Obama Climate Goal Riding on New Truck, Aircraft Proposals

(Bloomberg) — The Obama administration is adding crucial

elements to its campaign against climate change this month with

proposals to limit carbon emissions from trucks and aircraft,

two of the heaviest fuel users.

Following earlier rules to boost the mileage of cars and

cut use of coal to make electricity, the initiatives on tractor-trailers and airplanes are key to reaching President Barack Obama’s pledge to cut emissions by 26 percent by 2025,

researchers say.

It also lays the groundwork for United Nations climate

negotiations set to conclude in Paris this December.

“They appear to be moving on all fronts,” said Karl Hausker, who wrote a report for the World Resources Institute on

how the U.S. could achieve the goal. “We’re confident they can

meet it. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.”

In contrast to his first term, when he sidelined climate

concerns in favor of an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy,

Obama now says combating climate change is a top priority.

Setting efficiency rules for automobiles and small trucks, to

raise the average mileage to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, was

the major effort early in his tenure. The Environmental

Protection Agency’s plan to curb emissions from power plants is

the centerpiece of the second-term agenda.

The EPA also is preparing rules to cut methane leaks from

oil and gas drilling, and switch out the use of climate-harming


Biggest Share

An analysis by Hausker and four colleagues shows power-plant emissions, which have fallen 15 percent from their 2005

peak, will account for the biggest share of the reductions in

the next decade because of the EPA rules and state renewable

standards. They said EPA’s rules could be tightened further to

achieve additional carbon reductions.

While that’s unlikely because the final rule is scheduled

to come out this summer, the changes for trucks and aircraft are

meaningful, too, and don’t come with the organized industry

resistance that the EPA is facing on its power-plant standard.

Truck and aircraft makers have been working with the

administration on how it can structure its plans.

For trucks, environmental groups are pushing Obama to set

fuel-economy improvements of 40 percent from 2010, a goal they

say is both technologically feasible and long overdue because

tractor-trailers average 6 miles for every gallon of diesel.

That change alone could cut U.S. oil use by 1.4 million barrels

a day and eliminate more than twice the greenhouse gases emitted

by New Jersey each year, according to the Sierra Club.

‘Come Close’

“They are looking to be as stringent as they can be,”

said Sam Ori, executive director at the University of Chicago’s

Energy Policy Center. “I’m optimistic that they are going to

come close” to the cuts environmental groups say are feasible.

For airplanes, the EPA on Wednesday proposed finding that

carbon emissions from the industry endangers health and the

environment. Along with that proposal, it issued a preliminary

query about how it might make aircraft more fuel efficient. The

administration said it plans to develop its rules in tandem with

international negotiations on this issue.

“They want to send a signal to the rest of the world that

they will do something,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe

Climate Campaign. International negotiations on aircraft

emissions are scheduled to wrap up next year.

Global Emissions

The agency said U.S. planes account for 11 percent of

greenhouse gases from U.S. transportation activity and 29

percent from all aircraft globally. The EPA said a final rule on

aircraft isn’t likely until 2018.

Critics say Obama’s 26 percent pledge, made during United

Nations talks on a global climate-change treaty, can’t be

achieved without Congress mandating larger changes to the U.S.

economy. With Republican control of the House and Senate, and

continued congressional criticism of the EPA’s efforts, any new

climate legislation is unlikely.

“I’m quite confident that they have no way to get there,”

said Jeff Holmstead, an EPA official in the Bush administration

and now an industry lawyer at Bracewell & Giuliani in

Washington. Even with new aircraft and truck rules, “I don’t

think it even gets us close.”

Obama Successor

White House officials haven’t laid out exactly how they

plans to achieve the target in 2025, nearly a decade after Obama

leaves office. Much of the hard work of implementing these rules

will fall to his successor, who may not share his fervor for

this issue — and may oppose it altogether.

Obama is putting a focus on the UN negotiations with 190

governments that are scheduled to wrap up in Paris with an

agreement on how each nation will tackle the issue in 2020 and


The U.S. promised to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 26

percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. U.S. emissions

are already down more than 10 percent from 2005, although the

independent Energy Information Administration predicts emissions

will increase, not fall, in the next decade.

The majority of reductions in the EPA’s power-plant rule

comes from replacing coal to generate electricity with natural

gas, made cheap by the fracking boom. Additional reductions must

come from cutting methane leaks in those gas production and

delivery systems, and using refrigerants that don’t rely on

hydrofluorocarbons, according to Hausker’s paper.

Rules on methane and refrigerants could be issued this

summer, said David Doniger, director of the climate program at

the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“It’s the summer of climate action,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story:

Mark Drajem in Washington at


To contact the editors responsible for this story:

Jon Morgan at


Steve Geimann

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