Breathing easier: Obama takes a historic step on climate change

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While it builds on past policies and the authority of the Clean Air Act, President Barack Obama’s proposal to tackle the carbon pollution that fuels climate change is the most significant step yet. To admirers and critics of the plan, reactions turn on their basic view of global warming.

With some exceptions, the Republican Party is home to the skeptics and deniers, so it is no surprise that the EPA’s plan is viewed as a vast job-killing excuse for over-regulation. It makes no sense to conservatives because they lack belief in global warming. Many see it as a plot to justify big government and less individual freedom.

Mr. Obama has taken the consensus view of the world scientific community: that climate change is real, that man-made activity is implicated and that evidence of the phenomenon can be seen in a pattern of extreme weather events increasingly common across the globe. The president’s plan takes climate change seriously, although it can be faulted for actually not going far enough.

With some saying that the Earth’s warming climate has already passed a tipping point, the EPA is targeting carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single greatest source of pollution in the nation, contributing roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the nation.

The goal is to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels while cutting particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent. While limits exist on how much these pollutants and mercury and arsenic can be put into the air, this is the first time carbon pollution levels have been imposed on existing plants.

If Republicans were so inclined, they might appreciate that the administration’s plan gives states flexibility in reaching their own state-specific goal (a 32 percent reduction in Pennsylvania). States can choose a plan to cut emissions best suited to their own circumstances. States are also free to collaborate with each other to develop a multistate plan.

If climate change is a real threat, as the scientific evidence strongly suggests, then this is a sensible plan to confront it. Its critics are wrong in assuming nothing good can come of this. As pollution equates to poor health, a huge benefit accrues to cleaning America’s air. The EPA estimates that this step will avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children and 490,000 missed work or school days, all of which come at a great cost.

As for alleged job-killing, that assumes that the technology for cleaner energy generation doesn’t spawn its own jobs. The tired “War on Coal” propaganda forgets that coal is increasingly a victim of the market as cleaner natural gas comes on line in newly abundant quantities.

America can breathe easier, help the planet and prosper. Bad for the economy? Imagine how bad the economy will be if the worst predictions about climate change come to pass.

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