Energy / Environment / Environmental Regulation

Creating a National Dialogue About Sustainable Green House Gas Reduction

As star-studded protests are lining the streets of New York in Manhattan and on Wall Street, it appears that an international debate has been stirred about the importance of protecting the environment. However, while the United Nations met this week to discuss how this goal can be reached, the reality of a national debate in America is still a far reach away. As the Environmental Protection Agency rushes to find a quick recipe to wide-spread green house gas reduction stemming from power plants, it has bypassed a thorough look into the improvements that have been made throughout the country. Quite potentially it missed the best way to move forward to address this pressing issue.

The EPA’s plans to institute widespread plans that reduce the amount of green house gases released from current and future power plants in the United States. The plan states that each state will make individual goals in terms of how and the rate of reduction that will take place but outlines levels that must be reached within a time parameter. It seeks to reach a pre-2005 level of emissions in each state by the year 2030. In a Clean Power Plan Framework that the EPA published it focuses on “improving energy efficiency, improving power plant operations and encouraging reliance on low-carbon energy” as a means of reaching these goals, steps that many states have already taken.

This approach fails to take into account the impressive steps that have been taken by states such as Washington, Minnesota and California, among others. These three states all have requirements in place that ensure the electricity used in the state is produced in a manner within certain green house gas emission standards. Actions such as this across the country have allowed states to greatly reduce their emissions in their area. However, both Minnesota and Washington were both cited as states that have to make large reductions due to the high amount of power plants in their state. While these states have a large amount of power plants, they are currently taking steps to reduce emissions and yet no signs of recognition are present in the EPA’s plan. In releasing its proposed plan it seems that the EPA has failed to take into account these efforts, having states such as these feeling like they are being unfairly targeted for massive reductions.

In contrast, many states that have failed to support the reduction of green house gases by choosing not to implement plans and are slow to join the cause, have not been hit with such dramatic regulation requirements. This discrepancy in reduction goals has left many states feeling disgruntled about the efforts that they originally supported. This negative attitude that was already felt by states who did not want to take action to reduce their emissions is slowly spreading to other states who were originally the EPA’s allies. As Doug Holtz-Eakin, the President of American Action Forum, stated earlier this month during a panel discussion co-hosted by R Street and the American Action Forum, the actions taken recently by the EPA are “penalizing the states that have been the most aggressive in their efforts.” The growth of this negative sentiment in many states threatens the possibility of a sustainable solution that will ultimately reduce green house gases throughout the country.

In an interview on Thursday the EPA chief, Gina McCarthy, stated that, “My goal is to make sure many of the states stand up as early as possible and say I can make this work for me, and my economy, and my energy sector.” This mindset is a hopeful one considering that many states, on both sides, are pushing back against the proposal, concerned about maintaining a reliable energy source at efficient costs.

The need for reducing green house gases that are released from power plants throughout the United States is great and the wellbeing of the environment is very fragile. The EPA’s efforts to address this issue come at a time when regulation and reduction of green house gases is essential. However, the outcome of such regulations must be a long-standing and beneficial solution, not a flimsy plan that morphs this solution into yet another Federal government versus state government battle. In its current state, the EPA’s plan to reduce emissions appears to be just that. By isolating the attitudes of certain states who have already taken progressive steps towards reducing emissions and mandating that they make huge, additional reductions creates an unhealthy relationship that will surely produce an unhealthy solution that will fail to last.