U.S. Can Meet Paris Climate Goals (With or Without Supreme Court)
As world leaders gather in New York on Friday to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change, some have expressed concern that as they implement their commitments, the U.S. Supreme Court has put on hold the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Their concern is understandable, but it’s important to recognize: The federal government is not the primary force in the U.S. fight against climate change, and even if the court ultimately strikes down certain parts of the plan, the U.S. will meet and probably exceed its commitment to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025. Here’s why.
It was a modest goal. By 2015, the U.S. had already cut emissions by 11 percent compared with 2005 levels. So our starting line was nearly halfway to our goal. Given this progress, many of us believed that President Obama should have set a more ambitious target. Even now, with the Clean Power Plan on hold, a more ambitious goal is achievable.
The court’s ruling is limited. No matter how the court rules, the federal government will still have a mandate, under the Clean Air Act, to limit carbon pollution from power plants, cars and trucks, and other major sources. Moreover, the Obama administration recently joined with Canada to draft rules to limit leaks of methane (a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide) from existing natural gas wells and pipelines.
The public favors action. Last week, Bloomberg Philanthropies funded a poll of Democrats, Republicans and independents living in four states -- Florida, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin -- where attorneys general have sued the Environmental Protection Agency to block the Clean Power Plan. More than six in 10 registered voters in Missouri, and seven in 10 in Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin, support the plan. In Florida, nearly six in 10 voters said they’d be more likely to vote for a presidential or gubernatorial candidate who supported the plan, while just one in 10 said they’d be less likely.
The market is moving. The U.S. coal industry is dying, and it’s not coming back. A combination of forces -- cheap gas, price-competitive solar and wind energy, and public opposition to polluted air -- will make sure of it. A recent report showed that solar jobs in the U.S. have grown at a rate 12 times faster than the national job growth rate. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, which I have supported, has helped phase out more than 230 coal plants in recent years -- one-third of the nation’s coal fleet. And we aim to lock in the retirement of half the nation’s coal fleet by the end of next year.
Cities are leading. More than 100 U.S. cities have joined the Compact of Mayors, a global coalition of city officials committed to lowering local emissions -- and publicly tracking the reductions. Moreover, mayors are talking with international leaders about big ideas, such as building and financing new clean energy electric grids. For instance, earlier this week I met with Liu Zhenya, chairman of the State Grid Corporation of China, who shared with me his idea of a Global Energy Interconnection to help the world get 80 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources. Working with businesses and investors, cities will be instrumental partners in bringing such bold ideas to life.
States are acting. Many states rightly view the EPA’s targets as a floor, not a ceiling. Governors of nearly half of U.S. states have said they will proceed with the Clean Power Plan regardless of the Supreme Court’s temporary stay. California has adopted a plan that imposes far deeper cuts on emissions than what the Clean Power Plan calls for. Michigan, Minnesota and Tennessee are on track to meet or exceed federal compliance targets without doing much more at all. Even heavily coal-dependent Kentucky, where elected officials have voiced opposition to the Clean Power Plan, will likely wind up meeting the plan’s targets, because of market forces driving more investment in cleaner energy.
In 2009, Congress debated a cap-and-trade bill that would have cut emissions by 8 percent by 2015. It failed to pass, and many were despondent, believing that was the last, best hope for making progress. But since then -- thanks to the above forces, particularly the market and Beyond Coal campaign -- the U.S. has cut emissions by more than what the cap-and-trade bill hoped to achieve.
The fact is that cities, states, businesses and community leaders collectively play a larger role in the future of emissions than the federal government. The prospect of a Supreme Court ruling striking down aspects of the Clean Power Plan should lead each group to accelerate its efforts, while also reassuring world leaders of our resolve to achieve and exceed the federal government’s goals.
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David Shipley at email@example.com