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Karen Telleen-Lawton: My Christmas Wish — New Regulations on Carbon Pollution

By | Published on 12/16/2013

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My holiday wish list is a little beyond my family to manage, so I’m putting it out to the world. It’s not dazzling or even visible in the short term, but stems from the startling fact that the U.S. still has no national limit on carbon pollution from power plants.

Now, regulations on the largest source of carbon pollution are finally within sight. Last September, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed federal carbon pollution standards for new fossil fuel fired power plants. At an emission rate of about 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution per year, fossil fuel-burning power plants are the nation’s single largest of source of emissions, producing about 40 percent of the total. Carbon dioxide traps heat, which destabilizes the climate. My wish is that these new regs be passed in 2014.

The proposed standards are not just an edict without reasonable alternatives for meeting the demand. Solutions are available and in use today, including renewable energy, natural gas, coal with carbon recapture technology, and improved energy efficiency. The proposed standards are good for business because they provide reduced uncertainty about investing in alternative sources. Technology businesses will be able to bring to production cleaner, safer and more efficient solutions.

The EPA’s new emissions performance standards are similar to clean air standards already adopted by some states across the country, including California’s Cap-and-Trade Program for greenhouse gases. UCLA recently announced an initiative in support of California’s stricter standards. It has the “audacious” goal of shifting the L.A. region to 100 percent renewable energy and local water by 2050 without harming biodiversity.

The UCLA project’s purpose is coping with the climate change that is already upon us. It builds on recent research by UCLA scientists on how climate change may play out locally. By mid-century, L.A. neighborhoods likely will need to cope with average annual temperatures four to five degrees higher than today. The mountains could get about a third less snowfall, even factoring in some reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Reflecting the variety and number of people who are and will be affected by climate change, an amazing diversity of organizations support the proposed standards. The EPA has received letters in support of the regs by health groups like the American Lung Association, power companies, environmental justice groups, minority groups, businesses, labor, moms, environmental groups and even groups of high net worth investors.

Many of these organizations are active in the current phase of the standards’ march to approval: listening sessions being held by the EPA. The first of these public listening sessions was held in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 7.

Carbon pollution affects rich and poor, urban and rural in every state of the nation. With a leveled playing field, the market can be trusted to devise ways of encouraging sustainable practices and discouraging polluting ones. Santa, can you just sprinkle us with some (biodegradable) fairy dust to encourage passage of the carbon pollution regulations?

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor (www.DecisivePath.com) and a freelance writer (www.CanyonVoices.com). Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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