Big News From the EPA’s top Climate Cop
This is some undeniably good news: As EPA chief and top-climate-cop Gina McCarthy announced today, the EPA is finally releasing final rules to clean up carbon pollution from new power plants in the U.S.
I'll get to the caveats in a moment, but let's be clear about what this means right up front: the end of new coal fired power plants in the U.S., and a substantial restriction on the biggest, dirtiest gas plants. It's a win, folks, and it's a really good down payment on future actions we need the EPA and President Obama to take.
Now, to the caveats:
First and foremost we need to understand that this is a rule aimed at NEW coal fired power plants, aimed at building them much cleaner than existing plants, or (more likely) not building them at all because they're huge carbon polluters. That's good news, but it won't do anything about the incredibly dirty coal plants that already account for most of our carbon emission problem. In fact, according to one recent study, a mere one percent of U.S. power plants account for more than 12 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions — and for about 30 percent of U.S. power sector emissions. For a solution that cleans up those polluting dinosaurs, we'll need to wait a few more months until the EPA proposes a rule limiting carbon pollution on existing power plants.
Second, the rules focus on global warming pollution at the top of the smokestack. There's plenty of that pollution, and this is a good rule at restricting it. But there's a lot of global warming pollution, even in the electricity-generation sector, that does not come out the end of a smokestack. Exhibit A in this argument would be fracking, which is only cleaner than coal if you completely ignore methane leaks at fracking wells, and if you're willing to ignore polluted wells, flammable tap water and the occasional earthquake — all of which, unfortunately, the EPA has been all too willing to ignore in the last few years, under heavy political pressure. And EPA isn't alone — the department of Interior is also singing the praises of "natural" gas, calling it a "cleaner" fuel that can "bridge the gap" to a clean energy future.
But air-quotes aside, here are the facts: we can get 99 percent of our energy from truly clean sources like solar and wind power — today — using existing technologies. We don't need bridge fuels, cleaner fuels or an "all of the above" program that values oil wells as much as solar panels. We need leadership — real leadership — from the President, EPA, and Interior. We need to abandon pollution and extraction in favor of the sustainable technologies we and the planet really need — and which, coincidentally, will revolutionize our economy and put millions of people to work.
Which bring us to our third point: power plant regulations are good, but not the kind of systemic reform we need. Rules like this one are like putting our collective finger in the leaky dike. The answer to avoid a real flood — caused by rising sea levels, surging seas and out-of-control climate weather — is to simply say NO to extreme energy of all kinds. No to fracked Gas, No to the Keystone Pipeline and Tar Sands oil extraction, No to exports of coal and natural gas (just because they burn it in China doesn't mean t doesn't mess up our climate too). NO, in short, to all the carbon under the ground, and YES to all the much better alternatives ABOVE the ground, like solar, wind, tidal and other renewable power sources.