by Jesse Crabtree
The Clean Power Plan is an attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and President Barack Obama to reduce carbon emissions from US power plants. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, power plants make up 40% of all U.S. carbon emissions—more than all our cars and planes combined. The plan seeks to cut energy carbon emissions 30% by 2030, a number that some are calling “ambitious” or as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says, a form of climate radicalism. On the other hand, many followers of the plan have argued that the plan is actually quite weak in its goals. According to Polito.com, market shifts towards renewable energy, towards low-carbon natural gas, and a general reduction in electricity demand have already brought the U.S. almost halfway to that goal of 30%.
Take for example the coal industry. Coal is clearly the biggest producer in the electricity industry, taking up 75% of all emissions. Even without this regulation in place, the industry is clearly on the decline. Fifteen percent of U.S. coal plants are already scheduled for retirement with additional retirements sure to come given the 40-year average age of American plants. All this in tandem with the fact that few coal plants are being built would suggest a 30% drop in coal emissions by 2030 regardless of the Clean Power Plan. Of course, one might argue that the mere idea of the Plan is scaring away risk-adverse investors and that without it building would return to normal.
Environmental activists have also been keen to point out that the plan gives each state immense levels of flexibility to meet these goals. Each state need not cut emissions by the same amount. Instead those states that pollute the most are generally those who are being assigned the least ambitious targets. Furthermore, states are free to cut emissions whichever way they please and may ask for two-year extensions (until September 2018) on submitting these proposals to the EPA.
Although some consider these aspects Clean Power Plan to be weaknesses, I believe these weaknesses may allow the plan to actually be passed. Never before has the United States attempted to regulate power plant emissions in this way, and as such it is understandable that it ease the country into such a policy. Furthermore, flexibility on a state-by-state basis will allow more efficient and realistic improvements to take place.
Finally, the environmental and health benefits of the plan appear to outweigh the costs. The EPA estimates annual costs of $1.4 billion to $2.5 billion by 2020 and $5.1 billion to $8.4 billion by 2030. These numbers are enormous yes, but are overshadowed by the $20 billion in climate benefits and $12 billion to $34 billion in health benefits.
“The Clean Power Plan: A Climate Game Changer.” Union of Concerned Scientists. Union of Concerned Scientists, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
Grunwald, Michael. “5 Reasons Obama’s Transformative Power Plan Won’t Transform Anything.” Politico. Politico, 25 May 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.