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“A modest (but needed) proposal” for working toward climate protection

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 affirmed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate the heat-trapping emissions that are driving global warming, and, under the Obama administration, it has taken several steps in that direction.
Its new mileage standards for future-model cars and light trucks, developed jointly with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in 2010 and 2012, will keep 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases out of the air when fully implemented, and, as a side benefit, save Americans more than $1 trillion dollars in gasoline costs.
Because electric power plants are responsible for the largest share — nearly 40 percent — of carbon pollution, it also proposed emission-limiting standards for any plants to be built in the future.
It anticipated relatively small emissions reductions from that rule, in expectation that “economic conditions in the market place” will motivate the industry toward less-polluting new plants, anyway.
Nonetheless, the 2012 rule sent a signal that unlimited greenhouse gas pollution, from its highest-emitting sources, would not remain forever unregulated while the climate risks and weather-related costs keep rising dangerously. The rule demands that future coal-burning plants emit no more than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity produced, compared to 1,700 pounds averaged by the currently operating plants.
Now, on June 2, as announced earlier by the president in his weekly radio address, the agency released a proposed rule to curb greenhouse gas emissions from the existing power plants.
Although modest in carbon-avoidance scope, at least as compared to the mileage standards, the League of Women Voters and numerous civic, public-health and environmental groups hailed the proposal as a landmark policy change to help “protect us from the health risks and impacts of climate change.”
It is a welcome step toward dealing with the problems and costs of ongoing global warming, all too long ignored at the federal level.
In 2012, climate and weather-related disasters cost the American economy more than $100 billion. Some $8.8 billion annually, which EPA projects as needed to implement the new rule, are far outweighed by health and climate impacts prevented, from five- to up to 10-fold. As Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman reckons, saving the world from climate catastrophe, and Americans from the personal, social and environmental costs of it, “comes cheap.”
The new rule, which gives long — perhaps too long — lead times for full implementation, demands a 30 percent carbon reduction from existing power plants by the year 2030.
It lets states decide, by three years from now, how best to achieve it. It seems rather smartly designed, allowing various implementation options in addition to technological retrofits at plants.
If, for example, municipalities, like Jonesborough or New York City recently, change to low-energy lighting, or home owners perform building retrofits for energy efficiency, they not only save money on the monthly power bill but also help their states to meet the new mandate.
After a full quarter-century of inaction, the administration’s new, proposed climate-protection measures are modest but much needed steps in the right direction.