By David Hales
The Clean Power Plan announced last week by the Obama Administration is good news in many ways, but perhaps most importantly, it is good news for American consumers and the U.S. economy. It is especially good news for Maine.
The list of immediate endorsers of the plan included more than 350 major businesses – from Fortune 500 leaders to mainstays of local and regional economies – General Mills, Nestle, Duke Energy, Unilever, Staples – companies not often recognized for their commitments to reducing pollution and preparing for the impacts of climate change. Major investors, with assets in the trillions of dollars, also welcome the initiative for the stable investment climate it will create. Fully 70 percent of Americans and a majority of the residents of every state except West Virginia, Wyoming and North Dakota support the implementation of the Plan.
The Clean Power Plan has much to recommend it.
It has a clear purpose and is grounded in sound science, and the achievement of its goals is necessary to our national wellbeing and the health of our planet.
One-third of U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases are from power plants, and that carbon pollution alone exceeds the national emissions of every country in the world except for China and the U.S. By 2030, the plan will reduce these emissions by 32 percent (870 million tons) below 2005 levels. Other pollutants will be reduced as well, including sulfur dioxide by 90 percent and nitrogen oxides by 72 percent.
The public health and environmental benefits of the plan are valued at $55 billion to $93 billion. By 2030, reduced exposure to particle pollution and ozone will prevent thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma crises – especially among children, missed workdays and hospitalizations each year from then on.
It draws on the strengths of our unique American system of governance: clear national goals and flexibility and freedom in implementation at the state level. The deep engagement of accomplished professionals with extensive experience in the private sector and at the state level distinguishes the final product.
Its implementation is practical and measured, driving and enabling effective changes about as fast as they might be made and allowing for the development and scale up of necessary new technologies and for the time lag necessary for serious behavior change.
It enables the United States to credibly assume the leadership of international climate diplomacy.
Finally, the Clean Power Plan will drive consistently strong growth in a clean energy economy, an unparalleled opportunity for American prosperity.
We already benefit from more than 3.4 million green energy jobs annually, and renewable energy jobs are increasing four times as fast as jobs in any other economic sector. In the solar industry alone, one job is added every 20 minutes. Each dollar invested in renewable energy creates more than three times the number of jobs than does an equal investment in fossil fuels, and more than a trillion dollars in new investment is poised to fuel green energy over the next decade, both creating and driving markets.
The effectiveness of the approaches – the building blocks – of the Clean Power Plan is already demonstrated. Our own North East Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has helped consumers save $460 million on their energy bills and created 14,100 new jobs in the past three years alone. Nationally, efficiency increases through EPA’s Energy Star program alone prevent around 200 million metric tons of pollution each year and save consumers $20 billion in energy bills. When implemented, through energy efficiency alone, the CPP will save the average family $80 per year in electric bills.
Simply put, most states are demonstrating that it is not only possible to reduce carbon pollution, but also economically smart to do so, and are already on track to meet or exceed the Clean Power Plan requirements. The plan gives states the unique flexibility to chart their own energy futures, offering opportunities to expand clean energy solutions, attract new industries and create thousands of jobs while projecting consumer savings of up to $41 billion in electricity costs in the next 15 years.
Companies are also adopting ambitious energy-saving and greenhouse gas reduction goals. At least 43 percent of Fortune 500 companies already have set targets to reduce carbon pollution, improve energy efficiency and procure more renewable energy. Over half of the Fortune 100 corporations are publicly disclosing their climate and energy-saving targets, and they’ve collectively reduced carbon emissions by 58 million tons, while saving $1.1 billion annually by doing so.
In summary, the plan is a unique collection of “Goldilocks” actions, it is effective and cost-effective, it meets national goals through exercise of states authority, and it promotes prosperity while being the right thing to do.
Finally, the plan offers a unique opportunity to the State of Maine to attract unparalleled new investment, create new jobs and create an economic environment that will stem the outmigration of our young people.
Maine is endowed with wind and solar resources on which a stable and growing economy can be based for the next century and beyond. Wise action now in the supportive context of the Clean Power Plan will put us in the position to attract billions in investments and avoid business disasters like the 2014 loss of Statoil’s billions of investment dollars.
It is clear that states which aggressively develop action plans under the Clean Power Plan and cultivate a healthy and predictable investment and business environment will separate themselves from states that drive into the future with their eyes firmly locked on their own rearview mirrors. It is also clear that falling behind now will mean staying behind as the 21st century unfolds.
No element is more central to a strong economy in the future than coherent energy policy. The Clean Power Plan provides the basis for that strong and sustainable economy and opportunity for our country and our state. From Maine’s perspective, we have been empowered to chart our own course to prosperity.
We still have to choose wisely, however, and it is in all of our interests to make sure that Maine makes the right choices.
David Hales of Bar Harbor is a former president of College of the Atlantic, has served as counsel for sustainability policy to Worldwatch Institute. He directed environmental policy and sustainability programs at the United States Agency for International Development under the Clinton administration and served under President Carter as deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior.