The Fuse

Clean Power Plan Targets Coal Sector

by R. Kress | August 04, 2015

A new proposal from the President this week is aiming to cut emissions from our nation’s power plants by 32 percent in the next 15 years. In a historic move, the plan marks the first time the federal government has enacted national limits on carbon pollution. This latest revision to the Clean Power Plan further shifts the emphasis from coal power reliance to new renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

While the plan is already being decried as the Left’s latest maneuver in the so-called War on Coal and more than ten states in the coal belt already calling for legal challenges to the proposal, President Obama is standing firm on this issue.

“I am convinced that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate,” the President said, comparing the obstacles of tackling climate change to the other greatest challenges of his term including the recession and the returning home of our troops overseas. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.”

With the electricity generation sector comprising the largest portion of U.S. emission at 32 percent, with the transportation sector a close second with 28 percent of total emissions output—coal power plants do, in fact, seem, the likeliest to feel the pressure of this latest announcement. But this proposal from the President marks only the most recent blow to the coal industry after natural gas overtook it in market share dominance for the first time in our nation’s history.

Ultimately, it’s up to the states to decide how to meet their individual emissions goals: They can switch to natural gas or renewables (as many already have) or choose to upgrade their coal plants, some of which have been in operation since the Eisenhower administration and have long surpassed their original life expectancy. The states will be given the flexibility to design their own plan for meeting their targets—or the government will construct a plan for them. Of course, there are the coal-producing states that are already saying they have no plans to comply at all and have instead been pursuing legal action to oppose similar guidelines in portions of the Clean Air Act.

But opposition to the Clean Power Plan isn’t coming exclusively from the coal belt. Presidential hopeful and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush released a statement accusing the new plan of killing jobs and driving up energy prices for consumers. Instead of creating carbon rules, Bush calls for investment in innovation to drive an energy revolution: “U.S. emissions of greenhouse gasses are down to the same levels emitted in the mid-1990s, even though we have 50 million more people. A chief reason for this success is the energy revolution which was created by American ingenuity—not federal regulations. Climate change will not be solved by grabbing power from states or slowly hollowing out our economy. The real challenge is how do we grow and prosper in order to foster more game-changing innovations and give us the resources we need to solve problems like this one.”

While it’s ultimately the states who will have to contend with meeting these emissions goals, the Obama administration’s willingness to enact perhaps the most stringent climate guidelines yet sends a strong message to the international community as well. Given that the issue of emissions is a global one, presenting a compelling stance to the world is a top priority for impacting real change.

This December, the world will be watching as international leaders descend on Paris for a climate summit that could potentially produce new global emissions guidelines. The British energy department has already hailed the President’s latest plan as giving “hope” that a global deal could be possible come December.  With the US as the world’s largest contributor to total CO2 emissions since 1850 (see graph below), it’s vital to present a clear agenda on the issue to the global community.

global emissions

Source: World Resources Institute (WRI).

“America leads the way forward,” the President said in his Clean Power Plan announcement. “That’s what this plan is about. This is our moment to get something right and get something right for our kids.”

As the US signals its willingness to lead the way for the international community to cut emissions, the emphasis is being largely placed on the broad public health implications of making the prescribed changes.

“Americans will avoid up to 90,000 asthma attacks and spend up to 300,000 more days in the office or the classroom, instead of sick at home,” the EPA said in its statement on the Clean Power Plan. “Up to 3,600 families will be spared the grief of losing a loved one too soon.”

The EPA estimates that the plan will cost around $8.4 billion but reap benefits between $34 billion and $54 billion.

Given the expected battle on the issue, the President already has announced plans to take his climate change show on the road. He’s set to speak at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas at the end of August. Later, he will become the first sitting president to travel to the Alaskan arctic as part of his ongoing efforts to highlight the impact of climate change.