Obama un­veils sweep­ing cuts to power plant emis­sions

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Six years af­ter first promis­ing to “roll back the spec­tre of a warm­ing planet”, Barack Obama fi­nally com­mit­ted the US to un­prece­dented ac­tion against cli­mate change on Mon­day, with sweep­ing new curbs on car­bon emis­sions from power plants that are equiv­a­lent to tak­ing 70% of Amer­i­can cars off the road, ac­cord­ing to re­ports by EurAc­tiv and The Guardian.

The cul­mi­na­tion of his long-fought bat­tle against coal in­dus­try lob­by­ists and cli­mate change scep­tics in Congress was greeted with ju­bi­la­tion by many en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who de­scribed the tougher-than-ex­pected reg­u­la­tions as a “game-changer”.

De­scrib­ing it as “the sin­gle most im­por­tant step Amer­ica has ever taken in the fight against cli­mate change”, Obama warned it was al­most too late: point­ing out that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have al­ready fallen in the first 15 years of this cen­tury.

“Cli­mate change is no longer about pro­tect­ing the world for our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, it is about the re­al­ity that we are liv­ing with right now,” Obama said in a speech an­nounc­ing the plan. “We are the first gen­er­a­tion to feel the im­pact of cli­mate change and the last gen­er­a­tion that can do some­thing about it.”

But, re­call­ing his own ex­pe­ri­ence amid the smog of 1970s Los An­ge­les, Obama also in­sisted that tack­ling cli­mate change was an achiev­able goal – com­par­ing it to past en­vi­ron­men­tal achieve­ments in im­prov­ing air qual­ity, and mea­sures to tackle acid rain and pol­luted rivers.

“I don’t want my grand­kids not to be able to swim in Hawaii or climb a moun­tain and see a glacier be­cause we didn’t do some­thing about it,” he added in an un­usu­ally per­sonal speech on a sub­ject that has pre­vi­ously proven toxic for his po­lit­i­cal strate­gists.

White House of­fi­cials hope the tim­ing of their bind­ing pol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tions – the first ever US limit on car­bon pol­lu­tion from power plants – will help per­suade other big car­bon-emit­ting coun­tries to sign up to in­ter­na­tional tar­gets at a ma­jor cli­mate change con­fer­ence in Paris this De­cem­ber.

“I don’t want to fool you, this is go­ing to be hard. No sin­gle ac­tion, no sin­gle coun­try will change the warm­ing of the planet,” added Obama. “But to­day, with Amer­ica lead­ing the way, coun­tries rep­re­sent­ing 70% of car­bon emis­sions have an­nounced plans to tackle emis­sions … We can solve this thing, but we have to get go­ing.” Un­der the Clean Power Plan, pub­lished in its fi­nal form the US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) on

by Mon­day, states will now be re­quired to work with elec­tric­ity pro­duc­ers to re­duce over­all car­bon emis­sions by 32% be­low 2005 lev­els by 2030.

The tar­get is slightly higher than the 30% cut en­vis­aged un­der draft pro­pos­als last year, but states have been given an ex­tra two years be­fore im­ple­men­ta­tion be­comes manda­tory and are left to de­cide what mix of re­new­able energy, gas gen­er­a­tion or ef­fi­ciency sav­ings is the best way to achieve the tar­get.

The 1,000 fos­sil fuel-fired power plants in US are by far the largest source of CO2 emis­sions in the coun­try, mak­ing up 32% of to­tal green­house gas emis­sions. Ex­perts pre­dict the EPA stan­dards will force US coal pro­duc­tion back to lev­els last seen in the 1970s.

In­vest­ment in re­new­able al­ter­na­tives, such as wind, hy­dro and so­lar power, to­gether with manda­tory new car­bon-cap­ture equip­ment are ex­pected to cost the elec­tric­ity in­dus­try $8.4 bln, although the EPA claims this will be dwarfed by $34-$54 bln in wider en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits.

Some cam­paign­ers stressed the car­bon re­duc­tion tar­gets, which are al­ready par­tially achieved by many states, are only a start to­ward what is nec­es­sary to curb cli­mate change.

“While his­toric, when mea­sured against in­creas­ingly dire sci­en­tific warn­ings it is clear the rule is not enough to ad­dress our cli­mate cri­sis,” said the Friends of the Earth pres­i­dent, Erich Pica. “This rule is merely a down pay­ment on the US’s his­toric cli­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Oth­ers her­alded the rule as a turn­ing point. “It’s a sim­ple idea that will change the world: cut car­bon pol­lu­tion to­day so our kids won’t in­herit cli­mate chaos to­mor­row,” said the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil pres­i­dent, Rhea Suh.

Many in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies have also sup­ported the plan. EBay, Nestlé and Gen­eral Mills were among 365 busi­nesses to sign a let­ter in sup­port of the pro­pos­als and en­cour­ag­ing states not to de­lay im­ple­men­ta­tion.

Nonethe­less, the plan is ex­pected to run into a wall of op­po­si­tion from Repub­li­can-con­trolled states, many of whom fear it will dec­i­mate jobs in the coal in­dus­try and drive up elec­tric­ity prices for con­sumers.

The depth of feel­ing among many on the right is par­tic­u­larly vis­i­ble in the party’s pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, where few ma­jor can­di­dates ac­knowl­edge the need for emis­sions con­trols to tackle cli­mate change.

Jeb Bush, seen as the lead­ing es­tab­lish­ment con­tender for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, slammed the rule as “ir­re­spon­si­ble and over­reach­ing” in a state­ment.

“The rule runs over state gov­ern­ments, will throw count­less peo­ple out of work, and in­creases ev­ery­one’s energy prices,” he said.

“Cli­mate change will not be solved by grab­bing power from states or slowly hol­low­ing out our econ­omy. The real chal­lenge is how do we grow and pros­per in or­der to foster more game-chang­ing in­no­va­tions and give us the re­sources we need to solve prob­lems like this one.”

Texas sen­a­tor Ted Cruz added: “The pres­i­dent’s law­less and rad­i­cal at­tempt to desta­bilise the na­tion’s energy sys­tem is flatly un­con­sti­tu­tional and – un­less it is in­val­i­dated by Congress, struck down by the courts, or re­scinded by the next ad­min­is­tra­tion – will cause Amer­i­cans’ elec­tric­ity costs to sky­rocket at a time when we can least af­ford it.”

The pres­i­dent first pledged to tackle cli­mate change in his 2009 in­au­gu­ra­tion ad­dress, a com­mit­ment he re­it­er­ated four years later, but de­spite more mod­est achieve­ments on fuel ef­fi­ciency stan­dards and re­new­able energy in­vest­ment, a com­pre­hen­sive leg­is­la­tion was blocked in the Se­nate.

In­stead, his ad­min­is­tra­tion has sought to use pol­lu­tion con­trol leg­is­la­tion to cir­cum­vent po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion with ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions that are un­der­pinned by sup­port­ive supreme court rul­ings.

On Mon­day, Obama said it was not a mo­ment too soon. “This is one of those rare is­sues, be­cause of its mag­ni­tude and scope, that if we don’t get it right, we may not be able to re­verse. There is such a thing as be­ing too late when it comes to cli­mate change,” said the pres­i­dent.

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