On Aug 3, 2015, President Barack Obama and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly announced the Clean Power Plan, a sweeping overhaul of emission guidelines. Coal and natural gas remain the biggest contributors to carbon pollution (a third of all domestic carbon emissions) and with around 1000 ageing fossil-fuel power plants in the USA, the introduction of the first-ever national standards have necessarily made power plants crucial targets.
The plan seeks to reinforce greenhouse gas emission guidelines that apply to fossil-fuel-fired electricity generating units regulated under the Clean Air Act, passed in 2014. The reformulated goal is to support existing reduction efforts but to further create public–private partnerships to lower national emission levels from electricity production by 32% by 2030. Instead of relying only on cuts to achieve reduced emission goals, the plan spurs states to craft flexible individual strategies that incorporate and prioritise energy efficiency and renewable energy source portfolios.
The plan is also progressive in that it is the first national overture at energy regulation that highlights human health. The cost of implementation is decidedly high—an estimated US$8·4 billion—but the EPA and the Obama Administration have been quick to put that number into context, suggesting that the health and climate costs averted could be anywhere from $34 billion to $54 billion per year in 2030. Lowered emission rates would reduce particle pollution exposure resulting in an estimated 3600 fewer premature deaths, 1700 fewer heart attacks, and 90 000 fewer asthma attacks. Not only are there clear health benefits from emission reductions, but also, as outlined in the act, a second priority is to reinforce current health systems to be more resilient in the face of climate change and extreme weather.
President Obama said, “We are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” At last, much needed leadership from Obama begins to move the USA to the forefront of efforts to protect and preserve human health by forcefully addressing climate change.
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