Clean Power Plan Better Than Nothing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will finally release its “Clean Power Plan” today to regulate carbon emissions from the power sector.  The agency was required to do so by a 2007 Supreme Court decision.  Yet due to what must be the brutal politics of trying to regulate coal-fired power plants, the Obama Administration dragged its feet until now — six years into the Obama presidency.

The final rules require a 32 percent drop in emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels.  But this target is extremely watered down, to the point where it actually projects a slower rate of progress going forward on carbon emissions than we’ve been experiencing since 2005 to date, given that we’re already halfway to those targets with business-as-usual progress.  Yet this is still better than the draft rules, which had targets so low that five states (!) were actually already in compliance with the 2030 goals.

Michael Grunwald pretty much sums it up in Politico:

If you’re really ranking them, the Clean Power Plan is at best the fourth-strongest action that Obama has taken to combat climate change, behind his much-maligned 2009 stimulus package, which poured $90 billion into clean energy and jump-started a green revolution; his dramatic increases in fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, which should reduce our oil consumption by 2 million barrels per day; and his crackdown on mercury and other air pollutants, which has helped inspire utilities to retire 200 coal-fired power plants in just five years. The new carbon regulations should help prevent backsliding, and they should provide a talking point for U.S. negotiators at the global climate talks in Paris, but the 2030 goals would not seem overly ambitious even without new limits on carbon.

I couldn’t agree more with Grunwald on his rankings. The stimulus in particular is underestimated in its impact on boosting the clean technology sector. The sad part is that even this weak action today on climate will provoke endless litigation. And if a Republican wins the presidency in 2016, expect the EPA to gut and delay these rules and approve weak state implementation plans.

All relatively depressing, but these rules are still better than nothing.  And maybe we can hold out hope that they will be strengthened over time.


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