By Ken Kimmell, Union of Concerned Scientists
Monday was a great day for our country.
I was honored to attend, on behalf of UCS, the ceremony in the East Room of the White House where President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy unveiled the final Clean Power Plan. The plan, which cuts carbon pollution from our nation’s power plants by approximately 32 percent, is the largest carbon dioxide emission reduction measure in the history of our nation.
I was deeply moved by President Obama’s forceful speech. Your could hear the urgency in his voice when he said that time is running out to act on climate change, and that immediate action is needed or it would soon be “too late.” He emphasized the necessity of American leadership in the world, and the opportunities a clean energy economy offers for all Americans. He also talked about the beauty of the planet, and how we are all linked together by this fundamental fact: “we only get one home, one planet, and there is no Plan B.”
Everyone in that room—the same room where the Clean Air Act was signed some 40 years ago—knew history was being made. After many years of inaction, the United States was showing the kind of leadership needed to galvanize change on a worldwide level. I thought about the fact that all the nations of the world will gather in Paris this December to try to forge a global agreement, and how the United States will be able to hold its head high.
Later that day, I had the chance to dive into some of the final plan’s details. I was immediately struck that it will have a stronger long-term impact on emission reductions and clean energy deployment than the draft plan. In my experience, this is very rare—final rules almost always get weaker, because those who oppose a rule are typically the loudest and the natural inclination is for agencies to soften a rule to quell the protest.
I also was thrilled to see how the facts won out. Here is just one example. In the draft rule, EPA assumed that about 12 percent of our electricity supply would come from renewable energy (not including hydropower) by 2030. We at UCS—joined by many others—argued during the comment period that this assumption was too low, and was contrary to the demonstrated growth of renewable energy over the past five years. EPA clearly got this message, and dismissed the naysayers who claimed that a cleaner energy mix could not be achieved. In the final rule, EPA overhauled the renewables target, grounded it in actual experience in the energy marketplace (as we had suggested), and greatly expanded the role of renewables in cutting emissions.
As the former chair of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), I was also pleased to see the final plan embrace interstate trading of emissions as a cost-effective way to lower carbon emissions. The EPA understands that electricity markets cross state lines, and therefore the best solutions will arise when states work together within regional electric grids. And I am heartened to see a bunch of “just plain smart” ideas emerge—such as credits for states taking early action to weatherproof leaky homes and buildings in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Over the next few weeks, our staff will pore over the details of the Clean Power Plan, unpacking it and explaining it in blogs to follow. And we are already starting to mobilize our network of scientists to defend the plan against inevitable attacks from Congress. This fall, we will also turn our focus to states, who now have the responsibility to decide how best to meet the plan’s targets.
But for now, we are thankful for the President’s leadership, and I am proud of the role that that our organization, and so many others, played to make this rule strong, smart, and durable.