2023 marks a milestone in environmental law as we celebrate 50 years of the Clean Air Act. For five decades, the Environmental Protection Agency has worked to safeguard our nation’s air. “Today our national air quality is the cleanest since we started recording,” said the Principal Deputy Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR). “Emissions of six key pollutants have dropped 77% and the economy has grown 285%, proving that clean air policies and a robust economy can go hand in hand.” Climate change legislation consists of the laws and policies that govern action on climate change by setting its legal basis. A climate law, such as the Clean Air Act, mandates that your state cut its climate-damaging emissions to zero no later than 2050. The strongest laws also have interim targets to ensure goals are reached such as cutting emissions in half by 2030. Let’s review the last 50 years of US law helping the environment as set forth by the government and Presidential actions.
US Climate Law Process
- The Congress of the United States is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
- A member of either chamber can introduce a bill.
- In order for a proposed bill to become law, both Houses must agree on the same versions of the bill.
- Finally, Presidential action is required by signing the bill.
- In the case of rejection from the President, this can be overridden if a two-thirds majority of both chambers vote to do so.
- The EPA has begun to utilize its own existing authority to develop regulations, such as under the Clean Air Act.
Major Climate Laws Promoting Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency
This summary up to the year 2016 was first published on the Climate Home News website.
1960s & 1970s – were major decades for the foundational setting of environmental laws in the United States as outlined in the chart below.
1963 Clean Air Act (celebrating 50 years today!) – A federal law aiming to control air pollution on a national level. It requires the EPA to put in place regulations to protect the general public from exposure to harmful airborne contaminants. The “endangerment finding” of 2009 means the EPA is required to regulate substances according to their greenhouse effect.
2005 Energy Policy Act – Provided $4.3 billion in tax breaks for nuclear power, $2.7 billion to extend the renewable electricity production credit, and $1.6 billion in tax incentives for investment in clean coal facilities. Loan guarantees were granted for innovative technologies such as advanced nuclear reactors and clean coal. The Bill also provided subsidies to wind energy, promoted the competitiveness of geothermal energy in relation to fossil fuels, and allocated $50 million annually to a biomass grant program.
Energy Independence and Security Act – Introduces measures to expand the production of renewable fuels, reduce US dependence on oil and increase energy security. It sets a mandatory Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requiring fuel producers to use at least 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022 and provides incentives for developing renewable energy technologies. The act also includes provisions on lighting: phasing out the use of incandescent light bulbs by 2014 and improving lighting efficiency by more than 70% by 2020.
Executive Order – Demands federal agencies to conduct their transportation and energy-related activities in an environmentally, economically, and financially sound and integrated way.
2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act – Expand the Biorefinery Assistance Program by providing loan guarantees of $320 million for the creation of commercial-scale biorefineries as well as grants to build demonstration-scale biorefineries.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – The Bill authorizes a stimulus package that supports new and existing renewable energy and energy efficiency programs through the allocation of $16.8 billion. In addition, the limitation on the issuance of new clean renewable energy bonds was increased.
Executive Order – Prioritises GHG emission management for federal agencies by establishing reporting requirements with detailed targets and deadlines. The Order focuses on transportation, overall energy use, and procurement policies. All federal agencies are required to develop, implement and annually update a Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan.
Duncan Hunter National Defence Authorisation Act – Authorises defense spending for the fiscal year 2009 and includes several provisions aimed at energy efficiency, renewable energy, and the use of alternative sources of energy within the armed forces. The Act also supports renewable biomass use in biorefineries instead of fossil fuels, as well as creating the Rural Energy for America Programme (REAP). This promotes the use of hydroelectric source technologies.
Executive Order – Improving the nation’s preparedness and resilience for the impacts of climate change. Agencies are required to take a series of steps to make it easier for American communities to strengthen their resilience to climate change. These include strong partnerships and information sharing at all levels of government, and risk-informed decision-making.
Executive Order – Planning for federal sustainability in the next decade. This sets a new target for the federal government’s GHG emissions to be reduced by 40%, and the share of renewable electricity consumed by the federal agencies to increase to 30% by 2025 (compared to 2008).
2015 Clean Power Plan – Developed under the 1963 Clean Air Act, the plan establishes state targets for carbon emissions reductions and offers a flexible framework under which states may achieve those targets. Options for cutting emissions include investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, natural gas, and nuclear power, and shifting away from coal-fired power. The Plan also aims to limit the shift to natural gas and promote renewables in its place.
Electrify Africa Act – Legislates the US initiative and goal to provide access to power for at least 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020, and to enable the installation of an additional 20,000 megawatts of electricity capacity by 2020.
Methane and Waste Prevention Regulation – Aims to reduce natural gas wasted by venting, flaring, and leaks during oil and natural gas production activities on onshore Federal and Indian lands. The objective of the measures is to “help curb waste of natural gas supplies; reduce harmful air pollution, including greenhouse gases; and provide a fair return on public resources for federal taxpayers, Tribes, and States”.
Consolidated Appropriations Act – Renews tax credit programs for wind and solar electricity generation and incorporates a phase-out schedule for these support programs, providing partial stability for the renewable energy market.
As reported by the New York Times which shared studies from both Harvard and Columbia Law Schools, the Trump Presidential Administration rolled back more than 100 environmental rules. Here’s the Full List.
2022 The Inflation Reduction Act– President signs and pledges $369 billion in climate investments over the next decade, with the largest allocation of the funds going to clean energy.
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