.P.A. would take “meaningful, commonsense steps to reduce emissions for better health, drive technology innovation for a better economy and protect the environment for a better future, all without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the better part of our economy.”
Ms. Jackson also pointed to the E.P.A.’s announcement in September that it will require the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the United States to report their emissions beginning in January 2010, effectively creating a greenhouse gas registry. She said this was the first step toward greenhouse gas emission reductions.
“We will know with accuracy how much greenhouse gas each large facility is emitting and where energy efficiency investments and new technologies may be particularly effective at reducing greenhouse gases,” she said.
Ms. Jackson added that a week after the announcement of the greenhouse gas emissions reporting requirements, she signed a proposed rule requiring the best available greenhouse gas emission
controls on large facilities being constructed or modified.
“That will help control greenhouse gas emissions from sectors that account for nearly 70% of our non-vehicle emissions,” Ms. Jackson said. “And the results won’t just be emissions cuts. We will also promote emerging innovations and accelerate the use of efficient, clean technologies in the United States and around the world.”
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in a Dec. 15 address before the climate change conference emphasized agriculture should be viewed not only as a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions but as part of the solution to the problem.
”It is important for us to realize that agriculture has tremendous capacity to not only limit its greenhouse gas emissions but to act as a carbon sink,” Mr. Vilsack said.
Mr. Vilsack pointed to the climate change legislation passed by the House of Representatives that would establish a cap-and-trade mechanism to reduce nonagricultural greenhouse gas emissions while creating “a market for carbon offsets that can be sold by America’s farmers, ranchers and landowners to businesses that are large carbon emitters.”
While the Senate was yet to act on climate change legislation, Mr. Vilsack was able to announce in Copenhagen what he termed a historic agreement with the U.S. dairy industry to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions (see Page 32).
Mr. Vilsack said under the agreement the U.S. dairy industry committed to a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020. This primarily will be accomplished at the farm level through the installation of anaerobic digesters that generate electricity from manure, a major source of greenhouse gas, although all links in the dairy chain from farm to store will be part of the effort.
The U.S.D.A. will support the goal through modifications and enhancements of existing programs and better marketing of anaerobic digesters to dairymen. The U.S.D.A. currently operates programs that support installation of anaerobic digesters, but fewer than 150 have been funded to date.
To accelerate progress, the U.S.D.A. under the agreement said it will seek to provide anaerobic digester projects with a higher ranking in the competitive applications process and adjust the timing of program awards to better match construction seasons and reduce the time needed to get digesters completed. The department also will cooperate with the dairy industry to mount a major outreach effort to ensure dairy producers are aware of opportunities and benefits associated with greenhouse gas reduction practices on their farms, and step up research efforts to develop additional ways greenhouse gas emissions associated with dairies may be reduced.