In the Beginning
When CATF was launched in 1996, our strategy was simple: enact federal policy to force older coal plants to meet the same emission rates as new plants.
To implement this strategy, we co-founded and led a legal, technical, and strategic campaign to achieve reductions in smog, soot, air toxics, and carbon dioxide from U.S. power plants through a multi-pronged strategy, pressing for regulatory and legislative changes.
CATF cultivated state-based campaigns to urge state and federal action; commissioned and publicized epidemiological studies of coal plant health impacts; and, working closely with attorneys general from affected states, pursued an aggressive federal rule-making campaign and state legislative agenda to force the issue in Congress and the EPA. As a result of our initial efforts even prior to the Obama Administration, coal plants were put on the path to significantly reduce their emissions, saving nearly 13,000 lives per year and avoiding hundreds of thousands of illnesses.
But even as CATF and our allies scored major victories on the U.S. emissions front, the picture of global energy production was changing rapidly. Despite a slowdown on coal in the U.S., China and other Asian countries were beginning to build new coal plants each year equivalent in size to about one third of the U.S. coal fleet. Emerging climate science demonstrated that to stabilize global climate, the global energy sector would need to emit essentially no carbon by mid-century. Around 10 years ago, CATF recognized that energy efficiency and renewables might not, on their own, be enough to slow global warming at the necessary rate and we needed a deeper and broader strategy to address carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, as well as fuel production and ultimately transportation and industrial sources, the latter two together representing most global carbon emissions.
That strategy, which remains our guiding star today, has several moving parts:
- Enact direct carbon limits on power plants, gas as well as coal.
- Commercially develop and deploy technologies that can eliminate carbon emissions from the energy sector, including carbon capture and storage (where fossil fuels will remain a part of the global economy for some time), advanced nuclear energy, and next-generation renewable energy.
- Attack greenhouse gas and climate-damaging emissions such as methane leaks from oil and gas production and black carbon emissions from diesel vehicles, marine shipping, and biomass burning.
- Ensure bioenergy use is at least carbon neutral and, where possible, carbon negative.
Over the past 25 years, CATF has racked up a number of major accomplishments:
- As co-founder and leader of the national U.S. campaign vs. dirty coal production, helped deliver power plant emissions reductions in pollution-causing smog and soot of more than 70 percent, and more than 90 percent of power plant mercury, as well as significant reduction in other air toxic emissions.
- Brought suit against the Trump Administration to stop rollbacks of key Obama Administration regulations to further cut power plant and oil and gas emissions.
- Mobilized NGOs and the U.S. government to target climate-damaging methane emissions and led successful efforts to enact and later defend methane-reducing emission controls on oil and gas equipment.
- Provided several years of expert support which enabled Canada and Mexico to finalize comprehensive standards for methane from the oil and gas sector in 2018. CATF is gearing up to replicate these climate victories in other countries and drive rapid, global action on methane.
- CATF was the first major NGO to mount a sustained, fact-driven critique of conventional biofuels’ climate impact, solidifying opposition to the policies that sustain biofuels production.
- CATF led efforts by NGO and U.S. government to promote technologies that capture and store carbon fossil fuels, achieving a recent U.S. victory providing tax incentives to scale up the technology.
- Moved the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to modernize its licensing process to encourage innovative nuclear energy systems that could be safer and less costly.
- Began the Diesel Clean-Up Campaign resulting in many state and federal initiatives that have gone forward with mandates and funding that will reduce diesel emissions substantially in the coming years. This includes funding for diesel retrofits via federal appropriations and fines resulting from the “Diesel-gate” scandal, now in excess of $2 billion.
- Initiated and led a successful campaign before the International Maritime Organization to reduce black carbon and health-related emissions from existing diesel engines and led an international coalition to curb soot emissions from marine shipping.
- CATF was the first national environmental organization to aggressively push for the commercialization of carbon capture technologies, which ultimately resulted in the passage of a federal incentive for carbon capture at up to $35 per ton– the first-ever federal legislated price on carbon.
Today, we continue to apply our technical and policy knowhow to aspects of the climate challenge in cutting-edge ways. Fueled by facts rather than ideology, CATF combines technology innovation, policy advocacy, and thought leadership expertise to leverage workable solutions to this global crisis.
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.