The Obama administration is unveiling a new regulatory agenda Monday that touts cuts to carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, all in an effort to show the U.S. is ready to “lead on climate action.” The announcement comes with less than five months until the United Nations climate summit in Paris this year.
The EPA’s so-called Clean Power requires states to cut CO2 emissions from power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, a slightly more aggressive target than the agency initially propsed. The plan will provide “incentives” for states to deploy more green energy and implement energy efficiency programs.
But the main thrust of the EPA’s CO2 plan is to show other countries that the U.S. is serious about reducing emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — Obama promised to make these cuts alongside China’s premier last year. The EPA’s own fact sheet says “the release of the Clean Power Plan continues momentum towards international climate talks in Paris in December.”
“It’s time for America and the world to act on climate change,” Obama said in a video released Sunday announcing the Clean Power Plan.
Obama has made securing an international agreement this winter a major part of his presidential legacy. He’s had White House staff working tirelessly behind the scenes trying to get other countries to commit to deep emissions cuts as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The administration has argued that if the U.S. commits to major CO2 cuts, then countries traditionally resistant to cuts like China would be open to making their own commitments.
So far, Obama has gotten China and Brazil to pledge to “act on climate change” since the Clean Power Plan was first proposed. In 2014, China pledged to peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but until then the country will massively ramp up its use of coal, natural gas and oil to meet its growing energy needs.
Brazil promised in June 2015 to get 20 percent of its power from green energy by 2030 and to reforest 12 million hectares of land by that time as well. As of yet, Brazil has not said what it would do in terms of greenhouse gas reductions.
India, like China, rejected Obama’s attempts to get it to commit to greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Instead, India’s government is concerned about eliminating rampant energy poverty in the country where more than 300 million people lack access to electricity. India actually has plans to double coal production in the next five years, though officials do want to increase green energy use as well.
“The world guides us on climate change and we follow them? The world sets the parameters and we follow them? It is not like that,” Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister said at an event in April. “We can lead the world.”
Obama’s climate agenda is also facing increasing domestic opposition. At least seven state governors have threatened not to enforce the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, arguing it would raise electricity prices and harm grid reliability.
“One of my most important duties as governor is to secure reliable access to affordable electricity for Mississippians,” Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant wrote in a letter to the EPA. “I am deeply concerned that the current form of EPA’s proposal could prevent me from fulfilling this duty.”
Once the rule is unveiled, several states plan to file suit against the Obama administration. A suit against the Clean Power Plan was tossed out earlier this year because federal judges said states could not contest a rule until it was finalized.
Indeed, the rule will be costly. The EPA itself says it will cost $8.4 billion, but yield net benefits between $26 billion to $45 billion. The projected public health and climate benefits from cutting carbon dioxide emissions are significantly lower than what the EPA claimed in its initial proposal.
Studies by the coal industry have claimed the Clean Power Plan could cost $41 billion per year to implement, all while raising electricity prices and having virtually no impact on global temperatures or sea level rise.
“Even in the face of damning analyses and scathing opposition from across the country, EPA’s final carbon rule reveals what we’ve said for months – this agency is pursuing an illegal plan that will drive up electricity costs and put people out of work,” Mike Duncan, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said in a statement.
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