Global Warming Solutions

What It Will Take

The most significant step we can take to reduce carbon pollution is to set practical, feasible limits on the major sources such as cars and power plants. Under the Clean Air Act, the nation's bedrock air pollution law, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority and responsibility to establish limits for carbon pollution from all major sources, which the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed in 2007.

The largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. -- roughly 40 percent of total emissions -- is power plants. In addition to establishing emission limits on new power plants, the EPA needs to establish targets for reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants. This can be done in a flexible way that is fair for each state and would result in very significant reductions. NRDC estimates that emissions from existing power plants could be reduced by 26 percent by 2020 at very modest costs and significant economic and health and welfare benefits.

What's Working Now

The Administration has already taken a big first step using the Clean Air Act by establishing emission and fuel economy standards for cars, the second largest source of carbon pollution. These standards will deliver huge results, cutting fuel use and emissions from new cars in half by 2026.

This historic advance in automobile standards builds on significant progress being made at the state level to limit and reduce carbon pollution. In fact, it was California's actions to set global warming pollution standards on new cars that set things in motion for the federal government. Some states are making great progress adopting emission limits and targets for reducing carbon pollution from power plants and other industrial sources. Oregon recently established serious limits on emissions from new power plants. In the Northeast a group of states have formed a regional greenhouse gas initiative (RGGI) to cap and reduce emissions from the entire electric power sector. California is going even further and implementing limits on total emissions in the state that are reduced over time, while also creating a market where companies can buy and sell emission credits.

How We All Benefit

Well-designed and properly implemented pollution standards deliver multiple benefits. First and foremost, we will have cleaner air and a safer environment, which not only benefits our health, but also our quality of life and economy. Laws like the Clean Air Act, which is reducing some pollutants by more than 90 percent, save tens of thousands of lives each year and hundreds of thousands hospital visits.

The new car standards, which will require an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2026, will save consumers $1.7 trillion as we cut our oil imports by as much as one third. A recent BlueGreen Alliance study estimates that 570,000 jobs will be created across the economy from the standards, and 50,000 of those will be in the automotive sector.

For power plants, carbon standards that allow investments in efficiency and renewables to count towards reducing emissions would accelerate investment in clean energy and result in very significant reductions in harmful pollution from power plants. NRDC estimates that by 2020 such an approach could reduce carbon emissions by 560 million tons per year, spur electric utilities to invest as much as $90 billion in clean energy and the tens of thousands of jobs that would create, and avoid $25-60 billion in health and climate change impacts.

Photo: Istock

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