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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Clean Power Plan Can Help States, Economy and Planet

Bill Richardson

05 Aug 2015

As a former U.S. energy secretary, UN ambassador and governor of New Mexico, I’ve watched the debate over the Clean Power Plan with keen interest, and I’m hardly alone. This common-sense rule to cut dangerous air pollution and heat-trapping emissions by power plants in the United States has drawn more than 4 million comments in the last year. Now that it has been officially released, it’s important to understand how CPP can help U.S. states and the national economy, while putting the United States in a leadership position in dealing with the international issue of climate change.

First, the plan will make our air safer to breathe by reducing Americans’ exposure to particulate matter and ground-level ozone, benefiting our health and the economy by an estimated $25 billion to $65 billion – far more than the $7 billion to $9 billion cost of compliance, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But this is only the beginning of the new rule’s potential to spur the U.S. economy, which is likely to grow from $17 now to $24 trillion over the next 15 years. The Energy Information Administration projects new rule’s impact on GDP will be one-tenth of a percentage point, and the impact on unemployment will be essentially zero. That’s consistent with the long-term economic impact of previous environmental progress: U.S. GDP grew by 195 percent between 1970 and 2006, even as the Clean Air Act significantly decreased carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide pollution.

Our economy thrives when we tackle pollution, and that’s what the Clean Power Plan can do, avoiding up to 6,600 premature deaths, as many as 150,000 asthma attacks in children and up to 490,000 missed days of work or school, totaling $93 billion in benefits to public health and our climate.

What will the new rule mean for individual states and their economic success? As a former governor, I know citizens want a clean environment, but not at the expense of a vibrant economy. The latest research shows we can have both, if we’re willing to invest in innovative technology, including technology that fosters renewable energy including solar and wind power.

The good news is that raising the percentage of renewable energy is something many states are already doing, to their own benefit. Some states already are aiming to reap annual electricity savings of 2 percent of sales or more. Factor in the rapidly falling prices of renewable energy technologies and the significant potential for future growth in this sector, and the economic opportunity for states is clear. The new rule’s targets encourage this sensible move toward lower-carbon energy. It offers states ample flexibility to design approaches that work best for them, letting them provide the most cost-effective, reliable electricity supply to their consumers. In fact, in the final rule, EPA has combined additional flexibility on compliance dates with incentives on renewables and energy efficiency, which will likely lead to more robust implementation across the country.

The Clean Power Plan addresses more than dollars and sense. On a global level, it sets out a practical framework that will enable the United States to reach its short- and medium-term goals to reduce emissions that contribute to a changing climate, and to take its place in the forefront of nations working on an international pact to tackle this issue.

By addressing the single-largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, this plan is one of the most important near-term tools the country can use to help reach its goal of reducing emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The incentives for early action by the states will help ensure that the 2025 target is met. The plan also demonstrates to the world that the United States will lead global efforts to address climate change and stands poised to meet or exceed its short and mid-term climate change goals.

As droughts, heat waves, floods and other extreme climate events strike parts of the United States; the reality of climate change’s impact is evident. Because this is a global problem, it requires action from all countries. Those with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, including the United States, need to take the lead. By starting to act to curb our emissions at home, we can spur the global action we need.

The U.S. power sector has started to “decarbonize” by cutting its carbon emissions, and the Clean Power Plan can accelerate the trends toward clean energy investment and energy efficiency that already exists across the country. But the United States isn’t the only nation committed to these essential changes.

China, the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, is also the Number 1 investor in renewable energy. To support its goal of having its emissions peak by around 2030, China has committed to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix by about 20 percent over the next 15 years. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new government aims to install 100 gigawatts of solar generating capacity by 2022, more than eight times the current U.S. capacity. Brazil, another fast-growing economy, is taking important steps to avoid deforestation and increase its share of renewable to 20 percent by 2030. Building on these heartening developments, and with U.S. leadership, there’s great potential for a global climate agreement in Paris this December.

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