Clean Air Task Force

Summary


Giving Green currently recommends Clean Air Task Force (CATF), a 501(c)3 organization founded in 1996 that works to advance policy curbing fossil-fuel emissions and addressing climate change through advocating for public policies to enact pollution regulations and invest in improved energy technologies.


Assessment


We recommend Clean Air Task Force because of their strong track-record of specific policy accomplishments at the national level (including policies with bipartisan support), their focus on relatively neglected issue areas, the strength of their staff, and their demonstrated ability to productively absorb additional funds in coming years.


We did not conduct thorough research into Clean Air Task Force in 2020, as the organization was recently analyzed by Founders Pledge, a group that recommends donation options, primarily for its entrepreneur members who have taken a philanthropic pledge. The output of their research is available here. Our team has closely reviewed the Founders Pledge research and used it as the basis for making our recommendation after completing our shallow review of the organization.


Here, we present our reasons for recommending CATF. We also recommend that interested persons read the Founder’s Pledge research that we linked above.


1. CATF has a strong track-record and list of national-level policy accomplishments, including bi-partisan policy wins.

Detailed research on CATF by Founders Pledge suggests that CATF played a catalytic role in driving forward a number of key policy changes in the US, including:

  • Establishing pollution controls on the power sector under the Clean Air Act 1996-2006 and afterwards

  • Catalyzing the national diesel clean-up campaign from 2003-12, which led to multiple pieces of related legislation at the local, state, and national levels

  • Advocating successfully for multiple methane reduction regulations from 2009 to present.

After digging into CATF’s track record ourselves, we are impressed with CATFs list of accomplishments across policy areas as well as their focus on achieving concrete policy impact.


2. CATF focuses on neglected policy areas.

Overall, the technologies and policies that CATF actively focuses their work on are relatively neglected areas that do not otherwise receive much attention in the climate space, including:

  • Carbon Capture and Storage,

  • Geothermal Energy

  • Nuclear energy

  • Zero-carbon fuels

  • High-warming “Super Pollutants”

We believe this intentional focus on neglected policy areas increases the likelihood that CATF is having a real contribution to climate policy.


3. CATF has a strong policy focus and an experienced staff well-suited to influence policy.

Overall, our own analysis and Founders Pledge’s work suggest that CATF is well-positioned to influence policy through its staff and programmatic focus. CATF’s 30-person staff primarily hold JDs, PHDs in environment and energy-related sciences, and MPAs. They have legal, technical, and policy experience in institutions such as the EPA and Department of Energy, as well as working with politicians such as Ed Markey to advance Green New Deal legislation. Many of their team members are long-time employees, suggesting that the organization does not function as a holding place for policymakers who would return to government after an administration change. CATF seeks not only to produce research and policy analyses but actively works to shape climate policy through advocacy and work with key decision-makers.


4. CATF can productively use additional funds.

Founders Pledge’s report details CATF's plans for expanding their operations and using additional funds in the near future. In US policy, these include zero-carbon transportation and industrial decarbonization. Notably, while CATF has historically been focused on US policy, they are expanding their work into the EU, Asia, and other geographies.


Concerns with Clean Air Task Force


Although we are excited about the impact potential of CATF, we have a few areas of concern.


First, CATF works mostly on the margins, advocating for funding and support for new technologies within the current system, rather than a complete overhaul of energy generation and use. Some environmentalists would argue that these tactics distract from the more systematic changes that need to happen.


One particularly controversial element of CATF’s work is that they work with fossil energy companies to decrease the carbon intensity of their operations. For instance, they support carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), in which energy or industrial plants capture their carbon emissions. Frequently, this captured CO2 is used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), in which the captured CO2 is pumped into oil wells to extract additional oil that was previously inaccessible. Whether this process is carbon-negative or actually adds to emissions depends on whether the oil recovered as part of EOR displaces oil extracted using dirtier methods or simply adds to the existing stock. Additionally, many environmentalists have pointed out that aiding the fossil fuel industry to increase its output is hardly a preferred strategy for climate policy, especially as these companies have traditionally used a portion of their profits to advocate against serious climate policy. This Vox article provides a good discussion of the pros and cons of using CCUS for EOR. As part of the debate over the CATF-supported 45Q tax credit, the NGO Oil Change International criticized 45Q as a giveaway to fossil fuel companies, and argued it will increase emissions, while CATF defended its stance that 45Q removes CO2 on net.


While we share these concerns, our recommendation of CATF is inspired by our embrace of “multiple theories of change”, as outlined in our Approach to Policy Recommendations document. Giving Green also recommends organizations that are quite different from the CATF, such as the Sunrise Movement Education Fund, who take a more technocratic approach to policy change. By recommending top organizations that employ different approaches, we hedge against the possibility that one of these approaches proves less successful for whatever reason. Since it is unclear which tactics will ultimately be successful in shaping green legislation, we want to give donors the option to support evidence-backed organizations taking different approaches.


Conclusion


For the reasons above, our team concluded that CATF is likely a high-impact organization, and has decided to recommend them.

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