Why the Clean Power Plan Is a Really Big Deal

Credit: Shutterstock, Gyusko

At a ceremony at the White House I was proud to attend, yesterday the president finalized the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever federal limits on global warming pollution from power plants. It's an historic action for clean energy, climate progress, and our planet's future. Here's why:

We're already feeling the impacts of climate change, from wildfires, to heat waves to flooding, and we're running out of time to reverse these trends. Scientists are clear that we must make deep cuts in the pollutants causing global warming, carbon dioxide chief among them, and transition to 100 percent clean energy to avoid the worst of the climate catastrophe.

Power plants are the single largest source of global warming pollution in the U.S. and they are among the largest global warming polluters in the world. Pollution from coal and gas plants ranks third behind the entire economies of China and the U.S., yet until the Clean Power Plan, no federal limits on their carbon pollution existed.

The Clean Power Plan is the largest single action the U.S. has ever taken to cut global warming pollution, because it cuts carbon pollution from power plants 32 percent by 2030, or 870 million tons. Other existing policies -- such as miles per gallon rules for cars and trucks, building and appliance efficiency standards, and tax credits for wind and solar power -- will all help cut pollution, but none will do as much as the Clean Power Plan.

True to its name, the Clean Power Plan will accelerate our transition to clean energy. By providing states flexibility to comply with carbon pollution targets and offering incentives for renewable energy, the plan takes advantage of our vast potential for wind and solar power. That's in part why more than 670 solar industry leaders have already endorsed the plan. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicts clean, renewable energy will account for 28 percent of our electricity by the end of the next decade thanks to the plan.

The plan protects public health. Cutting carbon pollution from power plants cuts smog and soot pollution, too. Doing so will save as many as 3,600 premature deaths and prevent tens of thousands of asthma attacks for children, according to EPA. By helping to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, from heat waves to insect-borne disease, the Clean Power Plan also protects health for future generations. That's why more than 1,000 public health professionals support the plan.

The plan reflects overwhelming support from the public for climate action. Polls show that broad, bipartisan majorities back the Clean Power Plan, and Americans have submitted millions of comments in its favor. Rather than bend to the powerful, vocal minority intent on tearing down the plan, the Obama administration made the final plan even stronger than the original--doing more to boost clean energy and cut pollution.

The Clean Power Plan will help us lead. The plan is the centerpiece of the commitment the U.S. made in March to reduce global warming pollution up to 28 percent by 2025, which helped secure the first-ever commitment to cap carbon pollution from China, today's largest carbon polluter. It puts us in a powerful position to lead by example this December in Paris, where world leaders will seek an international agreement on climate.

The Clean Power Plan is historic, but it's neither the beginning nor the end. It builds upon hard work from the states and local governments who've been promoting clean energy and cutting carbon for years. It builds upon the vision of clean energy and climate champions in Congress and presidential administrations, past and present, who've enacted the policies that have positioned wind and solar energy to meet more of our energy needs. And while it's the biggest single step our country has ever taken on carbon pollution, it won't and can't be the last -- not if we are to achieve the 100 percent clean energy future that the climate crisis demands and future generations deserve.