The New York Times reports, Obama Unveils Plan to Sharply Limit Emissions:
President Obama on Monday unveiled an aggressive plan to sharply limit greenhouse gases emitted by the nation’s power plants, declaring that time was running out to thwart the most dangerous impacts of global climate change.
“No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate,” Mr. Obama said in a speech from the East Room of the White House as he announced his most ambitious action to date to tackle the planet’s rising temperatures. “There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.”
The president, who wants to make his initiatives to address the warming of the planet a central element of his legacy, called the new rules a public health imperative and “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.” He also sought to wrap the policy in the legitimacy of transcendental values, noting that Pope Francis had issued an encyclical in June, calling action on the issue a “moral obligation.”
Even as Mr. Obama acknowledged the steep resistance from coal-producing states and industry critics to a plan that could lead to the closing of hundreds of polluting coal-fired plants, he said it was up to the United States to adopt tough standards so that other countries like China would feel compelled to take similar steps.
“When the world faces its toughest challenges, America leads the way forward,” the president said. “That’s what this plan is about.”
Mr. Obama said he would spend much of August talking about climate change, including during a trip later this month when he will become the first American president to visit the Alaskan Arctic.
The rules, a final, stricter version of a proposed plan that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 and 2014, assigns each state a target for reducing its carbon pollution from power plants. States will be allowed to create their own plans to meet the requirements and will have to submit initial versions of their plans by 2016 and final versions by 2018.
The most aggressive of the regulations requires that by 2030, the nation’s existing power plants must cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels, which is an increase from the 30 percent target proposed in the draft regulation.
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Mr. Obama scoffed at the criticism of the plan, dismissing it as the “same stale arguments” from skeptics trying to thwart progress.
“The kinds of criticisms that you’re going to hear are simply excuses for inaction,” he said.
If the plan survives legal challenges, it could lead to the shuttering of many coal-fired plants, freeze future construction of others, and lead to an explosion in production of wind and solar energy.
“We’re the last generation that can do something about it,” Mr. Obama said of climate change. Failing to address the problem, he added, would “be shameful of us. This is our moment to get this right and leave something better for our kids.”
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Richard L. Revesz, a professor and dean emeritus at the New York University School of Law, and Jack Lienke, an attorney at the Institute for Policy Integrity, co-authors of the forthcoming book “Struggling for Air: Power Plants and the ‘War on Coal,’” write, Obama Takes a Crucial Step on Climate Change:
President Obama’s Clean Power Plan has rightly been hailed as the most important action any president has taken to address the climate crisis.
The new rule requires the nation’s power plants to cut their carbon dioxide emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Power plants are the largest source of such pollution in the United States, responsible for more than a third of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. This greenhouse gas is the main driver of climate change, yet, until today, most plants could emit the pollutant in unlimited quantities.
The president’s plan is important not only because of the reductions it will achieve in domestic emissions. It also signals to the international community that America is serious about reining in its contribution to the global problem of greenhouse gas pollution. This message is particularly salient as the world’s nations prepare to gather in Paris in December to negotiate a new climate agreement.
Of course, not everyone is happy with the new rule. Some, like the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, a Republican from coal-producing Kentucky, have denounced it as the latest — and most damaging — attack in President Obama’s “war on coal.”
There’s no getting around the fact that a large number of coal-fired power plants are likely to close their doors in the near future. The Clean Power Plan will be at least partially responsible for many of these closings. A recent study by the United States Energy Information Administration estimated that almost 90 gigawatts of coal-fired electric generating capacity (close to 10 percent of the nation’s total) will be retired by 2020, and that just over half of that loss will be caused by the new regulation.
But the truth is that most of the coal plants at risk should have been shuttered years ago. Traditionally, the economically useful life of a coal-fired plant was thought to be about 30 years. As of 2014, coal-fired plants in the United States had been operating for an average of 42 years, and many plants had been in service far longer. Some date all the way back to the 1950s, meaning they have already been running for twice their expected life span.
Unsurprisingly, these clunkers tend to pollute at a far higher rate than more modern plants. Since 1990, a vast majority of the new electric generation capacity in the United States has been built to burn natural gas. Gas plants emit, on average, half the carbon dioxide, a third of the nitrogen oxides and a hundredth of the sulfur oxides per megawatt hour that coal plants do. The second largest source of new capacity has been wind power, which creates no air pollution at all.
Given the ready availability of newer, cleaner technology, why are we still getting our electricity from plants built in the Eisenhower era? The blame, ironically enough, rests with our nation’s most important environmental law.
Nearly 45 years ago, an almost unanimous Congress passed the Clean Air Act, which had the remarkably ambitious goal of eliminating essentially all air pollution that posed a threat to the public.
But however lofty its goals, the law contained a terrible flaw: Existing industrial facilities — most notably, electric power plants — were largely exempt from direct federal regulation. For some of the most ubiquitous pollutants, like those that form soot and smog, only newly constructed facilities would face limits on their emissions.
This “grandfathering” of old power plants didn’t seem terribly consequential at the time. Soon enough, it was thought, those plants would run out their useful lives and close down, making way for new facilities that would be subject to federal standards.
But that expectation turned out to be wrong. By instituting different regulatory regimes for new and existing plants, Congress had significantly altered the math behind decisions to retire plants. A system that subjected new plants to strict emissions controls but allowed old plants to pollute with impunity gave those old plants an enormous comparative economic advantage and an incentive for their owners to keep operating them much longer than they would have otherwise.
By the late 1980s, it was clear that the central goals of the Clean Air Act would never be achieved if these grandfathered coal plants were not regulated more stringently. Every president since then, whether a Democrat or Republican, has taken meaningful steps to slash pollution from existing plants, in most cases relying not on new legislation but on previously neglected provisions of the Clean Air Act itself. The statute has, in this sense, held the keys to its own salvation.
The Clean Power Plan follows in this bipartisan tradition. No new legislation is necessary. If the plan appears likely to spur a larger number of plant retirements than its predecessors, that is mainly because it is taking effect during a period when natural gas is affordable and abundant as never before. In the current market, shuttering old coal plants and ramping up the use of gas plants is simply many utilities’ most cost-effective option for cutting their carbon emissions.
Those who promote the “war on coal” narrative would have us believe that the president’s plan represents some sort of personal vendetta, an attempt, as Senator McConnell put it, to “crush forms of energy” the president and his allies don’t like. In reality, the rule is the latest chapter in a decades-long effort to clean up our oldest, dirtiest power plants and at last fulfill the pledge that Congress made to the American people back in 1970: that the air we all breathe will be safe.
It’s a promise worth keeping.
This key legal point is further explained by Ryan Koronowski at Think Progress. Obama Unveils Ambitious Climate Change Effort: ‘There Is No Plan B’:
These rules are not the result of new congressional legislation. They are the result of what the Clean Air Act tells the executive branch it has to do.
When Congress passed, and President George H.W. Bush signed, the 1990 update to the Clean Air Act, it included a section on pollutants not specified or envisioned by lawmakers at the time. In 2007, the Supreme Court decided in Mass. v. EPA that carbon dioxide qualified as a pollutant that could be regulated under that section of the Clean Air Act if the EPA found it to be a danger to public health. In 2009, the EPA found exactly that, and so the Obama administration began regulating sources of carbon dioxide. It started with mobile sources, and setting greenhouse gas emission standards for cars, trucks, and heavy-duty vehicles. The Clean Power Plan is just the next step in regulating carbon pollution as required by the Clean Air Act. Monday’s announcement will set the EPA, working with the states, to regulating power plant carbon pollution.
The EPA also released its final rule for new, modified, and reconstructed power plants. Unlike the rule for existing plants, this rule sets a specific limit on coal-fired plants: 1,400 pounds of CO2 per megawatt‐hour, which is less-stringent than the proposed rule’s standard of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt‐hour. This change was made, after feedback the EPA received about the cost of implementing a carbon capture and sequestration system.
The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gasses. Supreme Court: EPA can regulate greenhouse gas emissions (2014). The legal challenges threatened by the Carbon Monopoly and Republican controlled states is soley for the purpose of delay. Every dollar they piss away on litigation to enrich lawyers would be better spent on new technology and innovation to comply with the EPA Clean Power Plan. It is fiscally and morally the responsible thing to do.
This is America: we do big, bold ambitious projects. As President Obama said, “When the world faces its toughest challenges, America leads the way forward.” It’s time for America to renew its American spirit.