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The Clean Power Plan: Myths and Facts

Environmental Protection Agency finalized national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single-largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S.

Today, as part of the President’s plan to cut carbon pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single-largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. The Clean Power Plan is an historic step in the fight against climate change. It sets flexible and achievable standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, while creating tens of thousands of jobs.

But just because this common-sense proposal will have huge benefits for hard-working Americans across the country, doesn’t mean some people won’t spread misinformation and launch false attacks. There will be critics of what we’re trying to do, and cynics who say it can’t be done.  Long before the details of this plan were even decided, the special interests and their allies in Congress were already mobilizing to oppose it with everything they’ve got. In fact, we are likely to see the same tired arguments naysayers raised last year — and in 1990, when the United States tackled acid rain; and in the 1970s, when the Clean Air Act was passed.

Before we get into the details, we want to remind everyone, throughout our history, when America has taken steps to cut pollution and protect public health, opponents have made dire predictions about destroying jobs and harming the economy — and throughout our history they've been wrong.

This time will be no different. As the polluting interests and their allies come up with new and creative myths, we’ll dispel them on Twitter at @Rohan44.  

Myth: Carbon pollution standards will destroy jobs and hurt the economy.

Fact: Americans know we can cut pollution and protect the health of our kids while creating jobs.

Over the years, this has been the polluters' favorite myth. When Republican President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act to combat smog, he talked about the promise of tackling pollution and our responsibility to future generations.  Polluting interests and their allies said new pollution standards would decimate the auto industry. That was false. In 1990, when Republican President George H.W. Bush took steps to stop acid rain, polluting interests and their allies claimed the lights would go out and businesses around the country would suffer. That was false.

EPA has been protecting air quality for more than 40 years, and in that time we've cut pollution by 70 percent while the economy has more than tripled.

So Americans know we don't have to choose between cutting carbon pollution to protect the health of our kids and creating jobs.

In fact – they go hand in hand. Cutting carbon pollution from power plants will spark innovation and drive investment in clean energy technologies and energy efficiency that will create jobs and save families money. It will also result in significant health benefits, which will yield medical savings.

EPA’s detailed economic analysis shows that this proposal will create tens of thousands of jobs all over the country. And they aren’t the only ones. Two independent studies show even larger job gains of around 300,000 jobs when the Clean Power Plan is fully implemented. And if we look at carbon reduction programs that are already in place, we find that from 2014-2016, the Regional Green House Gas Initiative trading program, is expected to create 14,000 new jobs across nine states.   

Myth: Carbon pollution standards will cause Americans’ utility bills to spike.

Fact: Cutting carbon pollution will help eliminate waste and save families money on their electric bills.

Another old industry favorite has been getting a lot of attention lately. The biggest polluters have already started spreading the myth that EPA’s common-sense proposal will cause Americans’ electric bills to increase.

In reality, EPA’s plan will cut carbon pollution so we can protect the health of our kids without increasing the energy bills of ordinary Americans. In fact, these standards will actually shrink electricity bills $85 each year for the average household, and save consumers a total of $155 billion from 2020-2030 by increasing energy efficiency and reducing costs in the electricity system.

A recent independent analysis found that carbon standards for power plants can save American households on their electric bills, for example, the Clean Power Plan is expected to save the average household up to $147 on their energy bill in Virginia and $144 in Ohio each year. Another study found consumers can save $41 billion in the year 2040 if states aggressively pursue clean energy options.

Myth: Carbon pollution standards will hit low-income communities the hardest.

Fact: EPA’s Clean Power Plan will protect the health of low-income communities and help them save on their energy bills.

The most cynical claim is that EPA’s plan will harm minority and low-income communities – even though climate change and air pollution hurt these communities the most. Today, African American children are twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma and Latino children are 40% more likely to die from asthma.

The Clean Power Plan will improve public health in these communities and across the country. It will prevent 90,000 asthma attacks in children and avoid 300,000 missed days of school or work per year by 2030. That means less time and money spent at the doctor and more time that kids can spend reaching their full potential.

EPA’s plan will also shrink electricity bills $85 each year for the average household, and save consumers a total of $155 billion from 2020-2030 by increasing energy efficiency and reducing costs in the electricity system.

In addition, the Clean Power Plan establishes a Clean Energy Incentive Program that will drive investment in energy efficiency in low-income communities and help push energy bills even lower. This new program builds on the investment the President made in the first term to retrofit more than a million low-income homes, and the Administration’s efforts to deploy more solar in communities.  

Myth: This administration is waging a war on coal.

Fact: For years, the President’s political opponents have been blaming him for market trends that started well before the President took office.

Some opponents claim that EPA’s implementation of Clean Air Act protections represent a “war on coal.” Yet, independent power market analysis shows that the recent shift away from coal is driven by competition from cheaper natural gas, lower cost renewables, and increased use of energy efficiency, and that the decline in coal jobs started well before President Obama took office. In fact, far more coal mining jobs were lost under  both the Reagan and Clinton administrations than under President Obama’s administration.

While special interests attempt to blame EPA for the impacts of these market forces in coal country, the Obama Administration is ready to provide help. In fact, the President’s FY 2016 budget includes the “POWER+ Plan,” a nearly $10 billion investment in coal communities, workers and technologies, which includes:

  • Targeted new resources for economic diversification, job creation, job training and other employment services for workers and communities impacted by layoffs in coal mines and coal-fired power plants;
  • Unprecedented investments in the health and retirement security of mineworkers and their families and the accelerated clean-up of hazardous coal abandoned mine lands;
  • New tax incentives to support continued technology development and deployment of carbon capture, utilization and sequestration technologies.

Finally, it is important to note that EPA’s analysis of the Clean Power Plan shows that coal will play a significant role in our energy mix for years to come. That’s why the Obama administration has made significant investments in carbon capture and storage technology.

Myth: This rule threatens the reliability of Americans’ electricity.

Fact: This flexible proposal allows states to implement the standards without impacting reliability.

EPA’s proposal lays out responsible, steady steps to cut carbon pollution and protect public health while giving states the flexibility they need to ensure Americans have reliable, affordable power. EPA’s extensive analysis shows that the standards can be implemented without impacting reliability.

In fact, in response to recommendations by stakeholders, many aspects of the final rule are designed to preserve and maintain electric system reliability. In addition to giving states more time to develop implementation plans, starting compliance in 2022, and phasing in the emission reductions gradually over an eight-year averaging period, the rule requires states to address reliability in their state plans. The final rule also provides a “reliability safety valve” to address any reliability challenges that arise on a case-by-case basis.

But it’s not just EPA who has said that the dire predictions about reliability are badly overblown.

Independent analysts agree: Here are some key findings from a recent independent studies of the proposal by respected energy experts:

This isn’t the first time that special interests have claimed that common-sense regulations will turn out the lights – or the first time they’ve been wrong.

Myth: The Clean Power Plan is regulatory overreach.

Fact: The Clean Power Plan is clearly consistent with EPA’s legal authorities

Before EPA’s standards were finalized, polluters and their allies argued that the Clean Power Plan went well beyond EPA’s authorities in the Clean Air Act.

The Supreme Court has made clear that EPA has the responsibility under the Clean Air Act to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions that endanger public health and welfare. And Section 111 is the appropriate tool under the Act to address carbon pollution from power plants.  The Clean Power Plan is consistent with the text, history, and structure of the Clean Air Act. The final plan reflects unprecedented public engagement and is responsive to the feedback provided by stakeholders during that process. It is long since time we fulfill our responsibility under the Clean Air Act to address the most urgent environmental problem facing our country. 

Myth: The final Clean Power Plan drops energy efficiency.

Fact: Investment in energy efficiency will be a powerful strategy for compliance under the final Clean Power Plan.

EPA did remove energy efficiency from the process of establishing state targets, instead focusing on electricity supply measures. But the Clean Power Plan will still drive significant investment in energy efficiency because energy efficiency is cost-effective, widely available and remains eligible as a compliance tool for inclusion in state plans. Indeed, energy efficiency is expected to play a major role in meeting the state targets as a cost-effective and widely-available carbon reduction tool, saving enough energy to power 30 million homes and putting money back in ratepayers’ pockets. In addition, the Clean Energy Incentive Program provides credit for early action by states on boosting low-income energy efficiency.

Myth: Climate change isn’t real.

Fact: Climate change is real, it’s happening now, and it’s affecting every region of the country.

Last week, the Pentagon sent a report to Congress reinforcing that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. The report found, global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the foreseeable future because it will aggravate existing problems—such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions—that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.

This builds on a report that was released last year from a team of more than 300 climate scientists. They warned that “Climate change is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways,” and that it is “disrupting people’s lives and damaging some sectors of our economy.”

Companies representing at least $2.5 trillion in market capitalization are not debating the science, and instead are taking serious action that helps their bottom line and our planet. Just recently, 365 companies announced their support of the Clean Power Plan.

Denying climate change might be good for the bottom line of polluters who fund bogus studies, but businesses and families across the country are already dealing with the effects of carbon pollution that causes climate change. In the past three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled, and the impacts of climate change – increases in smog, ozone, etc. – are putting more and more Americans with asthma at risk of landing in the hospital. And extreme weather events – from more severe droughts and wildfires in the west to more powerful hurricanes and record heat waves – are hitting communities across the country. Climate and weather disasters in 2012 cost the American economy more than $100 billion.

We have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged. We set limits for arsenic, mercury, and lead, but we let existing power plants release as much carbon pollution as they want.  With the Clean Power Plan, we are changing that.

The vast majority of the American people are with us, and don’t want their elected officials debating debunked studies or junk science. They want us to act on climate and that’s exactly what President Obama is doing.