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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.