In June, President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled a proposal that would cut carbon pollution from electrical power generators by 30 percent compared to 2005 levels. We should applaud the Administration for taking action that would at once start to address the crisis of global warming and more immediately leave us all with cleaner air.
As former regulators we know how hard it can be to craft a plan that will survive the increasingly partisan political environment. But more importantly, we are speaking out today as educators on a college campus.
For the millennial generation, climate change isn't an abstract issue but an urgent problem that must be addressed. They are looking to us, the older generation, for leadership on this issue and we do not want to let them down.
The new rules, which would go into effect next year, would for the first time cut carbon emissions from existing power plants -- the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. Such action would put us one step closer to slowing the pace of climate change, which has already led to extreme weather patterns around the world.
The plan would also result in a fairly immediate public health benefit: Cleaner air would mean fewer people will develop pollution-related diseases. Those that already have developed asthma or other respiratory diseases would be less likely to suffer an attack triggered by inhaling polluted air. And the EPA estimates that the president's plan would prevent 150,000 asthma attacks and 3,700 cases of bronchitis by the year 2030.
By investing in cleaner air today the nation will save not only on healthcare costs but we will surely save lives as well. In fact, the EPA estimates the carbon rules would help prevent up to 6,500 deaths linked to pollution by 2030. Fewer cases of respiratory distress or other diseases mean fewer trips to the hospital. And that doesn't even add in the productivity savings we accrue by keeping people healthy in the first place.
The proposal targets carbon emissions from coal-fired plants and that likely will spur a growth in the natural gas industry. But today natural gas development is increasing emissions of methane -- a pollutant that's even more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming. Methane leaks are preventable but, unlike carbon dioxide, the EPA has not regulated methane as a greenhouse gas. The current array of voluntary, local and state-based approaches for controlling methane emissions needs to be replaced with a strong federal standard; otherwise the damage from methane emissions will cancel out many, if not all, of the benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Controlling carbon dioxide from power plants is only the beginning. To provide the energy needs for all, we should be moving toward a future where we're relying on clean forms of energy, such as solar, geothermal and wind-power. The George Washington University (GW) recently partnered with American University and the George Washington University Hospital to receive significant amounts of electricity from solar power, and with similar partnerships others can do the same. GW is also reducing other significant contributions to its carbon footprint by turning to low-pollution vehicles and conserving energy use on campus.
But big institutions or government agencies aren't the only ones that can begin to take meaningful action on climate change. We can all plant trees to help keep the air clean. We can push for communities where it is easier to get around by public transportation, biking or walking. We can switch to energy-saving light bulbs and appliances at home and in the workplace, and remember to turn off computers and TVs when they aren't in use.
In the end, we must remember that we did not create a planet choked with pollution overnight and we will not be enjoying crystal-clean air tomorrow. But if we all do our part, little by little, we will start to clean the skies and create a healthier planet not only for the millennial but for generations to come.