The Clean Air Task Force works to help safeguard against the worst
impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid global development
and deployment of low carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies through research and analysis, public advocacy leadership,
and partnership with the private sector.
CATF staff consists of senior engineers, MBAs, scientists, attorneys, and communications specialists. Headquartered in Boston, we operate additional offices in Washington, DC, Ohio, Illinois, Maine, and New Hampshire, as well as in Beijing, China. CATF has been called “a well-respected public health and environment advocacy group” by Science Insider, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
CATF was launched in 1996 with a single goal: to enact federal policy to reduce the pollutants from America’s coal-fired power plants that cause respiratory death and disease, smog, acid rain, and haze. When CATF began its efforts, polls showed that a majority of Americans believed most of their power came from hydroelectric dams and very little from coal. The gap between reality and perception was alarming: in fact, coal power in 1996 and still today provides roughly 50% of U.S. electricity, while hydropower provides only 7%.
CATF organized a coalition of more than two dozen state, local, and national environmental and public health organizations in a public education campaign to make the public aware of the vast health and environmental damage caused by those plants. These organizations pushed for model policies at the state level, while CATF commissioned dozens of new studies on coal’s impact—in many cases, studies by the same independent academic experts who advised the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry itself. In 2005, US EPA adopted rules requiring 60% cuts in health and environmental pollutants from these plants. While some of these rules were later overturned in court on technical grounds, coal plants subsequently were forced to reduce their emissions by roughly 50%, saving nearly 13,000 lives per year and avoiding hundreds of thousands of illnesses. More cuts are scheduled as the remaining EPA rules are re-issued in coming months.
CATF also developed the environmental and health community’s science and technical case for reducing mercury emissions from power plants, and sued for stronger regulation on that front. We prevailed in court and, as a result, rigorous mercury standards will soon be issued by US EPA.
Our next move was to closely examine the nation’s diesel engine fleet—trucks, buses, and construction equipment that spew nearly as many lethal pollutants as the nation’s power plants. In 2002 we began the Diesel Clean-Up Campaign with targeted public education events in more than a dozen states as well as a vigorous campaign for change at the federal level. Many state and federal initiatives have gone forward, with mandates and funding that will reduce diesel emissions substantially in the coming years.
As an extension of our early work on diesel emissions, CATF also helped lead the global fight to reduce emissions from marine ships, which result in 60,000 deaths per year globally. As the lead technical and scientific NGO appearing before the International Maritime Organization (IMO), CATF helped push stronger emission standards that will reduce up to 31,000 deaths per year in North America and Canada alone.
A New Focus on Climate Change
CATF has continued to apply its technical and policy knowhow to aspects of the climate challenge in cutting-edge ways.
Forty Percent of global carbon dioxide emissions related to energy, the main driver of global warming, come from the world’s electricity sector, mostly from coal-fired power plants. CATF’s expertise in energy technology and economics uniquely positioned our organization to consider how to bend the global warming curve downward as quickly as possible.
About 10 years ago, CATF began to recognize that energy efficiency and renewables would not, on their own, be enough to slow global warming at the rate needed. Against the stark reality of continued coal use in the US and EU, and growing coal use in China, India, and throughout the developing world, we saw that ways had also to be found to take the carbon out of coal. Today, much of CATF’s effort is devoted to commercializing and mandating technologies that use coal without emitting carbon. We recognized early that China, with its capacity for bringing advanced technology demonstrations to the table quickly, could be an important partner in this quest. As a result, CATF has facilitated more than a half dozen joint ventures between US and China technology companies to get low or zero carbon coal deployed quickly.
As scientific evidence of global warming mounted, CATF saw that the existing pace of warming, especially in vulnerable regions such as the Arctic, demanded a close look at all measures that could slow down the rapid global change already underway—including short-lived warming agents such as black carbon, ozone, and methane pollutants. We brought together leading scientists and technology experts to focus on what can be done to reduce these pollutants and how. Today, more than a dozen national and international bodies are considering policies to implement some of the measures we’ve been examining.
Finally, CATF has concluded that the climate challenge is so steep—equivalent to rebuilding earth’s energy infrastructure three times over in the next half century, all without carbon emitting sources—that any solution will invariably have to include better and cheaper low carbon technology. We sought out some of the world’s leading experts on this topic and, with our colleagues at Arizona State University, have issued a blueprint for reforming the US innovation system to achieve this result.
As scientific research has confirmed that the pace of man-made climate change is accelerating, CATF is realigning its priorities to cope with the crisis on a global scale. Our office in Beijing is helping speed the global transition to a low-carbon technology, by facilitating the development of joint business ventures between innovative energy companies and research institutions in Asia and the West. We are also working on deploying a similar business-led strategy for India.
Mitigating short-lived climate forcers such as black carbon and methane also requires a global approach, and we are playing a strong leadership role with federal and international policymakers to ensure that these threats to our global environment receive necessary attention. CATF has catalyzed important independent scientific research in this area, starting with the first-ever convening, in early 2007, of Arctic scientists and experts on shortlived climate forcers.
Finally, we are taking a fundamental, serious look at what will be required of our society and institutions to reach the necessary intensity and funding levels for energy innovation, allowing us to attain the daunting but necessary goal of a zero-carbon global energy system by mid-century.
Despite our growing stature as a research and advocacy leader in the global climate debate, we remain true to our beginnings as a science-based organization that can move nimbly and definitively on the critical climate challenges of our time.
Sources of Support
CATF is a tax-exempt nonprofit organization financially supported exclusively by donations from philanthropies and individuals, and by contracts with other tax exempt nongovernmental organizations. CATF accepts no financial support from for-profit corporations or governmental agencies. For more information on donating to CATF, please contact Julie Lanza, CATF's Development Coordinator by email at or by phone at 617-624-0234 ext. 117.
CATF provides sub-grants to a substantial number of research universities. With rare exception made on a case-by-case basis, CATF policy, as enacted January 21, 2008, does not allow indirect costs or fringe benefits (other than FICA at 7.65%).