During an address in Berlin this past Wednesday, President Barack Obama reiterated his desire to make fighting climate change a part of the legacy he leaves after his second term.
“The effort to slow climate change requires bold action,” Obama firmly stated. He went on to warn that the “grim alternative” to not implementing new regulations to slow climate change meant “more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise.”
Now his administration seems ready to move forward. The president is reportedly preparing a new set of regulations, under which power plants would only be permitted to emit up to 1,000lb CO2/MWh, considerably lower than the most efficient coal plants today, which emit carbon at approximately 1,8000lb CO2/MWh. The limitations would leave result in coal plants emitting the same amount of carbon as new natural-gas combined-cycle power plants.
According to the New York Times, this is the most significant move ever made to combat electric power plants’ role as the largest single source of global warming pollution in the nation (they are responsible for nearly 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions). This would greatly help President Obama achieve his goal of reducing the United States’ carbon emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
The proposed measure would also rule out the use of coal in the electric sector without installing carbon capture technology – something that is not commercially viable yet.
“We have never as a country put forward a regulation on new or existing coal plants before. … And I’m very confident that we’ll land that policy in the right place,” said White House energy advisor Heather Zichal.
Obama also mentioned his plan to strengthen fuel economy standards and expand renewable energy to combat carbon emissions and their negative effects on the environment.
Green groups applaud the new rule and believe it is the first crucial step needed to cut carbon emissions in the power sector; coal users and Republicans, however, fear that such a regulation would destroy the United States coal industry.
The Obama administration is anticipating legal backlash from coal industries and Republicans.
Republicans have delayed making any decisions on the New Source Performance Standard, and, in an effort to slow any other smaller, yet critical decisions, have delayed holding a vote to confirm Gina McCarthy, the president’s nominee to head the EPA.
“This type of blanket, partisan obstruction used to be unheard of. Now it has become an unacceptable pattern,” Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) said of Republicans’ refusal to hold a vote on McCarthy’s nomination.
Republicans argue that Obama’s proposed environmental measures are going too far. Besides imposing limitations on carbon emissions, the administration intends on finding alternate ways for the Department of Energy to make appliances and industrial equipment more efficient, and to reduce the energy wasted in public and private buildings.
In an effort to avoid partisan conflict in Congress, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and his deputy, Rob Nabors, have begun to meet with cabinet secretaries and their deputies to propose new measures that would not require Congressional action.
President Obama is expected to announce more climate policy initiatives, primarily on renewable power and energy efficiency, in the coming weeks.
“This is the global threat of our time,” President Obama said in Berlin. “We have to get to work.”
Photo: Matthew D. Wilson via Wikimedia Commons