By Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.)
Sometimes big problems require big solutions. One of the biggest problems this country has long faced is air pollution, which has had a devastating effect on the health of people and our planet. More than 45 years ago, recognizing the seriousness of the threat, Congress enacted a big solution: the Clean Air Act. It is one of our nation’s most successful laws, helping to cut air pollution of all types even as the U.S. economy has grown.
Now the administration’s effort to use the Clean Air Act to reduce a dangerous air pollutant is under attack in the courts. A legal challenge to the proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) is counterproductive and counter to the clear authority of the law. The Clean Power Plan implementation is critical to protecting public health and welfare.
The Clean Air Act was designed to address air pollutants, and has been so successful, in part, because it gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the tools necessary to help achieve Congress’ objectives. The EPA then used that authority to create the Clean Power Plan, which sets the first ever limits on power plant carbon pollution. This is a big deal. Power plants produce nearly half of U.S. carbon pollution, representing the single largest domestic source. Clean energy is the key to combatting climate change.
Carbon pollution not only degrades air quality, it damages the health of the American public, leads to coastal erosion that threatens entire communities, acidifies the ocean, and increases the risk of deadly weather such as the drought, flooding and violent storms.
If implemented, the Clean Power Plan will help ease those effects. Indeed, the plan is estimated to prevent 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000, asthma attacks in children and 300,000 missed work and school days by 2030. From both a public health and a climate protection standpoint, the estimated benefit of the Clean Power Plan is valued at $54 billion per year.
The coal industry and some Republican politicians sued the EPA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Arguments are set to be heard on Sept. 27. As the court will see, the Clean Power Plan stands on a strong legal foundation. As members of Congress, we know lasting legislation often sets out broad goals, provides guidance on how to achieve them and then lets expert agencies fill in the details. That’s exactly how Congress drafted the Clean Air Act. And that’s why the King Coal and their allies are wrong when they claim the Clean Power Plan is executive overreach or that EPA acted only because Congress hasn’t passed climate legislation.
Just because Congressional Republicans have successfully blocked a broader legislative response to the grave threat of climate change doesn’t remove the authority that Congress already gave the EPA to place limits on carbon pollution. Taking away the EPA’s authority to address carbon pollution wouldn’t advance the intent of Congress, it would thwart it.
The Clean Power Plan builds on existing market trends and strategies that states and companies are already using to reduce their carbon pollution. That’s why a number of energy companies filed an Amicus brief supporting the EPA, as did a broad coalition of legal experts, environmental groups, states and cities and more than 200 current and former members of Congress, whom we were honored to join.
The reason the Clean Power Plan enjoys such broad support is simple: It’s legitimate, it’s achievable and will help protect the health of our planet and its people.