The Obama administration today announced its plan to cut carbon pollution levels by 30 percent by 2030. The plan is widely being called the strongest action ever taken by the US to curb the effects of climate change. But the move — which bases its target on carbon levels recorded in 2005 — isn't just big for the US, it's also big for Obama himself, as the president is making use of the executive authority he possesses under the 1970 Clean Air Act to implement the regulation.
The US government announces its strongest action against climate change to date
The new rule, issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mainly targets coal-fired power plants, which emit more carbon than any other type of plant. There are more than 600 such plants in the US and hundreds will face closure should the new regulation make it through the barrage of legal attacks it's bound to ignite. The new plan will also drastically change the American electricity industry, repors The New York Times, especially regarding how power is generated and used.
To help implement these changes, the EPA's plan provides states with a number of policy options that will allow them to curb carbon pollution. If a state can make changes to its electricity grid by installing wind and solar technologies, for instance, it won't have to shut down its coal-fired power plants. States can also cap carbon at a certain level, and allow various companies to buy and sell permits to pollute. But if a state fails to come up with an adequate solution, reports USA Today, the EPA will have the authority to step in and make its own changes. The New York Times reports that the plan could cost up to $8.8 billion annually, but it could also provide the US with up to $93 billion in economic benefits in the long run.
Most states will have until 2016 to come up with their own plan, but the AP reports that in some cases, states will have until 2018 to submit a proposal. This might make it difficult for the US to reduce its overall carbon pollution levels by 25 percent by 2020, as the plan suggests. "This plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids," said EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.
Predictably, many government officials and coal industry representatives expressed discontent regarding the regulation. "I will fight President Obama and anyone else who tries to undermine our coal jobs," said Natalie Tennant, West Virginia democratic Senate candidate, in a statement. But some companies, including Unilever and the VF company, which manages clothing brands like The North Face and Timberland, have publicly embraced the EPA's regulation.
The president has asked the EPA to finalize the plans, which are now open for public comment, by June 2015. This will allow the administration to jumpstart the program before Obama leaves office.
The plan is unlikely to halt climate change all on its own given that China is the world's largest emitter of carbon pollution, and that many developing countries are resistant to the idea of curbing pollution at the expense of their own economic growth. But the extent of the new regulation might finally give the US the moral authority it needs to put more pressure on China and India to make changes of their own. Frances Beineck, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Wall Street Journal that although time is running out, "today the president is reminding us that we have the solutions."