ON JUNE 2, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy announced the next phase in the Obama administration’s war on carbon pollution. The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from existing fossil-fuel power plants (the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S.) 30 percent by 2030. That same day the stock market closed with record highs, and more than 173 companies and investors sent a letter to President Obama in support. Business understands that these regulations are good for long-term economic health.
State governments have welcomed the new plan because while the carbon limits are fixed, the path to achieving them is flexible. It allows both “rate-based” and “mass-based” methods of reduction, something unusual for the EPA, thus allowing some states to target specific industries and others to aim for overall carbon reductions. Catholic social teaching includes the principle of “subsidiarity”—let the most competent authority closest to the problem determine what works best in achieving a common-good goal. The Clean Power Plan that McCarthy, a Catholic, has rolled out does that. Yet it’s not enough and it’s not fast enough to beat our ecological endgame.
President Obama has pledged to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. To this end, he has 1) steadily increased car and truck fuel-economy standards; 2) required permits and set strict emission standards on all new fossil-fuel power plants; and 3) taken smaller, interlocking steps, such as establishing wind and solar renewable energy production on public lands, working with China to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, and significantly restricting funding from U.S. foreign aid agencies for new coal plants in other countries. This fall he may launch a low-intensity war on methane pollution from fracking and landfills. It’s not enough. There are too many loopholes.