Before the ink had dried on the Obama Administration’s new plan to limit power plant emissions, business interests and their political allies began gearing up for legal challenges to the rules. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) calls the plan a job killer and is urging states to refuse to cooperate. Energy lobbies say it is radical and unattainable.
But compared to the scale of human-created climate change, the plan is modest, and anti-regulatory politicians offer no credible alternatives. They need to give it a chance to work.
The Clean Power Plan unveiled this week marks the first national effort to slash climate-warming carbon emissions from power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will reduce carbon emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and give states flexibility to decide how to meet their reduction goals.
Ohio, the fifth-largest carbon polluter in the country, will have to reduce its emissions 28 percent below 2012 levels by 2030 — a smaller reduction than many other states will be held to. State regulators will be allowed to create their own plan to achieve that goal, choosing from options such as increasing renewable energy production and trading emissions credits with other states, a market-based system that has drawn bipartisan support.
Phasing out coal, the dirtiest form of power generation, likely will feature prominently in many states’ plans. That has riled the Ohio Coal Association and trade groups all over the country, who know that continued reliance on coal is inconsistent with any solution to climate change.
The Ohio EPA criticized the rules, arguing that President Obama overstepped his authority by bypassing Congress to issue the plan. Cooperation from lawmakers would be ideal, especially because the President’s plan could be rescinded by a future administration.
But Congress has refused to produce any substantive emissions regulations, even as the imminent danger of climate change becomes clearer. Such arguments also ignore the President’s authority to direct his administration to set rules on matters that are critical to the national interest, such as climate change.
The United Nations strengthened its projections about climate change last year, warning that global carbon emissions need to be eliminated by 2100 to avoid irreversible effects. The Clean Power Plan represents a modest and necessary, not an extreme, step toward that end.
Climate change already has cost the nation billions of dollars in the form of increased drought, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Leaders from coal-rich states need to persuade their residents of the urgent need to pursue alternative energy sources, not bow to the demands of energy lobbies.
The United States accounts for 16 percent of carbon emissions globally, and has the highest rate of carbon consumption per person of any large nation. It’s incumbent on America and other big polluters to lead global efforts to end reliance on fossil fuels. The Clean Power Plan will strengthen America’s credibility and negotiating power in future talks with world powers.
Together with the Obama Administration’s vehicle emissions standards, the Clean Power Plan marks the most serious step any administration has taken to combat climate change. Fossil-fuel lobbies complain that regulation harms their business interests, but fail to explain how to address the life-threatening effects of climate change without it. What’s their alternative?