EPA's Carbon Rule Falls Short of Real Emissions Reduction

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Common Dreams

EPA's Carbon Rule Falls Short of Real Emissions Reduction

Centralia coal-fired power plant, Washington State (Photo via Flickr / Kid Clutch / Creative Commons license)

On the heels of two telling reports from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) and the National Climate Assessment detailing the substantial negative impacts from climate change around the world, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) decision to incorporate emissions trading and offsetting in their new carbon dioxide rule undermines its ability to deliver the real reductions in carbon emissions so urgently needed.

We applaud the President for using the tools he has available, given that Congress refuses to act, and for setting hard targets for emissions reductions. However, the targets don’t make the U.S. a leader in addressing climate change. Because this rule applies to only one segment of our economy – existing coal-fired power plants – the reduction targets fall far short of the IPCC’s goal for developed countries of economy-wide reductions of 15 to 40 percent below 1990 emission levels by 2020. With the President’s targets, U.S. economy-wide emissions would still be above 1990 levels in 2030.

In addition, by allowing states the option of using cap-and-trade and offsets, the administration has cut the legs out from under its own rule. Carbon trading is designed to benefit big corporate polluters. It lets industry decide for itself how to limit carbon emissions based on profit motive, and makes it cheaper for the dirtiest power plants to simply pay for permits instead of cleaning up pollution.

The U.S. needs only look to the European Union (EU) for evidence that cap and trade fails to deliver on its promises. The EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) for carbon – the largest and longest-running in the world – has been fraught with problems, including corporate giveaways, gaming by the energy industry, volatile carbon prices, and fraud.

Proponents claim the U.S. can design cap-and-trade better than the Europeans, but they are already importing one of the worst aspects – offsetting. Offsets allow regulated power plants to pay farmers, foresters and others outside the cap to reduce their emissions, and then claim those cuts for themselves. Power plants keep polluting, and the families living in their shadow continue to breathe toxic emissions.

To top it off, it is nearly impossible for the supplier of an offset to guarantee that the offsetting action will be in place for the duration of a power plant’s life. Given the 50-year lifespan of carbon in the atmosphere after its release, offsetting poses a real risk to long-term climate stability.

Even the U.S. Government Accountability Office points out that, ‘offsets allow regulated entities to emit more while maintaining the emissions levels set by a cap and trade program or other program to limit emissions.

We need a bold rule that truly seeks legitimate carbon emission reduction by burning less fossil fuel, supporting energy efficiency, and ramping up the use of sustainable renewable energy in order to address climate change. The Clean Air Act calls for the “best system of emissions reduction” to reduce emissions from existing power plants. Unfortunately, trading and offsetting merely perpetuate pollution and encourage business-as-usual. The EPA should uphold the Clean Air Act by enforcing rules that reduce pollution – not promote a system that allows power plants to pay to pollute.

Janet Redman

Janet Redman is co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network (SEEN) project at the Institute for Policy Studies. IPS is a community of scholars and organizers linking peace, justice, and the environment in the U.S. and globally. www.ips-dc.org

Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch. She has worked extensively on energy, food, water and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Experienced in developing policy positions and legislative strategies, she is also a skilled and accomplished organizer, having lobbied and developed grassroots field strategy and action plans.