Eyewitness to Progress

The Clean Power Plan is the most important step the United States can take to fight climate change.

I was both honored and inspired to be at the White House today when President Obama unveiled our greatest national advance ever against the central environmental challenge of our time.

After decades of watching the dangers of climate change gather and grow, we're striking back with the first-ever limits on the harmful carbon pollution from our dirty power plants. We're going to cut carbon pollution today so our kids don't inherit climate chaos tomorrow.

Under the Clean Power Plan, the president announced today, we'll strike a blow against climate change. We'll also save lives, create jobs, cut our electricity bills, and raise the curtain on a new era of clean American power. That's climate leadership, and it couldn't have come at a better time, as we build momentum toward a real global climate agreement this fall in Paris.

Sitting in the East Room and listening to President Obama lay out our country's stakes in this plan, the urgency of acting now, and the vast opportunity we have to drive innovation and create jobs by cleaning up our power plants, I knew I was an eyewitness to history.

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Ever since the dawn of the fossil-fuel age, the earth's atmosphere has been a defenseless dumping ground for unlimited tons of dangerous carbon pollution from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. The result: We've enclosed the planet in a kind of gaseous greenhouse that is driving temperatures up and disrupting global climate. Last year was the hottest on record. The first six months of this year were even hotter. And 14 of the 15 hottest years ever recorded have occurred in this century. As temperatures go up, sea levels rise, and we experience more and more extreme weather disasters, our people are paying the price.

Water flooding the streets at high tide in cities like Miami, Charleston, South Carolina, and Norfolk, Virginia. Storms inundating places like New Orleans and lower Manhattan. Withering crops in Kansas and pastureland in Colorado. Blazing forests in Alaska. Salmon dying by the thousands in the Columbia River. Seniors suffering in urban heat islands. Rising asthma attacks. Pestilence wiping out the great pines of Yellowstone. Entire speciesfacing mass extinction.

Where and when do we take real action to start to bring this epic disaster to an end? Right here, right now, the president said today.

For the first time in history, we'll cut the dangerous carbon pollution from our single-largest source, the dirty power plants that account for roughly 40 percent of our national carbon footprint. We won't allow them to continue using our air as a dumping ground for this driver of climate change and putting our future at risk. The fossil-fuel free-for-all is over.

Under the president's Clean Power Plan, we'll cut that pollution from our power plants 32 percent by 2030, compared to 2005, preventing nearly 900 million tons of carbon pollution from being belched into our atmosphere each year. That will have the same climate protection impact of taking 70 percent of our cars off the road.

That matters -- big time. It's going to provide us with up to $54 billion in public health and climate benefits every year, up to six times the cost of cleaning up our dirty power plants. That's a solid return -- and a sound investment in our future.

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By reducing carbon pollution from our power plants, we'll also cut the amount of fine particles and toxic chemicals these plants release into our air. That means less soot, ozone, and smog -- and better health. In 2030 alone, the pollution reductions from this plan will avert up to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 missed days of work or school. And those benefits will reoccur year after year.

The cheapest and fastest way to cut carbon pollution from our power plants is to invest in efficiency so we can do more with less waste in our businesses and homes. The Clean Power Plan will help us to do that. It's going to create tens of thousands of jobs for Americans who help make our homes and businesses more efficient. And it's going to save families an average of $85 a year in their electricity bills.

It will also help us get more clean, reliable power from the wind and sun, and make America a leader in the global transition to the clean energy technologies of tomorrow. In fact, the Clean Power Plan provides incentives for power companies that want to accelerate their plans for investing in renewable energy. And there are powerful incentives, too, for helping low-income families to make their homes more efficient and cut their electricity bills.

The Clean Power Plan is part of a larger strategy. President Obama has reached an agreement with major automakers to roughly double the fuel mileage for the cars we drive -- to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon -- by 2025. He's reached an agreement with the trucking industry to dramatically improve fuel mileage for the diesel-powered big rigs that move our freight. And he's working to cut industrial releases of methane, another powerful climate disrupter. We've set the table for even more progress to come.

We have an obligation to protect future generations from the growing dangers and rising costs of climate change. That means cutting the fossil-fuel pollution that's warming the planet and threatening us all. Ten, twenty, fifty years from now, our kids won't be asking why the president did this. They'll be wondering what took us so long to get started -- and thanking usfor taking action now. That's what makes today historic. We can all bear witness to that.

About the Authors

Rhea Suh

Former President

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