Obama Proposes Plan to Regulate Carbon Emissions

This coming Monday, the Obama Administration will propose a plan to regulate carbon emitted by coal-burning power plants.  These plants account for roughly 40% of the United States’ carbon emissions. After a period designated for public and industry response, the regulations will be enforced in 2015. The pressing nature of climate change and the threats it poses to the U.S. are well understood by the scientific community. Earlier this month, a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the National Climate Assessment, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.  The report says it isn't too late to implement policies to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, and calls on governments at all levels to find ways to lower carbon emissions, particularly from energy production. The assessment is a loud and clear alarm bell urging action, and now stands as the most comprehensive and reputable source on climate change produced by the U.S. government. In light of the significant changes to our climate and natural environment, the Obama Administration’s action Monday is timely, needed, and will bode well for President Obama’s legacy.

So what do Americans think about this executive action? A Yale University study conducted in April of this year found that by nearly a two to one margin – Americans support setting strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired plants, even if the cost of electricity to consumers and companies increases.

Despite public opinion, the president admitted that "unfortunately, Congress has not always been as visionary on these issues as we would like. It can be a little frustrating," in a recent speech in Mountain View, California. As legislative attempts to address climate change have fallen to political polarity and a disappointing unwillingness to cooperate on the most serious long-term threat to human and environmental well-being, the executive branch of government is stepping in and exercising authority via the Environmental Protection Agency to combat global warming.

This executive action is expected to hold up in court. Beginning seven years ago, in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles.  On April 29th of this year, in EPA v. Homer, the Court issued a 6-2 ruling holding that the EPA has discretion to prevent upwind coal pollution emitters from polluting downwind states.  EPA v. Homer was the first decision in the series of current “Greenhouse Gas Cases.”

Although we don’t know the details of the Obama Administration’s plan yet, anti-environmental groups are already predicting vast costs and economic doom. This is simply not the case. A report put out Wednesday by the National Chamber of Commerce offers conflicting information on the matter. The rhetoric is slighted and seems to suggest that our economy would suffer significantly with little benefit. If you focus on the numbers, however, the report tells a different story. Specifically, the report relies on a carbon-reduction program that’s likely considerably more ambitious than will be announced Monday, and concludes that between now and 2030 the regulations would cost $50.2 billion per year. This figure is emphasized as a large hit, but remembering that the U.S. economy is currently $17 trillion, this is only a 0.02% reduction in incomes. Alternatively, consider the report’s estimate of costs per household: $200 per year. With the average American household receiving an income of more than $70,000 a year, again the costs amount to no more than a small fraction of 1%. All things considered, this is a low price to pay to mitigate a serious threat to the U.S. and international community.

Lastly, the impact of the new carbon regulations will extend beyond cutting U.S. carbon dioxide releases by a predicted 20%. Countries around the world await President Obama’s statement Monday. In the past, the U.S. has been a large and powerful obstacle to international climate action, as seen in Kyoto. However this new regulation has potential to send ripples around the globe, moving countries towards a greener future. This December, leaders from many nations will gather in Lima, Peru, at a United Nations summit meeting aimed at drafting a treaty, to be signed in 2015, that would legally bind the world’s major economies to cut their carbon pollution.

We at the Earth Day Network are excited to see that the U.S. government is taking steps in the right direction toward a climate stable and just future. We believe this action is a responsible and well-considered decision for our country’s future. 

Author: EDN Intern, Ben Criswell