EPA carbon reduction plan ambitious but achievable

The 645 page Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units, dubbed the Clean Power Plan, was announced yesterday by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and published to the Federal Register for public comment. The Obama Administration is trying to push the finalization of the new regulation by 2015, so that there is no possibility of a new administration reversing this action. The state-centric frame work of the plan calls for a 30% decrease in carbon pollution by 2030 in comparison to 2005 levels.  In its current form, the document requires states to submit their implementation plan by 2016. The proposal will not only drastically shift the energy market of the United States in a positive direction, but sends a message that will resonate around the globe that the United States is serious about taking precautionary action to mitigate climate change induced damages to public health and the environment. For the past 20 years, the United States has been a chief contributor to global warming and an onerous obstacle to the international effort of combating climate change. The executive branch of our government has finally put an end to this thorn in the international community’s side.

In her remarks, Ms. McCarthy repeatedly emphasized the plan’s flexibility. “That’s what makes it ambitious, but achievable. That’s how we can keep our energy affordable and reliable. The glue that holds this plan together — and the key to making it work — is that each state’s goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever way works best for them,” she said.

Critics repeatedly assert that carbon regulation will drive up energy prices to an intolerable level. McCarthy counters this point in citing an E.P.A. prediction that national energy bills will decrease by 8% by 2030, and asserting that “the most costly thing we can do is to do nothing.” She went on to say that for every dollar invested in cutting carbon pollution the public will see seven dollars in health benefits. McCarthy also countered critics’ claims that the regulations will cut thousands of American jobs by stressing that there will be a plethora of new job fields and opportunities in the emerging  carbon-neutral energy sector; an added plus is that the new jobs  won’t repeatedly expose workers to harmful byproducts of coal combustion. The E.P.A. estimates that the plan will cost $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion annually, but will lead to economic benefits of $55 billion to $93 billion over the life of the rule.

“Everyone knows that the U.S. is key to achieve any solution to the climate change crisis,” wrote Wael Hmaidan, director of a Lebanon-based advocacy group, Climate Action Network. “Many OPEC countries, who do not want to see the world wean itself from fossil fuels, realize this.” Gina McCarthy also referenced those that will not be happy about the new regulations. She explained that the “special interest groups” that will be economically damaged by the proposal will report inflammatory information with false claims that the U.S. economy will suffer significantly as a result of the regulations. She cited multiple cases, such as the implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970, in which special interest groups claimed that E.P.A. actions would result in economic hardship and were repeatedly proved wrong, as air pollution has been cut by 70% and our economy has tripled in size since 1970. McCarthy assured viewers of her speech today that there is “never a choice between a healthy economy and a healthy environment.”

In a commencement address delivered on May 28 to graduates at West Point Military Academy, President Obama called the issue of climate change, as well as climate change deniers, threats to national security. According to the President, climate change is “a creeping national security crisis that will help shape [the graduates’] time in uniform, as [they’re] called on to respond to refugee flows, natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food.” He also went on to mention the United Nations efforts to address climate through the annual Conference of the Parties. President Obama said that the United States should lead by example, as we “can’t call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it is taking place.”

Public health was a key point stressed by McCarthy in her address Monday. She opened with an anecdote about a young child with asthma, and said that “any parent that doesn’t have to deal with a child with an inhaler should consider themselves lucky.”  President Obama touted the specific benefits of coal-plant regulation, saying, “in just the first year that these standards go into effect, up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks will be avoided — and those numbers will go up from there.”

McCarthy also stressed the importance of this plan in bringing environmental justice to disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. Those living in poorer areas of the U.S., especially those closest to coal-burning power plants, are disproportionally at risk from negative environmental impacts and higher levels of carbon in the atmosphere. These environmental justice concerns are not limited to short-term effects, such as greater risk of developing respiratory diseases, as many such communities lack the resources to protect themselves from droughts and inclement weather associated with the long-term effects of climate change.

McCarthy and President Obama made a moral pitch to the public as well. They ensured that Americans had both the ingenuity and the obligation to future generations to meet the challenge climate change poses. Mr. Obama went on to say, “as president, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But a low-carbon, clean-energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. America will build that engine.”

“Climate action doesn’t dull America’s competitive edge — it sharpens it. It spurs ingenuity and innovation,” said McCarthy. With the inevitable onslaught of efforts to counter this step in the right direction, the Earth Day Network is working to educate the public about the positive externalities of the Clean Power Plan. Write your representatives, take action, and help ensure that this proposal won’t be a dead end.   

Ben Criswell, EDN Intern