COULD GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS DECIDE THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE?
Despite the fact that the Supreme Court last year determined it is legal to do so, the Bush Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has avoided the opportunity to take action in the fight against global climate change by imposing limits, under the authority of the Clean Air Act, on power and manufacturing plants that generate greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions.
Energy advisors to Democratic Presidential Nominee Senator Barack Obama recently acknowledged Obama would, if elected, have his EPA act to limit GhGs. The campaign of Republican Presidential Nominee Senator John McCain is not on record on this issue.
Heather Zichal, policy director for energy, environment and agriculture, Obama campaign: “While he strongly believes that Congressional action is needed...he is also committed to employing the considerable powers Congress has granted to the executive branch.”
Jason Grumet, energy advisor, Obama campaign: ``[A President Obama] would initiate those rulemakings…He's not going to insert political judgments to interrupt the recommendations of the scientific efforts.''
McCain advisers James Woolsey and Rebecca Jensen Tallent have both described the McCain position as preferring Congressional action. That, of course, evades the question of what should or would be done if Congress reaches one of its famous impasses.
If McCain’s choice of Governor Palin as his running mate and his references to her as an “energy expert” are not enough to distinguish him from his opponent, this issue could.
This is very very big news, both for the presidential race and for the fight against global climate change. If the McCain campaign aligns itself with the Obama statement, it is committing itself to a very important policy and declaring there will certainly be a vital new tool in the work against climate change. If McCain stands with the Bush administration and against Obama, or even if he merely refuses to make a substantive commitment, it gives voters a clear indication of a difference between the candidates.
Until there is national climate change legislation, and even after if the legislation is inadequately effective, legal action is the most important tool in the work to protect the environment by interrupting the generation of the GhGs that create the greenhouse effect, the cause of global climate change.
Because there is ample evidence global climate change is a danger to human health and the environment, moving to control GhGs is clearly an EPA responsibility, as affirmed in last year's Supreme Court decision.
Grumet, energy advisor, Obama campaign: "The EPA is obligated to move forward in the absence of Congressional action…"
EPA action along the lines of Clean Air Act standards would mean the creating of legal limits (“caps”) on GhG emissions just like the safe limits established for other toxic plant emissions such as lead and carbon monoxide. It could result in the pulling of the permits of as many as half the coal-fired power plants now being planned.
The Bush administration EPA has used any and every excuse to avoid acting against GhGs as a pollutant. The most recent and absurd excuse is that EPA action would be an effective tool and therefore should not be used.
Stephen Johnson, Bush-appointed administrator, EPA: "[Applying the Clean Air act] could result in an unprecedented expansion of EPA authority…[It] is the wrong tool for the job."
It is vital to get the McCain campaign on record on this now so voters can know what they are choosing.
Several states have acted to stop coal plant construction until this issue is settled. An Obama victory would, therefore, likely lead to long-term cutbacks in coal-fired generating capacity. This would create a window of opportunity for New Energy.
Bruce Nilles, national anti-coal campaign director, Sierra Club: "Industry has woken up to the fact that a new progressive administration could move quickly to make the United States a leader rather than a laggard…"
League of Conservation Voters assessment of McCain
League of Conservation Voters assessment of Obama
McCain energy policy statement
Obama energy policy statement
The most recent World Resources Institute Comparison Of Legislative Climate Change Proposals (September 9, 2008).
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Obama to Declare Carbon Dioxide Dangerous Pollutant
Jim Efstathiou Jr.m October 16, 2008 (Bloomberg News)
On Global Warming, McCain and Obama Agree: Urgent Action Is Needed
Andrew C. Revkin, October 19, 2008 (NY Times)
Democratic Presidential Nominee Senator Barack Obama; Republican Presidential Nominee Senator John McCain; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Jason Grumet, energy advisor, Obama campaign; Heather Zichal, policy director for energy, environment and agriculture, Obama campaign; James Woolsey and Rebecca Jensen Tallent, McCain advisers; Environmental groups (Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC); American Electric Power Co. (AEP)
Grumet says that, if elected, Obama will instruct the EPA to apply Clean Air Act (CCA) standards to global climate change-inducing CO2 greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions. McCain’s campaign is not on record on this issue.
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- 1990: Passage of the Clean Air Act (CCA)
- 2007: Supreme Court ruling that CCA standards can be applied to GhGs.
- June 2008: Congress refused to pass climate change legislation
- 18 months into an Obama administration: If Congress has still not passed climate change legislation, EPA rules would likely be ready and it would act.
- Obama is expected to more quickly and aggressively involve the U.S. in international efforts to reverse climate change.
- Coal-fired power plants generate ~48% of U.S. electricity and about 1/3 of the nation’s GhGs.
- States most significantly affected: Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia and Florida.
- Applying Clean Air Act standards would entail limiting GhGs from power and manufacturing plants.
- Obama would be the first president to apply CCA standards to GhGs and include them with the 6 recognized pollutants (Ex: sulfur dioxide, ozone, lead, carbon monoxide).
- Environmental groups like the Sierra Club andNRDC as well as utilities like AEP support climate change legislation that establishes caps on GhGs and a cap-and-trade market.
- A cap-and-trade program allows polluting plants to continue operating it they offset the total amount of the GhGs they generate with investments in emissions-free projects like wind installations, solar power plants or efficiency systems.
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- Vicki Arroyo, general counsel, Pew Center on Global Climate Change: ``We need federal legislation to deal with greenhouse-gas emissions…In the meantime, there is this vacuum. People are eager to get started on this.''
- Grumet, Obama energy advisor:``The U.S. has to move quickly domestically so we can get back in the game internationally…We cannot have a meaningful impact in the international discussion until we develop a meaningful domestic consensus. So he'll move quickly.''
- Vicki Arroyo, general counsel, Pew Center on Global Climate Change: ``[Senator McCain] is not as big of a fan of standards-based approaches…The Supreme Court thinks it's clear that there is greenhouse-gas authority under the Clean Air Act. To take that off the table probably wouldn't be very wise.''