Obama Climate Plan Tough on Power Plant Emissions

  • President Obama's climate change plan calls for new lower carbon limits on power plants. Image: Courtesy The White House

June 28, 2013

President Obama says his administration is ready to take on climate change with a set of policies and goals which have never been attempted by an American president before.  Most of the initiatives won’t require Congress’ approval.  And power plants are number one on the list.

"The idea of setting higher pollution standards for our power plants is not new.  It’s just time for Washington to catch up with the rest of the country," Obama says.

The president says this plan builds on progress his administration and others have already made.  For example, about a dozen states have or are implementing market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution.  He says EPA will work with states to create standards in a transparent way.  Right now there are no real specifics about how the plan will be implemented.

Many Republicans, like Pennsylvania’s Governor Corbett, as well as Democrats from coal states, are calling the plan the “death of coal".  They say it will hurt the economy because it will be too expensive to implement, and will place the U.S. at a disadvantage to industry in the developing world where coal is being used.

President Obama preemptively addressed this criticism about the economy in his speech announcing the plan, saying it wasn’t an either/or proposition.  He says that the U.S. can decrease carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and still continue to grow the economy and increase jobs.  And he gave examples of how the bottom didn’t fall out of the economy when other environmental standards were implemented.

"The fuel standards that we put in place just a few years ago didn’t cripple automakers.  The American auto industry retooled and today our automakers are selling the best cars in the world at a faster rate than they have in five years with more hybrid, more plug in, and more fuel-efficient cars for everybody to choose from,"  the president said.

Environmentalists are praising the plan for its low-carbon initiatives, and for its focus on increasing renewable energy from wind and the sun.  The plan calls for renewable energy generation to double by 2020.  But some have voiced concern over Obama’s continued commitment to the natural gas industry in this new climate plan.

He says, "We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because in the medium term, at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions."

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, but has a lower carbon footprint than coal. The president says this transition to a clean energy economy isn’t going to happen overnight, and natural gas can be that transition fuel.  He says federally supported technology will make it safer and cleaner, and will create jobs by broadening the infrastructure which transports gas and converts it to fuel for homes, businesses and vehicles.

The environmental impacts and health concerns associated with air pollution and power plant emissions have long been a concern in Pennsylvania.

Rev. Mitch Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, says it shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  "I’m a strong pro-life Republican and I don’t see this as much as a war on coal as a defense of our children," Hescox says.

Gretchen Alfonso, with Moms Clean Air Force, says the president’s plan is just common sense, grounded in science. She’s in favor of the president’s new climate initiatives not just as an activist, but as a Pennsylvania mom.

"One of my own children suffers from asthma, and I can tell you that our allergy seasons are worse," she says.  "When we have high orange and ozone alert days, just as a parent, the impact that it’s having on my children’s health is really scary."

Alfonso likens cleaning up the environmental impacts of climate change at this stage with picking up a playroom with a toddler in tow.  She says it’s not going to be easy.

While President Obama acknowledged some challenges for the plan in his speech announcing it, the overall message was that Americans can accomplish these ambitious goals if they work together. And to so-called “climate change deniers”, he issued the following little zinger: "We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”