The Climate Changes Regs: Is the Less Threatening Approach Less Threatening Enough?

So the EPA’s new regulations of carbon emissions–focused on existing coal-powered utility plants–are now out. It will take at least a day for even the most knowledgeable observers to figure out the 645-page document, but here’s a quick summary from the Guardian‘s Suzanne Goldenberg:

• The Environmental Protection Agency rolled out a proposal to confront climate change by cutting carbon pollution at existing US power plants. If adopted, it would be the first regulation of its kind.

• President Barack Obama proposed the new rules under his executive authority after years of frustration with congressional inaction. The president had previously set new emissions rules for cars and future plant construction.

• The plan would set state-by-state pollution reduction goals with the overall goal of cutting carbon emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by the year 2030. Climate change economist Nicholas Stern said the cuts would be insufficient to avoid the 2°C warming that scientists believe will be dangerous.

• Opponents of the new rules including the coal industry, business interests and some political leaders who warned that the plan would cost jobs and make electricity more expensive. In a speech (full text) announcing the rules, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said the opposite would happen.

• Many environmental advocates embraced the EPA proposal, including the Sierra Club and former vice president Al Gore, who called them “the most important step taken to combat the climate crisis in our country’s history”.

So the regs adopt an early “baseline” that will make achievement of the 30% reduction goal a lot easier; they not only allow but encourage states to pursue wide-ranging strategies, not just those focusing on coal-powered plants, to achieve them; and will provide a year-long comment period before the regs take effect. It’s also worth noting that one extremely important implication–the effect on international climate change negotiations–will be operating on an entirely separate track.

Now let the spin and the howling begin. It’s not at all clear that the less sweeping, less threatening framing of the regs will make much difference in terms of the hysterical reaction from conservative ideologues and the fossil fuel industry.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.