The new regulations on power plant emissions announced yesterday by President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency mark the nation’s first truly serious assault on climate change. The proposed rules, which will be subject to a four-month comment period, call for cutting carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent within 15 years. It’s a workable, realistic goal that will spur investment in low-emission energy technology, including wind and solar power. Phased in over a long enough period to minimize economic damage, it would nonetheless achieve a reduction in carbon emissions equivalent to taking nearly two-thirds of the nation’s passenger vehicles off the road. The clearer air should save thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars in health benefits. And it would finally give the United States the credibility to push other countries, including fast-growing, fast-polluting China, to enact similar measures. It is, in every sense, a major step — and a long overdue and welcome one.
The announcement yesterday follows Obama’s 2011 agreement with automakers to build cars that average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But as important as fuel efficiency in automobiles may be, power plants are the largest concentrated source of carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA’s new power-plant rules will reduce overall emissions by at least 80 times more metric tons of carbon than the regulations for cars.