U.S. Climate Action in an Era of Congressional Hostility
Michael Gerrard, the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, gives his take on the implications of the nation's divided Congress.
Increasing political polarization in Congress has stifled actions to confront climate change, at least through a legislative platform, with few signs this trend will change. In light of this harsh reality, Michael Gerrard, the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, laid out the domestic and global implications, at an Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC) seminar on January 7th.
According to Gerrard, increased polarization along party lines corresponds closely with an inability in Congress to pass new legislation that would regulate industries with the greatest carbon footprint, namely coal-fired power plants. In fact, Congress has failed to pass any substantial laws regulating air pollution since the 1970’s Clean Air Act was amended in 1990.
“Today's regulators are working with statues that are at least a quarter century old, many of them going back to the 1970s," said Gerrard, the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia Law School. "We are now stuck by this paralysis."
With Republicans now in control of both the House and Senate, Gerrard offered little hope for change. That means climate regulations will be left up to individual state governments. This is not ideal. Although 29 states have passed their own renewable portfolio standards, it is challenging to gauge the effectiveness of these regulations given their inconsistencies. Furthermore, because of the way the Clean Air Act was originally structured, the Environmental Protection Agency has limited power in directing the implementation and standardization of current regulatory policies at the state level, Gerrard noted.
Gerrard also suggested that Congressional polarity will likely weaken President Obama's position at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. But on a positive note, China – the world's greatest producer of emissions – has recently launched seven pilot cap-and-trade programs targeting carbon-producing industries to reduce in-country air pollution.
"If the [pilot program] is successful it can have a significant global impact," Gerrard said.
Both on a national and global level, Gerrard emphasized that the sooner we reach peak emissions, the better off our planet will be. If we continue without substantial intervention on emissions regulation, current patterns of energy consumption will lead to an estimated rise in global temperature between 3.2 and 5.4 degrees by 2100 – reaching far beyond the 2-degree limit suggested as safe by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.