Electrify Africa Act ( 2016 )

The law 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. The law supports a broad variety of power generation options, including oil, coal and natural gas, hydroelectric power, wind, solar,…read more

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 ( 2015 )

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, signed into law on 18 December 2015, renews tax credit programs for wind and solar electricity generation and incorporates a phase-out schedule for these support programs, providing some stability for the renewable energy market. The Act extends the “production tax credit” (PTC) for wind facilities provided by the U.S. Internal Revenue…read more

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ( 2009 )

The Bill authorises a stimulus package that supports new and existing renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes. The bill supersedes the tax provisions of the Energy Improvement and Extension Act 2008 as well as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act 2008. The Bill allocated USD16.8bn to energy efficiency and renewable energy programmes. It foresaw…read more

Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2009 – Energy Provisions ( 2008 )

Authorises defence spending for fiscal year 2009 and includes several provisions aimed at energy efficiency, renewable energy and use of alternative sources of energy in the armed forces. The bill requires the Department of Defense (DoD) to consider the use of wind and solar energy for expeditionary forces to reduce the need to deliver fuel…read more

Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (revised 2014) – Title IX-Renewable Energy Provisions ( 2008 )

The Act includes provisions on agricultural subsidies, energy, conservation, nutrition and development. Expands the Biorefinery Assistance Programme by providing loan guarantees (2008–2010) of USD320m for the creation of commercial-scale biorefineries as well as grants to build demonstration-scale biorefineries. Allocates USD55m to support renewable biomass use in biorefineries instead of fossil fuels. Creates the Rural Energy…read more

Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 ( 2007 )

Introduces measures to expand the production of renewable fuels, reduce US dependence on oil, increase energy security and address climate change. Sets a mandatory Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that requires fuel producers to use at least 36bn gallons of biofuel by 2022, and provides incentives for the development of renewable energy technologies (solar, wind, geothermal,…read more

Energy Policy Act 2005 (Energy Bill) ( 2005 )

A statute that provides tax incentives and loan guarantees for energy production of various types. Supersedes the National Energy Plan and is partially superseded by the Energy Independence and Security Act 2007. Provides USD4.3bn tax breaks for nuclear power; USD2.7bn to extend the renewable electricity production credit; and USD1.6bn in tax incentives for investment in…read more

Global Change Research Act of 1990 ( 1990 )

This law established the United States Global Change Research Program, which publishes the United States' National Climate Assessment once every four years. The purpose of the Global Change Research Program is to understand and evaluate risks to the United States that stem from climate change. This law outlines specific criteria according to which the Global Change Research Program…read more

Clean Air Act ( 1963 )

The Clean Air Act is a federal law designed to control air pollution on a national level. It requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and enforce regulations to protect the general public from exposure to airborne contaminants that are known to be hazardous to human health and/or welfare. Congress passed the first Clean…read more

Clean Power Plan ( 2015 )

The Clean Power Plan, developed under the Clean Air Act, sets state targets for carbon emissions reductions, and offers a flexible framework under which states may meet those targets. The aim is to reduce national electricity sector emissions by an estimated 32 % below 2005 levels by 2030 (nearly 870 million tons), in particular in two subcategories of fossil fuel-fired electric generating…read more

Executive Order 13677: Climate-Resilient International Development ( 2014 )

This executive order requires that all government agencies integrate climate resilience into their international development work to the full extent permitted by law. Most importantly, requires agencies to assess the risks to their projects and adjust the projects appropriately. It also requires government agencies to cooperate in sharing data, assessing risks, and monitoring progress in implementing…read more

Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management ( 2007 )

Demands federal agencies to conduct their transportation and energy-related activities in an environmentally, economically and fiscally sound and integrated way. Sets more demanding targets than the Energy Policy Act 2005 and supersedes E.O. 13123 and E.O. 13149. Promotes renewable energy generation projects in federal agencies and determines that each agency should ensure that half of…read more

Economy-wide

NDC Laws and National Policies

26% to 28% reduction in GHG emission by 2025 compared to 2005 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%

Economy Wide | Base Year Target | Target year: 2025 | Base year: 2005

Source: NDC

There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

Transportation

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.

At least 300,000 clean-fuel vehicles sold in California annually by 2000

Renewable Energy | Fixed Level Target | Target year: 2000 | Base year: Business as usual scenario | Source(s): Clean Air ... (1963 / Legislative)

20% lifecycle GHG reduction for new renewable fuel producers

Renewable Energy: Biofuels | Fixed Level Target | Target year: N/A | Base year: Business as usual scenario | Source(s): Clean Air ... (1963 / Legislative)

Fuel economy greater than 27.5mpg or 92% avg fuel economy for domestically manufactured passenger automobiles

Fuels | Fixed Level Target | Target year: N/A | Base year: Business as usual scenario | Source(s): Energy Ind... (2007 / Legislative)

Transportation fuel contains minimum 26  billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2018

Renewable Energy | Fixed Level Target | Target year: 2018 | Base year: 2018 | Source(s): Clean Air ... (1963 / Legislative)

2% annual reduction in petroleum and 10% annual increase in non-petroleum fuel consumption in agency fleets with at least 20 vehicles by 2015 against a 2005 baseline

General | Base Year Target | Target year: 2015 | Base year: 2005 | Source(s): Executive ... (2007 / Executive)

Deployment of at least 100,000 by 2010, then 2,500,000 hydrogen-fueled vehicles by 2020

Renewable Energy | Trajectory Target | Target year: 2020 | Base year: Business as usual scenario | Source(s): Energy Pol... (2005 / Legislative)

20% new agency passenger vehicles are zero emission or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2020, then 50% by 2025

General | Trajectory Target | Target year: 2025 | Base year: 2020, 2025 | Source(s): ...

At least 4% fleet-wide reduction in GHG emissions for agencies with more than 20 vehicles by 2017, then 15% by 2021, then 30% by 2025, against a 2014 baseline

General | Trajectory Target | Target year: 2025 | Base year: 2014 | Source(s): ...

2% annual reduction in petroleum consumption in agency fleets with at least 20 vehicles by 2020 against a 2005 baseline

General | Base Year Target | Target year: 2020 | Base year: 2005 | Source(s): ...

Energy

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.

At least 10% renewable electric and alternative energy in agency building electric and thermal energy by 2016-2017, then 13% by 2018-2019, 16% by 2020-2021, 20% by 2022-2023, 25% by 2025

Renewable Energy | Trajectory Target | Target year: 2025 | Base year: 2016/7, 2018/9, 2020/1, 2022/3, 2025 on | Source(s): ...

At least half renewable energy consumed comes from new renewable sources

Renewable Energy | Fixed Level Target | Target year: N/A | Base year: Business as usual scenario | Source(s): Executive ... (2007 / Executive)

At least 7.5% renewable energy of total Federal Government consumption by 2013 and each fiscal year thereafter

Renewable Energy | Fixed Level Target | Target year: 2013 | Base year: Business as usual scenario | Source(s): Energy Pol... (2005 / Legislative)

Produce 1,000,000,000 gallons annually of cellulosic biofuels by 2015

Biofuels | Fixed Level Target | Target year: 2015 | Base year: 2015 | Source(s): Energy Pol... (2005 / Legislative)

Either 3% annual energy intensity reduction or 30% total reduction by 2015 against a 2003 baseline

Energy Intensity | Intensity Target | Target year: 2015 | Base year: 2003 | Source(s): Executive ... (2007 / Executive)

25% improvement in energy efficiency by 2012 against a 1990 baseline

Energy Efficiency | Base Year Target | Target year: 2012 | Base year: 1990 | Source(s): Energy Pol... (2005 / Legislative)

32% CO2 emission reductions from the utility power sector by 2030 against a 2005 baseline

Energy Efficiency | Base Year Target | Target year: 2030 | Base year: 2005 | Source(s): Clean Powe... (2015 / Executive)

Buildings

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.

At least 10% renewable energy in agency building electric energy 2016-2017, then 15% by 2018-2019, 20% by 2020-2021, 25% by 2022-2023, 30% by 2025

Renewable Energy | Trajectory Target | Target year: 2025 | Base year: 2016/7, 2018/9, 2020/1, 2022/3, 2025 on | Source(s): ...

Install solar energy system in 20,000 Federal buildings by 2010

Renewable Energy | Fixed Level Target | Target year: 2010 | Base year: 2010 | Source(s): Energy Pol... (2005 / Legislative)

2.5% thermal units per gross square foot annual reduction in federal agency building energy intensity by 2025 against a 2015 baseline

Energy Intensity | Intensity Target | Target year: 2025 | Base year: 2015 | Source(s): ...

2% annual reduction in energy consumption per gross square foot of Federal buildings by 2015 against a 2004 baseline

Energy Efficiency | Base Year Target | Target year: 2015 | Base year: 2004 | Source(s): Energy Pol... (2005 / Legislative)

Energy net-zero design for all new Federal building construction greater than 5,000 square feet  by 2020

Renewable Energy | Fixed Level Target | Target year: 2020 | Base year: 2020 | Source(s): ...

Urban

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.

1.2-1.4 power usage effectiveness in new data centers and less than 1.5 for existing data centers

Energy Efficiency | Base Year Target | Target year: N/A | Base year: Business as usual scenario | Source(s): ...

Waste

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.

85% monthly total gas production to be captured, increasing to 98% by 2026

Waste-to-energy | Base Year Target | Target year: 2026 | Base year: 2015 | Source(s): ...

Agriculture

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

Coastal Zones

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

Cross-Cutting Area

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

Disaster Risk Management (DRM)

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

Environment

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

Health

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

Industry

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

LULUCF

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

Social Development

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

Tourism

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

Water

NDC Laws and National Policies
There are no quantifiable targets found in the NDC.There are no quantifiable targets found in the laws and policies.

The US’s GHG emission reduction targets are relatively modest when compared with other advanced economies, amounting to less than a 5% reduction by 2020 below 1990 levels. The country’s current UNFCCC commitment of reducing emissions by 17% by 2020 in relation to 2005 levels is accompanied by the observation that the final target will be reported to the UNFCCC Secretariat in light of enacted legislation, a recognition of the domestic political structure and division of powers. In November 2014 at the APEC Leaders’ meeting in Beijing, the US announced an additional target to reduce emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025. Given the absence thus far of dedicated climate change legislation, the US government is managing GHGs using a combination of existing law (The Clean Air Act), executive orders and partnership programmes. In 2013, the President announced a Climate Action Plan, including a series of executive actions designed to accomplish the GHG emission reduction targets and prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change.

Although the passing of energy and climate change bills through Congress is time-consuming and complex, US legislation tends to be comprehensive, precise and with clear financial commitments and monitoring mechanisms. Energy remains an active area of legislative proposals, including on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Proposals have tended to focus on securing American leadership in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, as well as guaranteeing that climate provisions do not affect trade competitiveness vis-à-vis emerging markets, most notably China and India.

Although there were a number of attempts to pass a comprehensive climate change bill in the 111th Congress (2009-2010) – the most significant of which was the American Clean Energy and Security Bill (ACES) referred to as the “Waxman-Markey Bill”, which passed the House of Representatives in 2009 – all attempts at getting the House and the Senate to agree on climate legislation have failed.

Legislation similar to the ACES bill was passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee but was never brought to the Senate floor.  Attempting to develop legislation that would secure enough support to pass, the Senate drafted several bills of its own. However, all of these also failed to generate enough support and never reached the Senate floor for a vote. As a result, the Senate Majority Leader, a Democrat, proposed a limited Energy Bill with a focus on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the promotion of natural gas vehicles, home energy renovations and financing for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Even this failed to generate enough support and, following the mid-term elections in 2010 and the beginning of the 112th Congress, all of the draft bills expired along with the House-passed ACES bill.

Although the current Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have consistently said they would prefer that Congress pass legislation to address climate change, the difficulties in securing support for comprehensive climate change legislation have meant that regulation has assumed greater importance. The EPA has therefore begun to develop regulations using its existing authority under The Clean Air Act, which was signed into law in 1963 and last amended in 1990, and which does not contain provisions specifically addressing mitigation of GHGs or climate change. In his 2013 Climate Action Plan, the President set a timetable for the EPA to complete work on regulations governing existing and future fossil fuel power plants.

According to The White House, as of November 2014 the plan includes the following measures:

  • Clean Power Plan: The EPA proposed new regulations for existing power plants in June 2014 that would reduce power sector emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 while delivering USD55bn-USD93bn in net benefits from improved public health and reduced carbon pollution. The EPA has also proposed regulations for newly-constructed fossil-fuel power plants that would require them to meet minimum standards for GHG emissions per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced.
  • Standards for Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles: In February 2014 the President directed the EPA and the Department of Transportation to issue the next phase of fuel efficiency and GHG standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by March 2016.
  • Energy Efficiency Standards: The Department of Energy set a goal of reducing carbon pollution by 3bn metric tonnes cumulatively by 2030 through energy conservation standards.
  • Economy-wide Measures to reduce other GHGs: The EPA and other agencies are taking action to cut methane emissions from landfills, coal mining, agriculture, and oil and gas systems. In January 2015 a new Methane Action Plan was announced. At the same time, the State Department is working to secure a global agreement that would reduce emissions of potent industrial greenhouse gases called HFCs through an amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

This work follows the EPA’s 2009 finding under the Clean Air Act that GHG emissions threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations. This “endangerment finding” forms the basis for EPA’s regulation of air pollutants for their effect as GHGs.

The beginning of work to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act has raised some opposition in Congress. During the 112th and the 113th Congresses, the House of Representatives – with Republicans in the majority – passed numerous bills to restrict the authority of the EPA to regulate GHG emissions, to expand production of fossil fuels and approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring bitumen derived from tar sands in Canada to refineries in the US. Thus far, the Senate has not taken up any of this House legislation, although following the mid-term elections in November 2014, the Republicans have a majority in the Senate. The President has said he would veto any proposals that contained a prohibition on EPA action on GHGs and, given that the Senate rejected several amendments to legislation restricting the EPA’s ability to regulate GHGs, the EPA’s ability to regulate GHGs has thus far not been affected.

As well as opposition in Congress, many of the EPA’s actions since 2009 have been challenged in court. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which has jurisdiction over decisions and rulemakings of federal agencies, has ruled in EPA’s favour in these cases. The Supreme Court has also ruled and repeatedly confirmed that the EPA has the authority to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act. This brings to an end the legal challenges that could broadly preclude the EPA from regulating GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act, though the Supreme Court could still strike down any particular EPA regulation for other legal deficiencies.

The opposition to the President’s climate action has also been fought via the federal budget. The 112th Congress and the first half of the 113th Congress were dominated by negotiations on federal spending. After wrangling that has seen the US on the brink of default and a temporary shutdown of the government, federal spending has been reduced, with climate programmes and agencies especially targeted. Although the EPA’s authority to regulate GHGs was unscathed, its budget has been cut from USD10.3bn in Fiscal Year 2010 to USD7.9bn in Fiscal Year 2013, recovering slightly to USD8.2bn in 2014. Funding for a proposed Climate Service within the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the position of Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change were eliminated and commitments to international climate finance were greatly reduced.

In the 2012 campaign for the White House, which culminated in the re-election of Barack Obama, climate change was essentially absent as an issue in the debate. However, climate change was prominent in the President’s inauguration speech and his subsequent 2013 State of the Union address in which he challenged Congress to pass climate legislation or his administration would take aggressive actions to address climate change, a promise he fulfilled when he announced his Climate Action Plan, which federal agencies have worked aggressively to implement since it was announced.

In March 2015, an Executive Order[1] sets a new target for federal government GHG emissions to be reduced by 40%, and the share of renewable electric energy consumed by the federal agencies to increase to 30% by 2025 (compared to 2008). This is to be done through a broad range of measures that aim to make the federal government’s operations more sustainable, efficient and energy-secure.

Energy Supply

Efforts to include climate-related measures in the American legislative process are not limited to climate-specific legislation. Measures related to renewable energy and energy efficiency are at the core of the US legislative response to climate change. They mostly include financial incentives and tax breaks for the development of clean energy technology and promotion of behavioural change among businesses and consumers. Legislation to require that a certain percentage of national electricity comes from renewable sources (Renewable Electricity Standard or RES), like those already adopted by 30 states, has been introduced in both chambers of Congress. However, each time one chamber has passed an RES bill, the other chamber has not been able to garner enough support for it to become law.

In addition, the transition to a low carbon economy is a priority in different kinds of legislation not directly concerned with climate related issues. For example, the US stimulus package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009, allocated USD94bn to renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency, low carbon vehicles, smart grids and mass transit. There are energy provisions in the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2009 and renewable energy provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill that were expanded in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The US is also continuously revising energy efficiency and renewable energy legislation.

Federal support for renewables development, coupled with state incentives and requirements, has led to dramatic growth in electricity generation from renewable sources of energy in the United States in recent years. In 2012, wind provided the most new electricity capacity developed in the US. In President Obama’s first term, electricity generation from solar, wind and geothermal resources more than doubled. As part of the Climate Action Plan, the President has set a goal to once again double renewable electricity generation by 2020.

Adaptation

A foundation for co-ordinated action on climate change preparedness and resilience was established by Executive Order in 2009, the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force led by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Additionally, through the US Global Change Research Programme (USGCRP), and agency programmes and activities, the Federal Government is continuing to support scientific research, observational capabilities, and assessments necessary to improve the understanding of, and response to, climate change and its impacts.

In 2013, the President issued an Executive Order entitled Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change, to strengthen the US’s climate resilience. The Order promotes engaged and strong partnerships and information sharing at all levels of government, risk-informed decision-making and the tools to facilitate it, adaptive learning, in which experiences serve as opportunities to inform and adjust future actions; and preparedness planning.

The Order includes: Modernising Federal Programmes to Support Climate Resilient Investment; Managing Lands and Waters for Climate Preparedness and Resilience; Providing Information, Data, and Tools for Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience; Federal Agency Planning for Climate Change Related Risk; The creation of a Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience involving representatives from all major government departments; and the formation of a State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to inform Federal efforts.

Sub-National activity

A myriad policies and legislation on climate change exist at the state level.[2] California is a leading state, with the Global Warm­ing Solutions Act (AB32), the Pavley Law’s stringent air quality targets for motor vehicles, and the California Environmental Quality Act with its GHG emissions provisions. California’s “cap-and-trade” scheme came into effect in 2012 with an enforceable compliance obligation beginning in 2013, raising USD1.4bn in its first year and helping to deliver California’s State-level target of reducing GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

As at the end of 2014, 32 states and many more local governments have plans to address climate change, while a few others have enacted binding restrictions on GHG emissions. In June 2014 Rhode Island became the latest state to join this group after it passed the Resilient Rhode Island Act, which stipulates that GHG emissions should be reduced 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

The nine-state strong Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the California-led Western Climate Initiative further highlight how US sub-national actors have been successfully experimenting with caps on carbon emissions from electric power plants.

US states and regions are also developing creative climate financing mechanisms—such as Connecticut’s and New York’s “green banks”—to advance clean energy development.

[1] Executive Order 13693 is not included in the detailed Executive Portfolio for the US, as it was passed in March 2015, and this Study’s scope is limited to legislation passed up to  January 1st 2015.

[2] For a useful summary of U.S sub-national action, see http://www.epa.gov/statelocalclimate/state/state-examples/action-plans.html#all

To access information about climate change litigation in the U.S., please click here to go to the Sabin Center / Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer database. This will take you to a different website and will open in a new window.

The United States has a bicameral legislature or Congress composed of the Senate (100 seats; 6-year term, with one third of membership renewed every 2 years) and the House of Representatives (435 seats, 2-year term). The last election for both House of Representatives and Senate was held in November 2016. The next election is expected in 2018.

Bills may be introduced by a member of either chamber. Typically, the first stage in the approval of a bill involves consideration by a committee. If approved (reported) by the committee, the bill reaches the floor of the chamber. Once a bill is approved by one chamber, it is sent to the other, which may pass, reject or amend it. In order for a proposed bill to become law, both chambers must agree on identical versions of the bill and the President must sign it. If the President vetoes a bill, the veto can be overturned if a two-thirds majority of both chambers vote to do so.

Last modified 27 October, 2019