Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

(Credit: Reuters / Larrying Downing)

(Credit: Reuters / Larrying Downing)

Obama's EPA Plan vs. Climate Catastrophe: 'Fighting a Wildfire with a Garden Hose'

More critical takes on White House plan to cut emissions say new rules simply don't go far enough

Jon Queally

In announcing new emissions standards of U.S. power plants on Monday, many of the nation's largest green groups are championing the Obama administration's new EPA regulations as the strongest proposals ever put forth by a U.S. president in the fight to rein in greenhouse gases or mitigate against climate change.

Not to throw a wet blanket on the news, however, there's a serious catch that more critical environmentalists and organizations are taking the time to point out. Despite welcoming the move as "step in the right direction," these voices—taken collectively—are saying it's important that people recognize this essential fact: Given the scale of the climate emergency and the level of aggressive action needed, the Obama plan is just simply not enough. Not by a long shot.

“This is like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose — we’re glad the president has finally turned the water on, but it’s just not enough to get the job done.” —Kevin Bundy, CBD

Groups like, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, and Greenpeace USA are among those rising to challenge the emerging mainstream narrative that the new standards are somehow the best that could be hoped for or achieved.

“This is like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose — we’re glad the president has finally turned the water on, but it’s just not enough to get the job done,” said Kevin Bundy of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.

According to Gabe Wisniewski, climate and energy campaign director for Greenpeace USA, "The new rule shows that the Obama administration is serious about taking action on climate change, but the Administration could and should strengthen it considerably."

Wisnieski pointed to his group's recently published report—titled Energy [R]evolution - A Sustainable USA Energy Outlook (pdf)—which shows that from a technical perspective, the US power sector could achieve almost twice the reductions proposed in the rule while also creating more and better jobs, greater energy independence, and a more democratic energy system.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, called Obama's new rules "the most significant step by any American president to combat climate disruption." Though a clear step forward, he added, "this rule simply doesn’t go far enough to put us on the right path. The science on climate change has become clearer and more dire, requiring more aggressive action from the president."

Bill McKibben, co-founder of, didn't take on the shortcomings of the EPA rules directly, but made the blunt point that to adequately respond to the danger posed by global warming caused by industrial emissions, Monday's announcement should only be viewed as a small portion of what's needed overall from lawmakers in Washington, DC..

"The science on climate change has become clearer and more dire, requiring more aggressive action from the president." —Erich Pica, FOE

“This is good," said McKibben. "These rules will help advance the obvious tasks of moving America off coal. It’s one of the many things that simply have to happen if we have a chance of catching up with the physics of climate change. Others include rejecting Keystone XL, securing a powerful international agreement, and ending dangerous energy exploration, like fracking and tar sands mining."

In a joint statement, Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch and Janet Redman from the Institute for Policy Studies, said the plan falls short for several key reasons. First, the targets are just too low. And second, the reliance on a cap-and-trade scheme, which essentially allows utilities and power plant operators to pay-to-pollute, has been proven inadequate at reducing overall emissions and does nothing to help local communities situated in the shadow of toxin-spewing plants. They write:

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.

And Rachel Cleetus, a senior climate economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, agrees. "While the power plant carbon standard is a tremendous step forward, ultimately we will need to make much deeper cuts in emissions to help limit worsening climate impacts, something the administration cannot do alone,” she said. “Congress must step up and enact legislation that will lead to deep cuts in emissions throughout the economy.”

As the groups vowed to keep pushing their members to keep up the pressure on the White House and Congress on taking bolder action, some credited the growing climate justice movement for what the White House and EPA have now proposed.

"This is what good organizing does," said McKibben, "and more of it will keep the ball rolling. Movement pressure is starting to bring results.”

Going forward, Pica vowed his members at Friends of the Earth will continue to speak out against what he termed Obama's "misguided all-of-the above” energy policy and said that the best way to do that is to continue the call for "an immediate transition to clean renewable energy" paired with an equally intense demand to keep "as many fossil fuels in the ground as possible."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Reckless Misuse of Resources': House Approves $778 Billion Military Budget

"There was no CBO score needed. No concern about the deficit. No mention of inflation," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman.

Jake Johnson ·

Senate Dems Help Torpedo Resolution That Would Have Blocked $650 Million Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia

"My simple question is, why in the world would the United States reward a regime that has caused such pain in Yemen with more weapons," Sanders asked after the vote. "The answer is we should not."

Brett Wilkins ·

Amnesty Scorecard Finds Twitter Failing to Protect Women From Online Abuse

"As our world has become increasingly dependent on digital spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic, it's critical that Twitter meet this moment with demonstrated commitment to improving the online experiences of all users, regardless of their identity."

Jessica Corbett ·

Filibuster Reform for Debt Ceiling Fight But Not Voting Rights or Reproductive Freedom?

"If our senators are willing to suspend the filibuster to protect our economy, they should be willing to suspend it to protect our democracy and our freedom to vote."

Jessica Corbett ·

As Senate Holds Guantánamo Hearing, Biden Urged to 'Finally End This Chapter of Injustice'

"Guantánamo is a centerpiece of the forever wars. It is a shameful symbol of racial injustice, torture, and violations of the Constitution and international law."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo