This Monday, President Obama announced his administration's Clean Power Plan, a groundbreaking action in the fight against climate change. When enacted, it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32% in 2030 from 2005 levels. It is a big step in to a future that avoids the worst destruction of our planet from carbon pollution. The plan will help save lives and make the air we breath cleaner. It will also accelerate innovation on future forms of renewable energy while saving consumers money on their energy bill for years to come. But the real beginnings of this week's forward-looking plan go back to the President's first week in office.
On Monday January 26, 2009, Obama stood confidently in the East Room of the White House and signed two executive orders. To the uninitiated, the orders--directed to the National Highway Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency--might not seem that remarkable. But they set the groundwork for all of the administration's future efforts to rein in greenhouse gases.
In 2009, the fight against climate change had been stuck in a rut for over two decades. During that period, scientific concern over global warming heightened, but the federal government did absolutely nothing to mandate greenhouse gas emissions reductions. This would soon change. At the end of Obama's first term, the EPA, Department of Transportation, the State of California and car companies had agreed to a series of two new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction programs. By 2025, these plans will double the fuel efficiency of passenger vehicles to 54.5 mpg while cutting carbon pollution from cars and trucks in half. A new car will cost $1,800 more than it would have without the regulations--but the consumer will get up to $7,400 in fuel savings. The regulations will also reduce oil consumption by more than two million barrels daily, as much as half of the oil we import from OPEC each day. Finally, the program will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by six billion metric tons. This is equivalent to the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States in 2010.
Of course, not everybody celebrated these accomplishments. The same day in 2012 that these new standards were announced, Mitt Romney became the Republican Party's candidate for president. In his acceptance speech, Romney mocked President Obama's action on climate change. "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet," Romney sarcastically told his audience to laughter.
The Romney campaign later labeled the new greenhouse gas rules as "extreme" adding that it would limit consumer choice. But three years later, it's hard to see what he was worried about. The auto industry has become profitable again under these rules. Consumer choice has skyrocketed--today, there are 76 models of alternative technology powertrain vehicles available in the US, including electric, hybrid and fuel cell. Not only are car companies making cleaner cars while raising profitability, they are ahead of the curve. At a record high of 24.1 miles per gallon, fuel economy in 2013 was 1.4 mpg higher than required by the regulations.
So, here we are again. Obama has once again announced a tough but workable plan that will substantially reduce future carbon emissions. On cue, Republican presidential candidates are crying wolf. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the plan an "irresponsible and overreaching" power grab. Florida senator Marco Rubio says the new regulation "will make the cost of electricity higher for millions of Americans" adding that the changes would be "catastrophic" for "a single mom in Tampa, Florida."
What is most amazing about these claims is that they both come from politicians in Florida, a pancake-flat state surrounded by rising seawater. Over the next 85 years, Florida faces the possibility of a ten-degree increase in average temperature. Oceans may flood and destroy hotels and beachfront property 400 feet or more from the current shoreline. That sounds really catastrophic for the future of the state's tourism industry, rare eco-systems--and the entire city of Miami.
For forty years we've had politicians and industries screaming that the sky is falling every time a major new environmental regulation is announced. Over that same period of time, regulations have made our air 70% cleaner while the nation's GDP has tripled. The Clean Power Plan, together with the Light Duty Vehicle GHG/Fuel Economy Standards, underpin the Obama administration's vow to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Republican candidates don't have to agree with all of it, but the nation--and the world--doesn't have time for their reflexive attacks on any progress on climate change. These are critical years. We need to be planning for the future instead of re-enacting the past.