President’s Climate Action Plan marks a critical step in cutting carbon emissions

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

President Barack Obama’s recent Climate Action Plan is described as a critical step and a turning point in getting the United States to demonstrate leadership in cutting carbon emissions from fossil fuels, accelerating efforts to install renewable energy, and achieving greater energy efficiency in buildings and vehicles.

Since Congress has failed to act on controlling carbon emissions, and market forces are not likely to achieve the essential goals to limit them, the administration stepped in to fill the gap. The contemplated actions are designed to cut carbon emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. Half the reductions have already occurred, so the new goals should be within reach.

Actions to counter climate change rest heavily on technological innovations to cut carbon emissions from coal plants, stimulate new solar and wind installations, and increase energy efficiency in buildings, cars and trucks, while protecting public health and the environment. Howard Learner of the Environmental Law and Policy Center portrayed the contemplated actions as “the moral, business, policy, political and technological challenge of our generation.”

When Obama launched his initial campaign for the presidency, he pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. The current goal of a 17 percent reduction by 2020 would need to be increased by 20 percent and continued annually for 37 years to reach the 80 percent reduction level.

Even actions to meet the 2020 goals will require sustained public support. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll indicates 65 percent, or more, of the public has supported action to cut carbon emissions for the last four years. In light of these views, Obama has called on public support to achieve the short-term goals. Organizing for Action has launched a voter mobilization campaign to support the program.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity intends to initiate a broadly-based publicity campaign to counter the administration’s climate initiative. In anticipation of organized opposition, Obama’s speech at Georgetown University reminded students that the decisions we make now — and in the future — will have their greatest impact on the world their generation will inherit. He warned them that those opposed to the action plan will claim it will kill jobs, crush the economy and end the American free-enterprise system.

He cited previous successful bipartisan efforts to curb smog, cut acid rain, to remove lead from fuel and limit cancer-causing chemicals that were met with similar doomsday outpourings that failed to occur.

Efforts to cut coal-generated electricity are expected to face vigorous opposition. Congress could limit agency funding to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Efforts to increase the installation of wind and solar systems are less likely to face vigorous opposition. Plans to install solar systems, especially those targeted for buildings, should be widely welcomed, but installations on federal lands could face some opposition, as has already occurred.

Overall, the president’s plan is seen as a positive step in the fight to slow global warming, increase the installation of renewable energy systems and increase the efficiency of our transportation system.

From the July 10-16, 2013, issue

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