While a debate over new gun control seems certain to overshadow the early days of President Obama’s second term, a prominent environmental group in Washington is seeking to keep action on climate change firmly on the agenda.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) cites three new reports, which confirm that:
· We’ve just completed the hottest year on record across the continental United States, and that wound up our hottest decade ever;
· Climate change poses a grave and gathering threat to our future;
· We can act now, as a nation, to do something about it, by cleaning up our power plants, the single largest source of the industrial carbon pollution that is throwing our climate into a dangerous tailspin.
“We know where this pollution is. Cleaning it up would mark a signature second-term achievement for the president, a legacy accomplishment that would mean a stronger economy, a more secure nation and a healthier future for our children,” the NRDC says in a statement.
The organization also touts a plan it recently released to deal with the climate issue.
During 2012, the average annual temperature across the continental United States was 55.3 degrees F. That’s 3.2 degrees above the 20th-Century average, reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.
“What does it mean for our country? The latest word on that comes from the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, a 60-person panel mandated by Congress to report every four years on the way climate change is affecting the United States,” the NRDC says.
On January 11, the committee released the draft of its 2013 assessment, the work of more than 240 expert authors relying on the best peer-reviewed science available.
“The report will receive another three months of additional scrutiny and public review before it’s released in final form. For anyone wanting a first-rate, cut-to-the-chase primer, the executive summary makes for a sobering read,” the NRDC statement says.
“Climate change is already affecting human health, infrastructure, water resources, agriculture, energy, the natural environment and other factors – locally, nationally, and internationally,” it warns, citing children, the elderly, the sick and the poor as among the most at risk of harm.
Under the Clean Air Act — passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of both houses and signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon —President Obama has the authority, and the responsibility, to set pollution standards for the power plants that heave out nearly 40 percent of the U.S. contribution to the carbon emissions that are warming our climate.
NRDC has unveiled a plan to do just that. Using the Clean Air Act, the president can cut power plant carbon emissions 26 percent by 2020. That would keep roughly a half-billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere each year – nearly 10 percent of the U.S. total carbon footprint, the organization says.
The organization calls it a low-cost, high-benefit plan that:
· Tailors states’ carbon goals to their individual energy mix;
· Lets power companies choose the most cost-effective way to hit the target;
· Helps consumers save big on their electric bills.
It would also create tens of thousands of American jobs by promoting investment in energy efficiency and wind, solar and other low-carbon sources of renewable power, while helping to protect us from the price shocks of foreign energy supplies, according to the NRDC.
The cost to the electric utility industry? About 1 percent of revenues, outlays that will return up to $15 in public health benefits for every dollar invested to clean up U.S. smokestacks and promote workplace and home efficiency.
What options would utilities have?
· Cut carbon emissions from existing equipment by, for example, retrofitting their boilers for more efficient burning, or installing equipment to capture carbon emissions before they leave the smokestack;
· Shift their generating mix to low-carbon options like wind, solar and natural gas;
· Promote energy efficiency that can enable a typical family to save up to $700 a year by doing things like weatherizing their home or installing energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances. That’s real money that can help our families and our economy.
“As President Obama takes the oath of office for a second term, he faces a rigorous set of challenges. On the subject of climate change, he has an historic opportunity to lead the country in a direction that will make a lasting difference for us all,” the NRDC says.