Today, with the announcement of new carbon regulations, the Obama administration is using authority granted to the E.P.A. by the Clean Air Act to tackle the U.S.’s largest source of carbon pollution: over 600 coal-burning power plants. The proposed regulations would seek to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from these power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
According to The New York Times, the E.P.A. estimates that the regulation will cost $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion each year, but will garner economic benefits of $55 billion to $93 billion over the life of the regulation. Such a reduction in pollution is equivalent to removing the carbon pollution from two-thirds of the cars and trucks on America’s highways.
The Community Environmental Council’s President & CEO Dave Davis talks about how this new development affects climate policy and issues that CEC has been working on for the past seven years.
Q. The E.P.A. just released their draft proposal of new federal regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 30 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. What is your reaction?
President Obama has started at the top and used executive action where he could not get legislative action out of Congress, and in doing so, has tried to address one the largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution in the country: existing power plants, especially those that burn coal. The direction and the approach are going in the right direction. We would have loved more in terms of stricter requirement on the power plants, but it is a step in the right direction for the U.S., especially in terms of next year’s Paris Accords where the U.S. will be sitting down again with other countries and looking at what the world is doing to address climate change.
Q. What might be potential repercussions of this action?
We do not have coal-burning power plants in California, but we do import coal power from plants in nearby states, although the state’s utilities have been reducing that amount. However it’s clear that large parts of the country, especially those with economies centered around coal, will be concerned about the economic effects of the proposed regulations. There could be a lot of noise about the economic effects surrounding the transition away from coal and the cost of new pollution controls.
It will also potentially have a political effect. In those states, we’re sure to see strong campaigns that will try to pit the environment against the economy rather than looking at the fact that a good environment usually equals a good economy. So, I think we can expect economic clamor and at least some political ramifications.
Q. How does the work that CEC does and has been doing for decades fit into the larger debate?
Since 2007, CEC has had a new energy vision for Santa Barbara County and has been calling for a carbon-free future. This is a step in the right direction for the rest of nation to reach that goal too. In California, coal is a small percentage of our electricity generation, and it’s been phased out more and more over the years, so I think we can expect that there will be less of a direct impact here than in other parts of the country.
While many people feel that the regulations should have gone a lot further, in today’s political climate, I think the step that President Obama’s administration has taken is pretty courageous. I am sure there will be lots of litigation all the way to the Supreme Court challenging the E.P.A. and the President’s ability to carry out these regulations. That fight will carry us all the way into the next presidential election. This step today has set us up for a national debate over the next few years as to the future of federal controls on greenhouse gas pollution. It’s a big deal.
According to the Sierra Club, more than four million people have already voiced their support of reducing climate pollution from new power plants. They understand and CEC understands that we have a moral imperative to act and act now if we’re going to curb the worst effects of climate change. The more that the American people can demand this of our president, the more he knows he is responding to the will of the people.
Read more about the proposed regulations on The New York Times, NPR, NBC News, NRDC’s Switchboard blog, and Climate Progress, and check out this short YouTube video from the E.P.A. explaining their clean power plan.