US power sector is already halfway to the EPA’s 2030 carbon cap
By Gerard Wynn
New U.S. regulation of carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants amounted to “crumbs”, given the urgency of the climate problem, said veteran climate scientist James Hansen.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a cap on power sector carbon emisisons, to 30% below 2005 levels in 2030.
US President Barack Obama is trying to regulate carbon emissions via the EPA, by-passing Congress.
That is after he failed to win support five years ago for a proposed climate bill, losing out to Republicans over the feared impact on energy prices in the teeth of the financial crisis.
But the EPA ruling was inadequate, argued Hansen, a veteran climate scientist who stepped down from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies last year.
Hansen is now an adjunct professor at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.
“President Obama had an opportunity when first elected, when his party had control of Congress, when he had 70% approval rating, when the country expected him to lead,” said Hansen, in his latest post on the Columbia University website.
“That was the time he should have explained to the public that we must have a rising price on carbon emissions, it would increase the price of fuel at the pump, but if all the money went to the public it would spur the economy.”
“Why is Obama reduced to fighting for carbon crumbs via regulations? The next Presidency will be a new opportunity, but this time groundwork must be done.”
Hansen has long argued for a national “carbon fee and dividend” approach to emissions regulation, rather than the cap and trade approach which Obama attempted, and failed to win support for, in 2009.
Hansen’s preferred approach would see an upstream tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels, the cost of which energy companies would pass to consumers. Such energy costs would be cancelled out, however, by the revenues of the tax, which would be paid entirely in equal amounts to all U.S. residents.
Hansen preferred that approach to cap and trade, which is rather cumbersome as it involves creating an entirely new, articifial market in emissions permits.
In its ruling announced earlier this month, the EPA gave states a flexible approach to meeting the carbon cap, for example by cutting energy demand or tweaking their energy supply mix.
Analysis of carbon emissions since 2005 shows that US power sector emissions have already fallen by 15%, halfway towards the EPA’s 2030 target with a decade and a half to go.
In addition, even without the proposed ruling, almost all the expected power plant closures in the next few years would be coal, the most carbon emitting form of power generation, because these were the oldest and due for retirement.
That raises the question what extra difference the EPA rule will make.