On Monday, August 3, President Barack Obama and EPA Chief Gina McCarthy released the finalized version of the Clean Power Plan, a set of regulations designed to limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from electricity generation. The final version increases the target reduction, compared to the original proposal, from 30 to 32 percent relative to 2005 levels.
The New York Times called it “the strongest action ever taken in the U.S. to combat climate change.”
The rollout of the plan is being couched in terms of its multiple benefits to public health, jobs, investment opportunity, grid reliability and savings for every American family estimated as an average of $85 on their annual energy bill. The announcement also speaks of continuing American leadership on climate change.
Ranked second highest in emissions, along with 10th in wind and 17th in solar, the U.S. is not exactly in the lead, but these new regulations should help us to catch up.
From the announcement:
“We have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged. The effects of climate change are already being felt across the nation. In the past three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled, and climate change is putting those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital. Extreme weather events – from more severe droughts and wildfires in the West to record heat waves – and sea level rise are hitting communities across the country. In fact, 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the first 15 years of this century and last year was the warmest year ever.
“The most vulnerable among us – including children, older adults, people with heart or lung disease, and people living in poverty – are most at risk from the impacts of climate change. Taking action now is critical.”
The plan provides:
- Flexibility in how states can meet their requirements
- Over a year for states to develop their plans
- Strong incentives for early deployment and deployments in low-income communities,
- Allowance for energy efficiency to be used as a key compliance tool
- A model implementation plan which includes interstate cap and trade, and
- A reliability safety valve—to address any special circumstances where meeting the regulation could threaten or compromise grid reliability.
Implementation of the plan is expected to boost the contribution of the renewable portion of our national electricity generation from 22 percent to 28 percent, while shutting down hundreds of coal-fired plants.
Reactions, not surprisingly, have been mixed. Nicolas Loris of the Heritage Foundation argued that the new rules would result in “higher energy bills for families, individuals and businesses [that] will destroy jobs and strain economic growth,” and “have a negligible impact – if any – on global temperatures.”
Republicans seem to be resting their 2016 election hopes on maintaining a fact vacuum. Mitch McConnell has come out and asked governors not to comply with the new regulations. Legal challenges, including lawsuits from as many as 25 states, led by coal producers like West Virginia and Wyoming, will likely reach the Supreme Court. The battle is expected to be fierce, but as Andrew Revkin points out, citing the Yale Climate Study, the majority of voters across party lines support regulating carbon emissions and expediting the growth of renewables.
Meanwhile, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) said: “The Clean Power Plan gives states the flexibility to meet their pollution reduction targets using tactics that make the most sense for their individual situations. This smart approach will ensure businesses get the reliable energy that they depend on, while providing incentives for cleaner power sources and energy efficiency measures that will help cut carbon emissions nationwide.
“National scientific polling commissioned by ASBC shows that business owners of all political affiliations support action on climate change, with 64 percent saying that government regulation is needed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. One in five small business owners say they have already been affected by climate change. They understand the risks of inaction as well as anyone else.”
The move also sets a tone that other countries might be expected to follow going into the COP21 discussions this fall in Paris. The message is clear. The U.S. is (finally) taking this seriously.
The plan, which I believe will survive its legal challenges, will be irrefutably positive for the country and the planet (and only bad for a small minority of people made up of energy executives, coal miners and investors that refused to see this coming). However, as Jude Clement pointed out in Forbes, people are still going to want electricity. This is going to make natural gas a winner, and probably a certain amount of fracking an inconvenient truth for environmentalists, at least in the near term.
So, let’s hurry up and get those windmills and solar panels up as soon as we can.
Image credit: Steve Jurvetson: Flickr Creative Commons