After several years of record-breaking temperatures, rampant drought and wildfire, and punishing extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, President Obama unveiled his administration’s plan to confront the challenge of global warming in a speech at Georgetown University on Tuesday, June 25.
The president’s plan sets limits on carbon pollution from power plants, advances energy efficiency, increases the nation’s commitment to renewable energy, ensures that communities are better equipped to prepare for and react to global warming-related impacts, and looks to rebuild American leadership on the global stage. This is a step in the right direction.
This plan is deserving of the loud applause it has received from stakeholders like the American Small Business Council and the national environmental community.
Another thing worthy of praise is the president’s commitment to reducing carbon pollution from dirty power plants. President Obama’s plan delivers on a promise made in his second inaugural address: since Congress has failed to act, he pledged to direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. These power plants currently lack any such federal limits, despite being the nation’s largest single source of the carbon pollution fueling global warming. Texas power plants, especially the dirty coal-fired plants owned by Luminant, lead the nation in carbon pollution.
With Congress hopelessly gridlocked and with major polluters and their political allies trotting out tired rhetoric and distorted science in order to hinder any efforts to address global warming, now is the time for opinion leaders to make their voices heard.
Global warming: a threat to our planet and our children’s future
Global warming is one of the most profound threats of our time, and Texans are not alone in feeling its effects.
In 2012, the U.S. experienced its most widespread drought in more than a half century, and extreme heat waves, drought, and wildfires have affected Texas for the last several years. Federally declared weather-related disasters in the United States have affected counties housing 242 million people – or nearly four out of five Americans, according to “In the Path of the Storm,” an Environment Texas Research and Policy Center report. This is almost unbelievable!
Extreme rainfall (contributing to flooding in San Antonio and Eagle Pass this year), heat waves, and more intense hurricanes have become more common in recent years and may continue to become more frequent or severe in a world facing continued global warming. Scientists predict things will only get worse for future generations unless we enact dramatic emissions in global warming pollution, including those resulting from changes in extreme weather.
The culprit: pollution from power plants
Power plants are the largest single source of the carbon pollution fueling global warming, responsible for 40 percent of the carbon emissions – 2.4 billion tons worth – in the United States every year. Until now, there has been no limit on the amount of carbon emissions these power plants can release into the air.
New rules to fight global warming
The Clean Air Act, passed in 1970 and amended in 1990, tasks the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with enacting limits on dangerous pollution that reflect current science and pollution control technology. In 2007, the Supreme Court declared that EPA has the authority to limit carbon dioxide, just as it does other dangerous pollutants. The U.S. Senate has voted down two attacks on this authority – with Senator Ted Cruz voting to allow the cleanup of dirty power plants and Senator John Cornyn voting to block EPA from doing its job as recently as March 2013 (Amendment #359 to S.CON.RES.8).
President Obama’s proposal would limit carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, putting the country on track to meet his goal of reducing carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020. More than 3.2 million Americans submitted public comments last year in support of the president setting limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Hundreds of community organizations and academic leaders from across the country have also spoken out in support of limiting global warming pollution from power plants.
Investments in renewable energy
As part of his climate action plan, President Obama included a plan to accelerate clean energy permitting on public lands through the Department of Interior’s Smart from the Start program.
Investments in clean energy technology will enable us to meet and exceed our carbon reduction targets, and we can repower America with 100% clean renewable energy.
Solar energy development is accelerating. Total installed solar has nearly doubled each of the last two years, and there is now enough solar to power more than 1.3 million average households.
Wind energy currently powers the equivalent of 13 million homes in the U.S. Offshore wind developers in the Atlantic states have proposed enough offshore wind projects to power roughly 1.5 million average U.S. homes. This is great news!
Cutting energy use with efficiency
By the end of his second term, President Obama’s appliance standards will reduce carbon emissions by around 3 billion metric tons by 2030 – the equivalent to half of the United State’s carbon pollution accumulated in one year. Crazy right?
Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest, easiest, and cleanest way for consumers to save money and cut the pollution that is fueling global warming at the same time. By making more efficient decisions regarding energy use, we will strengthen our economy, and most importantly, our environment.
Buildings account for 40% of our total energy consumption, nearly three quarters of our total energy use. Through better building codes and smart investments to improve the energy performance of our buildings, we could reduce the energy consumption of America’s buildings by, at least 30% by 2030, according to “Building Better,” an Environment Texas report. The Better Buildings Challenge is focused on assisting American commercial and industrial buildings to become at least 20% more energy efficient by 2020. President Obama will expand this program in his second term. We look forward to hearing his new ideas.
Executive Director, Environment Texas
As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.