President Obama is well aware of the fact that a Republican Congress will never consider legislation to combat the climate crisis. In fact, most GOP lawmakers continue to argue, at least publicly, that climate science is not to be trusted or acted upon.
But the White House’s “all out push” on global warming doesn’t necessarily need Congress. MSNBC’s Tony Dokoupil and Eric Levitz reported this afternoon:
President Barack Obama announced on Monday that the U.S. will take a giant stride in the race to prevent catastrophic climate change, limiting – for the first time ever – the amount of carbon power plants can pump into the atmosphere.If the proposed Clean Power Plan survives legal and legislative challenges, it would shutter hundreds of existing coal-fired power plants, prevent construction of new ones and boost renewable energy to heights not previously seen.
At a White House event this afternoon, Obama unveiled what he called the “Clean Power Plan,” which, if fully implemented, will ensure that by the year 2030, “carbon emission from our power plants will be 32% lower than they were a decade ago.” The specific wording matters – existing policies and developments have already reduced plant emissions as compared to a decade ago, so the administration’s new plan is intended to build on existing progress, not start from scratch.
I’ve seen some arguments that the new plant mandates aren’t as tough as they could be. I’ve also seen some arguments that the president imposing mandates on plants at all is an important step in a progressive, potentially life-saving direction.
Who’s right? Well, I suppose both are. The question I’m struggling with is whether the policy will still exist in two years.
Hillary Clinton has already largely endorsed the Obama administration’s policy and the Democratic frontrunner intends to keep these policies in place in the coming years if elected. On the other hand, Republican opposition to climate science – and efforts to address the crisis in any meaningful way – is practically absolute.
Indeed, the president’s announcement today is important, not just because air quality matters to those of us who breathe, and not just because of the threats posed by global warming, but also because Obama has just fired a starting pistol on one of the top issues of the 2016 presidential campaign.
As if that weren’t enough, litigation testing the limits of the EPA’s powers is ongoing, and there’s a very real possibility that conservative jurists will derail the entire agenda, without regard for environmental consequences.
But none of these challenges appear to be interfering with the president’s ambitions to make a positive difference. Brad Plumer emphasized an important point: today’s announcement matters a great deal, but it’s only part of Obama’s overall climate agenda:
* Stricter fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, which will steadily rise through 2025.* Stricter fuel-economy standards for heavy trucks, buses, and vans, which will steadily rise through 2027.* Proposed CO2 emission standards for any new coal- and gas-fired power plants built in the United States. This rule, when finalized, will make it extremely difficult to build any new coal plants that don’t capture and bury their carbon-dioxide emissions (a still-nascent technology).* Standards to curtail methane leaks from all new oil and gas wells, as well as voluntary partnerships to limit methane from agriculture.* Various initiatives to curtail hydrofluorocarbons, another potent greenhouse gas used in air-conditioners and refrigeration.
And the efforts remain ongoing. Remember, announcements like today’s from the president aren’t just part of a larger domestic agenda, they’re also part of an effort at international leadership – Obama hopes to persuade the world to see what the United States is doing and follow suit. We’ve already seen some progress on this front, and everyone involved in the debate is keeping their eyes on the negotiations set for Paris at the end of the year.