No, the rules announced Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency will not stop global warming dead in its tracks.
The regulations will not in and of themselves spur “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” as Barack Obama promised when he was running for president in 2008.
But they will provide an important signal to the rest of the world that, yes, the United States is serious about confronting climate change.
And it’s clearly time – past time, really – for serious action. Just as the new rules were being announced, research at a British university found the United Kingdom would be subject to more extreme summer downpours and more flash flooding as the planet heats up. Australia has experienced its two hottest years on record. The National Climate Assessment released last month said climate change threatens our health, is already damaging the infrastructure, is jeopardizing the water supply, disrupting agriculture and could even lead to the emergence of tropical diseases such as dengue fever within the United States.
In April, the Union of Concerned Scientists found that such historical landmarks as the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Historic Jamestown and other sites could be endangered if global warming proceeds unabated.
You get the picture. Despite the global-warming deniers who want to stick their heads in the sand or pick and choose what science to believe, if we want to leave a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren, a concerted, coordinated effort is necessary.
The EPA regulations that were unveiled would cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants currently in operation by 30 percent within a 15-year period. Coal-fired plants, some of which date to the 1950s and are by now inefficient, are a major source of the carbon dioxide being poured into the atmosphere, just ahead of the entire transportation sector. The EPA plan would allow states great flexibility in meeting the 30-percent reductions, whether through increased use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar, transitioning from coal to natural gas, or by hatching regional cap-and-trade programs. Before the predictable cries get louder that the plan is some sort of “radical” attempt to destroy America, it should be noted that Mitt Romney, when he was a moderate governor of Massachusetts, proposed a similar regional cap-and-trade scheme.
It will also add volume to the howls President Obama and his administration are waging a “war on coal,” even though a share of the losses sustained by the industry in recent years is a result of coal losing ground to natural gas, which has become cheap, abundant and burns more cleanly.
If coal is in decline, it’s because it’s not keeping pace with the competition.
If the regulations survive a period of public comment and the lawsuits that inevitably will be filed, it will show to the rest of the world – particularly big, developing polluters like China and India – we are serious when it comes to climate change.
It will give the United States leverage and serve as a prod for other countries to implement similarly ambitious plans to reduce their carbon emissions.
And that would indeed go a long way toward lowering the oceans and healing our planet.