Today President Obama unveiled the strongest climate action plan in US history, and the first to set Federal limits on carbon emissions from power plants. Under the new Clean Power Plan—which will undoubtedly face legal challenges from the coal industry—power plants will be required to cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 to help curb climate change. States can also avail themselves of new initiatives to increase renewable energy generation. The plan amounts to the equivalent of taking 166 million cars off the road and could reduce premature deaths due to power plant emissions by 90 percent.
Obama refers to America’s Clean Power Plan as “the biggest, most important step we have ever taken to combat climate change,” emphasizing that “climate change is not a problem for another generation, not anymore.” And so the finalized Clean Power Plan takes aim at the energy sector, which is currently the US’s single largest source of carbon emissions.
The finalized plan goes further than the draft released in June 2014, which called for emissions cuts of 30 percent. Under the rule, states will have until 2022—rather than the originally drafted 2020 deadline—to start meeting requirements for emissions cuts, and each will be able to plan cuts according to their unique power mix. This flexibility acknowledges that the Clean Power Plan is not a one-size-fits-all initiative.
According to The Guardian, hundreds of business and investors have already shown strong support for the plan – including eBay, Nestle, General Mills, Unilever, L’Oreal, Levi Strauss, Staples, and SunEdison.
On Sunday, Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy explained to reporters that, if implemented, the Clean Power Plan will reduce coal’s share of electric generation to 27 percent by 2030—down from 39 percent in 2014—while natural gas will remain steady at 30 percent and renewable energy’s share will increase from around 22 percent in last year’s draft to 28 percent. As a result, she said in a live press conference unveiling the plan, “we now have a real shot to protect this beautiful planet of ours.”
In order to boost the share held by renewable energy and avoid a rush to natural gas, the Obama administration intends to set forward a number of incentives for sustainable power. A Clean Energy Incentive Program will issue credits to states that start work on renewable energy projects ahead of 2022. These credits can then be traded between states, creating a further economic incentive to develop new wind and solar projects. Moreover, this incentive ought to assuage any desire by states to jump on natural gas development, which is, in itself, far from environmentally sustainable.
Emissions from the power sector account for 30 percent of all US carbon emissions, and it is hoped that—if the Clean Power Plan stands up to legal challenges—it will help the country meet targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent of 2005 levels by 2025.
“We are the first to feel the effects of climate change,” President Obama said in the live press conference, “and the last to be able to do anything about it.”