Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Next Supreme Court Justice Will Be Crucial to Climate Change

A coal-fired power plant on Lake Michigan in northern Indiana. Electric power generation is the United States’ largest emitter of greenhouse gases. (Credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg) Click to Enlarge.
Even as the American delegation in Paris offered to cut emissions to 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by 2025, the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy was offering a different outlook.

Its reference case, based on federal policies on the books at the end of 2014, forecast that emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use (the United States’ main source of greenhouse gases) would not decline but remain flat through 2025 and beyond.

Methane emissions, which account for under 10 percent of greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere but trap much more heat than CO2, could increase 6 percent over the next 10 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  Emissions of highly potent hydrofluorocarbons could increase by half.

What’s more, the carbon storage of American forests, which offset as much as 13 percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, could start declining as early as 2020.

These, of course, are not forecasts but projections.  Emissions could fall faster because of new regulation, technological breakthroughs, changes in land use and the like.  Some of the nation’s most critical policies to combat climate change were passed only last year.  A case in point is the Clean Power Plan, the crown jewel of the lot, which would require states to come up with plans to reduce the CO2 emissions from their electric power plants.

Still, the Supreme Court’s decision last week to delay the plan — until the United States Court of Appeals in Washington decides on the merits of a challenge by 27 mostly Republican-governed states — underscores just how politically vulnerable the United States’ promises truly are.

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