The President’s Plan to Reduce Carbon Pollution: Myths v. Reality

Yesterday, at Georgetown University, President Obama laid out his Administration’s broad-based plan to cut carbon pollution and meet the climate change challenge.

It’s a plan that starts with responsibility. While no single step can reverse the effects of climate change, President Obama believes we have a moral obligation to future generations to do what we can.  After all, this is no longer a distant threat – we are already feeling the impacts now.

The 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15 years. Asthma rates have doubled in the past 30 years and our children will suffer more asthma attacks as air pollution gets worse. And increasing floods, heat waves, and droughts have taken a toll on our nation’s farmers, which is raising food prices. These changes come with far-reaching consequences and real economic costs. Last year alone, there were more than 11 different weather and climate disaster events with estimated losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States.

During President Obama’s first term, we took a number of important steps to reduce carbon pollution and spark innovation in cleaner forms of energy. For example, we doubled our use of renewable electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal sources and set the toughest fuel efficiency standards in American history. Thanks in part to these actions, in 2012, U.S. carbon pollution from the energy sector fell to the lowest level in nearly 20 years. To build on this progress, the President’s Climate Action Plan has three pillars: cut carbon pollution in America; prepare the United States for climate impacts; and lead international efforts to combat global climate change.

Now, we’re already seeing many Republicans and some of the nation’s biggest polluters attack the President’s plan. And they’re recycling the same tired and empty arguments that we’ve heard time and time again. To separate fact from fiction, let’s dig a little deeper and compare their rhetoric with the reality.


Claim #1:

Reducing carbon pollution will hurt the economy and cost jobs.

FACT:

Over the last four decades, we have reduced common pollutants by more than half and have doubled economic output.

Our own history shows us that we can protect our environment, reduce harmful pollution, and promote economic growth all at the same time. And the numbers speak for themselves: between 1970 and 2011, aggregate emissions of common air pollutants dropped 68 percent, while the U.S. gross domestic product grew 212 percent. Private sector jobs increased by 88 percent during the same period.

What’s even worse about this claim is that it suggests a lack of faith in American businesses to innovate. When we banned cancer-causing chemicals in our toys, and leaded fuel in our cars, it didn’t end the plastics industry or the oil industry; American chemists came up with better, cheaper substitutes.  When we phased out chlorofluorocarbons – the gases that depleted the ozone layer – it didn’t kill off refrigerators and air conditioners; American workers built better ones.

The bottom line is that we don’t have to choose between the health of our children and the health of our economy. Those goals go hand in hand. And by taking action to reduce carbon pollution, we can spark new jobs and industries building cleaner and more efficient American-made energy technologies.


Claim #2:

Regulating carbon pollution will increase energy bills for consumers.

FACT:

Utility industry leaders say they can reduce carbon pollution without raising bills.

We know how to use the tools of the Clean Air Act in a way that reduces pollution and protects American families and businesses.

For example, when the President announced historic fuel economy standards, the critics said cars would get smaller, more expensive for consumers, and hurt sales. They were wrong. Today, car sales are at multi-year highs, people are already saving money at the pump thanks to greater efficiency, and we’ve preserved consumer choice. In March, EPA released a new report which showed that, compared to just five years ago , Americans have twice as many hybrid and diesel vehicle choices, a growing set of plug-in electric vehicles, and six times as many vehicle choices with fuel economy of 30 mpg or higher.

When it comes to the power sector, the utility industry itself admits that they can reduce carbon pollution without raising bills. Moreover, to protect consumers, the President directed the EPA to develop standards in an open and transparent way, provide flexibility to different states with different needs, and build on the leadership that many states, cities, and companies have already shown.  And that’s exactly what they’ll do. Separately, the Administration will also continue efforts to make household appliances more efficient, savings consumers hundreds of billions on utility bills through 2030.

At the same time, renewable energy has never been more affordable. It’s not only creating good jobs across the country, it’s providing clean, safe, and secure power to millions. And as costs continued to fall, both the wind and solar industries had their best year ever in America in 2012. Today, nine states get more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind and two of those – Iowa and South Dakota – get more than 20 percent. These trends just wouldn’t be happening if clean energy weren’t competitive and cost-effective for consumers.


Claim #3:

The Administration is waging a war on coal.

FACT:

President Obama has invested more in clean coal technology than any other Administration in history.

The President believes that America must take a leadership role in developing and manufacturing technologies that allow us to burn coal more cleanly and efficiently. Achieving that goal will also boost our economy, promote public health, and position the United States as the leader in the global clean energy race. That’s why President Obama has invested nearly $6 billion in clean coal technology and research and development – the largest such investment in U.S. history. And as part of the President’s Climate Action plan, he announced yesterday that the Administration will make up to $8 billion in loan guarantee authority available for a wide array of advanced fossil energy and efficiency projects to support investments in innovative technologies.

Cutting carbon pollution will help modernize our coal power plants. It will help spark innovation to create new clean energy technologies and it will put Americans to work with good jobs that can’t be shipped overseas making our power plants more efficient, which will save families money.


For more information on President Obama's Climate Action Plan:

Heather Zichal is the Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.
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