Obama Unleashes EPA Attack Dog to Slash Coal Plant Emissions

U.S. emissions by industry.

Emissions from U.S. power plants will be sheared by 30 percent as the Obama Administration unleashes its attack dog, the Environmental Protection Agency, to rein in fossil fuel use.

The EPA’s proposed rule is expected to be the signature achievement of President Barack Obama’s second term. It is hoped the plan could spark negotiations for the long sought after international climate accord to battle global warming.

The EPA wants the emissions cuts in place by 2030 and will give individual states the right to choose the way they achieve the cuts, including the use of energy efficiencies, cap and trade or renewable energy.

“Climate change, fuelled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids. We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment–our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs.” 

Frustrated in his attempt to get a sweeping cap and trade bill through Congress in his first term, Obama is using his executive powers to push through the plan that he believes will lead to cleaner skies and spur innovation in the broader economy.

“As President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” Obama said in his weekly address. “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way.  But a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come.”


Obama meets EPA chief Gina McCarthy at White House. White House photo by Pete Souza.
Obama meets EPA chief Gina McCarthy at White House. White House photo by Pete Souza.

Obama has turned to the EPA before to take unilateral action, including a rule to curb emissions from all new power plants. But this plan on existing plants has long been feared by the coal industry and will be met by outrage from Republicans and even some Democrats in coal states, setting up a big dogfight ahead of the mid term elections in November. 

Obama signalled in a string of major speeches over the past several months that tackling climate change would be a legacy issue for him. His moves were broadly welcomed by his base, the environmental movement. But they acknowledge these moves alone won’t be enough to mitigate catastrophic global warming, especially if China does not act to curb its heat-trapping emissions.

There is hope, however, the EPA will help spark cooperation at a global level, as noted by the U.N. climate change chief:

“The decision by President Obama to launch plans to more tightly regulate emissions from power plants will send a good signal to nations everywhere that one of the world’s biggest emitters is taking the future of the planet and its people seriously,” Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in a statement.

She said it was a “good signal” for the UN’s climate summit in September and for securing a meaningful climate agreement at the UN convention meeting in Paris in late next year.

TotalUSGHGEmissions“I fully expect action by the United States to spur others in taking concrete action—action that can set the stage and put in place the pathways that can bend the global emissions curve down in order to keep world-wide temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius this century,” she said.

The plan elicited predictable outrage from Republicans who shed big, fat tears for families supposedly facing rising costs. This is the same group that won’t raise minimum wage and really, really hates medical coverage for regular folk. In reality these lawmakers are speaking up for the endlessly profitable fossil fuel industry, which pays to keep them in power.

Here are a few more details of the plan as outlined by the EPA:

* Cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year; 
Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit;
Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days—providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and 
Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.



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