President Barack Obama has caused another political uproar in Congress by taking a stand on an issue that has been largely ignored by Congress. His Administration has announced a plan to fight pollution and slow global warming and it should be given a chance. At least it should be carefully stated and debated. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030 from levels established in 2005. Supporters believe the move is critical to slow the effects of global warming that most all scientists believe are affecting our climate and weather. Critics of the proposal call it a “job-killer” for the coal industry, and say it will raise utility rates. Unfortunately, science is not on their side.
It’s undisputed that existing power plants are the single-largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. Almost one third of America’s carbon emissions come from electricity generation. The EPA says taking action now will help prevent up to 6,500 premature deaths from pollution-related diseases, eliminate waste, and spark innovation and job creation. It estimates the regulation will reduce pollutants that contribute to soot and smog that make people sick by more than 25 percent.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration says currently coal supplies 37 percent of U.S. electricity, while natural gas supplies 30 percent. Another 19 percent comes from nuclear power plants, with 7 percent from hydropower generation and 5 percent from renewable sources like wind and solar energy. With the new EPA rules, by 2030 just a little more than 30 percent of U.S. electricity would come from coal, with an almost equal amount coming from natural gas; while wind, solar and other alternative sources would supply 9 percent. The reduction would be equal to removing two-thirds of cars and trucks from American roads, according to EPA estimates.
While EPA officials acknowledge the proposed new rules could come at a cost of around $8.8 billion a year, the agency says the move will actually help Americans save money on their electric bills by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system. In fact, the EPA says Americans could see their bills reduced by an average of 8 percent. Some measures to reduce carbon emissions are already being implemented, such as changing how long power plants operate each day and working to increase sources of alternative energy like wind and solar power.
While opponents say the plan is setting out to kill the coal industry, EPA officials say it actually takes into account, at the state level, the impact of the coal industry on the economy. They say the plan is structured to allow states to develop their own plan to meet goals and limits set out by the EPA. Each state will be assigned a target for reducing its pollution, and will have the flexibility to design a plan that works best with its economy and resources. The New York Times reports options available to states include closing coal plants, installing wind and solar energy technology, or enacting state taxes on carbon pollution.
The EPA says the state-by-state plan takes into account those state economies that are dependent on coal production, requiring them to reduce emissions by a lesser amount than other states whose economies are not so reliant on coal power production. For example, a state like Kentucky, whose economy is heavily coal-dependent, would be called on to reduce its carbon emissions by 18 percent. Meanwhile, Washington State, which has just one coal-fired power plant, would be required to cut its emission rate by 84 percent. States will have until June 30, 2016, for submitting plans to achieve their reduced emissions target. States may submit a working plan and ask for an extension of up to two years to finalize it.
Carbon pollution has been increasing since the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Scientists say these carbon emissions correspond to the warming of the global climate, which will have potentially catastrophic effects worldwide. In May, the White House released a report detailing effects of rising global temperatures including extreme weather, seasonal allergies and rising oceans. The Obama administration hopes that by promoting a global viewpoint, it can encourage other nations to follow America’s lead and adopt cleaner energy policies, particularly in emerging economies in China and India. White House spokesman Jay Carney said:
The U.S. has to lead, first of all, and this is an indication that the United States will lead on this very important challenge posed by climate change and global warming.
The proposed regulations must go through a public comment period before taking effect, and it is expected to be challenged in court and in Congress. However, Obama has enough votes to veto any opposing legislation. Some states are expected to sue the EPA over the rule.
On June 14, in a commencement address at the University of California at Irvine, President Obama reinforced his commitment to curbing carbon emissions. He said in his talk that the scientific debate on climate change is over, stating: “The climate change deniers suggest there’s still a debate over the science. There’s not.” While lots of folks simply don’t like the president and oppose whatever he presents as a program, this is not an issue to oppose simply because the president is for it.
This is an issue that must be considered, debated and acted on. If there are options available to solve the problem that are actually better, then let’s look at them. But our leaders both at the national and state levels can no longer continue on our current course. We have largely ignored climate change and have let the polluters set the entire agenda in this area of concern. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do the right thing on the climate change issue and protect their future well-being.
Sources: CNN, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, WhiteHouse.gov
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