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Climate Action Plan: A step toward building a world-leading clean energy economy

By Gina McCarthy

A few months back, I took a trip to the Cleveland Clinic. I met a lot of great people, but one stood out-even if he needed to stand on a chair to do it.

Parker Frey is 10 years old. He has struggled with severe asthma all his life. His mom said despite his challenges, Parker is a tough, active kid-and a stellar hockey player.

But sometimes, she says, the air is too dangerous for him to play outside. In the United States of America, no parent should ever have that worry.
That's why the EPA exists. Our job, directed by our laws, reaffirmed by our courts, is to protect public health and the environment. Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks not just to our health, but to our communities, our economy, and our way of life. That's why the EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan.
The EPA is proposing a Clean Power Plan that will cut carbon pollution from our power sector, by using cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste.
Although we currently limit pollutants like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic, there are no limits on carbon pollution from power plants, our nation's largest source. For the sake of our families' health and our kids' future, we have a moral obligation to act on climate. When we do, we'll turn climate risk into business opportunity, we'll spur innovation and investment, and we'll build a world-leading clean energy economy.
The proposed Clean Power Plan is a critical step forward. Before we put pen to paper, we asked for your advice. Our plan was built on that advice-from states, cities, businesses, utilities, and thousands of people.
Shaped by public input, present trends, proven technologies, and common sense, our plan aims to cut energy waste and leverage cleaner energy sources by doing two things: First, setting achievable, enforceable state goals to cut carbon pollution per megawatt hour of electricity generated; and second, laying out a national framework that gives states the flexibility to chart their own customized path to meet their goals.
As a bonus, in 2030 we'll have cut pollution that causes smog and soot 25 percent more than if we didn't have this plan in place. The first year that these standards go into effect, we'll avoid up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks--and those numbers go up from there.
That means lower medical bills and fewer trips to the emergency room, especially for those most vulnerable like our children, our elderly, and our infirm.

We know that coal and natural gas play a significant role in a diverse national energy mix. This plan does not change that-it recognizes the opportunity to modernize aging plants, increase efficiency, and lower pollution. That's part of an all-of-the-above strategy that paves a more certain path for conventional fuels in a carbon constrained world.
States have the opportunity to shift their reliance to more efficient, less polluting plants. Instead of low carbon sources, there's always the opportunity to shift to "no" carbon sources like nuclear, wind, and solar. Since 2009, wind energy in America has tripled, and solar has grown ten-fold. Homegrown clean energy is posting record revenues and creating jobs that can't be shipped overseas.
Even without national standards, the energy sector sees the writing on the wall. Businesses like Spectra Energy are investing billions in clean energy. And utilities like Exelon and Entergy are weaving climate considerations into business plans. All this means more jobs, not less. We'll need thousands of American workers, in construction, transmission, and more, to make cleaner power a reality.
The bottom line is: we have never-nor will we ever-have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment.
I don't accept that premise. We can lead this fight. We can innovate our way to a better future. It's what America does best. Yes, our climate crisis is a global problem that demands a global solution, and there's no Hail Mary play we can call to reverse its effects. But we can act today to advance the ball and limit the dangers of punting the problem to our kids.
When it comes to our plan, we may not agree on details of how we do it, but we agree on why we do it. When our kids ask us if we did everything we could to leave them a safer, cleaner world, we want to say, yes, we did. When we think of our children-kids like Parker from Cleveland, Ohio-it's easy to see why we're compelled to act.

Gina McCarthy is the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For the Record is an excerpt of a speech she made in June 2014.

 


November/December 2014