After mostly failing to truly tackle greenhouse gas emissions during his first term as president (for various reasons), Barack Obama is giving it another go through the powers of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), bypassing congress. The Clean Power Plan, as it is known, aims to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 30% compared to 2005's level by the year 2030.
Here is the official announcement by the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy:
"Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life. EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan by proposing a Clean Power Plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from our largest source--power plants," 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."
By 2030, the EPA wants to:
· 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.
The plan takes aim mostly at the worst offenders, coal power plants, but each state will have various ways of meeting the targets. Some might decide to shut down their coal plants, others might clean them up and add more clean energy from other sources, etc.
What about costs? The NYT reports: "The E.P.A. estimates that the rule will cost $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion annually, but will lead to economic benefits of $55 billion to $93 billion over the life of the rule, according to a person briefed on the plan."
More ambitious targets are probably required to truly stabilize the climate, but this is a good step. Once the US starts doing something rather than be frozen into inaction, it'll be much easier to get more ambitious goals in action. So not a victory (and the plan hasn't yet been legally challenged, which is sure to happen), but a step in the right direction.
One important possible effect of this plan is that it could encourage other countries to step up their efforts. Some were waiting for the US - still the most influential country in the world - to do something. We'll have to wait and see if this gets things going or not...