US on Track to Meet Obama's Climate Targets Despite Trump Killing Them

You can thank this badass technology.
You can thank this badass technology.
Photo: Getty

The Clean Power Plan feels like an idyllic dream from many lifetimes ago, but the U.S. is actually right on track to meet the goals the Obama-era climate policy, despite President Donald Trump moving to kill it.

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The Energy Information Administration (EIA) released data Monday that shows the U.S. power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 28 percent since 2005. The Clean Power Plan aimed to reduce these emissions by 32 percent by 2030. We’re more than 10 years out and nearly there already—without the plan ever even taking effect. In fact, 2017’s power-sector carbon emissions were the lowest they’ve been since 1987.

The EIA attributes this drop to slower energy demand growth and more variety in the energy sources we’re using. Renewables like solar and wind have been growing, cheap natural gas has boomed, and coal’s been spiraling down.

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Still, while we’re doing a good job reducing our reliance on coal without the Clean Power Plan, the plan put forth by former President Barack Obama would have helped ensure emissions continue to decrease.

“[The Clean Power Plan] didn’t accelerate that [downward] trend line, but it locked it in because a trend line is just a trend line,” said Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, to Earther. “It can change.”

Kimmell expects this trend to keep moving in this downward direction despite President Donald Trump’s regulatory rollback because more coal plants will close in the coming years. That’ll help push renewables to the front seat.

“The bottom line is we’re on a downward trend, and that’s a good thing,” Kimmell told Earther. “It also shows we could do a lot more.”

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Fortunately, states and cities are continuing the legacy Obama left behind with or without a Clean Power Plan. Their policies are key in helping keep these emissions down, per Kimmell. Still, without a federal mandate to improve coal power plant standards anymore, progress cutting emissions likely won’t come as quickly as it would have. Despite being on the decline, coal is still responsible for most of the power-sector carbon emissions today, per the EIA.

“There is a real risk of backsliding, and having the Clean Power Plan in place would make sure all states join in this clean energy success,” Kimmell said.

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Implementing the Clean Power Plan wouldn’t just have had benefits for the climate, but for public health. The type of infrastructural improvements that help lower carbon emissions also reduce the level of harmful air pollution spewing from these plants and into the low income, often predominantly non-white communities nearby. The Environmental Protection Agency once estimated these health and climate benefits would be worth up to $93 billion a year come 2030.

The Clean Power Plan may be no more, but the U.S. is racing past its goals anyway. We may need to sprint, though, if we want to prevent climate change from hitting a point of no return.

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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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Of all the Obama era EOs, I never liked how CPP was promulgated. It was kind of modeled from this study by NRDC back in 2011/2012 and published 2013.

Closing the Power Plant Carbon Pollution Loophole: Smart Ways the Clean Air Act Can Clean Up America’s Biggest Climate Polluters

The similarities between the above and CPP are uncanny. Not a bad plan and frankly a pretty good one. The problem was the sausage making sucked.

NRDC worked with ICF International on the above plan. Weirdly, ICF was an EPA contractor charged with doing value engineering on CPP. Seemed odd that the ideaman would be checking the idea. Obama’s DoE secretary Ernest Moniz worked at ICF. Like who hasn’t spun around the revolving door?

CPP from idea to act happened during Obama’s second term. His first term energy plan was “all the above” and any renewables tied to crises capitalism (i.e. 2009 stimulus). That included push for renewables research, development and deployment with incentives including grants, guaranteed loans and tax breaks for purchasers of renewable shit. Examples include Ivanpah Concentrated Solar Plant in Mojave desert, Tesla, etc.

Wind and natural gas got started because of Bush’s energy plan of 2005. Obama never wrote a plan because either congress would never approve it or his admin wanted to use NGOs instead.