President Obama has revealed new environmental restrictions that could see hundreds of coal-fired power plants shut down and increased implementation of renewable energy technologies. In a video released by the White House, Obama describes the regulations as “the biggest, most important step we have ever taken” in tackling climate change.
The finalized Clean Power Plan aims to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), power plants are the largest source of CO2 emissions in the U.S. The regulations are designed to halt the production of new power plants and increase investment in wind, solar power and other sources of clean energy. The government predicts the new regulations could lead to 30% more clean energy generation by 2030.
“For many years people felt that emissions legislation of any sort in the U.S. was impossible. These plans are therefore extremely significant politically. They’ve come up with something that’s even a little bit stronger than what was on the table last year and that’s quite amazing,” Alyssa Gilbert, head of policy and translation at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, tells IFLScience.
Planned cuts to carbon emissions increased from 30% to 32% from previously proposed regulations in 2012 and 2014. The Clean Power Plan allows each state to decide how it will meet new regulations to cut carbon emissions. They will each have to submit proposals to the EPA by 2018 on how they will meet these new emission targets by 2030.
“While there are a lot of states that will challenge this, we can’t ignore that there are a lot of states that will also support this. The legislation is drafted in an extremely flexible way, there is a lot of different ways and different speed to which states can meet targets," Gilbert says.
The regulations give an incentive for different states to develop clean energy; states will be rewarded if they act fast and invest in renewable sources of energy. The new plan also encourage states to use a cap and trade system, which creates a financial incentive to pollute less. The cap sets a limit on emissions and the trade creates a market where companies can buy credits to pollute. So, the less pollution companies emit, the less money they have to pay.
“It’s interesting to observe the change of pace in the U.S., while here in the U.K. there’s a downgrading of political support for action on climate change. We see a bit of switching, as you’re seeing some more action in the U.S. when they used to be none,” Gilbert says.
The regulations have been met with fierce opposition from the oil and gas industry. Many senators have already promised to legally challenge the plans once implemented, while others have simply refused to comply. Those opposed argue that the restriction will cost billions of dollars and lead to the loss of jobs. The government instead suggests that the restrictions to carbon emissions will have far-reaching benefits, which includes climate benefits of $20 billion, health benefits of $14-$34 billion through the reduction of exposure to dangerous air pollutants, and an overall net benefit of $26-$45 billion.
“Governments have a vitally important role to play in the whole journey to a low carbon future. It won’t just happen with business alone. There’s needs to be some overwhelming drive and signal from governments and we’re seeing a much stronger signal from the U.S.,” Gilbert explains.