On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began a series of marathon public hearings on proposed emissions regulations for existing power plants. Though the debate has been largely framed as a 'yes or no' issue between environment and industry, critical voices are applauding the effort but saying the plan still amounts to 'too little, too late.'
Roughly 1,600 people are expected to weigh in this week during the two-day, 11-hour sessions in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Washington, DC. In a mass mobilization behind the EPA's Clean Power Plan, green groups on Tuesday held rallies outside the hearings and organized a virtual "thunderclap," calling on supporters to promote the proposed rules by submitting public comments online.
While some environmental groups bussed volunteers in for the rallies, others have taken a more critical eye to the plan's contents.
In her prepared testimony for the EPA hearings, Luísa Abbot Galvão, climate and energy associate at Friends of the Earth, called the new rules "deplorably weak."
Industry influence, she says, is stopping the U.S. from having a more ambitious energy plan. "This administration is promoting false solutions like clean coal, nuclear, and not-so-natural gas when the right solutions like wind are solar are literally staring us in the face."
The Clean Power Plan, which puts forth state-specific goals for carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants, is the first such effort to regulate carbon pollution from power plants—which contribute almost 40 percent of the country's total emissions. According to the EPA, when the proposed plan is fully implemented in 2030, carbon emissions from these sources will be 30 percent below 2005 levels.
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Citing these figures, Kevin Bundy, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, wrote in an op-ed Monday: "The president’s plan is more than three-quarters too little and 10 years too late."
In order to avoid "truly catastrophic climate change," Bundy writes, scientists say that developing nations like the U.S. must reduce emissions up to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. "As global warming increases flooding and storm surge threats to communities along our coasts, Obama’s draft power plant plan should be strengthened to achieve the global pollution cuts scientists recommend."
In addition to increasing the target reductions and moving up the deadline, FOE is recommending that the climate plan focus on promoting "clean renewable energy, such as wind and solar, over dirty fossil fuels, such as natural gas and coal," and institute a carbon tax to help states with that transition.
Making a case for the Power Plan, the White House Council of Economic Advisers issued a report (pdf) on Tuesday that said the cost of mitigating climate change increases by 40 percent for every decade that the country delays in taking significant action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate policy, the report says, "can be thought of as ‘climate insurance’ taken out against the most severe and irreversible potential consequences of climate change."
In conjunction with the hearings, the White House is expected to announce an executive action meant to curb the amount of methane emissions being released from natural gas production. According to White House director of energy and climate change Dan Utech, the order will include "newly announced partnerships with natural gas producers [and] a $30 million Department of Energy program supporting technology to decrease methane leaks."