Clean Air Task Force
Giving Green currently recommends Clean Air Task Force (CATF), a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1996 that advocates for public policies that enact pollution regulations, invest in improved energy technologies, and curb fossil-fuel emissions.
We recommend Clean Air Task Force because of its strong track record of policy accomplishments at the national level (including policies with bipartisan support), its focus on relatively neglected issue areas, the strength of its staff, and its ability to productively absorb additional funds in coming years.
In 2021, we conducted a series of expert interviews regarding the Clean Air Task Force (CATF). We also reviewed materials on CATF’s website, media coverage, and an earlier analysis of CATF by Founders Pledge, a group that recommends high-impact donation options primarily for its members who have taken a philanthropic pledge.
Here, we present our reasons for recommending CATF. We also recommend that interested persons read Founder’s Pledge's research.
1. CATF has a strong track record and list of national-level policy accomplishments, including bipartisan policy wins.
CATF has successfully advocated for the inclusion of clean energy and technology provisions in several recent bills:
Energy Act of 2020 – CATF has played an important role in ensuring that key climate provisions were included in the bipartisan Energy Act of 2020, which authorized $125 billion over five years for grid modernization as well as projects related to carbon capture and storage, advanced nuclear, superhot rock geothermal, hydrogen, solar, and wind.
Global Methane Pledge – CATF also designed the Global Methane Pledge, which was introduced by President Joe Biden and EU President Ursula von der Leyen in September and signed by 105 countries at COP26 in Glasgow. Under this pledge, countries agreed to collectively reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. CATF has already released a plan to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 65 percent.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – CATF also provided technical assistance, drafting, input, and feedback on many key authorization and funding measures in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was passed by Congress in November 2021. These measures include billions in funding for climate-related provisions such as plugging methane leaks from abandoned wells, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and direct air capture demonstrations and prizes, new authorizations and funding for CO2 transport and storage, hydrogen hubs, and the Advanced Nuclear Reactor Demonstration Program.
Build Back Better Act – CATF has contributed to numerous measures, grant programs, and tax incentives that are included in the current version of the Build Back Better Act, which has not yet been voted on as of November 15, 2021.
CATF’s recent policy successes build on historic accomplishments. For example, 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 to 2006 and afterwards;
Catalyzing the national diesel clean-up campaign from 2003 to 2012, which led to multiple pieces of related legislation at the local, state, and national levels; and
Successfully advocating for multiple methane reduction regulations from 2009 to present.
After digging into CATF’s track record ourselves, we are impressed with CATF’s list of accomplishments across policy areas, its pragmatic approach to incentivizing and enabling adoption of decarbonized technologies, and its focus on achieving concrete policy impact.
2. CATF focuses on neglected policy areas.
Overall, the technologies and policy areas that CATF actively focuses their work on are relatively neglected areas that do not otherwise receive much attention in the climate space. By elevating these issue areas to public attention and advocating for favorable policies, CATF can help accelerate the development of technologies that would otherwise struggle to secure funding. These policy areas include but are not limited to:
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) - CCS technologies remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it underground for long periods of time. Carbon capture and storage is an important complement to renewables and electrification, because it can help difficult-to-electrify industrial sources (e.g. chemical, cement, iron, and steel production) mitigate their CO2 emissions. The International Energy Agency and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change both agree that CCS is vital to reaching global climate goals. CATF is working to develop, evaluate, and implement a roadmap of policies that will allow carbon capture technology to scale globally and deliver necessary CO2 reductions.
“Superhot rock” geothermal energy - Superhot rock geothermal is a promising nascent technology. Unlike conventional geothermal energy, superhot rock energy does not rely on naturally occurring hydrothermal systems (e.g. geysers). Instead, water is injected into hot, dry crystalline rock deep in the ground to produce steam, which powers turbines and produces electricity. Superhot rock energy is still in its proof-of-concept phase and will likely require additional engineering innovations before it can be commercialized. CATF has produced research on this technology and is working on building momentum for rapidly scaling superhot rock energy from demonstration to commercialization.
“Advanced” nuclear energy - Nuclear energy is a non-intermittent and carbon-free energy source, and climate experts agree that the world needs large amounts of nuclear energy to reach current emission reductions targets. To advance nuclear energy, CATF engages in US policy development, international advocacy, thought leadership, and research. CATF also supports companies in adopting advanced reactor technologies and implementing innovations in their energy delivery models.
Zero-carbon fuels - Certain industries (such as marine shipping) are hard to electrify, limiting the efficacy of renewable power in decarbonizing these industries. CATF asserts that zero-carbon fuels, such as hydrogen and ammonia, can accelerate the decarbonization of these industries. CATF works to accelerate the development and deployment of these fuels by engaging globally with companies that are developing new zero-carbon technologies and with policymakers to design favorable policies to encourage innovation.
High-warming “Super Pollutants” - Certain pollutants, such as methane and black carbon, have especially high atmospheric warming potentials and negative effects on human health. CATF maintains that efforts to reduce these “super pollutants” alone could prevent more than half a degree Celsius of warming and lead to numerous public health and ecological benefits. CATF advocates for super pollutant policy at both national and subnational levels, develops funding mechanisms to help developing countries achieve emissions reductions goals, provides legal and technical inputs to U.S. regulatory bodies, and contributes to research, education, and outreach on super pollutants.
Power Plants - US coal, oil, and gas-fired power plants are a major source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. CATF has worked for over 20 years to ensure US power plants adopt and comply with US air emission standards, including the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury Air Toxics Standard and Power Plant Carbon Pollution Standards. CATF does so by scoping and drafting legislation, providing legal and technical expertise to regulatory bodies, and engaging in research, education, and outreach.
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 67-person staff primarily hold JDs, PhDs in environment and energy-related sciences, and MPAs. They have legal, technical, and policy experience with institutions such as the EPA and Department of Energy as well as politicians such as Senator Ed Markey. 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 also actively works to shape climate policy through advocacy and work with key decision-makers.
4. CATF's work is cost-effective.
In 2018, Founders Pledge conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) of CATF’s past work on three projects: targeting coal plants for non-climate pollutants, reducing methane emissions, and advocating for tax credits for carbon capture and storage. Founders Pledge found that CATF averted one ton of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) per $1.26 spent (range of $0.35 to $4.40). In a forward-looking estimate of CATF’s work on advanced nuclear, Founders Pledge estimated that CATF’s work will avert one ton of CO2e per $0.29 spent (range of $0.03 to $5.50). These figures rely on both estimated and subjective inputs, and should be considered rough, indicative estimates.
CATF has grown its budget substantially since Founders Pledge conducted its CEA, but CATF has expanded its focus areas and pathways to impact as well. Pending future CEAs, we suspect that CATF’s approach to insider policy advocacy will continue to lead to cost-effective reductions in GHG emissions. Giving Green intends to conduct a more detailed cost-effectiveness analysis on CATF in the future.
5. CATF can productively use additional funds.
Looking forward, CATF aims to quadruple in size from a $17 million organization in 2021 to a $60 million organization over the next 3 to 5 years. It aims to increase its impact in three main areas: expanding its geographical presence, expanding existing programs, and developing and growing newer programs.
Geographic expansion - CATF aims to work in the Middle East & North African (MENA) in developing paths forward for petrol states in a decarbonized economy, potentially through zero-carbon fuels. CATF also plans to expand its existing programs and presence in India, China, and South America.
Growing existing programs - CATF has plans to expand its current programs on “super pollutants.” For example, it plans to expand its methane program to support countries in meeting the Global Methane Pledge. Additionally, if the Build Back Better Act passes, CATF expects to be closely involved in supporting regulatory bodies’ implementation and rule-making.
Develop newer programs - CATF aims to expand its work on superhot rock geothermal energy by catalyzing interest and innovation in the technology over the next several years, which could help bring the technology to commercial scale.
CATF would also use additional funds to grow and strengthen its operations.
Concerns with Clean Air Task Force
Although we are excited about the impact potential of CATF, we have a few areas of concern.
One particularly controversial element of CATF’s work is its collaboration with fossil fuel companies on decreasing their carbon intensity. For instance, CATF supports carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) and was key in extending the Section 45Q tax credit for carbon sequestration. Some environmentalists allege that CCUS extends the lives of coal-fired plants that would otherwise have gone offline. 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. As part of the debate over the CATF-supported 45Q tax credit, Oil Change International criticized 45Q as a handout to fossil fuel companies, and argued it will increase emissions, while CATF defended its stance that 45Q removes CO2 on net. While these are valid concerns, we at Giving Green believe that CATF is taking a pragmatic approach to approaching decarbonization through building coalitions that sometimes include fossil energy companies, as the International Energy Agency and Energy Transitions Commission note that achieving net-zero emissions for industrial applications without carbon capture and storage could become significantly more expensive.
Given the size of CATF’s budget and its anticipated growth, there is also some uncertainty over the marginal impact of donating to CATF for small donors. CATF’s expansion into new geographies and new issues areas also comes with risks. CATF has less of a track record in these new spaces and topics, and it is unclear if it can replicate its successes in these new areas. Despite these concerns, we believe that CATF’s long track record of success leaves it poised to grow and expand into new areas while remaining effective.
Clean Air Task Force is an organization with an experienced team, a track record of successes in neglected policy areas, and a plan to build upon those successes in the future. They are well-positioned to influence policy design and implementation in the US on a variety of energy and climate topics, and they are trusted advisors on policy advocacy internationally. For the reasons above, our team concluded that CATF is likely a high-impact organization, and has decided to recommend them.