Use Carbon Policies to Cut Energy Use and Power Plant Pollution

Energy efficiency is one of the most effective ways to address climate change and limit dependence on power plants, which are America’s largest source of climate-warming emissions.

NRDC is working with local, state, and federal officials to ensure that energy efficiency plays a key role in reducing carbon pollution from the power sector, which account for 40 percent of U.S. emissions. Numerous states and the federal government have acted to limit carbon pollution from the power sector. In 2005, nine states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic joined together in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which NRDC helped develop. A year later, California imposed economy-wide carbon pollution standards as part of the state’s landmark legislation to address its contribution to climate change.

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Both California and the RGGI states use clean energy solutions like energy efficiency programs and upgraded building codes to help drive down emissions from the power sector. The RGGI states have integrated clean energy with their carbon pollution limits by auctioning permits to emit carbon dioxide and funneling the revenue primarily into energy efficiency programs. The RGGI states invested around $790 million of auction revenue into energy efficiency programs between 2009 and 2014, an investment that will reduce customer energy bills by $3.62 billion.

At the national level, NRDC led the charge to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use the Clean Air Act—the nation’s bedrock environmental law—to tackle carbon pollution. In 2015, the EPA established the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants with its Clean Power Plan. As with the RGGI states and California, NRDC succeeded in ensuring that energy efficiency could be integrated as a means of reducing power sector emissions and complying with the Clean Power Plan pollution limits.

With the election of Donald Trump and ongoing litigation, the future of the Clean Power Plan is uncertain. But whatever happens in the near term, carbon pollution standards are inevitable. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that the EPA must address dangerous carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. And when national standards go into effect, NRDC will continue to work to ensure that energy efficiency is fully deployed to help achieve these emissions reductions at low cost.