Over the last year, I’ve described a suite of climate policies that can drive the implementation of climate solutions. In September, I described the three distinct types of policies: mandates and standards, subsidies, and carbon pricing. In October, I summarized the Inflation Reduction Act (Congressional legislation passed last August) that relies heavily on subsidies. In November and December, I described carbon dividends and carbon border adjustment, respectively, which — together with carbon pricing — comprise the three elements of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act that the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) advocates. In March, I considered the forests’ ability to remove and store carbon. In May, I focused on building electrification and efficiency. In June, I highlighted the importance of clean energy permit reform.
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA), Healthy Forests, Building Electrification and Efficiency, and Clean Energy Permit Reform are the four elements of the Citizens Climate Lobby legislative agenda. Let’s see how they work together to limit global warming.
Clean Energy Permit Reform will remove some barriers to deploying carbon-free electricity (wind and solar) and transmission lines subsidized by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which is necessary to realize the full effect of the IRA and the EICDA. These benefits are illustrated in the figure (produced by CCL researcher Dana Nuccitelli using Energy Innovation's Energy Policy Simulator). The top curve shows U.S. greenhouse gas emissions with none of the climate policies advocated by CCL in place. Note that the rate of emissions decline through 2030 is only slightly faster than the decline before the IRA’s passage last August. That doesn’t mean the IRA won’t make much difference without permit reform; the past reduction in emissions was mainly due to the replacement of coal production with natural gas (which emits about half as much carbon dioxide to produce the same amount of electricity). That decline has mostly played out: U.S. electricity production by coal has declined from 45% of total production in 2009 to 19% in 2020 and has changed little since.
With permit reform, emissions are projected to decrease by an additional 12% of 2005 emissions by 2030.
Carbon pricing is projected to reduce emissions by another 12% if permit reform is in place. This additional reduction arises because carbon pricing spreads through the entire economy; the IRA only affects the carbon-free products that are subsidized, and does not encourage conservation through reduction in travel or heating with fossil fuels.
CCL's advocacy for Building Electrification and Efficiency is intended to assist the implementation of the IRA. Climate solutions are getting pulled into the national culture wars, so advocacy for heat pumps and electric stoves is needed to overcome loyalty to gas furnaces, water heaters, and stoves. CCL volunteers publicize the generous IRA subsidies (which reduce the upfront costs) and the lower operating costs of electric heating and cooking.
Finally, healthy forests address the other side of the global carbon balance equation: carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. While the ability of trees to store carbon is reduced by losses due to fires and rot, and harvested wood can store carbon for centuries if it’s used to construct well-built homes and buildings, healthy forests provide physical and mental health benefits in addition to removing carbon from the atmosphere. CCL volunteers advocate policies that encourage forest conservation and planting trees in cities.
If these policies are implemented this year, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to decline by 60% from 2005 emissions, exceeding the commitment President Biden made to the international community.
CCL volunteers are leading the advocacy of the policies. I invite you to join us. Even if you don’t, you can still do your part as summarized in the January and April issues of Tumbleweird.
Steve Ghan leads the Tri-Cities Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.