The carbon regulations that President Barack Obama is unveiling today sound like they’ll be a bit stronger than the toothless draft rules he unveiled last year. That doesn’t mean they’ll be strong. And it certainly doesn’t mean they’ll be “the strongest action ever taken to combat climate change,” as The New York Times breathlessly referred to them in its news pages yesterday morning.
It’s not yet clear exactly what they’ll be, because so far the Obama administration has only revealed some non-binding national goals, not the hard emissions targets that states will be required to meet. But the early leaks suggest that the Clean Power Plan will require the electricity sector to decarbonize slightly more than it would have under the draft plan. The sector’s emissions are expected to drop 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, up from 30 percent in the draft. The plan now anticipates renewable energy to rise to 28 percent of the grid’s capacity by 2030, instead of 22 percent, and coal to drop to 27 percent of capacity, instead of 31 percent.
That’s nice, but by the end of this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the power sector’s emissions will already be down 15.4 percent from 2005 levels —
about half the anticipated reductions in just a decade, and before the plan goes into effect.
In other words, even under the strengthened plan, the rate of decarbonization is expected to slow over the next 15 years. What, did you think the strongest action ever taken to combat climate change would actually accelerate the nation’s efforts to combat climate change?
The final rule will also delay the first deadline for states to meet interim targets from 2020 to 2022, a significant walkback in a plan that Obama, cueing the Times, called “the biggest, most important step we’ve taken to combat climate change.”
If you’re really ranking them, the Clean Power Plan is at best the fourth-strongest action that Obama has taken to combat climate change, behind his much-maligned 2009 stimulus package, which poured $90 billion into clean energy and jump-started a green revolution; his dramatic increases in fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, which should reduce our oil consumption by 2 million barrels per day; and his crackdown on mercury and other air pollutants, which has helped inspire utilities to retire 200 coal-fired power plants in just five years. The new carbon regulations should help prevent backsliding, and they should provide a talking point for
negotiators at the global climate
talks in U.S. , but the 2030 goals would not seem overly ambitious even
without new limits on carbon. Paris
Take the goals for coal. Plants that emitted nearly 600 million tons of carbon have been retired or scheduled for retirement since 2005, but at a briefing yesterday, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy said the total reductions for the sector by 2030 are only anticipated to be 870 million tons. So most of the reductions have already been achieved. Reducing coal to 27 percent of our power capacity by 2030 would be significant, since it was about 50 percent in 2005 and is still nearly 40 percent. But the coal industry is in shambles—another major producer, Alpha Natural Resources, is expected to file for bankruptcy today — and the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, which has met or exceeded all its goals since its launch in 2010, has set a goal of retiring the entire U.S. coal fleet by 2030. If coal still provides 27 percent of our power in 15 years, it’s hard to imagine us meeting any of Obama’s larger climate goals.
The starkest change in the EPA’s numbers between the draft and final versions of the new rule was its increased expectations for renewable energy, which prompted Republicans like Jeb Bush to denounce the plan as a disastrous assault on
’s pocketbooks. But as McCarthy had
basically admitted to me, the expectations for renewables in the
draft plan were absurdly low, largely because they were based on the America government’s routinely ludicrous energy forecasts. In fact the
draft plan’s bar was so low that five states had already achieved their 2030
goals. McCarthy suggested yesterday that the revisions have less to do with
substantive changes in the plan than with a belated recognition of U.S. ’s renewables boom: “We have larger
amounts of renewables that are anticipated to be in the energy mix regardless
of this rule.” Clearly, EPA will raise the bar, but as wind and solar prices
continue to plummet and installations continue to soar, a truly strong plan
would raise the bar a lot higher. America
Nevertheless, the new plan is already being hailed by environmentalists, denounced by industry, and hyped by the media as a bombshell. It doesn’t fit the narrative to suggest that the plan is really kind of eh. It only fits the available facts.
> The article above was written by Michael Grunwald and is reprinted from politico.eu.