• United States: Federal Efforts to Address Climate Change Outside the Power Sector
  • February 18, 2015
  • Law Firm: Dentons Canada LLP - Toronto Office
  • Regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the power sector has been the main focus of federal climate efforts in the first half of 2014. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently extended the comment period on its Clean Power Plant proposal for existing plants until December 1, 2014, and will be working on finalizing that and a new source rule for 2016. At the same time, the Obama Administration has recently taken significant steps as part of the President's Climate Action Plan to address climate change and its impacts more comprehensively. By combining regulation, voluntary efforts and partnerships with the private and public sectors, the Administration is seeking to prepare for and respond to climate impacts while exploring additional opportunities to reduce emissions. Below is a short summary of some of these actions.

    Presidential actions and commitments

    • International positioning. In September 2014, the President spoke at the first climate summit to be held at the United Nations, where he highlighted recent federal actions and proposals to reduce GHG emissions and reaffirmed his commitment to addressing climate change at domestic and international levels. The President called on other leading emitting nations to show the same commitment. The President stated the US would announce a target for a new international agreement within a year and urged other countries to do the same. The President also released an executive order directing all federal agencies to factor climate change resilience into their international development programs and investments by evaluating climate-based risks and vulnerabilities in their strategies, plans and programs.
    • Federal efforts to build resiliency. In early October 2014, the White House released the Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda, a plan to protect federal lands, forests and ecosystems from the impacts of climate change, including forest fires, invasive species and changing weather patterns, and to preserve the ability of these lands to sequester carbon. The plan combines efforts of federal agencies, tribes and the private sector to assist in the management of federal lands and natural resources, community planning, preparedness and resiliency efforts. In addition, in July, the President announced a series of programs aimed at improving the government's response to climate change as part of his focus on replacing aging infrastructure.

    Climate-related agency regulations and programs

    • Issuance of permits for carbon sequestration. EPA has issued its first permits for carbon capture and storage projects under the Safe Drinking Water Act's underground injection control program, which should help EPA in its proposed rule requiring carbon capture and storage technology for new coal-fired plants These "Class VI" wells authorize permits for long-term storage of CO2, conditioned upon extensive monitoring and proof of financial responsibility requirements.
    • Methane emissions from oil and gas sectors. EPA continues to consider whether to implement voluntary measures or issue regulations (or both) to address methane leaks from oil and gas production. Last spring, EPA issued a series of white papers on methane emissions from various aspects of the development and production process which will likely serve as a basis for an agency determination as to whether to set regulations addressing methane emissions from these sources. EPA plans to complete its strategy by fall 2014, but there is no specific deadline for it to do so. Studies have varied over the level of methane leaks and emissions from oil and gas production but any impacts from methane leaks can be significant, given methane's high global warming potential.
    • Regulation of other GHGs. In September 2014, the White House announced a joint program with producers of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), refrigerants which were designed as substitutes for ozone-depleting chemicals but have significant climate change impacts. The White House issued an executive order reducing the use of HFCs by federal agencies and committed to funding research and development of alternatives. Industry committed to invest $5 billion to develop new refrigerant technologies and to increase efficiencies. Several large producers also committed to reducing the use of HFCs and developing alternatives. The US has tried for several years to seek international agreement to phase out HFCs.
    • GHG reductions from aviation. As part of international discussions over GHG regulation of the aviation industry, EPA recently released a regulatory roadmap, committing to consider whether aircraft GHG emissions endanger public health or welfare, a prelude to potential regulation under the Clean Air Act EPA announced it would release such an "endangerment finding" proposal by late April 2015, and finalize it a year later.