Obama finalizes historic Clean Power Plan

Intro

The centerpiece of President Obama’s climate change strategy – the Clean Power Plan – is now finalized. It is the single biggest and most ambitious action the US has ever taken to tackle climate change. Under the initiative, the country will reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent on 2005 levels by 2030, lining up with the offer it made as part of this year’s international climate negotiations taking place in Paris. Prior to Monday’s announcement, hundreds of American companies expressed support for the plan and some of the country’s largest businesses committed to invest at least $140 billion to take on climate change. Support for the Clean Power Plan goes far beyond the private sector. Health advocates from coast to coast are heralding the plan’s finalization saying it will avoid 3,600 premature deaths, lead to 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, and prevent 300,000 missed work and school days. Social justice leaders also praised Monday’s announcement given the disproportionate impacts coal pollution has on poor and minority families. Opposition to the Clean Power Plan, however, is coming from expected corners: fossil fuel companies and the politicians and interests groups they fund. Despite these predictable attacks, the Clean Power Plan’s anticipated positive impacts on public health, the economy and the chances for future generations to inherit a safe planet are driving the policy’s popularity.

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Key Points

  • The Clean Power Plan is the single biggest policy the US has enacted to address climate change. The plan consists of the first ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants and commits the country will reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent on 2005 levels by 2030. It is popular and heralded by business leaders , health advocates and social justice leaders concerned about the impacts climate change and poor air quality is having on families across the world.
  • By protecting health, The Clean Power Plan helps low income families. The NAACP conducted a thorough review of U.S. coal-fired power plants and found that minority and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by the air pollution they generate. The report also highlighted the fact that seventy-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant and this proximity makes them even more vulnerable to health impacts from coal plant emissions.
  • The Clean Power Plan is another signal that the world is shifting to a new era of tackling climate change on a global level. The Clean Power Plan is the primary component of the United States’ offer to this year’s UN climate negotiations in Paris. Since the draft of the plan was announced a year ago, China has followed by making a climate commitment of its own and now more than 30 nations including the US,, China and Mexico, as well as the European Union have placed serious offers on the table.
  • Transitioning away from dirty coal to renewable energy sources creates jobs and drives the economy. Strong investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy under the Clean Power Plan can save $40 billion in 2030. Since 2008, the American economy has grown as dangerous carbon emissions shrunk by 12 percent. An analysis conducted by the NewClimate Institute found that the main elements of the American plan to address climate plan will deliver nearly 470,000 new and sustainable jobs by 2030.
  • The Clean Power Plan is welcomed by Americans of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. Exit polling from the New York Times shows that nearly six out of 10 voters believe taking on climate change is an “important issue.” A 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 67 percent of Americans support the carbon regulations proposed by President Obama and the EPA and this year another poll showed that 63 percent of Hispanics feel the US government should do “a lot” or “a great deal” about global warming.

Background

The centerpiece of President Obama’s groundbreaking climate change strategy—the Clean Power Plan is now finalized, representing the single biggest and most ambitious action the US has ever taken to tackle climate change. “Finalized” by the Obama Administration on Monday (3 Aug) the Clean Power Plan, mandates steep cuts to power-plant carbon emissions, and will require the utility industry to shift toward cleaner energy sources. Specifically it requires a 32 percent cut in emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels. When initially drafted a year ago, the plan called for a 30 percent cut by 2030. But,while the final rule is more ambitious, it also comes with a delayed first year of compliance. Now, states don’t have to begin reporting their progress until 2022; initially states had to begin meeting emissions reductions benchmarks in 2020.

In addition to accelerating the transition away from coal, the Clean Power Plan seeks to prevent a one-to-one shift to natural gas for electricity generation in the US. It “doubles down” on renewables, withthe final regulations creating a new program encouraging states to deploy more renewable energy and energy efficiency by giving credits toward compliance to such projects that begin construction early on. This should accelerate the transiting to clean energy and add to an already strong industry. The Clean Power Plan is administered under the US Environmental Protection Agency, which is required by law to regulate carbon emissions to safe levels under the Clean Air Act. In the absence of congressional action of greenhouse gases, the EPA also has authority to administer a plan for reducing emissions. The Clean Power Plan, which is now finalized, is notable for its state-focused, or “building block” framework. The plan requires states to draft their own plans to reduce power-plant emissions to reach the overall national target. If states fail to comply, the EPA will impose a federal plan on noncompliant states.

Despite offering no clear alternative for cleaning up carbon pollution that exacerbates climate change, opponents of the Clean Power Plan are expected to lay down road-blocks and mischaracterize it going forward. Challenges in courts could be immediate and will likely trigger a swift Supreme Court case. Even before the rule was finalized, reports that a handful of governors would ignore the ruling began to surface in national newspapers, despite this putting them in line for the EPA to craft their own plan for non-compliant states. As for the legal process, it has been anticipated that this would end up in the courts and a delay in achieving the end results of the 32 percent emissions reduction is unlikely to occur given that the majority of states are already on track to meet benchmarks of the Clean Power Plan.

The 32 percent carbon emission target for 2030 is especially significant because of its place in so many other important climate commitments. When originally announced as a draft last year, it set in motion a number of high level international commitments. In November 2014, the 30 percent target reemerged as the negotiating starting point for talks between the US and China, the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases. The US agreed to reduce its emissions ahead of 2030, promising China it would cut emissions by up to 28 percent on 2005 levels in 2025. China, in turn, committed to cap emissions by 2030. Eight months following the US-China agreement, and more than a year after the initial draft of the Clean Power Plan was released, the US, China, and more than thirty other nations, and the EU, have placed commitments on the table as part of the international climate negotiation process. Again, 30 percent is the target for the American offer, mirroring the Clean Power Plan.
When the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan has a sizable and diverse groundswell of support. The business case for taking on climate change through initiatives like the Clean Power Plan is growing by the day and recent announcements that some of the largest companies in the US would be investing more than $140 billion to cut carbon emissions as 360 other companies signed a letter of support of the plan only adds to that case. The renewable energy sector, which has been booming in the US also stands to benefit as its increased affordably comes as Americans increasingly want energy from clean sources. The health community has also been vocally supportive of the Clean Power Plan, touting its positive impact on asthma rates, health costs and deaths avoided. Leading social justice voices are also watching this ruling closely, as low-income and minority communities are disproportionately impacted by the dangers of coal power in the US.

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  • This is a big win for everyone working to get energy bills down and solar panels up in poor neighborhoods. It represents a humiliating black eye for big polluters, who have been trying to scare everyone into believing that Obama’s climate rules will hurt the poor. Combined with the Administration’s low-income solar initiative announced in July, it turns out that Obama is doing everything possible to make sure that all Americans benefit from the clean energy revolution. Van Jones
  • “The Clean Power Plan is an important step forward in the United States’ effort to address climate change, but everyone who has paid attention to recent climate science knows it is woefully inadequate on its own. If the Obama administration is serious about leaving behind both a positive climate legacy and a habitable planet for our children, it will stop the drilling and mining of publicly owned fossil fuels and reject Shell Oil’s dangerous Arctic oil drilling plan. Annie Leonard, Greenpeace USA Executive Director
  • “The Clean Power Plan will slash the pollution that worsens smog and intensifies cases of asthma and other respiratory diseases. It’s protecting our health and homes, our lives and livelihoods.” Rhea Suh, president, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • “The Clean Power Plan provides us with our best shot to meet our international climate goals and lead the rest of the world towards a strong international climate agreement. This will also be a catalyst for a clean energy economy at home that will benefit all states through a more diverse energy supply, cleaner air and homegrown job growth.  Ken Kimmell, President of the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • The long-awaited required reduction in carbon pollution from power plants will also serve to reduce dangerous air pollutants that cause and exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses and disproportionately impact the Latino community. The Clean Power Plan will protect public health while reducing our electricity bills and increasing good jobs through investment in renewable clean energy and efficiency.  Mark D. Magaña, President & CEO, GreenLatinos
  • “The Clean Power Plan is the right measure at the right time. It’s a flexible, practical and economically sound blueprint to transition America toward a low-carbon future. That’s why 365 leading companies, from small local businesses to iconic Fortune 500 brands, are supporting the EPA rule publicly and are calling for timely finalization of state implementation plans by state governors.” Mindy Lubber Ceres, and former EPA Regional Administrator
  • Today marks the end of an era for dirty power plants that have spewed dangerous pollution into our air without limits for too long.  It signifies a new era of growth for affordable and safe clean energy sources that don’t fuel climate disruption and sicken our communities. With 200 coal plants announced to retire and clean energy growing at record levels, the US is now taking a huge next step to curb dangerous carbon pollution.  Today is a victory for every American who wants clean air to breathe, and for the millions of activists and concerned citizens who organized to make sure this day would finally come.  Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune
  • “These flexible, achievable, science-based rules represent real progress for protecting wildlife and America’s outdoor heritage from the worst impacts of climate change. The steps proposed today are broadly popular, both with voters at large and with sportsmen. Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation

  • “The President is using his authority under the Clean Air Act because it is his responsibility to carry out the law and protect our nation’s climate security, and because Congress has failed to adopt comprehensive climate solutions. Eventually Congress must pass a comprehensive, market-based system that puts a price on climate pollution from major emitters and gives business an incentive to develop new clean energy solutions. Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund

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