Obama's Sensible Climate Plan: Cutting Pollution and Driving Efficiency, Jobs and Innovation

I had the privilege of sitting in the small audience at Georgetown University when President Obama laid out his plan to address climate change. He gave a great speech, and, even better, he laid out a terrific plan. It was inspiring to hear the president commit to tackling one of the biggest—probably the biggest--threat to our nation’s economy and our children’s future. And it was exciting to learn he is taking a practical, proven, common-sense approach to this challenge.

The president’s climate action plan can succeed because it is built on solutions already working around the country. (NRDC, I’m proud to say, helped get many of these solutions off the ground.)

In private industry and government agencies, red states and blue states, big cities and small towns, people are cutting carbon pollution and creating clean energy jobs. The evidence is clear: climate action saves money and generates economic prosperity.

Several states, for instance, have already limited the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can release. Nine Northeastern states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) have established a regional limit that has cut power-plant carbon by 30 percent and resulted in measures that will save consumers $1.3 billion on energy bills. California is on track to cut its total carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. In addition to the $65 billion Californians have already saved on their energy bills, electricity customers will begin receiving twice-yearly climate dividends next year at an estimated $60 per customer. Between 2013 and 2020, these dividends are expected to range from $5.7 billion to $22.6 billion.

President Obama called for creating similar carbon standards for the entire nation, and several utilities have offered their support. PSEG, NextEra Energy, New York Power Authority and others said on Tuesday that they welcomed the effort to cut global warming pollution. Dominion Chairman and CEO Thomas Farrell said his company would work with the administration to promote low-carbon technology. “We have put our words into action,” he said. “By making significant investments that should reduce our CO2 combustion emissions by about a third by 2015 and lower other emissions by as much as 90 percent by 2020.”

This is the kind of investment in innovation that has made America strong. Time and again we have found better, more efficient ways to do things. The average car now includes a computer more powerful than the one that sent men to the moon. The typical household refrigerator uses about 75 percent less energy it did in 1975. The air we breathe has 90 percent less lead than in 1980. Power plant technology can reduce sulfur emissions by more than 95 percent. Surely we can reduce the amount of carbon in our power fleet.

Clean, renewable power is a critical part of reducing carbon, and President Obama called for dramatically expanding our renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Again, cities and states are already leading the way. Twenty-nine states have standards requiring utilities to generate a percentage of their power from renewable energy. In Texas, wind accounts for about 10 percent of electricity produced in the state. Iowa now gets roughly 20 percent of its power from wind energy, and Republican Governor Terry Branstad says, “As wind energy grows, so does the Iowa economy.”

This dramatic expansion has created jobs. More than 200,000 Americans work in the wind and solar sectors, and more than 550 factories on American soil produce parts for the wind industry. It also unleashes real and lasting benefits for local communities. A single wind farm, like Twin Ridges in Pennsylvania, can generate about $2 million in annual payments to local landowners and an additional $500,000 for schools, the township, and the county. And generating power without having to worry about fuel costs is a good long-term business prospect for wind developers and energy consumers.

Energy efficiency, meanwhile, is already saving homeowners and businesses billions of dollars. The recent energy retrofit of the Empire State Building saved its owners $2.4 million dollars in its first year of operation, and is expected to save $4.4 million annually when the project is complete. Tenants in efficient buildings are building out high-performance spaces that will save them millions in energy costs over the length of their leases. Efficiency standards for appliances, such as refrigerators and dishwashers, already issued by the administration will save consumers a cumulative total of $95 billion on their energy bills by 2035. By this time, the standards will also reduce annual carbon pollution equivalent to the emissions from 25 coal-fired power plants.

These are the kind of concrete solutions President Obama called for in his climate plan—the kind that have already been proven to work across the country. And yet naysayers will still claim that stabilizing our climate and investing in innovation is somehow bad for America.

This assumes that the President’s plan will raise utility bills, when in fact, carbon pollution limits could be implemented in ways that could save families as much as $700 each year on electric bills. It also ignores the fact that job growth in the utility sector is coming from wind and solar energy. Polluters will claim the president’s plan is waging a so-called war on coal, when in fact, it’s making a war on pollution—pollution that is hurting our kids, threatening our homes and our livelihoods. We should applaud, not attack, the President’s commitment to our health and to making the air safer to breathe and the climate more stable.

That’s a commitment that will benefit all Americans. By cutting carbon pollution from its biggest source and continuing to boost energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy, we are taking a decisive step to protect our communities and build an engine of economic prosperity that will sustain us for decades to come. Despite the heat yesterday, we were all excited to see the President lay out a plan to take on this challenge—a move that will allow us to look our kids in the eyes and say that we did our best to leave them with a healthy planet.




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