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The White House Is Quietly Discussing How Much The U.S. Should Cut Carbon Pollution After 2020

By Jeff Spross on February 12, 2014 at 3:25 pm

"The White House Is Quietly Discussing How Much The U.S. Should Cut Carbon Pollution After 2020"

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CREDIT: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

Since 2013, the White House has been quietly discussing reduction targets for America’s carbon emissions beyond 2020, E&E News reports.

The talks have involved at least three interagency meetings so far, and were kicked off by internal conversations between U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern’s office and the White House. The initial goal was to allow Stern to publicly confirm at last year’s international climate talks in Warsaw that the US has a post-2020 process underway. Now, the hope is to build momentum for countries to formerly unveil their carbon reduction targets in the run-up to the next round of international climate talks in 2015.

But as President Obama recently acknowledged, the credibility to make that push will depend on finalizing regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s new and existing power plants. Because those rules are still being written, the interagency talks have occurred without fanfare so far. Republicans have also bitterly opposed the rules, and the State Department reportedly felt 2014 was too close to the November elections to take the discussions public.

The White House’s current target is a 17 percent cut in carbon emissions from their 2005 level by 2020 — that was the goal of 2009′s doomed cap-and-trade bill, and what the White House pledged to the United Nations in 2010.

Once the emissions rules for power plants are in place, and combined with new regulations of hydrofluorocarbons, methane, and vehicle efficiency standards, among other things, the Obama administration believes the country can hit that goal.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

CREDIT: U.S. State Dept. / 2014 Climate Action Report

The current discussions are focused on whether the country’s next hard target should be set in 2025 or 2030. The compromise position seems to be coalescing around a binding goal for 2025, and an aspirational or “indicative” target for 2030.

In 2010, the National Research Council — the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering — offered an assessment of long-term climate goals at the request of Congress. Their conclusion was that by 2050, America should aim to cut its carbon emissions between 50 to 80 percent cut below 1990 levels.

A 50 percent cut would more or less maintain the reduction rate of the 2020 goal; the 80 percent cut would require speeding up the pace of reductions significantly.

Republicans contacted by E&E News denounced the discussions as further evidence of economically destructive “red tape” the President is “ramming down the throats of the American people.” The evidence that previous environmental regulations harmed the economy is scant-to-nonexistent, however. And several years ago, the Supreme Court determined the executive branch had the authority to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.

According to E&E News, White House officials involved in the talks are considering “maximum ambition” in crafting the post-2020 targets.

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