≡ Menu

President Obama Unveils a New Carbon Plan

A coal-fired plant in Glenrock, Wyoming. Image Credit: Greg Goebel

A coal-fired plant in Glenrock, Wyoming. Image Credit: Greg Goebel

At the end of his first year in office, President Obama made a bold promise: the United States would cut its greenhouse gas emissions substantially by 2020.

Unfortunately it was a risky pledge that hinged on Congress. After President Obama was unable to get his major climate change proposal through Congress in his first term, it seemed as though his pledge to the rest of the World and planet Earth might disintegrate into thin air.

But today, President Obama announced plans to bypass Congress entirely. By using his executive authority under the Clean Air Act, he proposed an Environmental Protection Agency regulation to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. It’s one of the strongest actions ever taken by the United States government to fight climate change.

“The shift to a cleaner-energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way,” President Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address, previewing Monday’s announcement. “But a low-carbon, clean-energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. America will build that engine. America will build the future, a future that’s cleaner, more prosperous and full of good jobs.”

The regulation targets the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States: coal-fired power plants. So naturally it has already met huge opposition.

“The administration has set out to kill coal and its 800,000 jobs,” said Senator Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, the nation’s top coal-producing state, in response to President Obama’s Saturday address. “If it succeeds in death by regulation, we’ll all be paying a lot more money for electricity — if we can get it. Our pocketbook will be lighter, but our country will be darker.”

But rather than forcing coal plants to immediately shutdown, the E.P.A. will allow States several years to retire existing plants. They estimate that by 2030, 30 percent of U.S. electricity will still come from coal, down from about 40 percent today.

The regulation also gives a wide range of options to achieve the pollution cuts. States are encouraged to reduce emissions by making changes across the electricity systems. They’re encouraged to install new wind and solar generation technology. This will create a huge demand for designing and building energy-efficient technology.

The plan is flexible. “That’s what makes it ambitious, but achievable,” said Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A. administrator, in a speech this morning. “That’s how we can keep our energy affordable and reliable. The glue that holds this plan together — and the key to making it work — is that each state’s goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever way works best for them.”

The proposal will also help the economy, not hurt it. The E.P.A. estimates that the regulation will cost $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion annually, but will lead to economic benefits of $55 billion to $93 billion throughout the regulation’s lifetime.

The proposal unveiled today is only a draft, open to public comment. Already it has received criticism and praise from industry groups and environmentalists alike. President Obama plans to finalize the regulation by June 2015 so that it will be in place before he leaves office.

To see why Universe Today writes on climate change, and even climate policy, please read a past article on the subject.

About 

Shannon Hall is a freelance science journalist. She holds two B.A.'s from Whitman College in physics-astronomy and philosophy, and an M.S. in astronomy from the University of Wyoming. Currently, she is working toward a second M.S. from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. You can follow her on Twitter @ShannonWHall.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • FarAwayLongAgo June 2, 2014, 2:59 PM

    This single minded political propaganda spam needs to stop on this blog!

    • Qev June 2, 2014, 3:34 PM

      Well then stop spouting it. I’m sorry you don’t like facts, it must be rough.

      Anyway, I notice the timescale on this is long enough to give several following administrations plenty of time to kneecap the thing, even if it does get passed. :P

    • postman1 June 2, 2014, 4:27 PM

      The liberal bias seems to be flaunted openly, doesn’t it? I expect better from a ‘science’ site.
      Anyway, even if this law were to go into effect, it will likely be thrown out later, and will have zero net effect on coal burning for power. China and India will continue to lead the way in production of new coal fired plants and will far surpass any US reductions. All that aside, no one can be sure that increased CO2 will cause any increased heating and observed data show it doesn’t.

      • Qev June 2, 2014, 5:34 PM

        Reality apparently has a liberal bias, I guess. Also, it isn’t nice to say things that aren’t true. That’s called ‘lying’… but I’m sure you already know that.

      • Jeffrey Boerst June 3, 2014, 3:56 AM

        Science = a search for truth. The Liberals are right on this issue. Conservatives are wrong on this issue. So reporting the truth is ab initio biased toward those who know it and propagate it. The future is unstoppable…

    • fritzilla June 3, 2014, 1:07 AM

      I am seeing this political propaganda show up all over the place online lately, as if people didn’t have anything better to do. I get that there is some link to climate science on an astronomy site, but that’s not what Global Warming is about. It’s about money.

      “The proposal will also help the economy, not hurt it. The E.P.A. estimates that the regulation will cost $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion annually, but will lead to economic benefits of $55 billion to $93 billion throughout the regulation’s lifetime.”

      You see, I would like to think that a science site is above spreading politically controversial and questionable agenda pieces. Perhaps I would feel differently if I didn’t know about climategate and the whole effort to suppress conflicting information. Perhaps I would feel differently if I didn’t know about some global warming alarmists claim that “climate deniers should be jailed.”

      But I do know about the great lengths the fringe alarmists will go even in the face of conflicting data. Whenever a side says the “The science is settled, the debate is over” I really start to question it.

      Again, these types of articles spoil an otherwise great site that’s usually grounded in good science reporting.

  • Olaf June 2, 2014, 4:03 PM

    Cleaner energy also means less pollution (water, air, land) and less dependency on oil and gas.

  • hydrazine June 2, 2014, 4:49 PM

    Words, words, words… It’s so easy to promise something that is supposed to happen at least two presidents away. This is going to crumble for hundred different reasons, Barack Obama being the main one. It’s so obvious he wants to be remembered for something grand and he is getting desperate. Sorry about the grumpy tone…

    Regards,
    /hydrazine

    • Jeffrey Boerst June 3, 2014, 3:58 AM

      That is indeed my feeling per “…presidents away…”. Look at Bush II’s space plan….. Long term goals in a Democracy (or whatever it is) like this are quite a sticky business.

  • mewo June 2, 2014, 7:25 PM

    HOW DARE YOU talk about climate science on an ASTRONOMY blog?!?!?!? You don’t have PERMISSION!

  • dorvinion June 3, 2014, 1:16 AM

    First, it is in the nature of bureaucracies (and politicians) to find reasons to grow its power and its budget.
    To do this, they need to continually demonstrate their relevance.

    In this case, the EPA seeks to reduce coal from 40% of US power generation to 30% by 2030. What they neglect to say is that coal usage as a percentage of our total power generation has been declining for the last 15 or so years. A trend that has only increased in speed the past 5 years. Basically, coal plants have been shutting down all by themselves thanks in no small part to the increased availability of natural gas (yay fracking?).
    In the last 5 years, US electrical generation has remained fairly constant. In that same period, coal fired electricity production has declined from about 50% of total US generation to about 37% of total, and at present shows no sign of leveling off.
    You can find these details in the EPA annual reports regarding electricity generation.

    This is a dangerous thing for the agency. If regulations cannot be cited as the primary cause for a something happening, people might begin to question the agency’s relevance. Thus, regulations must be passed to mandate that which is occurring naturally.

    Second, bureaucracies (and politicians for that matter) have strong incentives to overstate the benefits of the regulations it proposes and to understate their costs. When reporting a bureaucracies claim that regulations will be an economic benefit, please remember to put your skeptics hat on firmly. Hip-waders are also suitable attire.

    Even taking their costs/benefit projections at face value, it is entirely plausible (perhaps likely even) that a better economic and environmental outcome would occur absent these regulations due to the fact that these types of regulations restrict those funds and activities to that which is approved by the political process. The problem is, the political process has trouble abandoning regulations that are empirically harmful. One need only look at the ethanol mandates to see how this process works.

  • jjasensio June 3, 2014, 1:59 PM

    I am really amazed: some of you say that climate science has nothing to do with astronomy… OK, I do not see the logic, but it could be discussed: planet earth has nothing to do with astronomy (it is a pity that the dinosaurs cannot give their opinion :-). And what about launching satellites that are not for astronomical purposes, in this sense?)
    But then, I have not seen any comment from you (I might have missed them, apologies in advance) when this blog has an entry about a sci-fiction site… nobody says anything about that not being astronomy. Curious. Don´t you think that you guys are “a little bit” biased? Only a little bit, not tooooo much :-).
    I must admit that now I look for these entries about climate change issues just to read the comments. Usually I have already read them elsewhere, but the comments are usually really interesting to picture a kind of attitude that I cannot understand easily: If I suppose that you like science in general and astronomy in particular, it is difficult for me to understand this (in my opinion, without trying to insult anybody) “Taliban” like attitude. It does not matter what it is written here, the comments are always there in the same way.
    For me it is a pity that the people is not a little bit more open minded and try to forget their political opinions when speaking about science. In Europa, a lot of politically right minded people admit that there is most probably a climate change. But it seems that in USA you are much too divided. A pity.
    All said, this entrance could be considered more political than usual: usually it is about scientific facts or theories, this is about a political decision. But it is just informing about one fact, the announcement of the action, without stating an opinion. Is this politics?

    • postman1 June 3, 2014, 10:25 PM

      I believe most Americans realize that the climate changes. The doubts we have are:
      Whether man has any effect on climate
      Whether CO2 causes warming or does it rise after warming
      Whether the entire AGW movement is a plan to redistribute western wealth
      Was Eisenhour right concerning government funded science
      Why would Gore buy a beach house if he believed sea levels were rising
      Why the MSM goes on about ice loss in the small West Antarctic ice sheet, while overall Antarctic ice extent sets record after record
      Why record cold and ice is glossed over, but one day of record heat is AGW
      Why, after 18 years without warming, some climate ‘scientists’ still insist we are warming
      Why they still claim 97%, even though it has been thoroughly debunked
      Why a real scientist would believe in science by ‘consensus’
      And this is just the tip of the iceberg……………

  • jjasensio June 4, 2014, 1:38 PM

    Hi, I am not a scientist, but I would like to point out at some issues:
    – You admit that the climate is changing. There must be a reason. Till now, I have seen no better explanation than greenhouse effects.
    – CO2 is a green housing gas. I think that there is no doubt about it. It was recognized at such much before this issue appeared. We are pumping tones of CO2 to atmosphere. I think that this is also a fact, the Carbon was till now hidden inside the Earth, mostly. Is anybody seriously doubting that? This is a question I had not yet heard.
    – I cannot see, really, the relation between climate change and a movement to redistribute wealth. Maybe the big energy companies could lose money, if they do not adapt. But I do not see any other redistribution… at least in Europe
    – If Al gore’s house is 2 or 3 meters above the sea level, he can expect, even with the most pessimistic scenarios, to leave happy in that house till he days… Or the assurance will pay. It may be cynicism, but I also think that, by the time the worst comes, if it comes, I will be probably dead. And humans are not as rational as it is assumed.
    – As far as I know, the last years have not shown an increase in the temperatures, but they have consistently been recorded, with one or 2 exceptions, as the hottest period in the history
    – I do see in many reports facts about increasing ice in some regions. But I suppose that the whole picture has to be considered and also the “quality” of the ice: for example, the ice cap created on the sea each winter and destroyed each summer cannot be compared directly with the ice in the glaciers. Or the Antartic ice evolution has to be “added” to the ice evolution of Greenland and the rest of the planet. And so on.
    – Scientific method does depend in some way in consensus: theories are abandoned or accepted, based on proofs and by the rejection or acceptance of the scientific (not politic or religious) community. Think for example in the Big Ban/Steady State discussion. In any case, this is philosophy of science and quantum mechanics is for me easier to grapple than that ?. I should not enter in that, I am not prepared at all

    • postman1 June 4, 2014, 3:43 PM

      The climate has been changing for billions of years, we didn’t do it.
      Atmospheric CO2 levels have been Much higher many times in the past and we have not seen a runaway greenhouse.
      Europe, as well as the rest of the affluent nations, are being asked to pay carbon taxes through various schemes and the money is to be spent on poor nations, where most of it goes to line the pockets of the ruling dictators.
      Agreed, Al Gore is irrational.
      When the ‘heat island’ stations are removed from the equation, the ‘record heat’ disappears.
      The maximum as well as the minimum ice extents and thickness have been setting records in Antarctica, the Arctic ice appears to be recovering and the Greenland melt has not reoccurred. Also many Alaskan and Himalayan glaciers appear to be growing, while others recede.
      Antarctica also set new record lows for the planet this past year.
      Thank you for debating. My point is that nothing is set in stone and when the supporters of AGW theory will not engage their peers and claim the science is settled, they lose the backing of a majority of Americans and they begin to sound like fanatical cult followers.

      • jjasensio June 4, 2014, 4:34 PM

        The climate changes always, but there is or should be always an explanation. The speed at which the climate changes is also very important and needs an explanation. I repeat, till now I have seen no better explanation than green housing.
        I do not see much money pouring from the CO2 schemes to the poor nations corrupts. In fact, I see very few real money going there due to climate issues. Of course, nothing enough to allow anybody to say taht we are redistributing health. Humans are sometimes idealistic, but not so much…
        I am not following in detail the records of ice, but the information that I have seen goes in another direction… And there are much more issues that point to a climate change in the “heating” direction (by the way, you admit that climate change is happening. In which direction?)
        Al Gore is irrational, but probably not more than you and me, I am pretty sure. We are all irrational.
        And finally, I agree with you that nothing is set in stone. Also Big Bang is not a 100% sure theory. But it is the best we have. Also in the case of climate change, I think that human influence is the best theory we have. And my most important point: if there is a chance that this is real, why not try to do something? It does not cost so much. If it is real, the cost is higher

        • dorvinion June 4, 2014, 9:16 PM

          The problem with ‘doing something about it’ is that most of the supposed solutions that are put forth (usually by politicians) have a tendency to be rather authoritarian, or handouts to connected businesses.

          People don’t appreciate being told that they need to have their electricity costs artificially increased, or that they need to be forced out of their cars and start riding trains, or that they need to made to leave their spacious suburban and rural houses and move into a high density sardine can in the city.

          Likewise people don’t like it when they are taxed to provide handouts for friends of politicians.

          • mewo June 4, 2014, 10:27 PM

            Well, the cost of electricity in Germany just hit $0.00 because of all their renewable energy. It’s just not true that switching to renewables means higher electricity prices. In fact, here in Australia we are seeing our electricity prices go up because of the conservative government’s commitment to propping up the failing coal industry and discouraging renewable energy through punitive disincentives.

          • postman1 June 4, 2014, 10:54 PM

            mewo- German power is $0.00?? I don’t think so:
            http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/high-costs-and-errors-of-german-transition-to-renewable-energy-a-920288.html
            And the Spanish are looking for a way out of their renewables fiasco due to job losses and exorbitant costs, a 4.7 billion Euro defict:
            http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/07/spain-says-energy-reform-to-cost-companies-2-7-billion

          • jjasensio June 5, 2014, 1:01 PM

            Hello, Postman1 is right (as a Spanish living in Germany, I can tell you something about it…). But the problem with the solar boom in Spain is not, in any case, something that anybody should put as an example of consequences of environmental policies. It is just an example of the incredibly stupid measures that our last goverment took in almost all economy-related issues. You just need to see where we are now. And it is not due to the environmental politics.
            About the prices of electricity, in any case, I would like to see what are the prices of all the competing forms of generating electricity, if you take into account all the costs that they produce. Like cleaning contaminated land, rivers, etc, securing radioactive waste, (usually paid later with taxes paid by the same people or the descendants of these people). Or health care problems due to contamination. Well, I would prefer to see all this in the electricity prices, better than in the taxes. And I thought that conservative minded people also. But perhaps it is better to pay more taxes for the big companies to save it. And health is not important. I do not know

          • postman1 June 5, 2014, 2:34 PM

            jjasensio I totally agree. I would like to see all of the costs of each method of electricity production spelled out, so we know why it costs what it does. I believe that if the government would drop out of the equation by ending taxes and supports of certain methods, capitalism would provide that answer. Companies would be forced to make their own way and pay for their own mistakes, pollution, research, etc. and pass those costs on to the end users. As long as All costs are factored in.

hide