Further adventures of hares and tortoises
The rules are expected to trigger a “tsunami” of legal opposition from states and utilities who oppose the plans, which will significantly boost wind and solar power generation and force a switch away from coal power. Republican presidential hopefuls moved quickly to voice their opposition, saying they would be economically damaging. -- Adam Vaughan, The Guardian, Aug. 3, 2015.
"The kinds of criticisms that you're going to hear are simply excuses for inaction," he (President Obama) said. -- Houston Chronicle, Aug. 3, 2015.
So I think that what we’re seeing from Obama is a really good example of what a climate leader sounds like. You know, everything he’s saying is absolutely true about the level of threat, about the fact that this is not a threat for future generations, it is a threat unfolding right now around the world, including in the United States. It’s a threat that is about people’s daily health, with asthma levels, and also about the safety of entire cities, huge coastal cities. So he’s doing a very good job of showing us what a climate leader sounds like. But I’m afraid we’ve got a long way to go before we see what a climate leader acts like, because there is a huge gap between what Obama is saying about this threat, about it being the greatest threat of our time, and indeed this being our last window in which we can take action to prevent truly catastrophic climate change, but the measures that have been unveiled are simply inadequate. -- Democracy Now!, Aug. 4, 2015.
Obama's clean power plan hailed as US's strongest ever climate action
Hundreds of businesses including eBay and Nestlé back federal rules to cut emissions and encourage a switch away from coal to renewable energy
Hundreds of businesses including eBay, Nestlé and General Mills have issued their support for Barack Obama’s clean power plan, billed as the strongest action ever on climate change by a US president.
The rules, announced on Monday, are designed to cut emissions from power plants and have been strengthened in terms of the long-term ambition as originally proposed by the president last year, but slightly weakened in the short-term in a concession to states reliant on highly-polluting coal.
White House adviser Brian Deese said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules represented the “biggest step that any single president has made to curb the carbon pollution that is fuelling climate change”. The US is the world’s second biggest carbon emitter after China.
The rules are expected to trigger a “tsunami” of legal opposition from states and utilities who oppose the plans, which will significantly boost wind and solar power generation and force a switch away from coal power. Republican presidential hopefuls moved quickly to voice their opposition, saying they would be economically damaging.
But 365 businesses and investors wrote to 29 state governors to strongly support the rules, which they said would benefit the economy and create jobs.
Mindy Lubber, who is attending the launch ceremony of the rules on Monday and is the president of Ceres, a network of investors that organised the letter, said: “The clean power plan is the right measure at the right time. It’s a flexible, practical and economically sound blueprint to transition America toward a low-carbon future.”
Other signatories included Unilever, L’Oréal, Levi Strauss, Staples, renewable energy company SunEdison and Trillium Asset Management, which manages $2.2bn in assets. It is the largest group of businesses to support the rules so far.
The final rules propose a 32% cut in carbon emissions from power plants by 2030 on 2005 levels, up from the initial proposal of 30%. However states will only have to comply by 2022 rather than 2020 as originally proposed, and will be able submit their plans on meeting the targets by 2018 instead of 2017.
CO2 emissions from power plants fell 15% between 2005 and 2013, meaning the country is halfway to the target.
Monday’s version of the rules also gives an explicit boost to wind and solar power, angering the natural gas industry which will still be a large beneficiary of the switch from coal to gas-fired power plants, which produce much lower emissions.
America’s Natural Gas Alliance, a trade body, said it was “disappointed and discouraged” by the rules. The World Coal Association claimed the plan “will significantly increase the cost of electricity to American consumers.” The Solar Energy Industries Association, on the other hand, said the rules were “historic” and “critically needed”.
The new rules will give a “give a head start to wind and solar deployment”, according to a White House fact sheet. “Drive more aggressive investment in clean energy technologies than the proposed rule, resulting in 30% more renewable energy generation in 2030 and continuing to lower the costs of renewable energy,” it said.
Barack Obama, in a video address, emphasised the health benefits of reduced air pollution from coal plants, and a duty to future generations as reasons for the clean power rules.
“Power plants are the single biggest source of the harmful carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. But until now there have been no federal limits on the amount of that pollution those plants can dump into the air. Think about that,” he said.
Obama’s plan to bring in the rules to cut emissions from power plants – which account for a third of the US’s greenhouse gas emissions – date back to 2009 when the EPA declared carbon emissions a public danger, the first step towards regulating them.
The final rules are likely to be welcomed by the United Nations, which is hosting a climate summit in Paris at the end of the year to agree on a deal on post-2020 curbs on emissions, as well as financing to help poorer countries manage global warming. Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, issued a statement welcoming the regulations.
Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the Washington DC-based thinktank the World Resources Institute, said: “The clean power plan should reassure international partners that the US administration is determined to deliver the 26-28% emissions reductions promised for 2025.
“Our analysis suggests that this rule can be implemented without technical or financial impediment, and in a manner that is likely to promote more, not less, economic prosperity.”
Describing the rules as very important, Lord Stern, the author of an influential review of the economics of climate change, said: “It shows the determination of the world’s richest country to maintain better economic growth while also cutting greenhouse gas pollution. President Obama has recognised in particular the enormous damage caused by pollution from the burning of coal in power stations.”
Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s administrator, said she believed the agency was on strong legal grounds for defending the rules from the legal challenges they are almost certain to face.
“Over the next few days we will hear the same tired old plays from the old special interests playbook,” said McCarthy.
Obama plan on emissions facing cloud of opposition
CHRONICLE NEW SERVICES
WASHINGTON -President Barack Obama sought to clamp down Monday on power plant emissions with a federal plan that - if successful - would attempt to slow global warming by dramatically shifting the way Americans get and use electricity.
Touting the plan at a White House ceremony, Obama described his unprecedented carbon dioxide limits as the biggest step ever taken by the U.S. on climate change. On that point, at least, his opponents agreed. They denounced his proposal as egregious federal overreach that would send power prices surging, and vowed lawsuits and legislation to try to stop it.
"We're the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and we're the last generation that can do something about it," Obama said. He added, "We only get one planet. There's no Plan B."
Obama's announcement sets off a years-long process for states to figure out how to comply.
Sixteen states - including energy-producing states like Kentucky, Wyoming and North Dakota - will face stricter emissions limits than they did under Obama's previous proposal. Montana's requirement more than doubled, from a 21 percent cut in the earlier plan to a 47 percent cut in the final version.
But other states like New Hampshire and Texas face more lenient cuts in the final plan.
The president, who wants to make his initiatives to address the warming of the planet a central element of his legacy, called the new rules a public health imperative and "the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change." He also sought to wrap the policy in the legitimacy of transcendental values, noting that Pope Francis had issued an encyclical in June, calling action on the issue a "moral obligation."
"No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate," Obama said in White House speech. "There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change."
Even as Obama acknowledged the steep resistance from coal-producing states and industry critics to a plan that could lead to the closing of hundreds of polluting coal-fired plants, he said it was up to the U.S. to adopt tough standards so that other countries like China would feel compelled to take similar steps.
"When the world faces its toughest challenges, America leads the way forward," the president said. "That's what this plan is about."
Paxton vows lawsuit
The reaction from Texas officials, who have repeatedly battled the Obama administration over environmental issues, was immediate.
Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed Monday to sue the Obama administration over the new limits, even though the state faces a less-stringent mandate under the final version of the plan.
Under the plan unveiled Monday, Texas would need to cut emissions by nearly 34 percent by 2030. The Environmental Protection Agency had originally proposed that Texas reduce emissions by 39 percent.
Still, state regulators say concerns remain about how reducing emissions will affect electrical supply if Texas is forced to shut down about half its coal-fired power plants.
"The harm to Texas families will be immeasurable," Paxton said in a statement.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pledged to "lead the fight against an overreaching federal government that seems hell-bent on threatening the free-market principles this country was founded on."
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokeswoman Andrea Morrow says the agency that regulates the state's underground resources - including coal - will review the modified plan to determine "practical and legal aspects" to implementing the rule.
"Texas continues to have questions about the appropriateness, overall impact and usurpation of states' authority," Morrow said.
However, the plan was not without support. Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti - two of the co-founders of the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, issued this joint statement:
"We don't need more debate on climate change from Washington; we need action, and that's what we're seeing from President Obama today," Mayors Parker and Garcetti said. "Today's Clean Power Plan will add to the benefits we're already seeing from our cities' strong leadership against climate change, including cleaner air and thousands of green jobs."
Parker is on track to meet a near-term goal of reducing the city of Houston's greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent by 2016.
Six dirty plants
The Sierra Club's Al Armendariz, formerly a regional EPA administrator, told the AP that only the biggest emitters will be idled and that the health benefits will be significant.
Armendariz said that the six dirtiest power plants in Texas - all of them coal - account for more than 30 percent of all the carbon emitted, about 83.8 million tons, in Texas' electricity sector.
"I suspect that what's going to happen is that a small number of power plants are going to be phased out and be replaced with renewable energy," Armendariz said.
Obama said he would spend much of August talking about climate change, including during a trip this month when he will become the first American president to visit the Alaskan Arctic.
The rules, a final, stricter version of a proposed plan that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 and 2014, assigns each state a target for reducing its carbon pollution from power plants. States will be allowed to create their own plans to meet the requirements and will have to submit initial versions of their plans by 2016 and final versions by 2018. But it is unclear how the EPA would force Texas and other states to comply.
The most aggressive of the regulations requires that by 2030, the nation's existing power plants must cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels, an increase from the 30 percent target proposed in the draft regulation.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, said he would do everything in his power to combat the rules, saying the president was "tired of having to work with the Congress the people elected."
"That's why the administration is now trying to impose these deeply regressive regulations - regulations that may be illegal, that won't meaningfully impact the global environment, and that are likely to harm middle- and lower-class Americans most - by executive fiat," McConnell said.
Obama scoffed at the criticism of the plan, dismissing it as the "same stale arguments" of skeptics trying to thwart progress.
"The kinds of criticisms that you're going to hear are simply excuses for inaction," he said.