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Climate Change: Federal Laws and Policies Related to Greenhouse Gas Reductions

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Publication Date: December 2008

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL31931

Topic: Environment (Weather and climate)


Climate change is generally viewed as a global issue, but proposed responses generally require action at the national level. In 1992, the United States ratified the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which called on industrialized countries to take the lead in reducing greenhouse gases. During the past decade, a variety of voluntary and regulatory actions have been proposed or undertaken in the United States, including monitoring of electric utility carbon dioxide emissions, improved appliance efficiency, and incentives for developing renewable energy sources. This report provides background on the evolution of U.S. climate change policy, from ratification of the UNFCCC to the Bush Administration's 2001 rejection of the Kyoto Protocol to the present. The report focuses on major regulatory programs that monitor or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, along with their estimated effect on emissions levels. In addition, legislation in the 109th Congress calling for monitoring or reducing greenhouse gas emissions is identified and examined.

The earlier Bush, Clinton, and current Bush Administrations have largely relied on voluntary initiatives to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. This focus is particularly evident in the current Administration's 2002 Climate Action Report (CAR), submitted under the provisions of the UNFCCC. Of the 50-plus programs summarized in the 2002 CAR, 6 are described as "regulatory." However, this small subset of the total U.S. effort accounts for a large share of greenhouse gas emission reductions achieved over the past decade. In general, these efforts were established and implemented in response to concerns other than climate change, such as energy efficiency and air quality.

Proposals to advance regulatory or market-oriented programs that reduce greenhouse gases have been discussed in the 109th Congress. These efforts have generally followed one of three tracks. The first would improve the monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions as a basis for research and development and any future reduction scheme. The second would enact a market-oriented greenhouse gas reduction program along the lines of the current acid rain reduction program established by the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. The third would enact energy and related programs, such as appliance efficiency standards, that would also have the effect of reducing greenhouse gases.

Omnibus energy legislation in the 109th and earlier Congresses has included provisions indirectly related to greenhouse gas emissions, such as energy efficiency and renewable energy. Other legislation has been introduced to establish mandatory emissions reductions, create mandatory or voluntary emissions registries, tighten efficiency standards for appliances and automobiles, and establish requirements for the use of renewable energy. This report will be updated as events warrant.