Is the Clean Power Plan Enough?


President & Executive Director Philip B. Duffy

This month the White House announced the most powerful measures yet to limit US emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gasses. The “Clean Power Plan” will cut CO2 emissions from US power plants to 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. Because the electric power sector is a major contributor (31%) of US greenhouse gas emissions, this is a significant step. The plan is a result of years of effort and was designed with input from all affected parties, including the public and the utility industry. It also gives states a great degree of flexibility to decide how they will make reductions, a feature which is intended to allow reductions to be made in the simplest, most efficient manner.

This announcement is the latest in a series of regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that curb emissions of greenhouse gases. Others include higher mileage standards for vehicles and restrictions on emissions of methane (a very powerful greenhouse gas). Regulation by the EPA was not the Administration’s first choice for how to tackle climate change. But when Congress declined to pass comprehensive climate change legislation in 2010, the White House was left with few other options. Ironically, the EPA “weapon” was handed to the Administration as a result of a long process initiated by the state of Massachusetts under governor Mitt Romney. Massachusetts led a coalition that sued the EPA in 2005, at which time the EPA claimed it had no authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The lawsuit was successful and was upheld by higher courts, and as a result the EPA is required to regulate greenhouse gases if it finds them to be a “clear and present danger to the public health and welfare,” which it did in 2009. (Thank you, Governor Romney.)

Together with other measures, the Clean Power Plan will make a really important dent in US greenhouse gas emissions. But, is this enough? you may ask. Certainly it won’t completely solve the climate change problem; nothing short of a complete cessation of global emissions will do that. But it’s a substantive start, and partly as a result of our actions, other nations are making similar, commitments. That is really encouraging. Beyond this, the psychological and political impact of these actions may prove to be hugely valuable. Why? Because the plan is going to work, and contrary to claims by “certain parties,” the sky is not going to fall. Life will go on; indeed, it will be better!