In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama vowed to "respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations." Five months later, he is making good on the promise.
Recognizing that effective climate policy will not pass in a gridlocked Congress, the president outlined his own plan Tuesday that calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Carbon pollution is not subject to federal regulation, despite being the main driver of human-induced climate change. But the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases fall well within the scope of the Clean Air Act, which authorizes the EPA to regulate hazardous air pollutants.
Although the plan's details must be worked out, implementation will mean stricter pollution controls on coal-fired power plants and higher utility bills. But the cost will be worth it since the plants produce 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming. The plan will also allocate resources to develop clean energy, help communities prepare for the effects of a changing climate and spearhead opportunities for global cooperation in responding to climate change.
The benefits of the initiative will be felt locally. Jim Abernathy, president and CEO of PennFuture, said Pennsylvania produces more pollution contributing to climate change than all but two other states, and the Obama plan offers an opportunity to employ Pennsylvanians at retrofitting plants to conform with new standards as well as developing clean-air technologies.
The president's bold decision to bypass Congress is laudable. Predictably, conservative lawmakers responded with hostility. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the proposal was tantamount to "unilateral economic surrender." House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the plan a "war on coal." But the do-nothing Congress has done little to help the nation move toward cleaner fuels like natural gas -- a boon to the Pennsylvania economy -- and renewables.
Mr. Obama's announcement is promising, but the EPA faces a tough goal: implementing the rigorous standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Moving forward, it is imperative that the EPA and the president remain committed to this strong, new policy that will protect future generations from the impacts of a warming planet.