A Promising New Year

We can use the global momentum for climate action to help push through President Obama's carbon reduction plan.

This month's historic global climate agreement in Paris wrapped up a watershed year for American leadership on the central environmental challenge of our time.

As always, our leadership abroad began at home, where President Obama has done more than any other American leader to protect future generations from the growing dangers of climate change. Our challenge in the months ahead is to build on the momentum for action by standing up for the centerpiece of the president's climate agenda, the Clean Power Plan.

That's going to take an all-out effort because the big polluters and their political allies have a centerpiece of their own for 2016: Block the progress we need on climate action by derailing the Clean Power Plan. There's too much at stake for us to let that happen. We've come too far for that. Just look at what we've accomplished this year alone.

In June the United States joined its Group of Seven partners -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and Italy -- in pledging to phase out the use of coal, gas, and oil by the end of this century.

In September Pope Francis visited from the Vatican to remind us of our moral obligation to protect future generations from the growing dangers of climate change.

In November President Obama rejected the Keystone XL dirty tar sands oil pipeline, saying we couldn't afford the damage this carbon-intensive crude would impose on our climate.

And in December we joined the nations of the world in Paris, where 187 countries laid out their action plans for moving away from the dangerous fossil fuels that are driving climate chaos and toward the cleaner, smarter options that can power our future without imperiling our planet.

That's not a trend; it's a revolution. It's going to reshape the global economy for the better. And it's going to strike a blow against the central environmental challenge of our time.

Taken together, this action sends a clear message to our friends around the world: We're not stuck with coal, gas, and oil and all the damage, danger, and destruction they bring. It sends a message to the financial markets: The future belongs to those who invest in efficiency, so we can do more with less waste; in clean energy from the wind and sun; and in all-electric and hybrid cars and other modern transportation options that improve our lives. And it sends a message to our children: We're not going to stand idly by and leave you to pick up the tab for rising seas, widening deserts, blistering heat, withering drought, raging wildfires, storms, and floods. We know the problem, we know the solution, and we've all pledged to do our part.

In the coming months, that means standing up to make sure we follow through in this country with the president's plan to cut the dangerous carbon pollution from the nation's dirty power plants.

The Clean Power Plan sets the first limits ever on that pollution. That's important because these plants account for 40 percent of our carbon footprint -- 40 percent, in other words, of the carbon pollution that's driving climate chaos. The product of years of analysis, more than two million public comments, and exhaustive efforts to work with power companies, industry, environmental experts, and others, the Clean Power Plan was made final last August. It will cut the carbon pollution from the nation's power plants by 32 percent by 2030, relative to 2005 levels.

The plan lets states work with their local power companies to develop the most cost-effective ways to hit their targets. Some will invest in efficiency -- the cheapest and fastest way to cut carbon pollution. Others will get more clean power from the wind and sun. Still others will tune up their fuel mix to reduce carbon pollution. Many will devise some combination of these measures.

They'll have plenty of time and flexibility to develop those plans. Individual state plans are due next September, with provision for extensions of one or two years. Compliance is to begin in 2020.

At least three dozen states are already working to develop their plans, making sure their citizens play a role in crafting their clean energy future. Officials in these states are working with community leaders, power companies, business executives, and other stakeholders to craft plans that make sense for their constituents. What's important is that these plans be effective and that they be implemented in a way that helps our most vulnerable communities in a just transition that includes real access to the economic opportunities of the clean energy revolution.

Other states, meanwhile, have joined with some fossil fuel interests in a lawsuit meant to anchor our future to the fuels of the past for the sake of big polluter profits. Republican leaders in Congress, meanwhile, are doing all they can to block or delay the progress we need, with no plan of their own to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change.

At NRDC, we've joined with Iowa, California, Virginia, Minnesota, New Mexico, and 20 other state, city, and county governments to stand up for the Clean Power Plan in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Under provisions contained in the Clean Air Act, one of the most successful pieces of legislation in our history, the Clean Power Plan sets reasonable limits on carbon pollution, just as we limit other pollutants from our power plants. It gives states the option of implementing these standards themselves or opting out and allowing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to directly oversee carbon pollution cuts at individual power plants. States will continue to exercise their traditional regulatory authority over the power companies in their jurisdiction as together we reduce our carbon footprint -- as we know we must.

We're confident that big polluters and their political allies will fail to block this plan. About seven in ten Americans understand our obligation to fight climate change. They want to see action, and they support the Clean Power Plan. GOP-led efforts to deny them that progress are doomed to fail.

Last year was the hottest year since recordkeeping began more than 130 years ago. Nineteen of the hottest years ever recorded have occurred in the past 20 years. And 2015 is on track to become the hottest year ever measured.

And yet, I'm more hopeful than ever. We've finally turned a great tide. We've set a new course for our future -- in this country and abroad. We're moving beyond the fossil fuel age and into the dawn of an exciting new era of cleaner, smarter ways to power our lives. That's what we see in this season of hope and this start of a promising new year.