Cleaner Air Will Require Tougher Diplomacy

Article excerpt


President Obama's major focus on climate change in his inaugural speech and his nomination as secretary of state of Sen. John F. Kerry, a strong advocate of combatting climate change and sponsor of related legislation, raises the question about what the administration wants to do to counter global warming beyond the very significant greenhouse gas reductions that are now already under way in the U.S.

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation have launched several major pollution-control measures that will produce very significant reductions in greenhouse gases even though those gases are not the primary target of the regulations.

One example is the EPA's stationary source air toxic (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) rules for electricity generation with the aim of switching from coal to natural gas and reducing three sets of pollutants - air toxins, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Another example is the Department of Transportation-EPA auto efficiency rules just made final a few months ago, intended both to reduce reliance on use of oil for security reasons and to reduce CO2.

These actions come on top of the fracking/horizontal drilling revolution that has transformed U.S. energy production to make America one of the world's largest producers of natural gas, which has a much lower CO2 profile than coal. In part because natural gas is priced lower than coal at the moment and in part because of some of the regulations noted above, the U.S. has in the last year reduced greenhouse gases by a much wider margin than any other developed country. It has also essentially met the target set at Copenhagen - the site of the last major international climate change meeting - for CO2 reductions by developed countries.

This raises an interesting but unreported fact about America's net greenhouse gas emissions: the massive and unprecedented reforestation of the eastern half of the U.S. over the last century has operated as a huge carbon sink. No one has publicly run the numbers, but this reforestation may have offset a great deal of U.S. greenhouse gas output over those decades. …