Pulse of the Peninsula: Obama’s plan to fight climate change


In unveiling the first-ever federal limits on carbon emissions from power plants, President Obama quoted a state governor who said, “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it,” 

He compared the challenge of climate action as the most compelling, even considering what he has to tackle during his administration — recession, wars, terrorism, gun violence.

“But this is one of those rare issues — because of its magnitude, because of its scope — that if we don’t get it right we may not be able to reverse, and we may not be able to adapt sufficiently.  

There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.”

In a presentation at the White House, Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy introduced the Clean Power Plan, stating, “We have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged. The effects of climate change are already being felt across the nation. In the past three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled, and climate change is putting those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital. Extreme weather events — from more severe droughts and wildfires in the West to record heat waves — and sea level rise are hitting communities across the country. 

In fact, 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the first 15 years of this century and last year was the warmest year ever. 

The most vulnerable among us — including children, older adults, people with heart or lung disease, and people living in poverty — are most at risk from the impacts of climate change. Taking action now is critical.”

Throughout his presidency, Obama has taken some fairly bold and significant steps to mitigate climate change — increasing fuel mileage standards for automobiles, incentivizing investment in clean renewable energy like solar electricity generation (increased more than 20-fold since 2008) and electricity from wind has more than tripled.  

But now he is taking on America’s power plants — and by extension, the U.S. coal industry — which has already vowed to fight in the courts (they already one a victory of sorts in the Supreme Court in June, when a rule limiting mercury was sent back for a “cost-benefit analysis.”)

Cost-benefit analysis? 

I wonder how will they justify turning back standards which by virtue of cutting carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent by 2030, will reduce premature deaths from power plant emissions by nearly 90 percent in 2030 compared to 2005 and decrease the pollutants that contribute to the soot and smog and can lead to more asthma attacks in kids by more than 70 percent. 

The Clean Power Plan will also avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths, lead to 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, and prevent 300,000 missed work and school days. 

The Clean Power Plan will keep 870 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution — the main source of climate change — out of the atmosphere a year by 2030 — the equivalent of cutting every ounce of emission due to electricity from 108 million American homes, or of taking 166 million cars off the road. 

The plan will also:

· Create tens of thousands of jobs while ensuring grid reliability; 

· Drive more aggressive investment in clean energy technologies than the proposed rule, resulting in 30 percent more renewable energy generation in 2030 and continuing to lower the costs of renewable energy. 

· Save the average American family nearly $85 on their annual energy bill in 2030, reducing enough energy to power 30 million homes, and save consumers a total of $155 billion from 2020-2030; 

· Give a head start to wind and solar deployment and prioritize the deployment of energy efficiency improvements in low-income communities that need it most early in the program through a Clean Energy Incentive Program; and 

· Continue American leadership on climate change by keeping us on track to meet the economy-wide emissions targets we have set, including the goal of reducing emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and to 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. 

And why is all this a big deal?

Power plants are the source of nearly one-third of America’s carbon pollution — more pollution than is produced by all our cars, airplanes and homes generate combined.

“That pollution contributes to climate change, which degrades the air our kids breathe,” Obama said. “But while there are limits to the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur and arsenic that can be spewed into the air or water, power plans can still dump unlimited amounts of harmful carbon pollution into the air.

“For the sake of our kids and the health and safety of all Americans, that has to change. For the sake of the planet, that has to change,” the President said. 

Two years ago, Obama directed Administrator Gina McCarthy and the Environmental Protection Agency to address the problem — and now, after working with states and cities and power companies, drawing unprecedented input through extensive outreach, including the 4 million comments that were submitted to the agency during the public comment period — the EPA is setting the first-ever nationwide standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from power plants.  

And here’s the thing: the states will have the flexibility to devise their own plan.

“Over the next few years, each state will have the chance to put together its own plan for reducing emissions — because every state has a different energy mix.  

Some generate more of their power from renewables; some from natural gas, or nuclear, or coal.  And this plan reflects the fact that not everybody is starting in the same place.  So we’re giving states the time and the flexibility they need to cut pollution in a way that works for them.” And like Obamacare, if the states don’t devise a plan, the federal government will provide one for them.

 “And we’ll reward the states that take action sooner instead of later — because time is not on our side here. As states work to meet their targets, they can build on the progress that our communities and businesses are already making.

 “A lot of power companies have already begun modernizing their plants, reducing their emissions — and by the way, creating new jobs in the process.  

Nearly a dozen states have already set up their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution.  About half of our states have set energy efficiency targets.  More than 35 have set renewable energy targets.  Over 1,000 mayors have signed an agreement to cut carbon pollution in their cities.”  

Indeed, last week, 13 of the nation’s biggest companies representing $1.3 trillion in revenue in 2014, including Alcoa, Microsoft, UPS, Walmart and GM, made bold, new commitments to cut their emissions, deploy more clean energy, and collectively, make $140 billion in low-carbon investments.

“We are an energy-intensive industry,” said Kevin McKnight, Chief Sustainability Officer, Alcoa. “It is critical we have a climate agreement [in Paris] that creates a level playing field for all companies. We are very supportive of the effort to bring a global agreement and level the playing field to de-carbonize.”

McKnight then criticized organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, which have vowed to fight carbon limits even to the Supreme Court.

“Those organizations are extremely broad. At times, they take positions that are not in sync with positions of some members,” McKnight said.

This is an important point because the U.S. Chamber, since 2014, has been organizing a legal challenge to climate change regulations, incorporating ALEC (the Koch Brothers-funded lobbying group that creates “model legislation” for state legislatures) as documented by the New York Times “Move to Fight Climate Plan Started Early,” Aug. 4, 2015), and it disregards the fact that the Administration worked directly with the states and the power companies to formulate the plan. 

Indeed, there are many who will come out the winners as the economy transitions away from carbon-based energy, just as it did with Thomas Edison (General Electric), especially if the incentives provided to fossil-fuel based companies (see “A Climate Plan Businesses Can Like,” New York Times, Aug. 4).

But the president addressed the “critics” and the “cynics” like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who vows to fight against any interference with the “lifeblood” of his state of Kentucky. 

Interesting to refer to “life blood” when carbon emissions are sucking the life out of millions of people around the world, raising the specter of 200 million “climate refugees” on top of the millions who suffer from drought, famine, floods, fire, tornados. Black death, is more like it.

Scientists, Obama said, have provided data for years to demonstrate that “human activities are changing the climate in dangerous ways. 

Levels of carbon dioxide, which heats up our atmosphere, are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years; 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.  And we’ve been setting a lot of records in terms of warmest years over the last decade.  One year doesn’t make a trend, but 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have fallen within the first 15 years of this century.

“Climate change is no longer just about the future that we’re predicting for our children or our grandchildren; it’s about the reality that we’re living with every day, right now. 

“The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  While we can’t say any single weather event is entirely caused by climate change, we’ve seen stronger storms, deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons.  Charleston and Miami now flood at high tide.  Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart. 

“Over the past three decades, nationwide asthma rates have more than doubled, and climate change puts those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital…

“And that’s why I committed the United States to leading the world on this challenge, because I believe there is such a thing as being too late.”

Taking on the “critics” and the “cynics” he said, “Long before the details of this Clean Power Plan were even decided, the special interests and their allies in Congress were already mobilizing to oppose it with everything they’ve got. 

They will claim that this plan will cost you money — even though this plan, the analysis shows, will ultimately save the average American nearly $85 a year on their energy bills.

“They’ll claim we need to slash our investments in clean energy, it’s a waste of money — even though they’re happy to spend billions of dollars a year in subsidizing oil companies.  

They’ll claim this plan will kill jobs — even though our transition to a cleaner energy economy has the solar industry, to just name one example, creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.”

Obama said, “They’ll claim this plan is a ‘war on coal,’ to scare up votes — even as they ignore my plan to actually invest in revitalizing coal country, and supporting health care and retirement for coal miners and their families, and retraining those workers for better-paying jobs and healthier jobs.  Communities across America have been losing coal jobs for decades,” he said, on a day when three coal-mining companies declared they were shutting down (because of declining costs of natural gas). “I want to work with Congress to help them, not to use them as a political football.  Partisan press releases aren’t going to help those families.  

“Even more cynical, we’ve got critics of this plan who are actually claiming that this will harm minority and low-income communities — even though climate change hurts those Americans the most, who are the most vulnerable. Today, an African-American child is more than twice as likely to be hospitalized from asthma; a Latino child is 40 percent more likely to die from asthma. So if you care about low-income, minority communities, start protecting the air that they breathe and stop trying to rob them of their health care,” he said to sustained applause.

“We’ve heard these same stale arguments before. Every time America has made progress, it’s been despite these kind of claims. Whenever America has set clear rules and smarter standards for our air, our water, our children’s health, we get the same scary stories about killing jobs and businesses and freedom.” 

He said, “Scientists, citizens, workers, entrepreneurs — together as Americans, we disrupt those stale, old debates, upend old ways of thinking. Right now, we’re inventing whole new technologies, whole new industries — not looking backwards, we’re looking forwards. 

 “And if we don’t do it, nobody will. The only reason that China is now looking at getting serious about its emissions is because they saw that we were going to do it, too. When the world faces its toughest challenges, America leads the way forward.” Now that’s American Exceptionalism.

But he added, “Now, I don’t want to fool you here. This is going to be hard; dealing with climate change in its entirety, it’s challenging. No single action, no single country will change the warming of the planet on its own. But today, with America leading the way, countries representing 70 percent of the carbon pollution from the world’s energy sector have announced plans to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. In December, with America leading the way, we have a chance to put in place one of the most ambitious international climate agreements in human history.  

“And it’s easy to be cynical and to say climate change is the kind of challenge that’s just too big for humanity to solve. I am absolutely convinced that’s wrong. We can solve this thing. But we have to get going. It’s exactly the kind of challenge that’s big enough to remind us that we’re all in this together.”

Evoking NASA’s recent photo of earth from outer space, “The Blue Marble”, the first since 1972, he said, “This ‘blue marble’ belongs to all of us. It belongs to these kids who are here. There are more than 7 billion people alive today; no matter what country they’re from, no matter what language they speak, every one of them can look at this image and say, ‘That’s my home.’ And ‘We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change; we’re the last generation that can do something about it.’ We only get one home. We only get one planet. There’s no plan B.”

To see a fact sheet about the Clean Power Plan, visit WhiteHouse.gov/Climate-Change.

To see how New York State is impacted, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/image/climate/New_York_Factsheet.pdf

The Clean Power Plan was applauded by environmentalists.

In New York State – one of 35 states that has already set renewable energy targets and 25 that have set energy efficiency targets – we have already seen the enormous economic benefits of reducing carbon pollution and investing in clean, renewable energy like wind and solar. 

New York State —  one of 35 states that has already set renewable energy targets and 25 that have set energy efficiency targets — has already seen significant economic benefits to show for its leadership in reducing carbon pollution. 

“According to a recently released report by Analysis Group, between 2012 and 2014, revenues from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade effort of Northeast states to reduce carbon pollution, has created more than 14,000 new jobs and saved consumers over $360 million in lower electric bills,” the Sierra Club stated. “Additionally, since the program’s inception in 2008, RGGI has generated more than $2 billion in revenue for investment in a clean, green economy for the region — nearly $800 million for New York State alone — proving that capping carbon pollution is a win-win.”

Earlier this summer, Gov. Cuomo finalized the New York State Energy Plan, a bold policy framework which establishes clear goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, generate 50 percent of our electricity from renewable sources and increase energy efficiency 23 percent by 2030. 

“Climate change is real, the science is clear, the impacts hurt people, and it’s time that all public officials either get on board with finding solutions, or get out of the way,” Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York said. “Environmental Advocates applauds President Obama and the EPA for finalizing this rule — it wasn’t easy to complete, and industry and their allies in Congress tried everything they could to let polluters off the hook. Pope Francis and world leaders are calling for action, and this critical first step proves the United States is ready to lead and sets the stage for a global climate action plan.”


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