The Environmental Protection Agency's announcement earlier this month of its proposal to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants marks an historic effort by the president and his administration to take action to fight climate change. It is a major step forward to protect public health, slow global warming, and create clean energy jobs.
Power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, producing nearly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. And yet, there are no limits on what they can emit into the atmosphere. That is what makes this announcement so notable.
The proposed rules are a central piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which I strongly support. By 2030, the EPA plan will cut carbon emissions by 30 percent nationwide, dropping totals below 2005 levels. It will provide up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits, which include avoiding up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, up to 490,000 missed work or school days, and up to 6,600 premature deaths. And it will increase energy efficiency, shrinking electricity bills by nearly 8 percent.
Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, and we have a moral obligation to act now to protect our planet for future generations. The cost of continued inaction is too high. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released earlier this year, found that "human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems." If climate change goes unchecked, the report predicted, rising sea levels will result in erosion, flooding, and even full submersion for coastal areas; increased frequency of heat waves and drought; and more frequent extreme weather events. This could ultimately disrupt our global food and water supply, damage or destroy vital infrastructure, and even upend entire ecosystems.
Failure to address climate change now not only endangers our health and environment, but our economy as well, with long-term consequences. We're already seeing significant damage to businesses, jobs, and economies as a result of the more extreme storms, severe droughts, and intense wildfires caused by climate changes -- not to mention the increasing costs to taxpayers and local communities for cleaning up these natural disasters. If we don't act now, these costs will only continue to rise.
Some claim that environmental regulations will harm the economy. In reality, the opposite is true. We can look to the history of the Clean Air Act as proof that we don't have to choose between a clean environment and a strong economy. We can have both.
Until the Clean Air Act became law in 1970, nothing limited the amount of pollution that could be released into the air. But since 1970, we have reduced key air pollutants by 68 percent, while growing the economy by more than 200 percent.
Proposed programs to clean up vehicles and fuels will produce $16 in benefits for every $1 in costs. By 2020, the economic benefit of reducing air pollution is estimated to reach almost $2 trillion, exceeding the costs by a factor of 30 to one. Just like these previous clean air standards, the new EPA carbon emission standards will improve public health while helping our economy grow.
The proposed rules are a critical first step, but we must continue moving forward. Just last week, delegates representing nearly 200 countries from around the world met in Europe to continue negotiating the framework for an international resolution to climate change. And with steps like the president's announcement earlier this month, the United States is beginning to lead this issue in the international community. This could be the foundation upon which the president and Congress can build momentum toward achieving meaningful reductions in our carbon emissions. Or it could be just another opportunity for us to bury our heads and pretend as if climate change does not exist.
Let's choose the former.
This post is part of a series from the Safe Climate Caucus. The Caucus is comprised of 38 members of the House of Representatives who have committed to ending the conspiracy of silence in Congress about the dangers of climate change. For more information, visit the Safe Climate Caucus website and like the Safe Climate Caucus on Facebook.