President Obama’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States came under increased pressure as 17 states across the union threatened to file lawsuits blocking federal rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new electricity power plants.
The threatened legal action by the 17 states was in response to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new Clean Air Act standards for GHG emissions from new fossil fuelled electricity power plants.
President Obama instructed the EPA to review GHG emissions for new power plants, outlined in a Memorandum to EPA on “Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards”.
The Clean Air Act allows the EPA to act to reduce environmental and physical harm from air pollution. In lieu of a national policy passed by U.S. Congress to address the impacts of climate change, including the reduction of GHG emissions. The President’s action effectively bypasses a deadlocked U.S. Congress that was never likely to pass a bill to reduce GHG to the levels required.
It was therefore no surprise to find that the states considering legal action: Oklahoma, Michigan, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin were either coal mining states or states dependent on coal fired power generators.
The initiative to reduce GHG emissions from new power plants was part of a package of measures first announced by President Obama at Georgetown University in the summer to tackle the impacts of climate change in his second term.
The Climate Change Action Plan, as it is known, is a comprehensive set of measures covering energy, transport, waste management and climate change adaptation.
A number of commentators were highly critical of the President’s plan and believe his attempts to regulate GHG emissions from new power plants amount to a “war on coal”. Other more progressive commentators believe there is a much bigger picture emerging. New York Times journalist Thomas L. Friedman wrote, “The first is that we need to reorder our priorities and start talking about the things that are most consequential for our families, communities, nation and world”.
Given the limited “wriggle room” the President Obama has with the U.S. economy and the pressing requirement of energy security his attempts to control GHG emissions was indeed a bold move.
Michael is a freelance consultant with over 20 years’ experience in industry. He holds an MSc in Climate Change & Sustainable Development and is a member of the Energy Institute. He is passionate about the sustainable future of our planet and is keen to promote a cleaner, safer and healthier environment for future generations. His professional interests include renewable energy, smart networks and sustainable transport.