CPP: A historic moment followed by hard work ahead

CPP: A historic moment followed by hard work ahead

When leaders fail to act to address climate disruption, it fuels fatalism and provides an excuse for inaction.

That’s why it’s important to celebrate the release of the EPA’s final Clean Power Plan requiring cuts in carbon emissions from the power sector. The plan – which will cut emissions by 32% by 2030 and unleash a cascade of economic, health and environmental benefits for Americans, sends a strong signal that the United States is willing to act and that the transition away from dirty, carbon-based fossil fuels is underway and accelerating.

At the same time, optimism over the shifting political, economic and cultural context must be balanced by the realism of the hard task ahead of implementing the Clean Power Plan. States must now think about developing plans for meeting the carbon reduction targets as fossil fuel interests launch litigation and other efforts aimed at derailing progress. We know from experience that laws such as the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act are among the strongest environmental protections in the world and generate multiple benefits when enforced, yet require constant public pressure to ensure they are upheld.

Government and nonprofit leaders have already begun making the case for state implementation plans that favor energy efficiency and renewable energy, and consider the needs of those most vulnerable to the impacts of carbon pollution, including low-income citizens. The climate movement is broadening, which was reflected in the response to the Clean Power Plan, and this must continue so there is a strong and diverse voice calling for adoption at the state level. Here is a sampling of some of the talking points used around the rule release that could be built on as we move from release to implementation.

  1. “Climate Change is Not a Problem for Another Generation. Not Anymore.” The White House used this phrase in a pre-rule release video. In the White House press conference August 3, when the rule was released, Obama repeated this theme by saying, “we are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last that can do something about it.” This clearly positions climate disruption as a near-term challenge and call to action and has been used before. In fact, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State was quoted saying this in the Showtime series on climate change, Years of Living Dangerously, and other public appearances.
  2. “The Clean Power Plan is a win for our health, a win for future generations of Americans and a win for securing a clean energy economy.” Environmental organizations including Natural Resources Defense Council and League of Conservation Voters summed up the co-benefits of the final rule well. While the Clean Power Plan does provide an opportunity to directly address the threat of climate disruption, other positive outcomes can be highlighted as well, such as driving innovation.
  3. “The Clean Power Plan is the right measure at the right time. It’s a flexible, practical and economically sound blueprint to transition America toward a low-carbon future.” CERES and other organizations added the voice of the business community to the debate, emphasizing the financial and operational viability of the CPP and a call for governors to implement timely plans. Given the emphasis in the media debate on the economic “winners and losers” impacted by the plan, there is an opportunity to build on support from the corporate sector.
  4. “Obama’s Clean Power Plan will save both lives and bucks spent on hospital bills. It also opens the door to clean-energy jobs for struggling communities. It rewards states that focus on helping low-income communities.” Van Jones and other environmental justice leaders largely applauded the announcement of the final rule for struggling communities. At the same time, environmental justice organizations such as We-Act also voiced concern over cap-and-trade and other approaches states might consider that risk placing an undo pollution burden on some communities, as well as emphasized the importance of consultation with communities as part of the planning process. “We all know that any good doctor must conduct a diagnosis before developing a treatment plan. For our communities, the diagnosis is the environmental justice analysis…and that analysis should INFORM the treatment plan.”
  5. “EPA Takes Historic Climate Action, But It’s Only a Down Payment.” Some environmental groups, such as Friends of the Earth, provided a more tempered response to the Clean Power Plan. They recognized its significance while also calling out the fact that the rule itself is not enough to address climate disruption. Both are important to do and finding the right balance is critical so the CPP becomes a motivator for other actions. Placing the CPP in the context of the larger set of actions underway to address global warming is one way to address this challenge.
  6. “Renewable Energy Provides Plenty of Power and Helps to Modernize Our Energy System.” Some who oppose the Clean Power Plan argue it is too expensive, impacts poor people unfairly, and is a job killer and these themes will likely continue be used during the state planning process. Climate Nexus provides some tips on how to tackle these claims in this helpful video


image via (cc) flickr H.P. Brinkmann