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Stepping Up to Control Climate Super-Pollutants

Vignesh Gowrishankar

Posted May 8, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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U.S. Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA) introduced a bill today that seeks to catalyze the nation’s action on “climate super-pollutants” – non-carbon-dioxide air pollutants with an enormous warming influence on our climate. At the core of the bill is the creation of a Task Force on Super Pollutants, which would review existing policies and programs for controlling the pollutants, then develop and recommend additional measures to mitigate their effects on climate. NRDC believes this bill is a good first step towards controlling harmful super-pollutants.

The bill targets the super-pollutants black carbon, methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and troposhperic (lower-atmospheric) ozone and its precursors. These pollutants are also known as short-lived climate pollutants (or SLCPs), as they have a relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere – a few days to a few decades. (Carbon dioxide, CO2, has a lifetime of a few decades to a couple of centuries.) However, SLCPs’ warming influence on the climate is enormous. For example, pound-for-pound methane is at least 25 times more potent than CO2, and some HFCs are more than 1000 times more potent than CO2!

 Long-term climate warming will largely be due to CO2, and we need to intensify and quicken our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. Apart from this, due to their potency, super-pollutants account for a significant chunk of human-made global warming (at least 15-20 percent). Strong action now on super-pollutants, thus, is necessary to slow the pace of global warming and its adverse effects in the near-term, such as heat waves, droughts, powerful storms, and Arctic ice and glacier melt.

Rep. Peters’ proposed legislation is called the Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction Act of 2013, or simply the SUPER Act. The purpose of the Act is to coordinate and optimize the Federal Government’s existing efforts to combat super-pollutants, and encourage effective, forward-looking efforts to control these super-pollutants in alignment with activities at the state and local levels.

To this end, the Act would establish a Task Force on Super Pollutants to:

  • review existing and potential policies to control super-pollutants, with an eye to streamlining opportunities that would increase efficiency and effectiveness;
  • identify gaps where programs do not exist, and recommend focused programs and activities to fill in such gaps; and
  • develop best practices for reductions of super-pollutants by evaluating cost-effective and high-impact practices, both domestic and international, for controlling super-pollutants.

The Task Force would be required to submit a report to Congress with its findings and recommendations within 18 months of enactment.

Participating on the Task Force would be representatives from key federal agencies, including the Departments of Energy, Interior and Commerce, and the Environmental Protection Agency. It would also include representatives from state and local government, academic and non-governmental organizations, and relevant industry organizations representing sectors such as energy, agriculture, and chemical manufacturing.

NRDC considers the Act to be a positive, timely step in the right direction. The Task Force would provide guidance on super-pollutants on an accelerated timeframe. We hope that the Task Force will take the opportunity to develop robust mandates that will create real emissions reductions. For necessary effects to be felt, agencies and industries would need to act on that guidance as quickly as possible. For more on our current thinking on some of these super-pollutants please go here and here. These super-pollutants need to be controlled super-quickly! 

(co-authored by Meleah Geertsma)

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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