The Climate Travesty Unfolding Before Our Eyes

An abstract image of cars on the road, an oil derrick, and a smokestack.

By David J. Hayes
December 19, 2019

We know what we need to do to tackle climate change. It’s straightforward. We need to reduce the harmful carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are causing climate change. We can do this by reducing emissions from existing sources, and by incentivizing the transition of our energy sector away from fossil fuels and toward more low-carbon fuel sources, like wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear.

Luckily, our nation is well positioned to reduce climate pollution. We can significantly reduce carbon dioxide and methane emissions by focusing on three major sectors that account for nearly half of all U.S. GHG emissions. Based on work begun in the prior administration, there are clear regulatory pathways for doing so:

  • For cars and trucks, it’s staying on course to improve gas mileage, applying tailpipe standards that the auto industry already has committed to meet;
  • For the power industry, it’s requiring significant reductions of carbon dioxide pollution, taking full advantage of the power industry’s transition toward clean energy resources; and
  • For the oil and gas industry, it’s finding and fixing gas leaks and ending wasteful venting and flaring practices — regulatory requirements that major oil and gas companies are on record as favoring.

Now for the travesty. Even though the path to achieve emissions reductions from these industries is clear, and despite the Clean Air Act’s requirement that EPA reduce those emissions (based on the agency’s court-confirmed finding that GHG emissions from these sectors endanger public health and welfare), the EPA is moving in the opposite direction: the Trump administration is trying to put new rules in place that will increase emissions from the largest climate-polluting sources in the U.S.

The Trump administration is defiantly removing existing restrictions on GHG emissions, and inviting the automobile, coal and oil and gas industries to ramp up the already-huge quantities of climate-disrupting pollutants they are spewing into the air. Rather than dialing down climate pollution from our nation's largest sources, as the law requires, the EPA is purposefully dialing it up.
State attorneys general are fighting on all fronts to stop the administration's new climate rules from going into effect. A large coalition of attorneys general has sued to overturn the administration's new power sector rule. Attorneys general also are in court challenging revocation of the California waiver, and they are poised to challenge the car rule rollback, and the expected removal of restrictions on oil and gas methane emissions, when those rules go final.
Still, it is a travesty. Our nation cannot afford to stand still. We are losing irretrievable time and resources in the fight against climate change. It is our government's responsibility to reduce climate pollution, not make the problem worse.

David J. Hayes is a nationally recognized environmental, energy and natural resources lawyer who leads the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center.