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Opinion: The Clean Power Plan wasn’t enough, but it was important

Scott Pruitt went to Kentucky, the heart of coal country, to send a message this month: The EPA will begin to dismantle President Obama’s signature climate legislation, the Clean Power Plan.

In technical terms, the Clean Power Plan sought to cut emissions from the power sector 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Under this policy, every state was required to have a plan to shift away from coal power — to renewable energy in some cases, but not always.

In his speech, Pruitt claimed that the plan picked “winners and losers” when it came to generating power in the country. In reality, the plan only identified a market loser: coal. The rest of the energy sectors, including renewables, oil and gas, nuclear, and more, were left to form an odd alliance. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a step toward a brighter future.

Reviving the coal industry is widely considered impossible: natural gas is cheaper, and slightly cleaner. Renewable energy employs close to a million people and rising. The writing is on the wall.

Some market experts think Pruitt’s actions this month will have little effect and do not pose lasting environmental harm. The U.S. is already on the move toward cleaner power. Reviving the coal industry is widely considered impossible: natural gas is cheaper, and slightly cleaner. Renewable energy employs close to a million people and rising. The writing is on the wall.

But when it comes to fundamental societal change, at the speed we need that change to combat climate change, words matter. Coal must remain a loser: in written policy and in reality.

The “endangerment finding” requires the EPA to have a plan regulate carbon emissions to preserve air quality. That means, Pruitt must replace the Clean Power Plan. The EPA plans to solicit comments from the public about what policy should take its place. Though this seems like a delay tactic to satisfy imminent state lawsuits, we should take Pruitt up on his offer and make our voices heard.

The Clean Power Plan “locked in” an energy transition that is already underway. But under that plan the roughly 1,000 fossil fuel–fired power plants in the U.S. largely continued to operate as usual, combining efficiency improvements, emissions trading and offsets to meet Clean Power Plan state targets. Natural gas and coal would have largely remained the leading power sources in the U.S.

Here’s how scientists feel about that:

“I usually compare natural gas to reduced-fat Oreos,” says environmental scientist Steven Davis of the University of California, Irvine. “They may have less calories than the regular ones but if you are morbidly obese, you should be looking for an apple.”

Obama-era policies that promote natural gas alongside renewables are not the tree-hugging, irrational regulations that Pruitt and Trump are making them out to be. But, like the Paris Agreement, they certainly aren’t arbitrary. Undoing these steps toward change sends a message to industry and the international community: the U.S. takes no responsibility for its contribution to climate change, acknowledges no path rational to fixing the problem, and makes no effort to stimulate energy markets to be competitive for the long term.

The smart move for Pruitt and the EPA? Put mouth and money where the future is: in renewable energy technology and innovation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment in the sector will grow 108% by 2024. Stimulate coal country with jobs of the future that will actually be coming to the middle class.

And until we live in that parallel universe? States need to get loud on air quality and make good on their promises to bring the best economy to their citizens.

Don’t let the EPA completely dismantle a good-faith effort to acknowledge and mitigate climate change.

Categories: Opinion.