Blog: Climate Change News Brings Relief from Gross Election

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Pam Linn

Since climate change seems to be getting short shrift during one of the nastiest elections in memory, I’m devoting my column to some pertinent happenings in the news last week.

“Today, the world meets the moment. And if we follow through on the commitments that this agreement embodies, history may judge it as a turning point for our planet,” said President Obama last week, describing the world climate change agreement.

Although many countries signed the accord in Paris last spring, for the agreement to go into effect, countries accounting for a combined 55 percent of the world’s carbon emissions needed to join. As of last week, a total of 75 countries, including the world’s top polluters (the U.S., China, India and the EU) have signed on, submitting their action plans to meet their pollution-slashing goals. 

“This was the fastest an international agreement has ever gone from conception to full force,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “It’s a testament to the urgency people around the globe feel about climate change.”

The center of this country’s action plan is the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s landmark initiative to cut climate pollution from power plants, the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the country.

Now the push is on for the U.S. to ensure each nation puts their climate plans into motion to meet their pollution goals. “We need to push even harder for more hard-hitting climate action,” Suh said in a written statement.

“This is a historic moment … for future generations around the world in combating climate change, the most critical environmental challenge of our time,” Suh wrote.

The Clean Power Plan finally had its day in court last week when entities suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented arguments to a 10-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. During seven hours of oral argument (twice the allotted time), they challenged EPA’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from the nation’s 1,000 coal- and gas-fired power plants.

The Supreme Court in several prior cases held that the EPA has the duty to curb climate-damaging pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The challengers (the power industry, some states and organizations) argued that whatever EPA proposes, carbon pollution can be regulated only in some other way, or not at all.

David Doniger, head of the NRDC’s climate program, wrote in his blog, “The coal industry and its political allies are pulling out all the legal stops to kill the plan and keep us shackled to the climate-wrecking fossil fuels of the last century.”

Doniger was in the courtroom last week and wrote extensively about the oral arguments in his blog post at NRDC.org, including what each judge asked attorneys for the EPA and the challengers. 

After the session ended, Doniger said he felt the judges were very knowledgeable and that the oral arguments for the EPA were well received. Their decision will be handed down sometime within the next few months. 

This has been hanging around for what seems a very long time and needs to be settled soon. The Clean Power Plan is the signature regulation of the Obama administration’s plan to curtail carbon emissions and, as such, ties into the Paris climate agreement. It allows the states to submit their own plans to control or capture carbon emissions.

Also in the news last week was the state of Washington’s decision to include an initiative on the November ballot to decide the nation’s first carbon tax. The state has tried and failed in recent years to make polluters pay for their carbon emissions. So now the voters will decide whether the state should impose a tax on the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and gasoline.

Supporters say the tax would encourage businesses to conserve or switch to clean energy. It would also make the tax system fairer by using the revenue to reduce other taxes.

Some Washington businesses have said the tax would drive up energy costs and put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Grassroots group Carbon Washington gathered more than 350,000 signatures to qualify Initiative 732 for the November ballot, and Audubon Washington also supports it.

Audubon’s Executive Director Gail Gatton told an Associated Press reporter, “We don’t have time to wait. Climate change is happening, and this is our best available option right now to protect birds.”

Other environmental groups oppose the tax as being the wrong approach and that it will harm state revenues. Governor Jay Inslee proposed last year to make carbon polluters pay, with the revenue going to education, transportation, clean energy and programs to help disadvantaged communities affected by climate change. Critics say Initiative 732 contains no such provisions. 

After years of denial, it’s heartening to see climate change ascending to the front burner.