Americans turn up the heat on EPA to cut greenhouse gases

President Joe Biden promised to reduce U.S. carbon pollution by half by 2030. We won’t reach that without even more ambitious rules than the EPA has proposed.

SHARE Americans turn up the heat on EPA to cut greenhouse gases
In this Sept. 18, 2021, photo, emissions rise from the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant as the suns sets, near Emmett, Kansas.

In this Sept. 18, 2021, photo, emissions rise from the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant as the suns sets, near Emmett, Kansas.

AP Photos

More than one million Americans told the Environmental Protection Agency last week that they aren’t willing to wait any longer.

Their comments insisting that the EPA move forward quickly to cut carbon pollution from new and existing coal and natural gas-burning power plants were delivered in person in Washington by a coalition of a dozen national environmental, environmental justice and public health groups. It reportedly is the most public responses to a proposed environmental rule since President Joe Biden took office.

Their impatience is understandable. Power plants are the second-largest source of climate-damaging greenhouse gases in the United States after cars, trucks and planes. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported nearly six months ago that at the current global pace, by 2030 we will blow through the threshold for carbon pollution that keeps the planet livable.

Unless we act fast and significantly, we are the allegorical frog in slowly warming water, except we are turning up the heat on ourselves.

Columnists bug

Columnists


In-depth political coverage, sports analysis, entertainment reviews and cultural commentary.

In just three months since the EPA proposed tougher carbon regulations, we’ve experienced wildfires across North America; flooding across the northeastern U.S.; and in July, the single hottest month in recorded human history. These are the predictable consequences of manmade climate change, and unless we act with urgency, they only will get worse.

Biden promised to reduce U.S. carbon pollution by half by 2030. We won’t reach that without even more ambitious rules than the EPA has proposed, including more demand for community outreach by state regulators around pollution from existing plants.

Not surprisingly, the groups representing electric utilities offered their typical knee-jerk responses to higher standards to curb pollution — too much, too fast, too risky. It sounded a lot like the complaints nearly a decade ago when the Obama administration unveiled its Clean Power Plan, and plants have met those targets since.

It begs the question of why an industry that reportedly saw $14 billion in profits last year, carried out $11 billion in stock buybacks, and asked for 14% more rate increases from consumers compared to 2021, isn’t doing more to create the technology it needs to keep from slowly baking the planet. There’s also the question of why the industry is building enough new natural gas-burning plants to power 12.8 million households. Those plants could still be open in 2050, when even power companies say they’ll be at net zero carbon pollution, and as the cost of producing electricity through renewable sources is slipping below the cost for generating it burning fossil fuels.

The timing of their objections to the new EPA rules is ironic. We’re also marking the one-year anniversary of the historic funding package that the president and Congress crafted directing more than $350 billion in federal support to clean energy and good jobs.

Back then, the Edison Electric Institute, which represents the nation’s private power companies, said the tax credits and incentives included would “deliver a clean energy future and a carbon-free economy faster.” The package would put the U.S “at the forefront of global efforts to drive down carbon emissions’’ and provide “much-needed certainty to America’s electric companies over the next decade.” The same companies have gone from applause to hand wringing in 12 months.

When it comes to what must be done now to avert unrecoverable damage to the climate, ignorance isn’t bliss — it’s an impending catastrophe. Biden, through EPA, must face up to a grave obligation by seizing every opportunity to make good on his 2030 pledge.

The word “protection” in EPA’s name refers to people and the planet, not polluters. That must start now, with stringent standards ensured by rigorous monitoring and enforcement mechanisms and reinforced by meaningful community voices in the conversation.

Ben Jealous is executive director of the Sierra Club and a professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

The Latest
Two women were taken to Holy Cross Hospital with unspecified injuries and they were listed in good condition, officials said. A third woman was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital where she was also in good condition and an officer was taken to an area hospital with a “minor” foot injury. An 8-year-old girl was treated at the scene.
Doctor is helping a teacher from China relocate to U.S. and is hoping a wedding will follow.
Individual members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. — whose headquarters are in Chicago — have begun mobilizing in masses to support their “soror” in the historic race for president.
Thinking ahead to your next few meals? Here are some main dishes and sides to try.
Plans call for a music hall, housing, park and pedestrian-friendly spaces as part of a 10-year development project that could start as early as 2025.