WASHINGTON – A U.S. Chamber of Commerce official told a Senate committee that the Obama administration’s goal to substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years is unachievable given current technology and the unstable situation is creating problems for the nation’s business community.
Stephen D. Eule, vice president of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, a Chamber affiliate, appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and told lawmakers that it is “difficult to see how the administration proposes to sell such an unrealistic, bare-bones plan” given the unresolved questions and the lawsuits filed to halt implementation.
“The legal limbo the administration’s actions have created will have real consequences for business as it tries to plan for the future,” Eule said.
President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency have set a goal to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent from established 2005 emission levels by 2025. The plan, Eule said, “raises more questions than it answers.”
“Nowhere does it explain how the administration intends to achieve the unrealistic goals it has set out,” he said. “In the absence of a detailed explanation of how the administration intends to meet the goal, the Congress, foreign governments and stakeholders here and abroad have no basis on which to assess its cost or achievability.”
“So how does the U.S. commitment add up?” Eule asked rhetorically. “It does not.”
Obama is slated to travel to Paris in less than two weeks for the United Nations’ 21st session of the Conference of Parties, where he is looking to negotiate with other world leaders over a new international agreement requiring countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He is hoping the steps taken by his own administration will convince others to join in.
But Eule asserted that “an air of unreality hangs over these negotiations that over time has led to unreasonable expectations about what countries will be able to deliver — including expectations about national greenhouse gas emissions goals, technology readiness and commercial adoption, financial assistance, technology transfer, intellectual property, and loss and damage payments, issues that are among the most contentious in the international negotiations.”
The administration has been active on the regulatory front, issuing, among other new rules, the controversial Clean Power Plan primarily aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. The initiative has attracted strong rebuke from officials in the nation’s coal states and lawsuits have been filed to stop it.
Despite all of the administration’s clean air initiatives, including higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and heavy trucks, Eule said studies establish the administration will fall 45 percent short of its 2025 goal. Therefore, in order to meet the mark, the EPA will have to impose even stricter emissions standards, likely hitting industries like oil refineries and iron and steel mills.
Regardless, the administration’s clean air rules are being challenged by the states and Congress. The Republican-controlled Senate has passed legislation seeking to overturn the EPA’s new carbon restrictions and the GOP House is expected to follow suit in the near future. The president is expected to veto the package but the situation certainly won’t boost his clean-air agenda at the Paris talks.
“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,” Eule said. “The legal limbo the administration’s actions have created will have real consequences for business as it tries to plan for the future.”
There are other issues. Eule said developed countries alone can’t reduce global emissions – all countries must participate. But developing countries “have been reticent to take on any substantial because economic development remains their priority. Paris is supposed to be the first agreement that would bring developing countries into the fold as full partners.”
“In many developing countries, providing citizens with energy services is a much more pressing need than addressing climate change,” he said. “It is a simple fact that much of the energy needed to power economic growth will likely be supplied by fossil fuels. Many developing countries have large resources of coal, natural gas, and oil, and it would be unrealistic to expect them not to use it.”
Therefore, Eule added, the development of technology and its commercial adoption “are among the most important factors determining how quickly and at what cost greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.” Advanced technologies can limit the environmental impact of fossil fuels, reduce demand through greater efficiencies and offer alternatives.
“Existing technologies can make a start, but they are not capable of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale and at an acceptable cost,” Eule said. “New, and in some cases revolutionary, energy technologies, many still years if not decades over the horizon, will have to be developed and adopted commercially along with the infrastructure to support them. But there is a great deal of uncertainty about how fast, or even if, these technologies will progress.”
Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, offered lawmakers a more optimistic view of clean energy and expectations at the Paris talks. She said members of her organization view climate change negotiations as “a valuable forum to share knowledge on policy frameworks and to help to inform the policy choices of countries looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deploy clean energy options.”
The organization also views the international climate change negotiations as “important signals to the market that countries are serious about investing in low-carbon solutions. These signals will serve to reduce the uncertainty that can stall private sector investment. The scope and scale of the intended nationally-determined commitments of 161 countries under consideration at COP 21, will also spur investment and advance low-carbon investments trends that are already occurring.”
The federal government’s leadership in the process, Jacobson said, “increases the ambition of other nations and helps showcase US technology innovations and policy frameworks.”
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee chairman and a skeptic regarding reducing greenhouse gases to address global climate change, asserted that if Obama wants to achieve anything of substance at the Paris talks “there is no way around the Senate” since lawmakers will have to approve the price tag. If he hopes to bypass Congress, “then he will be limited to making a non-binding, political commitment with no means of enforcement, accountability, or longevity.”
The Obama administration, Inhofe said, has shown that when it comes to the environment “political perceptions carry more merit than any expert assessments, especially when they include technical or economic inconveniences.”
“Beyond diplomatic grand-standing and a few good press releases, the only certain outcome of the Paris negotiations is increased global CO2 emissions,” Inhofe said.
“I, along with my Republican colleagues, am not willing to let him or any other United Nations bureaucrat circumvent the Constitution in an attempt to imbed climate change policies whose net effect will do nothing more than undermine America’s outlook for success,” he vowed.