Carbon dioxide emissions account for 81% of US greenhouse gas emissions (EPA 2014). Of those emissions, 37% come from electricity generation. As the largest source of emissions, addressing pollution from the energy sector is of critical importance. The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) proposes a comprehensive solution to the problem. By addressing new and existing power plants, the CPP has the potential to reduce carbon emissions significantly across the US.
The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon dioxide levels by 32% (from 2005 levels) by the year 2030. The CPP will achieve this both through the regulation of power plants and the promotion of clean renewable energy. In January 2016 the US Supreme Court stayed the CPP, that put on hold the requirement that states move forward with State Implementation Plans (SIPs), which are flexible, state-based compliance plans to meet state reduction goals. In spite of this stay, many states recognize the importance of these regulations and the importance of promoting burgeoning renewable energy sources and are choosing to move forward with the SIP process. However, some states have chosen to wait until a final court decision on the CPP is issued.
Fortunately, market forces are pushing our power sector towards low emission renewable energy sources and the timeline for CPP is long, so the stay is not a major setback. Still, any slowing of progress towards compliance with the CPP leads to a greater risk of surpassing the 1.5°C limit and increases the risk of runaway climate change - a scenario in which we will have little control over global environmental changes like sea level rise, extreme weather, drought, and wild fire. The window of opportunity to act on climate change is shrinking, and without comprehensive federal policies like the CPP we will have little ability to affect global temperature change.