Faced with the prospect of either bypassing Congress or doing nothing about America’s poisonous greenhouse-gas emissions, President Obama made the right decision. He set a goal of cutting carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
The most important aspect of the Obama plan is that it represents, at last, a concrete response to an undeniable challenge. Doing nothing is not an option when facing the dire consequences of climate change. Human beings are not helpless when it comes to protecting themselves, their planet and the future.
Predictably, the president’s decision kicked up a ruckus. To judge from the negative response by the coal industry and his political opponents, one would think the president had put forth a radical proposal with impossible goals.
Nonsense. The Environmental Protection Agency rules are modest by any fair measure. Plus, they offer maximal deference to states.
The regulations assign each state a separate pollution-reduction target and allow the states to find their own way to meet the goals. And each state and utility would have 15 years to devise its own solutions in a way that causes the least amount of disruption. The idea is to let states tailor strategies that best fit their economies and mix of energy sources.
Although the plan is the boldest step by the Obama administration in using executive authority on global warming, the EPA’s targets are readily within reach. Emissions have already fallen 10 percent since 2005 and were heading down even without the latest rule.
Beyond the flexibility and feasibility of the plan, there are many other things to like about Obama’s proposal:
• Health benefits. “Power plant pollution makes people sick and cuts lives short,” said the American Lung Association, one of many health organizations that applauded the administration’s action.
• Clean energy. It offers growth incentives for businesses and innovators eager to devise new and better ways to generate electricity. Jobs that might be lost in coal country will be more than made up by new jobs created in expanding cheaper alternative-energy sources and bringing old, inefficient coal plants up to date.
• Natural gas. It allows the U.S. to capitalize on abundant North American natural-gas supplies, furthering a renewal of the energy business that has seen deliveries of imported oil plunge in the past few years.
• Leadership. It puts the United States on track to meet the targets set forth in a U.N. accord in 2009, when Obama pledged in Copenhagen that this country would cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. By itself, this action will not stop climate change, but it gives the United States the moral authority to goad and encourage other nations to act responsibly.
The coal industry and its representatives immediately pounced on the plan and called it Obama’s “war on coal.” Wrong. Coal is losing the battle to natural gas and other alternatives in the marketplace.
If anything, this is reality’s war on coal. To survive, the industry must adapt to what needs to become the new normal.