Obama Gets Serious About Climate Change, Ctd

Power Plants Limits

Back in January, Pew asked “US residents whether they support new carbon dioxide emission rules for power plants — the exact sort of rules that were proposed Monday”:

Most American adults don’t agree that these sorts of emissions are causing the climate to change. But strangely, majorities supported these rules. This cut across party lines: 74 percent of Democrats supported the rules, but 67 percent of Independents and 52 percent of Republicans did as well.

One caveat is that with this sort of question, phrasing is extremely important. That’s because most people aren’t familiar with these proposed regulations, so the way they’re explained can make a huge difference.

Ben Adler lists “nine things you need to know about Obama’s new climate rules.” Here’s #4:

What do states have to do? Each state will be required to submit its own plan for complying with the rules by June 2016, although they can request a one-year extension, until June 2017. States can also create a multi-state plan, thus encouraging more interstate compacts like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade system in Northeastern states; for such multi-state plans, they can request a two-year extension. If states don’t submit a compliant plan, EPA will make one for them.

EPA lays out four main approaches that states can use: make coal plants more efficient (for example by reducing their heat loss), increase natural gas-burning capacity, increase non-carbon energy producing capacity (that’s mainly renewables, but also nuclear), and reduce demand for electricity through improved efficiency. States don’t have to pick just one. “There is no one-size-fits-all option,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy when announcing the rules at EPA headquarters Monday morning. “It’s up to states to mix and match to meet their goals.” They can also submit a plan with a whole other approach, such as a carbon tax.

Jonathan H. Adler doesn’t think the EPA rules will accomplish much:

The stark reality is that the world will not come close embarking on a course toward stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of [greenhouse gases] until it is [cheap] and easy to do so. And this, even more than meeting the 80 by 50 target, requires a technological revolution in energy production 0r carbon mitigation.  Such transformations are possible — consider how fiber optics and then satellite and wireless replaced traditional copper wire for telecommunications — but they are rarely driven by regulatory mandates.  And although tradeable emission credit schemes are supposed to incentivize innovation, there’s little empirical evidence that such programs have actually achieved this goal.

Elizabeth Kolbert sighs that “it is entirely possible for the new regulations to be the best that can reasonably be hoped for from Washington these days and at the same time for them to be woefully inadequate”:

The President’s goal of cutting power-plant emissions thirty per cent by 2030 leaves only two decades to meet the second part of his pledge—the reduction of total emissions by eighty per cent by 2050. It could be argued that the new regulations will spur such a torrent of innovation that reducing emissions another fifty per cent will become much easier, but it’s tough to find anyone who actually believes this. And it’s only with such dramatic declines in emissions that there’s any reasonable chance of holding the eventual temperature increase to two degrees Celsius.

Sally Kohn thinks Obama’s long-game politics are at work:

Only 3 percent (PDF) of voters under 35 don’t believe climate change is an issue—far less than the 11 percent among voters overall.  And polls show young voters favor action on the environment at rates greater than older generations. In fact, even among young voters who oppose Obama, a strong majority (PDF) support the President taking action to address climate change. Going forward, the future voters of America will flock to the party that stands for equality and takes action against pollution. The Democratic Party needs to reassert these beliefs—and put action behind them—to win the future.

And the Republican Party will keep alienating these voters. One study found that voters under 35 think that politicians who deny climate change are “ignorant,” “out-of-touch,” and “crazy.”

And Chait sees the EPA move as part of Obama’s “bid to become the environmental president”:

Obama’s climate agenda may well ultimately fail. If it does, it will be because it was thwarted by actors he cannot control: All five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices may nullify his proposal, or a future Republican president may dismantle it, or the governments of China and other states may decide not to enter an international treaty. A president cannot save the planet. But it can no longer be fairly denied that Obama has thrown himself entirely behind the cause.

Earlier Dish on the EPA announcement here and here.