Chamber, Other Groups Dispute U.S. Ability to Make Good on 2025 Emissions Pledge

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By Dean Scott

April 15 — A U.S. Chamber of Commerce representative and other critics of President Barack Obama's climate agenda told a House panel they're skeptical the U.S. can make good on its pledge to cut greenhouse gases up to 28 percent over the next decade.

“The math just doesn't add up,” Karen Harbert, who heads the chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee April 15, noting that just-released U.S. figures show emissions increased in 2013.

Judith Curry, professor of the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, also took issue with what she called “rather extreme statements” from the Obama administration linking rising temperatures to severe weather events across the U.S.

But Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said the hearing demonstrated Republicans are continuing to ignore mounting scientific evidence that rising global emissions pose a significant threat.

“Welcome to the Science Committee—the last place on the planet where we question whether climate change is being caused by human activity,” she said.

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) held the hearing largely to dispute whether Obama's 2014 pledge—offered to spur global action toward getting a final climate deal at an end-of-year summit in Paris—is justified given what Republicans argue is significant uncertainty in climate science.

But it also coincided with the most recent tally of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency, which showed U.S. emissions increasing, up 2 percent in 2013 from the year before. In its April 15 release, the EPA attributed the increase to multiple factors, including an uptick in emissions from electricity generation; increased vehicle miles; and increased emissions from the industrial sector.

A Decline From 2005 Levels

The EPA also noted that total emissions are still down 9 percent since 2005.

The U.S. pledge toward the international climate accord—announced in November 2014 and formally submitted to the United Nations on March 31—is to cut its emissions 26 percent to 28 percent from that 2005 baseline, by 2025.

The U.S. in its formal submission also said it would make its “best efforts” to hit the higher end of that range.

EPA's final 2013 figures are essentially unchanged from its draft emissions inventory estimates released in February.

But Jake Schmidt, the Natural Resources Defense Council's international program director, said Obama actions including carbon pollution limits and increased vehicle and appliance efficiency standards are putting the U.S. on a path to meet the 26-28 percent reduction level. “New acts of Congress may be needed in the long-term, but the U.S. can take a big bite out of its climate pollution using the laws already on the books,” Schmidt told the committee. He noted that groups including the World Resources Institute have found that cuts that deep are in fact “achievable under existing laws.”

Multiple U.S. and international studies predict that increased emissions linked to rising temperatures will bring increasingly severe weather events, storm surges, drought, and reduced crop yields in the U.S., Schmidt said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com