One Year Later: Climate Action and the Clean Power Plan

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

2016 is on pace to be the hottest year ever recorded – by a significant margin – while 2015 currently holds the title, and 2014 before that. The facts and the trends are clear, and the threat is real.

Just yesterday, the latest climate indicators report confirmed that the impacts of climate change are getting stronger and stronger—average temperatures and sea levels keep rising, coastal flooding is getting worse, and Arctic sea ice is melting at alarming rates.

As President Obama has made very clear, we are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, and we may be the last generation who can do something about it.

That’s why in 2013, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, a bold and achievable plan that does everything in our power to combat climate change – from reducing emissions in nearly every sector of our economy, to increasing energy efficiency, to investing in renewable energy. And taking action here at home has allowed the United States to lead the world in getting a historic international agreement in Paris last year an agreement that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and limits global warming to two degrees Celsius.

One of the centerpieces in U.S. efforts to limit the effects of climate change and lead the world on this issue was reducing dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. One year ago today, I signed the Clean Power Plan, which set the first-ever national standards on reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants. EPA’s charge from the President was clear: to exercise our statutory authority to lay out steady, responsible steps to cut carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. And that’s what we did – by setting limits that reflected the growing momentum in the power sector to provide the American public with cleaner sources of energy.

The trend toward investment in renewables and energy efficiency is unfolding all around us:

  • Electricity generated from renewables is expected to grow by 9% in 2016 alone;
  • Utilities are investing $8 billion a year in energy efficiency, a four-fold increase from just eight years ago, and more companies than ever are leveraging EPA’s ENERGY STAR platform;
  • States are leading the way—29 states have adopted mandatory renewable portfolio standards, and an additional eight states have voluntary renewable goals.  Twenty-three states have mandatory energy efficiency provisions and 10 states have implemented market-based trading programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • The private sector is also stepping up.  Google, Apple, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, and Unilever – and other large U.S. companies are choosing to cut emissions and committing hundreds of billions of dollars to finance clean energy innovation.

It’s not an accident that the Clean Power Plan mirrors this trend. It is by design and it’s the result of our unprecedented outreach and engagement with states, utilities, energy regulators, environmental groups, communities, tribes and the public. Through this process we committed to listen and learn. We did. We committed to put the states in the driver’s seat. We did. We committed to cutting carbon pollution in a way that is in line with where the power sector is headed. We did. We committed to lead on climate action. And that’s exactly what we did.

Sometimes our efforts to protect public health and environment face opposition and/or litigation. The Clean Power Plan is no different and was stayed by the Supreme Court until the litigation is resolved. However, it will see its day in court and EPA remains fully confident in its legal merits. The Plan rests on a strong legal and technical foundation and is consistent with Supreme Court decisions, EPA’s statutory authority, and air pollution standards that have been put in place to tackle other pollution problems.  While the courts review the plan, and during the stay, no state is required to comply with it. However, many states and tribes have indicated they plan to move forward voluntarily to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. They have asked the agency to continue to develop tools to support them in their voluntary efforts. We are doing just that.

As we look to the future, let’s take stock of what we’ve done—we ’ve taken action to cut carbon pollution from power plants,extended tax credits for renewable energy, enabled the production of a new generation of clean cars and trucks, reduced methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, fostered a global climate change agreement, and so much more. These actions are rooted in science, codified in our laws, and broadly supported by our citizens. And they will make a difference! I’m excited for what the future holds. At EPA we remain ready to take advantage of smart and effective opportunities to safeguard public health and the environment for this generation and those that follow.

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