U.S. Leadership on Carbon Emissions Reduction
July 12, 2019
On July 8, President Trump, several cabinet members, and local community representatives spoke for about an hour to defend the Trump administration’s record on the environment. Some of what the president said was narrowly true, but many of the claims put forth in the speech lacked important context to properly interpret the administration’s record.
Take for example his statement about carbon emissions. The president said, “since 2000, our nation’s energy-related carbon emissions have declined more than any other country on earth” and went on to say that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put forth regulations to reduce carbon emissions in the power and transport sectors. Yes, carbon emissions are down from 2000, but they went up by about 3 percent last year. Yes, the United States reduced emissions faster than any other country on an absolute basis, but we remain the second largest overall emitter and largest per capita emitter in the world. Yes, the EPA has indeed proposed several energy sector emissions regulations, but they will be substantially weaker than earlier proposed standards.
The good news is that a combination of state level policies, market forces, and technological advancements will make up for some of the gap. The graph below compares the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2019 (AEO) against the previous year’s projection, with the blue line showing no additional power sector emissions regulation at the federal level but including new actions taken by states such as California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, as well as changes in fuel prices and technology costs. These actions help to compensate for the emissions reductions that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan would have achieved.
That being said, the emissions trajectory shown in the AEO 2019 is not on track to decline commensurate with our international commitments and what scientists say will be necessary to limit global average temperature rise. More policy leadership is needed to make that happen.