Ask Earth: A power plan that targets global warming (column) |

Ask Earth: A power plan that targets global warming (column)

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Dear Eartha,

I’ve been hearing a lot about Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Can you tell me more about it? — Greg, Breckenridge

Thank you for the question, Greg. The Clean Power Plan was first proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in June 2014, and the final version of the plan was unveiled by President Obama in August 2015. This plan is the most ambitious measure the U.S. has taken to reduce its anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.

Until now, there have been no national limits to reduce carbon pollution. Some are calling it a climate game changer. The plan focuses on coal-fired power plants, which accounts for approximately 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. The aim is to reduce emissions by 32 percent within 15 years below 2005 levels.

Greg, I’ve talked about climate change in previous Ask Eartha articles. As a refresher, though I would like to go over the basics of climate change and why it’s so urgent that we do something about it now.

According to the EPA, climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. This includes major changes in temperature, precipitation or wind patterns, among other effects, that occur over several decades or longer. With all of this blustery cold weather coming in, I know it’s hard to be reminded of this, but climate change will have an effect on us here in Summit County, specifically with regard to water and the ski industry. Here in Colorado and the Southwest, climate change will have a significant impact on water resources. Warming has already contributed to decreases in spring snowpack and Colorado River flows.

Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have occurred within this century. In fact, some scientists believe that the effects of climate change are occurring much faster than originally predicted. The former NASA climatologist James Hansen and a team of scientists discovered a feedback mechanism off the cost of Antarctica suggesting mean sea-level temperatures could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted. Also worrisome is the slowing of ocean currents from where ice is melting super-fast and creating extremely odd weather patterns. Other alarming weather events like the heat waves in Pakistan and India, the drought in California and the fires in the Pacific Northwest are really just the tip of the iceberg.

With the upcoming 2015 UN Climate Change Conference held in Paris, it is crucial that the U.S. show their support in mitigating climate change. The Clean Power Plan would be a great first step. More leaders are starting to express their support for climate change action such as Pope Francis who published his encyclical, Laudato Si in the hope of influencing political action. In his encyclical, the Pope takes a moral stance on climate change by stating that the ones who will be effected most are those in developing countries, the already poorest and most disenfranchised. He calls on political leaders to take action and that doing nothing is unconscionable.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the benefits of the Clean Power Plan far outweigh the costs and generate climate benefits worth billions of dollars. Additionally, the Clean Power Plan will provide billions of dollars in health benefits each year by reducing exposure to fine particulates and ozone pollution. The health benefits of this reduction would be huge: 3,600 deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 missed work and school days per year. For every dollar we spend on the Clean Power Plan, the EPA estimates we will gain up to $4 worth of health benefits.

So how does the Clean Power Plan work? It offers carbon-emission reductions state-by-state and flexibility for meeting those targets. CPP provides various options. These options include investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, natural gas and nuclear power. No doubt, targets will differ based on each state’s various mix of generating electricity, technological feasibilities, costs and emissions reduction potentials. Flexibility is key to making this work so states are free to combine any of the options to meet their targets. They can even join together in multi-state or regional compacts to find low cost options or through emissions trading programs.

Not surprisingly, Senate Republicans are trying to block CPP through two resolutions relying on the Congressional Review Act. The Congressional Review Act lets the body review major regulations issued by executive agencies and potentially block them. However, Obama with his famous veto pen has stated he would veto the resolution.

In his encyclical, Pope Francis stated that individuals can help with regard to climate change but politicians must lead the charge. So what can we do as individuals to make a difference? Aside from the obvious (drive less, retrofit your home, etc.), vote for leaders and politicians who have expressed urgency about climate change. Thank your senators like Michael Bennet who do support climate change mitigation measures like CPP. Finally, support organizations like the Mayday PAC, which are working for campaign finance reform and getting big money out of politics so your voice can be heard and not just those of special interests.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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