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Will Obama Seize Key Opportunity to Fight Climate Change?

NRDC unveils "groundbreaking proposal" that would "eliminate hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution"

- Common Dreams staff

Policy experts from the environmental organization Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Tuesday unveiled what they are a calling a "groundbreaking proposal" designed to combat the threat of climate change by sharply reducing carbon pollution from America’s fleet of aging power plants.

The proposal, contained in a report titled Closing the Power Plant Carbon Pollution Loophole: Smart Ways the Clean Air Act Can Clean Up America’s Biggest Climate Polluters, promises to thwart the unwillingness (or inability) of Congress to rein in carbon pollution by advocating that the Obama Administration—by implementing regulatory authority already granted to the EPA—go after the country's largest source of climate-changing pollution: emissions from hundreds of US coal and gas-fired plants.

“The President put climate change on the national agenda, and NRDC’s plan shows how the United States can make big reductions in carbon pollution that drive climate change, with a flexible approach that promotes clean energy investments and delivers big benefits for Americans’ health,” said Peter Lehner, NRDC’s Executive Director. “This year’s ravaging heat waves, drought, wildfires and Superstorm Sandy underscore why the nation must tackle head-on the biggest source of dangerous carbon pollution now.”

"This chance to spur decarbonization in the power sector is Obama’s greatest second-term opportunity on climate change."
—David Roberts, Grist

By calling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to set standards for these existing plants—America’s largest source of carbon emissions that fuel climate change—NRDC says the move would "cut millions of tons of carbon pollution, save thousands of lives and create thousands of clean energy jobs."

Frances Beinecke, president of NRDC, says the proposal is good news precisely because the authority for implementing it already exists. "The Obama Administration already used the Clean Air Act to set carbon standards for cars and propose them for new power plants," she said. "Now the same law can be used to address carbon pollution from existing plants."

“The impact is huge," said Dan Lashof, NRDC’s Director of Climate and Clean Air programs, and a principal author of the plan. "Our proposal would eliminate hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution, save thousands of lives and stimulate a surge in clean energy and energy efficiency investments, all at a lower cost than many would expect.”

David Roberts, policy writer at Grist.org, put emphasis on the fact that Obama could pick up this policy recommendation without any input from Congress, which has repeatedly stalled any and all climate-related legislation in recent years. "This chance to spur decarbonization in the power sector is Obama’s greatest second-term opportunity on climate change," he said.

"The genius of NRDC’s proposal," Roberts continues, "is that it solves the most difficult dilemma facing the agency when it comes to stationary-source regulations."

According the NRDC analysis, which was presented Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, the plan would:

  • Cut carbon pollution from the nation’s existing power plants 26 percent by 2020 and 34 percent by 2025.
  • Make large reductions in other dangerous pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, from existing power plants.
  • At a cost of about $4 billion in 2020, save Americans between $25 billion and $60 billion in lives saved, avoided illnesses and reduced climate change.
  • Save 3,600 lives, prevent more than 23,000 asthma attacks, avoid more than 2,300 emergency room visits and prevent nearly 1.2 million restricted activity and lost work days.
  • Stimulate investments of more than $90 billion in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources in the next eight years.
  • Create thousands of jobs, boost local and state economies, and move America toward a clean energy, clean air future.

And Roberts concludes by asking if President Obama will seize the "extraordinary opportunity" of a simple and flexible plan that "is already in [his regulatory] toolbox; does not require any action by Congress; reduces U.S. emissions by 10 percent by 2020; and has the net effect of stimulating the economy through lower power bills and better health."

Roberts contends: "Whether he does will determine whether he goes down in history as a climate champion or someone who, despite lofty rhetoric, fiddled at the margins while Rome burned."

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