Frances Beinecke, President of NRDC, New York City
President Obama forcefully reaffirmed his commitment to curbing carbon pollution in the State of the Union Address. He said unequivocally that climate change poses significant threats to our environment, our health, and our economy.
“Climate change is a fact,” he said. “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
The single most important thing we can do to confront climate change is reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Last night, President Obama reiterated his commitment to have the Environmental Protection Agency implement those carbon pollution limits.
This is an historic turning point. Power plants kick out 40 percent of the carbon pollution in our country. The U.S. limits mercury, arsenic, and soot from power plants. And yet, astonishingly, there are no national limits on how much carbon these plants can dump into our atmosphere. That’s not right, and the president intends to fix it.
The EPA is scheduled to release draft standards for existing power plants in June that must deliver deep reductions here at home and set the stage for U.S. climate leadership abroad. In the coming months, NRDC will rally public support for strong standards and make sure the administration meets its deadlines.
On Tuesday, President Obama connected these carbon standards and a host of clean energy policies to his ongoing effort to fight climate disruption. Yet our nation can’t lead on climate change if we perpetuate our dependence on fossil fuels at the same time,
While the president’s speech touted natural gas, his administration is still not addressing the human impacts of the shale gas boom. One in 20 Americans now lives within a mile of an oil or gas fracking site, and many towns are struggling with contaminated water supplies, health concerns, and gutted property values that can follow in fracking’s wake.
The president called for strengthening standards that protect our air, water, and communities from unchecked natural gas development. That sounds good, but the president has said the same thing before. It’s time to deliver, and there’s much that he can do without waiting for Congress. For starters, he could make sure his administration strengthens the weak standards it has proposed for fracking on public lands. As of now, that proposal allows companies to keep fracking chemicals secret and store contaminated wastewater in open-air pits prone to leaking. No additional fracking should be permitted on public lands until strong standards are in place. And there is still no timetable for standards to curb the massive leakage of heat-trapping methane up and down the gas system.
The safer world President Obama wants to leave our children can’t be built on polluting energy production. He needs to reject projects that would vastly expand the production of the dirtiest fuels, particularly the proposed Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil.
These actions would build on the president’s robust clean energy successes. Last night he celebrated breakthroughs in energy efficiency and renewable power. Jobs in the solar industry expanded 20 percent over the 14-month period ending in November, and now nearly 143,000 Americans work for solar companies. The fuel efficiency standards the president issued last year will cut carbon pollution from new cars in half by 2025 and save consumers $1.7 trillion at the gas pump. President Obama has pledged to build on these successes and bring clean energy benefits to more Americans.
But as the president said in his address, we must act with urgency. Climate change is already threatening our communities with supercharged storms, drought, and heat waves. If we don’t move forward now, our children will suffer the consequences.
We can build a safer, more stable world. We do it by cutting carbon pollution, curbing dangerous energy production, and shifting from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy solutions. That’s the way to break our addiction to all fossil fuels—including natural gas. President Obama declared his commitment to that future, and NRDC will help work to support it. It won’t be easy, but we all have a moral obligation to do so—for ourselves, for our children, and for our planet.