Yesterday the EPA announced the proposed rule for the Clean Power Plan, the first rule we have had in our country to comprehensively address emissions from existing power plants. The proposed rule would reduce emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. The EPA is accepting comments on the proposed rule and will be holding public hearings in July in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. Now is absolutely the time to provide our input on this rule and to tell our legislators and governors that we support strong national carbon emissions reductions.
The EPA estimates that proposed emissions reductions in the Clean Power Plan are equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for a year. Importantly, the plan will cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit. Particle pollution reduction has major immediate public health benefits: the EPA estimates the rule will result in public health benefits including a half million fewer work and school days lost to sickness 150,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, which is of great importance as asthma is a leading public health care cost and is on the rise in prevalence the US. For both its near-term public health benefits and its long-term approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this plan is a definite step in the right direction.
The Administration has purposefully allowed for substantial flexibility at the state level for meeting these national goals. The proposal initiates a complex and politically charged regulatory process by which each state will determine how to meet customized targets set by the Environmental Protection Agency, then submit those plans for approval. Some states which rely more heavily on coal have lower reduction mandates than others; for example, West Virginia is only being asked to cut its emissions by 19% relative to 2012 levels; whereas New York, which is joining with other northeastern states in a regional approach to carbon emission reduction, has a target of 44%. Washington and Oregon are already on the path to meet the new national standards, particularly with our states’ plans in place to shut down two major coal plants in Centralia, WA and Boardman OR over the next several years. Ostensibly, this kind of flexibility should make the plan more feasible and palatable for implementation; conversely, placing so much power in the hands of states to implement these rules could lead to the same kind of political sandbagging and reluctance we have seen by many Republican governors over implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
As you can imagine, like all policies related to climate change, this Plan has its vocal proponents and opponents. Fiscal conservatives and those skeptical of the severity of climate change are jumping up and down over the costs of implementation, which the EPA estimates at around $8.8 billion a year, and the fear of lost jobs in the fossil fuel industry (its important to note that coal and natural gas are not by any means going away under this plan- the EPA notes that under the proposed rule, these two fossil fuel sources will still comprise about 60% of the energy portfolio). Proponents point to the estimates of tens of billions of savings in health care costs- the EPA estimates about $50 to $80 billion in net public health and environmental cost savings- plus saving lives through reduced air pollution, the movement towards energy sources that have long-term sustainability and opportunities for energy independence, and the absolute critical need to begin a national commitment to mitigating our greenhouse gas emissions.
I am pretty sure I know which side of these arguments is more convincing to me; the proposed Clean Power Plan makes both fiscal and environmental sense. But our legislators, the White House, and the EPA have to hear public support and recognition of the importance of these regulations, which is why commenting on the proposed rule, thanking the President, helping NGO’s present a unified voice of support for the rule, and asking our governors and legislators to support and implement these rules are all important steps to take to move this commitment forward.