Commentary- August 8th, 2013
3:56 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

President Obama’s Climate Plan Deserves Our Support

The signs of climate change are all around us.  2012 was the hottest year on record in the country.  Last October Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the nation’s largest city.  And the Southwest is locked in another severe drought this summer.  Here in Montana, it’s hard to travel on any mountain highway and not notice the large swaths of beetle-killed forests, and we had evening fishing closures kick in for a time as early as July this year.  The planet is warming and extreme weather events are becoming more common. 

Despite what some conservative pundits might tell you, the science is quite clear on this.  A recent analysis of peer-reviewed scientific literature showed that 97% of the articles related to climate change supported the concept that human-created carbon emissions are altering the earth’s climate. 

Citing a “moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged”, President Obama recently released a Plan to Cut Carbon Pollution.  The cornerstone of the plan involves using his authority under the Clean Air Act to cut carbon emissions at new and existing power plants.  Other components of the plan include improving efficiency standards in federal buildings, permitting wind and solar projects on public lands, developing fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks, and taking a leadership role in international efforts to address climate change.    

President Obama’s plan is not perfect.  The most effective and efficient way to cut carbon emissions would be to put a price on carbon through a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax.  But it would take new legislation to enable this sort of fix, and lately Congress has shown an inability to even have a reasoned discussion on climate change, much less actually pass a law that addresses the problem in any sort of comprehensive way.  Given this fact and the limited authority President Obama has to deal with the issue, his plan is actually pretty comprehensive in its scope.  It deserves our support. 

Unfortunately, the plan’s release was met with a great deal of bluster in Congress, especially among Republicans.  House Speaker John Boehner tweeted “Obama administration says we need a ‘war’ on American Energy.”  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the plan “unilateral economic surrender”.  Even Montana’s own Congressman Steve Daines stated, “With these policies, President Obama’s commitment to waging war on American energy has been made clear.”

The most likely scenario Congress would take to defeat the President’s climate plan would be to “de-fund” the Environmental Protection Agency using the appropriations process.  The House Appropriations committee’s panel that oversees the EPA is already considering cutting $2.8 billion from the agency’s 2014 budget, and prohibiting the administration from spending on any rule-making process to cut carbon emissions at power plants. 

These types of comments and stratagies don’t reflect the attitudes of the American public.  A recent bipartisan national poll found that two-thirds of registered voters are in favor of establishing strong limits on carbon emissions at existing power plants.  The same poll showed that nearly half of Republican voters approved of it. 

Another sign of bipartisan support for action on climate change came in a recent OpEd that ran in the New York Times.  In it, four former EPA Administrators in four separate Republican presidential administrations publicly supported President Obama’s Climate Plan.  William Ruckelshaus from the Nixon and Reagan Administrations, Lee Thomas from the Reagan Administration, William Reilly from the first George Bush Administration, and Christine Todd Whitman from the George W. Bush Administration wrote, “We have a message that transcends political affiliation: the United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change….  President Obama’s June climate action plan lays out achievable actions that would deliver real progress….  Rather than argue against his proposals, our leaders in Congress should endorse them and start the overdue debate about what bigger steps are needed and how to achieve them.” 

Action addressing climate change shouldn’t spark controversy.  Making sure we don’t drastically alter our planet’s climate seems like common sense.  The well being of our grandkids depends on it.  What we do now regarding carbon emissions will impact the ecological sustainability, agricultural productivity, public health, and economic systems of generations to come.  These aren’t partisan issues.   

The economy will not collapse if the President’s Climate Plan is implemented.  These types of alarm calls were shouted out every time the EPA worked to cut the emissions of harmful substances, whether it was cutting lead protect human health, sulfur dioxide to reduce acid rain, or chlorofluorocarbons to address holes in the ozone layer.  Not once was there a significant economic problem as a result of EPA’s regulations.  In fact, most studies show that the economic benefits of EPA regulations far outweigh the economic costs. 

We’ve waited for too many years for such non-arguments to delay us any longer.  President Obama’s Climate Plan sets us in the right direction.  Congress should not hinder it.  Please go to www.whitehouse.gov/contact and write the President expressing your support for his Climate Plan and asking him to move forward on it.    

Dave Dittloff is the Regional Representative for the National Wildlife Federation.

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