Obama Takes Crack at Climate Action
President's move to regulate US power plants with authority of the EPA called "bold," but is it enough? Don't count on it.
President Obama will officially announce new EPA regulations on Monday designed to cut carbon emissions from U.S. power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030, according to leaked details of the plan in recent days.
The executive move is broadly seen as the president's way to sidestep a divided and obstructionist Congress—which has proven incapable of moving forward any climate-related legislation—by using the EPA's legal authority to curtail emissions of greenhouse gasses in the name of public health.
So far, the most complete explanation of the proposal and the context in which it is being rolled out comes from Climate Desk's Tim McDonnell, who says the "rules are likely to be the biggest step toward the president’s goal of cutting US greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020."
And Vox.com, which put together its own primer on the rules, explains:
On June 2, the EPA is proposing a new rule to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from the nation's existing coal- and gas-fired power plants — the first-ever rule of its kind.
For now, this is only a proposal. The EPA will spend the next year gathering comments from electric utilities, environmentalists, and anyone else who cares to weigh in. It will then issue a final regulation that takes effect in June 2015. States will then have until June 30, 2016 to draw up plans to implement the rule.
The EPA will set different emissions targets for different states — which, when added up, will aim to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from the nation's power sector as much as 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Electric utilities in each state will be given a variety of options for cutting their emissions — using more efficient technology, boosting their use of solar or wind power, or even joining regional cap-and-trade systems that require companies to pay to emit carbon-dioxide.
In part based on a carbon reduction plan put forth by the National Resource Defense Council, one of the nation's largest environmental advocay groups, the Obama plan—which EPA chief Gina McCarthy will help introduce at a press conference at 10:30 am—is being championed as "big f#%ing deal" by some despite serious and important caveats set out by others.
“Setting carbon pollution limits will put America on a new course – toward a cleaner energy future, greater energy efficiency, a healthier population and a more prosperous economy,' said NRDC president Frances Beinecke over the weekend in response to leaked details of the plan. "That’s the right solution at the right time. Climate change is here and now. We must limit carbon pollution – just as we do for mercury, soot and other harmful pollutants.’’
But as is so often the case, the devil is in the details when it comes to alleged regulatory regimes placed on powerful industries, few more skillful at blocking such efforts than the powerful oil, gas, and coal companies that rule the fossil fuel sector.
For instance, the 2005 date from which future reductions are measured against is hardly "aggressive."
As Ben Adler writes at Grist:
Environmental activists are not overwhelmed with joy at the news, although they remain hopeful that the final rules will be significant. The target is a little weaker than they want, and they say the battle to strengthen the rules during the coming public comment period will be immense.
“It’s a good first step, and only the proposed rule,” says Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program. “We’ll submit comments pushing for a stronger standard.”
And Bill McKibben and Phil Aroneanu, both co-founders of 350.org, responded to the initial reporting on the plan by voicing the same message:
The new EPA carbon rules will save about exactly as much carbon as KXL would produce. So, that's good! Let's do both! http://t.co/A9qz1Sr8xe— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) June 2, 2014