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At Our Fingertips: A Clear Solution to Our Climate Problem

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COAL PLANT
Alistair Forrester Shankie via Getty Images

President Obama is about to propose the centerpiece of his climate change strategy: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) carbon pollution safeguards for power plants. These new safeguards will mark the most substantive step the nation has taken towards taking action to reduce carbon pollution and protect public health.

The National Climate Assessment released in early May reaffirms what scientists have been telling us for years: The impacts of climate change are already being felt, and they will only get worse if we don't take immediate action.

Emissions from the nation's aging fleet of coal-fired power plants are the largest source of America's carbon pollution. Although the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that existing law requires it, there are currently no federal limits on how much carbon pollution these old, dirty plants can spew into the atmosphere.

President Obama wants to change that. He instructed the EPA to develop safeguards for limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants. EPA's proposal for carbon controls for existing power plants to be unveiled on June 2 are in keeping with the letter and spirit of our Clean Air Act.

No matter what the proposed limits are, be prepared to hear howls of protest from polluters about how burdensome and expensive compliance will be. That's been the opposition response every time new Clean Air Act standards have been adopted to curb dangerous pollution.

But thanks to American ingenuity, cleaner air has never come at the cost of American prosperity. We have gotten the lead out of gasoline and made huge strides to save lives, preserve the ozone layer and stop acid rain without compromising economic growth.

You'll hear stratospheric estimates from industry about how much it will cost to meet the new standards. The fact checkers at The Washington Post just blasted a recent National Mining Association ad for relying on "bogus, hyped evidence" in making their misleading claims about the rule.

But history shows that such estimates are wildly overblown. In fact, rather than creating a drain on the economy, clean air standards have prompted investments in efficiency and innovation that have boosted the economy.

These new carbon standards will clean up emissions from a fleet of aging coal plants and achieve other important public health benefits, such as reducing exposure to: (1) mercury, a potent neurotoxin; (2) pre-cursors to asthma-inducing smog like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides; and (3) fine particulate matter, which lodges in the lungs and can lead to cancer.

As dramatic a difference as these improvements will make to the lives of millions of Americans, the substantial reduction in greenhouse gasses achieved by these safeguards will also help avert or mitigate the ongoing disaster of climate change and the widespread effects it will have on public health.

Make no mistake, there is no graver challenge facing humanity right now than reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses. And there is no better place to start than the aging power plants currently pumping out 40 percent of the nation's carbon emissions.

The law requires it, President Obama has prioritized it, and we should all demand it. Our health and our future depend upon it.