Carbon Limits Will Bring another Victory in America's War on Pollution

As part of his climate action plan, President Obama has pledged to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. This breakthrough will help millions of American breathe easier. Carbon pollution causes climate change, and climate change leads to higher levels of smog—pollutants that inflame the lung’s airways, trigger asthma attacks, and cause respiratory disease. The American Academy of Pediatricians says carbon pollution is especially dangerous for children, because smog can permanently damage their lungs.

Many parents know how frightening bad air days can be. Eileen Geoffrey lives with her family in Pittsburgh, and her son Daniel almost died from an asthma attack “that left his chest so tight he wasn't even wheezing.” Eileen has to keep the windows of their home closed on most warm days because the air quality threatens Daniel's health.

Carbon limits will help lower this risk for the 25 million Americans living with asthma—including my son-in-law—and reduce the threat of extreme weather brought on by climate change.

And yet some members of the fossil fuel industry discount these enormous benefits. They claim President Obama’s climate plan is a war on coal, when in fact it’s a war on pollution. It’s a campaign to protect the health of our families and the future of our children. America has successfully used the Clean Air Act to reduce every other pollutant from power plants. Now it’s time to close the carbon loophole and unleash the next wave of energy innovation.

Innovation has been the key to reducing pollution and cutting costs for the past four decades. Nearly every time the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new public health standard, skeptics said it couldn’t be done. And yet over and over again, they were proven wrong. Industries found new, cost-effective ways to cut pollution and save lives.

When the EPA proposed phasing out ozone-depleting CFCs, for instance, the chemical industry predicted refrigerators would fail in America’s supermarkets, hospitals and schools. Yet companies succeeded in meeting the first round of standards up to six years earlier and at a cost of 30 percent less than expected. And when the EPA decided to reduce acid rain pollution, utilities leaders called it a “tragic mistake.” Yet thanks to new efficient scrubbers and other shifts, the cost of reducing acid rain pollution turned out to be about 80 percent lower than predicted, according to an MIT study. Meanwhile, the acid rain program has generated $80 billion in health benefits every year and saves nearly 19,000 lives annually.

America’s innovators will make similar leaps in carbon reduction. They will find new ways to control carbon pollution from power plants, and they will advance low-carbon energy technology.

Take the solar industry, for instance. China may be pulling ahead in producing first generation solar technologies, but America is already leading the next generation of solar breakthroughs. The National Renewable Energy Lab helped pioneer a thin-film panel that’s far cheaper to make than traditional silicon panels, and now US companies are building factories in America to expand this technology, exporting these products to China, Germany, and Spain, and creating more home-grown jobs. Already, nearly 120,000 Americans work in the solar industry.

Meanwhile, sectors across the economy—from manufacturing to commercial real estate—are figuring out new ways to save energy and money at the same time. Efficiency will play a key in helping utilities meet carbon standards, and many have begun scaling up investments in efficiency programs, increasing from $2.7 billion in 2007 to nearly $7 billion in 2011. In Ohio alone, utility efficiency efforts created more than 3,800 jobs by 2011 and will create more than 32,000 jobs by 2025. Such programs translate into customer savings: families could save up to $700 a year on electric bills when carbon standards are in place thanks to efficiency measures.

President Obama’s climate plan will unleash more of these cost-saving solutions. It will spur technological innovations and help America modernize our power fleet.  Some fossil fuel companies don’t want to move into the future and don’t want to operate cleaner. They claim it isn’t possible, but I know it is, because we have done it before.

America has used our know-how to clean up smog, mercury, acid rain, lead and soot. Now we can do the same with carbon pollution. And we can protect the health of our families and create economic growth in the process.