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U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emission Bottlenecks: Prioritization of Targets for Climate Liability


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Due to market failures that allow uncompensated negative externalities from burning fossil fuels, there has been a growing call for climate change-related litigation targeting polluting companies. To determine the most intensive carbon dioxide (CO2)-emitting facilities in order prioritize liability for climate lawsuits, and risk mitigation strategies for identified companies as well as their insurers and investors, two methods are compared: (1) the conventional point-source method and (2) the proposed bottleneck method, which considers all emissions that a facility enables rather than only what it emits. Results indicate that the top ten CO2 emission bottlenecks in the U.S. are predominantly oil (47%) and natural gas (44%) pipelines. Compared to traditional point-source emissions methods, this study has demonstrated that a comprehensive bottleneck calculation is more effective. By employing an all-inclusive approach to calculating a polluting entity’s CO2 emissions, legal actions may be more accurately focused on major polluters, and these companies may preemptively mitigate their pollution to curb vulnerability to litigation and risk. The bottleneck methodology reveals the discrete link in the chain of the fossil-fuel lifecycle that is responsible for the largest amount of emissions, enabling informed climate change mitigation and risk management efforts.