By Mitch Jones
Today, President Obama unveiled his long awaited rule to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants. Unfortunately, the plan isn’t bold enough to affect the change we need.
To what depths have we sunk when embracing a failed 25-year-old right wing policy is hailed as a radical move for a Democratic president?
Recently both the International Panel on Climate Change and the President’s own National Assessment on Climate Change have sounded the alarm. Anthropogenic climate change is real, it is happening, and unless we drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the air, it will only get worse.
That means more extreme weather: dry areas becoming drier, leading to more droughts. Wet areas becoming wetter, leading to more floods. Our increasingly acidic oceans’ levels rising. More extreme, violent storms.
The President’s target for emissions cuts is too low. After the Supreme Court recently validated the EPA’s authority to regulate cross border air pollution, the administration had a green light to go bold. Instead they flinched. The targets don’t make the U.S. a leader in seeking emissions reduction. Because this rule applies to only one segment of our economy, existing coal-fired power plants, the reduction targets fall far short of the IPCC’s goals of economy-wide reductions of 15 to 40 percent below 1990 emission by 2020. With these targets, U.S. economy-wide emissions would still be above 1990 levels in 2030.
What’s more, even that unambitious target is undermined by the President’s decision to let states use cap and trade as a mechanism for meeting the target. The problem is that cap and trade doesn’t work; it merely lets polluters keep polluting as long as they are willing to pay for the right to do so. Cap-and-trade has a 25-year history here in the U.S., but it’s based on a false premise. As NASA scientist James Hansen said, it “perpetuates the exact pollution it is supposed to eliminate.”
Carbon reduction programs like cap-and-trade should not be a substitute for regulation. They are difficult to implement, create unneeded problems with unfair credit distribution, and threaten the stability of the marketplace. Above all, they beneﬁt current polluters at the expense of everyone else. It’s merely a substitution of economic abstractions in place of actual regulation.
Instead of allowing states to play an emissions shell game with cap-and-trade, the President should have set an ambitious target, prohibited states from using false solutions like cap-and-trade or switching to natural gas generation, and allowed them to come up with real solutions to reduce carbon emissions.
When your target is 25 years down the road, you can’t afford incremental change. This will be the final rule for quite some time. Aiming low, allowing carbon emissions above 1990 levels, and using a mechanism that won’t get the reductions we need isn’t leadership. It’s a mistake.