WASHINGTON — Calling it a moral obligation, President Barack Obama unveiled the final version of his plan to dramatically cut emissions from U.S. power plants, as he warned anew that climate change will threaten future generations if left unchecked.
Touting the plan at a White House event Aug. 3, Obama said the unprecedented carbon dioxide limits are the “the single most important step” America has ever taken to fight climate change. He warned that because the problem is so large, if the world doesn’t get it right quickly, it may become impossible to reverse, leaving populations unable to adapt.
“There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change,” Obama said.
The final version of Obama’s plan imposes stricter carbon dioxide limits on states than was previously expected: a 32 percent cut by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, the White House said. Obama’s proposed version last year called only for a 30 percent cut.
It also gives states an additional two years — until 2022 — to comply, yielding to complaints that the original deadline was too soon. States will also have an additional year to submit their implementation plans to Washington.
Obama was joined in the East Room by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and by parents of asthma patients. The Obama administration has sought to draw a connection between climate change and increased respiratory illness in vulnerable populations.
A look at potential winners and losers in Obama’s final plan:
To the delight of environmental groups, Obama tightened the emissions requirements in his final plan. That means power plants will have to attain an even lower level of carbon dioxide pollution to be in compliance. Obama’s proposal from last year set the target as a 30 percent nationwide cut by 2030, compared to the levels in 2005. His revamped plan calls for a 32 percent cut in the same time period.
Left unchanged is Obama’s overall goal for U.S. emissions cuts from all sources of pollution, including cars and trucks. As the U.S. commitment to a major global climate treaty that Obama is championing, the U.S. committed to cutting its emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2030, compared to 2005.
Many of the complaints directed at Obama’s plan over the last year centered on the amount of time states would have to figure out how to meet their targets. Plans for how states will comply are technically due next year, but there’s no penalty to asking for a two-year extension, so most states are expected to delay. Under the earlier plan, the rock-bottom deadline was 2017, but that’s being pushed back to 2018.
And while states previously had until 2020 to achieve their targets, they’ll now have an extra two years — until 2022.
Obama’s revised plan relies more heavily on renewable energy sources like wind and solar replacing dirtier coal-fired power plants. Obama now wants the U.S. to get 28 percent of its power from renewables by 2030, compared to 22 percent in his earlier proposal.
In a new element, the administration now intends to offer pollution credits to states that drive up renewable energy generation in 2020 and 2021 ahead of the compliance deadline. States that invest early in wind and solar can store away those credits to offset pollution emitted after the compliance period starts in 2022.
You power bill
Although the administration predicts the plan will actually lower the average U.S. energy bill by almost $85 in 2030, companies that produce and distribute electricity aren’t buying it. The savings come from increased use of wind, power and hydro plants, which operate at a cost of close to zero after they’re installed. But acquiring and constructing renewable power sources is still very costly, making it less cost effective in many circumstances.
The National Association of Manufacturers, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the National Mining Association, the American Energy Alliance and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association all predicted the rule would drive electricity bills up.
The earlier version of Obama’s plan sought to accelerate the ongoing shift from coal-fired power to natural gas, which emits far less carbon dioxide. But the final rule aims to keep the share of natural gas in the nation’s power mix the same as it is now.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said government estimates show renewable energy has ticked upward even since the rule was proposed last year, but that natural gas remained an important part of the U.S. energy mix.
Under the revamped plan, state energy efficiency efforts are no longer factored into the individualized reduction targets being assigned to each state. In other words, what states are already doing to reduce energy demand won’t be included in their baseline the way that other measures, like replacing coal plants with cleaner sources, will be. That means some states could face more stringent targets despite their efforts in the past to cut down on electricity use.
But states will still be able to get credit for energy efficiency programs when it comes to meeting their targets in 2022. The revised power plant rule also offers polluting credits to states that deploy energy efficiency programs in poorer communities.
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- On August 14, 2015