Obama’s bold steps on climate change can’t wait

The new rules call for U.S. power plants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

New rules call for U.S. power plants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

With his new Clean Power Plan, President Obama is taking his boldest action yet on the issue of saving the planet.

The new rules are the first ever to impose limits on carbon pollution from power plants. The approach aims for a 32 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, from 2005 levels, by 2030.

“We’re the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it,” Obama said in an event in the White House’s East Room, citing stronger storms, more severe droughts, and longer wildfire seasons as evidence that the climate is changing. The entire plan is detailed at a White House website.

Don’t forget that the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2007 that the Environmental Protection Agency has the legal obligation to issue standards on carbon pollution from mobile sources like cars and stationary sources like power plants, once those sources are found to be endangering the public health. That’s a big reason that the Clean Power Plan stresses the health benefits from cutting carbon emissions: Each year, lower greenhouse gas emissions will prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 non-fatal heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 missed work days and school days because of illness.

“We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence,” Obama said. “Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late.”

Obama stressed that power plants are the largest source of emissions in the United States, accounting for one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas pollution. The new rules set individual state goals for reducing emissions and will require each state to develop a plan for meeting specific targets.

States can change over to renewable energy sources, improve energy efficiency, and shut down heavily polluting coal-fired units. New EPA final rules for new power plants call for phasing out new coal-fired units unless there is technology in place that can capture and store carbon emissions.

Several presidential hopefuls from both parties weighed in on Obama’s Clean Power Plan. First out of the gate was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called it a “good plan, and as President, I’d defend it.” Similar sentiments came from Vermont Sen. Bermie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush, of course, called it a “disaster” and “unconstitutional.” He told donors at a (surprise!) Koch network summit in Orange County, Calif., that the climate rule will “hollow out our industrial core.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose state of Kentucky depends on coal, went even further. He is advising states to “ignore” the requirement for them to develop a state implementation plan to meet the EPA’s Clean Power Plan standards.

Actually, the Clean Power Plan is something that the world can’t wait any longer for. An online post by Joe Romm, a fellow at the Center for American Progress and the founding editor of Climate Progress, says the plan “might be just enough to stave off a climate catastrophe.”

Saying the country has the “moral imperative to act,” Romm adds, “We know with unusually high scientific certainty that the near-term choices we as a nation and a species make about carbon pollution will determine whether or not we will destroy our livable climate in the coming decades.” He calls the Clean Power Plan a “bare minimum” for the United States.

There’s no question that these new rules are an attempt for Obama to cement his environmental legacy and add to the other successes by his administration in the area of slowing global warming. The website for the Clean Power Plan ticks off a long list of items where progress has been made, including stronger fuel economy standards, a tenfold increase in solar power, and a tripling of wind power since he became president.

Obama didn’t mince words in his remarks at the White House. “This is our moment to get this right and leave something better for our kids.”

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