About a month ago, 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’s struggled with severe asthma all his life. His mom said despite his challenges, Parker’s 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 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 EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan.
I want to thank Janet McCabe, our Acting Assistant Administrator at the Office of Air and Radiation, and the entire EPA team who worked so hard to deliver this proposal. They should be very proud of their work; I know I am.
Today, 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 limit pollutants like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic, currently, 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 science is clear. The risks are clear. And the high costs of climate inaction keep piling up.
Rising temperatures bring more smog, more asthma, and longer allergy seasons. If your kid doesn’t use an inhaler, consider yourself a lucky parent, because one in 10 children in the US suffers from asthma. Carbon pollution from power plants comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, putting our families at even more risk.
Climate inaction is costing us more money, in more places, more often. 2012 was the second most expensive year in US history for natural disasters. Even the largest sectors of our economy buckle under the pressures of a changing climate, and when they give way, so do businesses that support them, and local economics that depend on them.
As our seas rise, so do insurance premiums, property taxes, and food prices. If we do nothing, in our grandkids’ lifetimes, temperatures could rise 10 degrees and seas could rise 4 feet. The S&P recently said climate change will continue to affect credit risk worldwide.
This is not just about disappearing polar bears or melting ice caps. This is about protecting our health and our homes. This is about protecting local economies and jobs.
The time to act is now. That’s why President Obama laid out a Climate Action Plan – to cut carbon pollution, build a more resilient nation, and lead the world in our global climate fight.
Today’s 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. Today kicks off our second phase of crucial engagement.
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, customised path to meet their goals.
All told, in 2030 when states meet their goals, our proposal will result in 30 per cent less carbon pollution from the power sector across the US when compared with 2005 levels. That’s like cancelling out annual carbon pollution from two thirds of all cars and trucks in America. And if you add up what we’ll avoid between now and 2030 – it’s more than double the carbon pollution from every power plant in America in 2012.
As a bonus, in 2030 we’ll cut pollution that causes smog and soot 25 per cent 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 2100 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 infirmed. This is about environmental justice, too, because lower income families, and communities of color are hardest hit.
Now let me get into the details of our proposal.
This plan is all about flexibility. That’s what makes it ambitious, but achievable. That’s how we can keep our energy affordable and reliable. The glue that holds this plan together, and the key to making it work, is that each state’s goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever way works best for them.
First, to craft state goals, we looked at where states are today, and we followed where they’re going. Each state is different, so each goal, and each path, can be different.
Second, the goals spring from smart and sensible opportunities that states and businesses are taking advantage of right now. From plant to plug.
Let me tell you about the kinds of opportunities I’m talking about:
We know that coal and natural gas play a significant role in a diverse national energy mix. This Plan does not change that – it recognises the opportunity to modernise 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 also have the opportunity to shift their reliance to more efficient, less polluting plants. Or, 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. Our nuclear fleet continues to supply zero carbon baseload power. Homegrown clean energy is posting record revenues and creating jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.
Those are all opportunities at plants, but what about at the plug? Existing technologies can squeeze the most out of every electron, helping us use electricity more efficiently in our homes and businesses. More efficiency means we need less electricity to cool our refrigerators or charge our phones. For the fuel we burn, let’s get the most bang for our buck.
All of these options are not new ideas. They’re based on proven technologies, proven approaches, and are part of the ongoing story of energy progress in America. Our plan doesn’t prescribe – it propels that progress already underway.
And like I said, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. States can pick from a portfolio of options to meet regional, state, and community needs – from ones I mentioned, or the many more I didn’t, and in any combination. It’s up to states to mix and match to get to their goal.
If states don’t want to go it alone, they can join up with a multi-state market based program, or make new ones. More players mean more flexibility and lower costs. States have flexibility not just in means and method, but in timeline, too. Under our proposal, states have to design plans now, and start reducing so they’re on a trajectory to meet their final goals in 2030. That kind of flexibility means a smooth transition to cleaner power that doesn’t leave investments behind.
The flexibility of our Clean Power Plan affords states the choices that lead them to a healthier future: Choices that level the playing field, and keep options on the table, not off. Choices that reflect where we are today, and look to seize opportunities for tomorrow. Choices that are focused on building up, not shutting down, so we can raise the common denominator for a cleaner, low carbon economy that’ll fuel growth for decades to come.
What’s special about the flexibility of our plan is that it doesn’t just give states more options – it gives entrepreneurs and investors more options, too. It’ll deliver the certainty that will unleash market forces that drive even more innovation and investment, and spur even cleaner power and all sorts of new low-carbon technologies. Our Plan pulls private investment off the shelves and into our clean energy revolution, and sends it in every direction, not just one or two. The opportunities are tremendous.
The good news is states, cities, and businesses have already blazed the trail. Our clean energy revolution is unfolding in front of us. Just in the past few weeks, I went to Salt Lake City, where the mayor and utilities are teaming up on efficiency. I went to St. Paul, where a science center is recycling energy waste, saving money and teaching kids what we adults are just learning. I’ve seen fortune 500 companies revamp strategies to lower business risk by meeting the demands of a carbon constrained future.
I want to give a shout out to all the local officials, rural co-ops, public power operators, and investor owned utilities leading on climate change: It’s clear that you act not just because it’s reasonable, but because it's the right thing to do for the people you serve. Governors and mayors of all stripes are leaning into climate action. They see it not as a partisan obstacle, but as a powerful opportunity. And we know that success breeds success. Those of us who’ve worked in state and local government have seen healthy competition push states to share ideas and expertise. That’s when everybody wins.
EPA has had a longstanding partnership with states to protect public health. We set goals, and states are in the driver’s seat to meet them. So releasing the Clean Power Plan shifts the conversation to states. If you’re a teacher, scientist, mechanic, business person – or just someone with a good idea – share your thoughts with your state leaders. Help them see how they can build a plan that will better our future.
I know people are wondering: can we cut pollution while keeping our energy affordable and reliable? We can, and we will. Critics claim your energy bills will skyrocket. They’re wrong. Any small, short-term change in electricity prices would be within normal fluctuations the power sector already deals with. And any small price increase – think about the price of a gallon of milk a month – is dwarfed by huge benefits. This is an investment in better health and a better future for our kids.
In 2030, the Clean Power Plan will deliver climate and health benefits of up to $90 billion dollars. And for soot and smog reductions alone, that means for every dollar we invest in the plan, families will see $7 dollars in health benefits. And if states are smart about taking advantage of efficiency opportunities, and I know they are, when the effects of this plan are in place in 2030, average electricity bills will be 8 per cent cheaper.
This plan is a down payment on a more efficient, 21st century power system that cuts energy waste, cuts pollution, and cuts costs. It’s a proven path – a lot of states have been doing it for years. Think about it like this: we set historic fuel efficiency standards that will double the distance our cars go on a gallon of gas. That means you fill up less often, and save more money. Efficiency is a win for our planet and our pocketbooks. And given the astronomical price we pay for climate inaction, the most costly thing we can do; is to do nothing.
The critics are wrong about reliability, too. For decades, power plants have met pollution limits without risking reliability. If anything, what threatens reliability and causes blackouts is devastating extreme weather fueled by climate change. I’m tired of people pointing to the Polar Vortex as a reason not to act on climate. It’s exactly the opposite. Climate change heightens risks from extreme cold that freezes power grids, superstorms that drown power plants, and heat waves that stress power supplies. And it turns out, efficiency upgrades that slow climate change actually help cities insulate against blackouts.
Despite all that, there are still special interest skeptics who will cry the sky is falling. Who will deliberately ignore the risks, overestimate the costs, and undervalue the benefits. But the facts are clear. For over four decades, EPA has cut air pollution by 70 per cent and the economy has more than tripled. All while providing the power we need to keep America strong. Climate action doesn’t dull America’s competitive edge – it sharpens it. It spurs ingenuity, innovation, and investment. In 2011, we exported almost 33 per cent more cars than we did in 2009 – a clear sign of a competitive industry. And our fuel efficiency standards strengthen that.
Companies like Best Buy are investing in low-carbon operations. Bank of America pays its employees to cut carbon pollution, because investors see climate risk as business opportunity. Any business will tell you eliminating waste means more money for other things, like hiring employees. Corporate climate action is not bells and whistles – it’s all hands on deck.
And 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.
There’s a reason empty allegations from critics sound like a broken record. It’s the same tired play from the same special-interest playbook they’ve used for decades. In the ‘60s, when smog choked our cities, critics cried wolf and said EPA action would put the brakes on auto production. They were wrong. Instead, our air got cleaner, our kids got healthier – and we sold more cars. In the ‘90s, critics cried wolf and said fighting acid rain would make electricity bills go up and our lights go out. They said industry would, quote, “die a quiet death.” Wrong again. Industry is alive and well, our lights are still on, and we’ve dramatically reduced acid rain.
Time after time, when science pointed to health risks, special interests cried wolf to protect their own agenda. And time after time, we followed the science, protected the American people, and the doomsday predictions never came true. Now, climate change is calling our number. And right on cue, those same critics once will flaunt manufactured facts and scare-tactics, standing in our way of our right to breathe clean air, to keep our communities safe, and to meet our moral duty as stewards of our natural resources.
Their claims that the science-driven action that’s protected families for generations would somehow harm us flies in the face of history, and shows a lack of faith in American ingenuity and entrepreneurship.
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.
It’s no accident that our proposal is a key piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan – and key to American leadership in our global climate fight. Although there’s still much work to do to get carbon pollution down to safe levels, I’m hopeful when I see the progress we’ve made. I’m hopeful because I see the pattern of perseverance that defines America.
From the light bulb to the locomotive; from photovoltaic cells to cellphones, America has always turned small steps into giant leaps. We’ve cured diseases, we’ve explored the stars, we’ve connected corners of the globe with the click of a mouse, because when critics say it can’t be done, we say – watch us. That’s what America is made of. We don’t settle. We lead. And that’s how we’ll confront our climate crisis.
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.
As governors and mayors, as CEOs and school teachers, and most of all, as parents, we have a moral obligation to ensure the world we leave behind is as safe, healthy, and vibrant as the one we inherited. Our Clean Power Plan is a huge step toward delivering on that promise.
Thank you very much.
Gina McCarthy is the administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.