The carbon-cutting plan the Obama administration unveiled Monday is not the fastest or most effective approach to reducing global warming pollution. But with Congress refusing to act, someone has to lead and take bold action on an issue that will require sustained attention for decades. The plan should force Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature to stop ignoring accepted science on global warming and craft a more thoughtful energy policy.
The proposed federal regulations would cut emissions of carbon dioxide from existing power plants by nearly one-third by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. States could meet their targets in a variety of ways, from investing in efficiency programs and clean-energy projects to upgrading old power plants and collaborating with other states. As the first-ever guidelines on cutting carbon pollution from existing plants, the rules would be a helpful guide as states and utilities move away from coal-fired electric plants. They also would give the United States more standing to prod China, India and other polluters to clean up their acts.
Any national effort to address climate change must involve America's power plants. These plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the country, accounting for one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. President Barack Obama's plan would remove 730 million metric tons of carbon pollution from the air by 2030, equal to the emissions from two-thirds of the nation's passenger vehicle fleet. The public health benefits of cleaner air — in lives saved and damage spared to the economy — would reach at least $55 billion by 2030, or seven times the cost of the cleanup effort.
Congressional Republicans and the coal industry were quick to label the proposal a jobs killer that could spark the next energy crisis. It is exactly the opposite. States, cities and utilities are already moving away from coal, taking advantage of lower costs for cleaner natural gas and new technologies that are making renewable energy sources such as wind, biofuel and solar more attractive. If anything, the rules go easy by giving states virtually free rein in reaching their goals. And while states would have to submit a plan by 2016, the rules allow for delays that push back that deadline up to two more years. States would have an additional decade or longer to fully implement the pollution control measures.
A federal rule aimed at the states is not the best approach to reducing carbon emissions. It is really a job for Congress, and a more direct approach such as a tax on carbon emissions would be quicker and fairer. But the Senate failed to move a comprehensive energy package in 2010 that was passed by the House, and time is running out on the Obama administration.
Obama's proposal builds on his previous measures to limit emissions and increase fuel efficiency in cars and trucks. And it comes as the federal courts have strongly endorsed the EPA's authority to regulate air pollution. Though a national carbon tax would be better, the president has shifted the heat of public attention to states such as Florida. It will be up to the governor and state legislators to stop sticking their heads in the sand and draft a responsible energy policy.