Obamas Plan B For Saving The Climate Is In Effect

Bill Scher

Yesterday the EPA released a new rule setting greenhouse gas emission limits on new power plants, which are strict enough to effectively ban new coal plants that lack the ability to capture and sequester carbon.

This is a major step in the Obama administration’s “Plan B” to save the climate and create clean energy jobs, embarked upon after the Senate failed in 2010 to take up comprehensive clean energy and climate protection legislation from the House.

As I wrote two years ago:

It is against the law under the Clean Air Act, the Supreme Court has ruled, for the Environmental Protection Agency to ignore greenhouse gas pollution. And a congressional attempt to gut the Clean Air Act and block the EPA from acting was defeated this year.

That fact has always been part of the argument to press Senators from coal, oil, manufacturing and agribusiness states to accept climate compromises: if Congress doesn’t do it, the EPA will.

And that same fact has always the Obama administration’s Plan B.

The EPA is not going to announce an economy-wide carbon cap overnight. But it has been and will continue to announce a rule here and a rule there, continually ramping up pressure on Congress to pass legislation that will cap carbon emissions in a way that businesses will find more flexible than what the EPA is able to do.

And here we are.

So Time’s Bryan Walsh is right to observe that a regulation on new plants alone isn’t enough to save the climate, only to accelerate the ongoing market shift from coal to natural gas.

But this rule is not the end, only the beginning. As Grist’s David Roberts notes, under current law EPA has to eventually establish greenhouse gas rules for existing plants.

And the power plant lobby is right to complain that: “By effectively forcing utilities to forgo any new coal generation in favor of natural gas, without commensurate policies to develop commercially acceptable [carbon capture and storage] technologies, EPA’s proposal threatens the viability of coal…”

But the EPA can’t issue “policies to develop commercially acceptable technologies.” It can’t make legislation. Only Congress can.

Only through Congress can we enact a comprehensive strategy to smoothly shift to a clean energy economy, in which we put a price on carbon pollution and raise money to help businesses and consumers make the transition.

If the corporations don’t want the EPA to keep issuing more rules, without getting help to adhere to those rules, they have choice.

Tell Congress: we are ready to come back to the table, ready to put pressure on wavering lawmakers and ready to help make the case to the American people for a comprehensive climate protection and energy independence solution.

It’s abundantly clear President Obama and his EPA will happily meet them at the table.

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