Climate for change


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced controls on carbon emissions from new power plants in the cause of combating climate change. Practical questions about technological feasibility and cost may legitimately surround this action. But the core argument is between those who take climate change seriously and those who do not.

The Obama Administration, buttressed by scientific consensus, is a believer. These proposed standards are the first action in the climate action plan the President announced in June.

Under the rules, large turbines fired by natural gas would have to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. Small gas turbines would face a limit of 1,100 pounds.

New coal-fired units would have to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. But they could average emissions over many years, giving them operating flexibility.

Power plants are logical places to focus. The electricity power sector emits one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and three-fifths of stationary- source emissions.

In announcing the standards, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called climate change “one of the most significant public health challenges of our time.” Groups such as the American Lung Association back the standards because they recognize that warmer temperatures may increase ozone and smog, which are linked to serious health effects such as asthma, heart attacks, and stroke.

Yet to critics of the standards in industry and Congress, it’s all supposedly about jobs and the economy, and saving coal’s traditional place in energy production. The economy decides every day that cleaner natural gas will play a greater role in energy production.

U.S. leaders should be protecting Americans’ lungs, and trying to limit the planet’s vulnerability to the wildly erratic weather that is climate change’s increasingly obvious calling card.

The EPA is doing its job. America can’t solve climate change by itself, but it can show the way for a country such as China, which is choking on its pollution.