On Monday, the Obama administration revealed a set of regulations designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants by 30 percent by the year 2030. President Obama previewed the plan in his weekly address two days earlier, stating that a reduction in carbon emissions would diminish the harmful air pollution that spurs asthma and heart disease. Science has found that carbon dioxide emissions result from burning fossil fuels, and carbon dioxide is the largest human-caused contribution, by far, to the greenhouse effect. The proposed regulations are known collectively as the Clean Power Plan, and they were developed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA administrator Gina McCarthy says the proposal delivers on part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan by mandating cuts in carbon pollution “from our largest source–power plants.” Unregulated when it comes to the amount of carbon pollution they can pump into the air, power plants account for approximately one-third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The proposed Clean Power Plan uses 2005 emission levels as the baseline, so power plants will count the cuts they have made since that time towards the 2030 goal. The guidelines build on trends that are already underway in states, so most power plants are already halfway there. The new emissions rules will give states flexibility in choosing how they will bring down carbon dioxide emissions to federal benchmarks. States can set limits and sell emissions permits to polluters, or power plants can switch to natural gas, which produces half as much carbon dioxide as coal. They can also increase their efforts with regard to renewable energy sources.
Environmental groups have expressed their approval of and support for the Clean Power Plan, and the New York Times credited the new emissions rules as “one of the strongest actions” that United States government has ever taken “to fight climate change.” The regulations, however, come two years after the Obama administration announced, in December of 2010, a May 2012 White House deadline for setting power plant greenhouse gas standards. The Clean Power Plan proposal also comes two and a half months after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report titled “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.” The report linked climate change to a scarcity of food that will affect the entire globe in the next 20-30 years. Two weeks later, the IPCC released another report titled “Mitigation of Climate Change” that stated the efforts required to avoid the outcomes detailed in their previous report would be extraordinary. For example, one of the measures the second report calls for is the complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions by 2100. On Monday, the same day President Obama revealed the Clean Power Plan proposal, the World Meteorological Organization announced that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in April topped 400 parts per million, the highest it has been in what is believed to be millions of years.
It will take at least one year for the Clean Power Plan proposal to take effect. Once it is published in the Federal Register, the EPA will accept comment for 120 days and hold four public hearings during the last week of July. The EPA will then finalize and publish the standards in June of 2015, and then states will require some time to implement them, but legal squabbling might cause further delay. Although the proposal is another attempt by President Obama to address issues of public policy without having to maneuver through a divided Congress, it is likely to face Republican opposition in court as a “job killer.”
Proactively defending the Clean Power Plan, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stated in a Monday morning press conference that “all this means more jobs, not less.” McCarthy explained that “tens of thousands of American workers” will be needed in the areas of “construction, transmission, and more — to make cleaner power a reality.” Obama also discussed the misconception that improvement in environmental standards is detrimental to the economy in his weekly video address, stating that those are “old rules” and that “excuses for inaction” suggest a lack of faith in American ingenuity. Obama cited several examples from the past when the bar was raised and then met by American businesses. When fuel standards were put in place a few years ago, said Obama, they did not cripple automakers. After retooling, the auto industry now sells “the best cars in the world, with more hybrids, plug-in, and fuel-efficient models to choose from than ever before.” Obama concluded his weekly address by stating that it is not necessary in the United States to make a choice “between the health of our economy and the health of our children,” adding that he refuses, as a parent and President, “to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”
By Donna Westlund