Our view

New carbon rules are essential

June 8, 2014 

  • In summary

    United States needs to be the leader in addressing the issue of global warming and reducing its own carbon footprint.

The Obama administration’s new effort to reduce carbon emissions is an important, sensible and necessary step in reducing threat of global warming. It should serve as an example to other polluting nations around the world.

The new policy announced by the Environmental Protection Agency a week ago would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Ultimately, the reduction in carbon emissions would be the equivalent of removing two-thirds of the nation’s cars from the roads.

Coal-burning power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the nation. They account for about one-third of all U.S. greenhouse emissions.

But the proposed EPA policy would not cap those emissions overnight. Instead, the policy has built-in flexibility to allow states to devise their own plans for phasing in reductions over the next 15 years.

States will be permitted to meet the new standards in a variety of ways. They can require power plants to improve their capacity to capture carbon emissions. They can promote renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. And they can set up in-state, cap-and-trade agreements in which low-emission plants can sell credits to pollute to higher-emission plants.

Critics of the plan – including many who still refuse to accept that climate change even exists – have been quick to condemn it. They have labeled it a job-killer and a “war on coal.”

But the economic harm is likely to be far less than they claim. Power companies already have factored in the cost of phasing out obsolete coal plants and developing cleaner energy sources, including the use of plentiful natural gas to run new plants.

Plus, it’s hard to put a price on better health for millions of Americans. The EPA estimates that its new policy will help avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths and as many as 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

Certainly the United States can’t reverse global warming alone. That will require the cooperation of the rest of the world, particularly mega-polluters such as China and India.

But President Obama’s critics have urged him to take a more forceful leadership role in the world, and that is exactly what he is doing with this policy. The world is not likely to take the effort to solve the climate crisis seriously unless the U.S. plays a leading role in reducing its gigantic carbon footprint.

The EPA’s plan is a crucial first step in moving from a fossil-fuel based economy to one more reliant on clean, renewable energy. It’s not only something the American people should accept; it’s what they should demand.

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