The EPA has released draft rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, a centerpiece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. While executive action is necessary given the failure of Congress to act, the proposed rules fail to deliver meaningful change promised by the President.
The rules set weak targets. Scientists warn that immediate, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are essential to prevent a global temperature rise of more than 2ºC, beyond which the worst impacts of climate change cannot be avoided. However, by moving the starting point for measurements to 2005, the rules assume dubious credit for transitory reductions that occurred because of economic recession. Compared to 1990 levels–the internationally recognized standard for measuring reductions–the rule would not lower total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at all.
Addressing only carbon dioxide emissions from combustion, the proposed rules encourage states to burn natural gas instead of coal for electricity. However, methane is 86 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas over 20 years – the most critical period during which scientists say bold action must be taken to prevent climate disaster. Furthermore, independent studies indicate that at least 3% and potentially more than 7% of methane is lost to the atmosphere during extraction, processing, and transport – making natural gas just as bad or worse than coal as a driver of climate change. Greater dependence on gas also means more FRACKING, a known cause of air and water contamination, earthquakes, and a litany of other environmental and human health problems.
The rules fail to set targets for renewable energy, including only suggested goals weaker than what several states have already planned. In fact, the EPA projects virtually no change in the amount or renewables in 2030 compared to forecasts without the rule. Effectively responding to today’s climate crisis demands a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. The rule should pursue a long-term goal of 100% renewables and set aggressive targets for the U.S. to meet at least half of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2030.
1 – B. Hare, M. Lindberg, et al. Below 2 degrees C or 1.5 degrees C depends on rapid action from both Annex I and Non-Annex I countries, Climate Action Tracker, Policy Brief, June 4, 2014-revised June 7, 2014.
2 – Robert W. Howarth, “A Bridge to Nowhere: Methane Emissions and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas,” Energy Science & Engineering. April 2014. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ese3.35/pdf
3 – Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction), Concerned Health Professionals of New York, July 10, 2014. http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/
4 – Regulatory Impact Analysis, Table 3-11.
That’s why I signed a petition to Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator and President Barack Obama, which says:
“Climate change is the issue of our time, so we support your decision to take executive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the window to save our planet from climate catastrophe is rapidly closing. Therefore any action taken must be swift and meaningful.
The EPA proposed power plant rules set inadequate targets, fail to aggressively promote renewable energy, and by encouraging the expanded use of natural gas from fracking could actually make matters worse. Methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, is 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 20 years – the time frame most critical to preventing climate catastrophe. Furthermore, the best science now tells us that methane emissions which occur during extraction, processing, and transport make natural gas as bad as coal.
Simply put, we cannot solve the climate crisis if most of our energy still comes from fossil fuels. Fracked gas is not a “bridge.” It’s a gangplank to disaster. Instead of replacing one climate-killing fossil fuel with another, we urge you to adopt a rule that makes the necessary bold and rapid switch to renewables. Ours and future generations depend on it.”
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