Obama Urged to Be ‘Go-Getter’ on Climate Change

President Barack Obama can only deliver on a pledge to curb greenhouse-gas emissions by adopting a “go-getter” strategy to push rules on power plants, appliances and gas drilling, according to a new report.

The World Resources Institute said that by 2020, federal and state regulation may cut carbon-dioxide pollution by 17 percent from 2005, though it said reductions won’t happen without a determined effort for strong rules by regulators.

“The U.S. is not yet on track to meet its target,” said Nicholas Bianco, an author of the report released today. “There are tools the administration could use to make” it, he said.

The independent research group, based in Washington, two years ago outlined steps the U.S. should take to achieve cuts in carbon dioxide without action from Congress, a report released as lawmakers abandoned efforts to pass cap-and-trade legislation. Today’s report updates those findings to reflect changes in U.S. energy use, with more power coming from natural gas and renewable sources and less from carbon-heavy coal.

Those market changes are insufficient to reduce greenhouse gases to meet either the 2020 or longer-term goals, Bianco said. Without new rules, emissions will remain basically unchanged for the next two decades, according to the report.

The group highlights steps the Obama administration can take, and labels the different actions as lackluster, middle-of-the-road or go-getter. Only under the go-getter scenarios would the U.S. achieve the 17 percent goal, it said.

Different Tone

This report differs in tone from a similar analysis by Dallas Burtraw, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, in Washington. In a paper he wrote last year, he said the U.S. is on track to meet its pledge to cut emissions. While Burtraw also estimated that much of the reductions are tied to regulations that the EPA hasn’t yet issued for existing power plants and refineries, he emphasized the progress the U.S. is making.

Obama and Democrats in Congress pushed legislation in 2009 and 2010 to cap the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and manufacturers, and set up a system to trade for offsets. After it stalled in the Senate, environmental groups urged the administration to use its regulatory powers to reach those same goals.

The World Resources Institute also said the federal government should set rules to curb the use of some refrigerants, limit leaks of methane from oil and gas drilling and set efficiency standards for appliances.

“There have been a lot of encouraging studies that show emissions are on their way down,” Bianco said in an interview. Without new rules “those trends are not expected to continue.”