President Obama gets serious on climate change

President Obama just announced a major effort to reduce global-warming gases from United States power plants. These new rules, and his prior strong actions on climate change, signify a major shift for the United States. No longer is the U.S. the world laggard on dealing with climate change - we are quickly becoming the leader.

We finally have a president that understands science. We finally have a president that honestly includes scientists as decision makers – rather than effectively muzzle them. We finally have a president that recognizes the social and economic costs of climate change. We finally have a president who is charting a pathway that may lead us to bend the curve of emissions downward so that the most serious climate change consequences are avoided.

Most importantly, we finally have a president who is a world leader.

The new rules are expected to result in a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants – among the worst carbon pollution sources in the U.S. and around the world. These standards are probably the most important issued by the Administration to meet their goals of reducing greenhouse gases emissions by 2020.

To put this action in perspective, it must be considered as a latest step in U.S. actions. Under Obama, the United States has already issue new rules for increasing fuel efficiency for vehicles – rules that simultaneously save money while slowing global warming. His administration has also worked with international partners (such as China) to target emissions of specific greenhouse gas other than carbon dioxide. The president's administration has also developed new rules for future coal plants. So, the latest action comes in a long line of significant progress.

What makes this new step important is the applicability to already-built power plants. While details of the plan are still emerging, it appears that the rules will be based on the National Resources Defense Council recommendations. Currently, some U.S. states are already taking climate change seriously. For instance, some have adopted renewable energy standards. But, these actions are not replicated across the entire country. With these new rules, and by authority granted to the EPA by the Supreme Court, each state would, in effect, be audited. Many states that are currently leading on this issue will likely continue their current trajectory. Other states that have delayed and denied on climate change will be forced to be more aggressive.

All of this makes sense. In order to solve this problem, we need all parties to work together. We cannot stop climate change by just asking a few thoughtful states to bear the burden for the irresponsible states. This also makes sense because for too long, the delay and deny camps have argued that it is too expensive to deal with climate change. We now know that it is too expensive to do nothing. Using our energy more wisely and reducing pollution will save us money, create the new energy economy of the future, and preserve our world. It will also limit the incredibly high costs we could face in the future from extreme weather. Taking these actions just makes economic and ethical sense.

Already the usual suspects are opposing Obama. Some of them are trying to say that these rules by themselves are not going to stop climate change. Of course this is misleading. I could find 100 polluters, each who contributes 1% of the problem who would say, “my contribution is small, it just doesn’t matter”.

One reason why this is important is it helps set the U.S. as the world leader. Now, we can engage in international discussions on climate change from a position of authority and leadership. We are already taking actions so we can ask others to come along.

Dr. Joe Romm, who was formerly acting Assistant Secretary of Energy during the Clinton administration, agreed. He told me,

“These rules, modest though they are, establish President Obama as the first president to take serious action on climate change. They affirm his commitment to achieve the 17% economy-wide reduction he committed to in 2009 before the Copenhagen climate treaty. And they put pressure on every other major country to make equally serious commitments in the lead up to be 2015 Paris conference, which will be so crucial in determining whether the nations of the world act together to preserve a livable climate or will continue on this wantonly self-destructive path.”

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Posted by John Abraham on Tuesday, 3 June, 2014

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