Implementing the Inaugural: President Obama's Carbon Pollution Solution

It was thrilling to hear President Obama put climate change front and center in his Inaugural Address. In case you missed what he said, here it is:


The good news is that the President has the means to make good on his commitment: the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Recently, the Natural Resources Defense Council outlined a bold plan by which the US EPA could  curb carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants by 26 percent in the short term.

Our proposal is now being cited as a blueprint the President can use to get the job done. The New York Times explained it this way:

Now there is a broad expectation that he will follow up his first big use of the E.P.A.'s powers to rein in emissions -- proposed rules last year for new power plants -- with a plan to crack down on emissions from existing power plants.

According to estimates from the Natural Resources Defense Council, emissions from current coal-fired plants could be reduced by more than 25 percent by 2020, yielding large health and environmental benefits at relatively low cost. Such an approach would allow Mr. Obama to fulfill his 2009 pledge to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, the group says.  ‘There's a really big opportunity, perhaps bigger than most people realize,’ said Dan Lashof, director of the N.R.D.C.'s climate and clean air program.

Politico Pro picked up on it as well, noting that (subscription required):

President Barack Obama promised in his inaugural speech to take on climate change in his second term, setting the stage for a series of bruising policy battles over energy, the environment and foreign affairs. The Obama EPA already issued first-time greenhouse gas regulations for cars and proposed a rule that would limit carbon pollution from new power plants, after a legislative effort to create a cap-and-trade system was killed in Congress in 2010. To further regulate greenhouse gas emissions does not require action from the deeply divided Congress. The administration is due to finalize the proposal for new power plants by March, and under the Clean Air Act, that will set up the next step for the administration: regulating greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.

As I noted in my blog of December 12, 2012, the early news coverage of the NRDC plan was quite positive. Since then, we’ve seen even more encouraging reactions.

Dave Roberts of Grist told MSNBC recently that 

There's a provision of the CAA that Obama can use to reduce total US carbon emission by 10% by 2020 with the stroke of his pen, without permission from Congress, so he's got no excuse now. And if people are looking for a place to focus their energy, on trying to make something actually happen here, this is a tool that is laying on the table.

In its recent major story on “Obama’s Climate Challenge,” Rolling Stone writes:  

The [Natural] Resources Defense Council issued a proposal that shows just how effective it would be for the EPA to crack down on pollution from coal plants. The plan, which tailors emission caps to the power-generation mix in each state, could slash total U.S. carbon pollution by 26 percent by the end of the decade. Besides slowing the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere, the pollution reductions would prevent more than 23,000 asthma attacks and thousands of premature deaths. And instead of costing money, it could save taxpayers and consumers as much as $60 billion.

When Time magazine dubbed President Obama “Person of the Year and Driller in Chief,”  it noted that he had the power to make major improvements in the environment:

That’s a pretty good argument for why we need to act on global warming—though it’s not really clear what the President would or even could do, especially faced with a divided and likely hostile Congress. He’s the Person of the Year, but he’s not omnipotent. (Though he does have options—see this plan from the Natural Resources Defense Council that would use the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.)

Triple Pundit’s analysis of the NRDC plan to curb power plant pollution emphasized the health and jobs benefits

There are many health and environmental benefits to the NRDC’s plan since it also includes limiting pollution from “traditional pollutants,” as the brief puts it, like sulfur and nitrogen oxides. The health benefits of the plan include preventing over 23,000 asthma attacks, avoiding over 2,300 emergency room visits and hospital admissions a year, and preventing thousands of premature deaths. There are also economic benefits as the plan would stimulate investments of over $90 billion in energy efficiency and renewables between now and 2020. The plan would also create jobs, as an NRDC blog post points out, because energy efficiency and renewable energy create local jobs.  In short, the NRDC plan would help the environment, create jobs for local economies, and bring health benefits to the American people.”

The Center for American Progress has also weighed in, putting carbon reductions at the top of their "Top 10 Energy Prioirities for Obama's Second Term" post, and cited the NRDC proposal as key to making it happen: "The Natural Resources Defense Council, for instance, proposed a carbon-pollution-reduction program for power plants that would cut their pollution by one-quarter."

When  Andrew Winston outlined for Bloomberg the “top 10 sustainable business stories of 2012,” he put in the No. 1 slot:  “Historic drought and Hurricane Sandy sweep away (some) climate denial.”

In the U.S., a backdoor approach to climate policy took over. The Obama administration issued new standards to double the fuel economy of cars and trucks, and the National Resources Defense Council (an NGO) proposed using the Clean Air Act to reduce emissions from power plants by 25%.

So as his 2nd term gets underway, we can celebrate the President's commitment to rise to the challenge of climate change by meeting the obligation we have to protect future generations; we can also be glad that the smart and effective policy options available to him are attracting positive attention and solid praise from observers. Forward!

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