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Report details how policy-makers can phase out U.S. fossil fuels

As Congress focuses anew on climate change, SEI researchers outline three principles to inform the pace and structure of a rapid phase-out of U.S. fossil fuel production.

Published on 12 February 2019
Press release contact

Emily Yehle

A new SEI working paper aims to help federal and state policy-makers wind down oil, gas and coal extraction, through the use of principles that consider not only economics and science, but also equity and other critical social dimensions.

The paper comes as House Democrats – newly in control of the chamber – have put climate change back on the Congressional agenda, with a slate of hearings scheduled over the next few days and weeks.

“With this paper, we hope to provide a structure for guiding what will no doubt be a difficult dialogue,” said report author Peter Erickson, an SEI senior scientist. “Phasing out production comes with political challenges, and it will require a democratic dialogue that engages impacted communities and various stakeholders.”

Globally, meeting the global warming limits in the Paris Agreement will require fossil fuel consumption and production to almost immediately peak, with a rapid decline thereafter. Several countries are already winding down new exploration and production. The working paper helps advance that conversation in the U.S., by outlining how the federal government and state-level resource managers could begin to fairly decide which regions need to phase out extraction most rapidly.

“The U.S. should take on a leadership role in aligning fossil fuel production with climate limits. It is one of the world’s very top fossil fuel producers – both historically and currently – and has tremendous financial resources,” said Jessica Koski, an SEI associate who is the lead author of the paper. “This phase-out must be done equitably – both as an ethical imperative and a political necessity.”

In their working paper – titled Principles for aligning U.S. fossil fuel extraction with climate limits – Koski and her colleagues detail three guiding principles that policy-makers can use to inform the pace and structure of the necessary decline in production:

  • Reduce fossil fuel production at a pace consistent with climate protection. Move even faster where fuels are the most carbon-intensive and costly.
  • Accelerate the phase-out where communities are most resilient. Consider what financial resources can be made available to communities where adaptation will be more difficult, and involve local communities in shaping their post-fossil-fuel economies.
  • Safeguard human rights, cultural resources and the local environment. Minimize harm by rapidly phasing out extraction where it threatens Indigenous rights, public health and areas of high conservation value.

“Federal and state agencies have an opportunity to ensure that the transition away from fossil fuels is equitable and fair, rather than sudden and disruptive,” said co-author Sivan Kartha, an SEI senior scientist. “The principles in our paper will hopefully further the discussion, so policy-makers can plan an effective phase-out of fossil fuels that has the buy-in of the American public.”

Interviews and further information

For interviews and further information, please contact:

Jessica Koski, Climate Policy Associate, SEI US
[email protected] +1 206 547-4000, x5

Sivan Kartha, Senior Scientist, SEI US
[email protected] +1 617 627-3786, x5

Peter Erickson, Senior Scientist, SEI US
[email protected] +1 206 547-4000, x3 @SEI_Erickson

Emily Yehle, Communications Officer, SEI US
[email protected] +1 202 744-9055 @yehle

Profile picture of Sivan Kartha
Sivan Kartha

Equitable Transitions Program Director


Peter Erickson

SEI Affiliated Researcher


Working paper

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