If you enjoyed the battle over Obamacare, you will love the coming battle over the president’s Clean Power Plan announced Monday.
At least that is the impression you might get from the reaction of some politicians and die-hard defenders of the coal industry. Members of Congress vow to block the new rules and opponents threaten to go to court challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s legal authority to require reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, the battle over the Clean Power Plan is unlikely to be as furious as the one set off by the Affordable Care Act. That’s because it would not be nearly as disruptive to the power industry as the critics would suggest. In fact, the proposed carbon dioxide reductions will not require dramatic changes, and many states, including Iowa, are already on track to comply.
While the hysteria from some critics is an over-reaction, it reveals the challenge in dealing with climate change through government regulation. Yet this nation must take serious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to curb its own contributions to global warming and to set an example for the rest of the world. The Clean Power Plan will not solve the problem by itself, but it is an important step in the right direction.
The final rules announced by President Barack Obama on Monday are aimed at significantly reducing the nation’s production of carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping greenhouse gas blamed for global warming. Power plants contribute about a third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The new rules primarily target coal-burning electric-generating plants, which will be required to reduce emissions by 32 percent by 2030, using 2005 as the historic benchmark.
That is a somewhat more ambitious reduction than was originally proposed, but the states would have an additional two years to comply. Moreover, states will have flexibility in meeting the new emissions standards depending on their current mix of energy sources.
The new rules come as no surprise. President Obama has made climate change a top priority for cementing his green legacy. The proposed rules were made public more than a year ago, and the energy industry has long anticipated tighter regulation of coal generation. As a result, many old and inefficient plants have been shut down, and plans for new plants canceled. Meanwhile, the power industry has been rapidly shifting to natural gas, which is cheaper and generates about half as much carbon dioxide as coal.
At the same time, utilities are diversifying into renewable energy sources, including wind and solar. Indeed, Iowa is already at least halfway to meeting the EPA 2030 goal in part due to the strong support for wind generation in this state. Des Moines-based MidAmerican Energy says it plans to have a total of 4,000 megawatts of renewable generation capacity by 2017, which the company said could serve “up to 57 percent of its retail energy load.”
Such industry initiatives are encouraging, but energy producers and consumers need incentives to continue moving from fossil fuels to renewables. And rules like those announced Monday by the Obama administration are equally important to level the playing field nationally and show the world that the United States is committed to confronting climate change.