Today, Gina McCarthy took to the stand and announced the EPA’s revised carbon pollution standards. Under the EPA’s newest ruling, we would see a 30% in pollution from our existing coal power plants. These regulations are a sound step towards curtailing the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions and increasing our role as a global leader. The question remains if this reduction is enough to spur global commitments.
In 2007, the US Supreme Court (Mass v. EPA) ruled that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are pollutants and that the EPA has the duty to regulate them under the Clean Air Act. In 2009, the EPA issued an “endangerment finding” that found greenhouse gas emissions endanger the public health and welfare. In 2010, EPA entered into settlement agreements to propose and finalize standards for new and existing power plants.
Electricity generation is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the United States, at roughly 33%. Under the new regulations, states will have one year to provide the EPA with their plans on how to lower power plant emissions by averages of 25% by 2020 and 30% by 2030.
The beefed-up standards rely heavily on deployment as a state directive, providing state governments with the flexibility of how best to reach emission reduction goals. A program to transition communities that rely heavily on carbon-intensive electricity generation to more dependence on renewable is a logical next step for state policy.
While the new U.S. standards provide the initial steps towards a clean economy, it acting alone is simply not enough to meet the necessary emission reductions for less than a 2oC global temperature increase. In Massachusetts and other states, the private sector has made substantial commitments towards emission reductions and we must rely further on this leadership in order to make up for this emissions gap.
In order to meet and make these commitments with the private sector we will need political leaders willing to facilitate and coordinate cooperation and information sharing with small and big business alike. CALC is fully prepared to engage small business interests in these dialogues towards a new, local and green economy and would like to invite others to join in on this discussion for what these new standards could mean for Massachusetts.
A recent report by the Union for Concerned Scientists demonstrated how the EPA could cut emissions by 50% by 2030. This would however require our state governments to put a fee on future emissions. While it is important to regulate emissions from our largest polluters, we need to break down the walls standing in the way of the clean energy sectors. The fossil fuel industry receives $775 billion dollars in tax breaks and subsidies annually. Meanwhile it is one of the largest recipients of the american tax dollar while at the same time being one of the most lucrative global industries in the history of money.
This is the exact opposite of how our economic system should operate. Those who are doing the greatest harm to the planet and to those who live on it should not also be making the most money. The new EPA regulations create an opportunity to start divesting our tax dollars from the fossil fuel industry and start investing them in the clean energy sectors of the future.
Carbon pollution standards coupled with the steps currently being taken to cut other dangerous power plant pollutants — soot, smog, mercury and other toxic air pollutants – will encourage a market based transition to a clean energy economy, which will boost investment and create livelihoods across the country. Investing in clean energy technologies and more efficient use of resources can be a pathway to profit and prosperity, boosting economic growth while also providing competitive returns to investors. Prior to the economic crisis in 2008, the U.S. environmental technology sector alone was generating approximately $300 billion in revenues, and supporting nearly 1.7 million jobs.
Additionally, the U.S. electric sector is one of the most capital-intensive industries in the country, routinely investing between $80 and $110 billion per year on capital infrastructure projects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that for every $1 million of investment in a construction project 11 new jobs are created. For an infrastructure project requiring $200 million worth of investment, this equates to 2,200 jobs. When multiplied by dozens of projects around the country, an investment in clean energy infrastructure becomes a meaningful step towards economic recovery and growth. EPA’s proposal helps create the necessary market drivers for this kind of investment.
While these standards will be challenged by large corporate polluters, national polling conducted by Small Business Majority (Nov 2011) found 76 percent of small employers support the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, refineries and other major emitters. Additionally, 79 percent of small business owners’ support having clean air and water in their community and 61 percent support standards that move the country towards energy efficiency and clean energy.
These regulations will be the first step in creating the drivers needed to push for global leadership in clean energy. There is a real sense of urgency from our scientific community outlined in the release of the IPCC AR5 and National Climate Assessment. Now our politicians must act and support the expansion of the clean air act and future standards.