House Science Panel Examines Obama UN Climate Pledge

by Marlo Lewis on April 15, 2015

in Blog

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The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee today held a hearing on The President’s UN Climate Pledge–Scientifically Justified or a New Tax on Americans? In diplomatic lingo, the hearing focused on the administration’s “Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution” (INDC) for the December 2015 COP 21 climate conference in Paris. The administration is pledging to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Four experts testified:

  • Dr. Judith Curry, Professor Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Hon. Karen Harbert, President and CEO, Institute for 21st Century Energy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • Mr. Jake Schmidt, Director International Programs, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Dr. Margo Thorning, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, American Council on Capital Formation

All the testimonies have summaries, so there’s no need here for an overview. Certain facts and insights presented by the majority witnesses, though, are noteworthy.

Opponents often point out that EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of the administration’s climate policies, is all pain for no gain, imposing multi-billion dollar costs while hypothetically averting less than 0.02°C of global warming and 0.1 inch of sea-level rise by 2100. Curry notes that all the emission reductions in the administration’s INDC would avert only 0.03ºC of warming by 2100, according to EPA’s MAGICC model. And “If climate models are indeed running too hot, then the amount of warming prevented would be even smaller.”

The stock rejoinder is that if America leads other nations will follow, and a truly global climate treaty will produce substantial warming mitigation. Curry counters that even if the treaty achieves the UN IPCC’s most aggressive emission-reduction scenario, called RCP2.6, and even assuming the accuracy of IPCC models that increasingly overshoot observed warming, “the impact on the climate would not be noticeable until the 2nd half of the 21st century.” Thus, “It is not clear exactly what the INDC commitments are expected to accomplish.” In the graph below, RCP8.5 is the ‘business-as-usual’ emissions scenario. The model-estimated range of warming projections in RCP8.5 significantly overlaps the range of warming projections in RCP2.6 from 2010 through 2050.

IPCC Representative Concentration Pathways




Every EPA climate policy regulation would have been dead on arrival had its requirements been submitted to Congress in the form of proposed legislation. Do EPA’s current, proposed, and announced climate rules suffice to meet the INDC, or will additional end-runs around Congress be required?

U.S. Chamber analysis finds that the known EPA climate regulatory agenda falls considerably short of the INDC, Harbert reports. To reduce U.S. carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2-eq.) emissions 28% below 2005 levels, emissions must fall by 1,212 million metric tons (MMT) below 2013 levels:

According to EPA’s most recent greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, net GHG emissions—which include sinks (e.g., removals of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by forest growth)—were 6,455 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2 eq.) in 2005 and 5,860 MMTCO2 eq. in 2013. To achieve a 28% reduction by 2025, emissions would have to drop by a total of 1,808 MMTCO2 eq. from the 2005 level, or 1,212 MMTCO2 from the 2013 level, to meet the 28% goal (Figure 1).

INDC US targets







The Clean Power Plan gets us less than half the way there, reducing power-sector emissions by an EPA-estimated 500 MMTCO2 in 2025. EPA will also attempt to mitigate climate change through “automobile efficiency standards and new standards for heavy trucks, regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas operations, appliance efficiency standards, voluntary measures to reduce hydro-fluorocarbons under EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy program, and programs to enhance carbon sinks through land use management.” Nonetheless, Harbert contends, the CPP combined with those other policies would likely achieve no more than 700 MMTCO2 in reductions, “leaving between 500 and 600 MMTCO2 eq. of the administration’s commitment—or about 40% of necessary reductions—still unidentified.” So expect more EPA regulation without representation–at least while Obama is in office.

Harbert confirms this blog’s assessment that administration climate negotiators are bargaining with chips they don’t have, because the CPP–the biggest single portion of the INDC–is unlawful in multiple ways and likely to be struck down. She writes:

It is difficult to see how this plan can be sold to the international community much less to constituencies here at home, especially given the uncertain legal foundation upon which the centerpiece of the INDC, EPA’s Clean Power Plan, rests. In its Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA ruling, the Supreme Court warned the EPA that, “When an agency claims to discover in a long extant statute an unheralded power to regulate ‘a significant portion of the American economy,’ we typically greet its announcement with a measure of skepticism. We expect Congress to speak clearly if it wishes to assign to an agency decisions of vast ‘economic and political significance’” [citations omitted]. What EPA has proposed in using a little-used provision of the Clean Air Act to redesign fundamentally the electricity markets of the entire United States is exactly the type of regulatory extremism the Supreme Court cautioned against. As a result, at least 32 states have warned EPA that its rulemaking suffers from fundamental legal shortcomings. In 28 of these states, the warnings have come directly from governors and/or attorneys general.

The same holds for whatever promises Obama negotiators make to provide billions in climate assistance:

Further, because the Obama Administration has decided to defy Congress and implement its climate plan through executive action, nothing it commits to at Paris, including the promise of billions of dollars in financial assistance, will be legally binding on any future administration, something other countries are beginning to notice. The legal limbo the administration’s actions have created will have real consequences for business as it tries to plan for the future.

Indeed, Obama is attempting a double bluff. After using the unlawful CPP and dubious foreign aid pledges to leverage INDC commitments from other nations, he will use the climate negotiations to claim international standing for his domestic climate agenda–even as he declines to submit the agreement to a Senate vote on ratification. This strategy may well be too clever by half.

Many skeptics and free-marketers are content to ‘just say no’ to greenhouse gas regulations that are unlawful, depend on implausible doomsday scenarios for their justification, and/or fail reasonable cost-benefit tests. Others feel comfortable saying no only if opponents offer alternative ways to address “the problem.” Thorning discusses two ‘supply-side’ options that would reduce emissions growth by removing political impediments to economic growth:

  • Replace the income tax with a consumption tax that allows full expensing (first year write off) for all new investment and caps corporate tax rates at 30% (the U.S. corporate tax rate today is 40%). Those changes would reduce the cost of capital by 20%, facilitating investment in newer, cleaner, more efficient technologies that emit less CO2 per unit of energy or per unit of output.
  • Expedite approvals of liquefied natural gas exports. Not only would increased LNG sales boost U.S. investment, job creation, and GDP growth, it would also “improve trends in global GHG emissions. The use of natural gas for power generation in the U.S. has already slowed the growth of carbon emissions, by displacing coal in the U.S. Exporting LNG could provide the same benefit around the world.”


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