Van Jones: President Obama's new national Clean Power Plan is good news for you
Big polluters are already pulling out all the stops, trying to convince you that this plan is bad
Editor’s Note: Van Jones is president of Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream, which promote innovative solutions for America’s economy. He was President Barack Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009. A best-selling author, he is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter @VanJones68. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
On Sunday morning, President Obama released a video “memo to America.” It pointed to droughts, super-storms and increases in asthma as evidence that climate change is not just a problem for future generations, but our own.
Today, the administration is publishing the plan to do something about it.
If you live, work or breathe in the United States, Obama’s new national Clean Power Plan is good news for you. Unfortunately, you would never know that – if you listened to all the big polluters screaming bloody murder about it.
The clean power plan is a smart approach – because it is both powerful and flexible. It requires that U.S. power plants reduce their emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. But each state gets to decide how best to do that. They can invest in renewables like solar and wind, switch to natural gas, or simply upgrade coal plants to produce more electricity with lower emissions.
This is smart federal policy-making. President Obama is setting a clear goal, but he is leaving it to the laboratories of democracy to decide how best to get there.
Of course, that fact will not stop the bellyaching from fossil fuel companies and their puppet politicians. Big polluters are already pulling out all the stops, trying to convince you that this plan will somehow doom the republic.
Don’t believe the hype. Here are the myths – and the facts.
Fact 1: Obama has full authority to make this move
Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency have 100% of the authority they need to do this. You know who gave them the power? Hippie environmentalists like Richard Nixon and John Robert’s conservative Supreme Court.
Nixon created the EPA. He also signed the Clean Air Act, which gave the executive branch authority to regulate air pollution. And in 2007, the Supreme Court found in Massachusetts vs. EPA that carbon counted as an “air pollutant.” Under that case, Obama has the authority – and perhaps the duty – to act boldly to protect public health.
Somewhat ironically, Obama would have preferred to co-create a comprehensive solution with Congress. That’s why he has refrained from using his executive authority until now. That’s why he spent the better part of his first term begging members of Congress to pass climate legislation.
And House did pass a comprehensive “cap-and-trade” bill in the summer of 2009. But Republicans sided with well-heeled, pro-pollution donors like the Koch Brothers and blocked all progress in the Senate.
Shaking off this defeat, the President is simply recognizing his responsibility to act under existing law. So today Obama is using powers granted to the president during the Nixon era and approved for this very purpose by the Supreme Court in the conservative Roberts era.
Fact 2: Obama’s clean energy rules will save Americans money on the energy bills
This plan is going to save everyone money. Right now, your utility bill is going to inefficient, dirty energy. That will change.
Under the Clean Power Plan, states will have incentives to bring down utility bills while putting up solar panels. It will also encourage energy producers to become more efficient.
More efficient production and cheaper energy sources will add up to saving. The EPA estimates consumers will save $8 per month. Another study finds some Americans will save $14 for month. The White House estimates the average American will save $85 on their utility bill by 2030.
Fact 3: Obama’s plan will help poor and minority communities
Suddenly Republicans and polluters are sounding like #BlackLivesMatter activists – full of passion to defend people of color from Obama’s plan. Well, if you are feeling skeptical, you should.
The clean power plan will massively help minorities and low-income Americans. After all, one in six black kids and one in nine Latino children has asthma. Seventy-eight percent of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a dirty, polluting coal plant. African-Americans are also more likely to live in coastal areas and die during heat waves.
In fact, health concerns are already driving a move away from coal. Since 2010, more than 200 coal plants have been shut down or had their retirements announced. Do not blame Obama. Communities most affected by polluted air led those fights.
A grassroots movement, supported by organizations like the Sierra Club and Earthjustice, took the fight to the streets, courthouses, and legislatures. Hard-hit communities like Little Village in Chicago and North Omaha, Nebraska, led the way, organizing campaigns to retire the coal plants in their backyards and chart a course to a healthier, more sustainable future.
Obama’s clean power plan will save both lives and bucks spent on hospital bills. It also opens the door to clean-energy jobs for struggling communities. It rewards states that focus on helping low-income communities.
Separately, the Obama budget includes a program, POWER+, to invest in coal workers affected by the transition to cleaner energy.
On top of it all, the administration recently announced a low-income solar program. This initiative will lower utility bills, raise solar panels, and make solar the most diverse energy sector in America. It will do so through a national partnership between solar companies, housing authorities, rural electric co-ops, and states and cities.
America’s government today limits the amount of mercury and arsenic that polluters can spew into our skies. But right now, carbon polluters can dump as much greenhouse gas as they want. They just pass the high costs along to the rest of us, in the form of dangerous weather, health risks, and higher utility bills.
But the free ride for dirty energy is coming to an end. The clean power plan is dramatic leap toward a healthier, more prosperous America. If anyone tells you otherwise, help them get their facts straight.