Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Opinion Editorial

EPA plan to curb carbon emissions is pragmatic, smart and overdue

Global warming: U.S., and EPA, must prevent as much damage as possible
Why should U.S. utilities do nothing on global warming because global counterparts aren't doing enough?

The Obama administration's new effort to reduce carbon emissions from power plants is pragmatic, smart and overdue. Nevertheless, the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rule is already coming under attack from those who argue that it is economic suicide to force expensive and unilateral changes in the power grid just to lower carbon emissions in the United States. Those critics would have U.S. utilities do nothing about global warming simply because their counterparts in other countries aren't doing enough. That reasoning is perverse and unpersuasive.

Federal law compels the EPA to reduce harmful air pollutants, and carbon dioxide from power plants is the largest contributor by far to changes in the climate that could be ruinous to the planet. But the agency isn't seeking to cap the amount of CO2 coming out of smokestacks, as it has done with toxins such as mercury. Instead, it has proposed a unique emissions target for each state based on what the EPA believes local utilities can achieve. Exactly how the target would be met would be up to each state, but the pressure would be on utilities to shift away from the coal-fired plants that are the biggest carbon polluters.

Those plants produced 45% of U.S. electricity in 2010, or 5 percentage points less than they did at their peak in 2005, while coal use has grown rapidly around the world. Yet the United States still ranks as the second-largest carbon emitter. Even if lower emissions from U.S. plants aren't sufficient to stop global warming, they are a necessary part of the solution. And no one should expect the likes of China and India to do more to curb their plants' emissions if the U.S. isn't willing to act.

Some environmental groups, in fact, are disturbed that the EPA didn't propose larger cuts. Instead, the agency wisely based the targets on available methods for reducing emissions, which made the proposed rule less ambitious but more reasonable. Taking a cue from California, which is well on its way to meeting the agency's proposed target, the agency also let states look beyond their utilities' smokestacks for ways to reduce emissions. These include cap-and-trade systems for C02 and energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances.

The EPA's expansive approach is certain to be tested in court by those upset about the prospect of more expensive electricity. Reducing emissions doesn't necessarily mean forcing consumers to spend more on energy, however. Just look at California, where efficiency standards have held monthly electric bills almost 25% below the national average even though electricity rates are among the highest in the country.

Besides, the country can't afford to ignore the problem posed by coal-fired plants. Global warming threatens to be an environmental catastrophe, and the U.S. must prevent as much of the damage as it can. As multiple recent studies have concluded, the cost of dealing with the worst effects of climate change will far outweigh the cost of preventing them.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Opinion: Anthony Kennedy and the Supremes

    Opinion: Anthony Kennedy and the Supremes

    Good morning. I’m Matthew Fleischer, Web editor of the Times’ Opinion section, filling in for Paul Thornton. It’s the Fourth of July. Fire up the barbecues and have a look back at the week in Opinion. Subscribe to the newsletter Shock waves from the Supreme Court's recent run of mega-decisions...

  • #EmergingUS: Diversity is our destiny, but how do we talk about it?

    #EmergingUS: Diversity is our destiny, but how do we talk about it?

    As we celebrate our country's birthday, let us also acknowledge that the country that declared independence in 1776 does not look like the country we live in today.

  • A welcome focus on job creation by L.A. officials -- but can they deliver?

    A welcome focus on job creation by L.A. officials -- but can they deliver?

    Ten months ago, when Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed raising the city's minimum wage to lift people out of poverty, The Times, along with business groups and others, called on him to develop a comprehensive job creation strategy and to focus on attracting the kinds of $20- and $30-an-hour jobs Los...

  • Gardena, release the police video

    Gardena, release the police video

    As more police agencies put video recorders in their patrol cars and issue body cameras to their officers, policymakers must grapple with how and when to release the recordings to the public. These can be difficult questions, but the legal fight over the recordings of a shooting of two unarmed...

  • There's already a law for that

    There's already a law for that

    American criminal codes are a mess, and every year they become more convoluted, more likely to foster injustice. States across the nation are trying to clean up the muddle, but prosecutors often threaten those efforts.

  • The tide finally turns on L.A. County beach access

    The tide finally turns on L.A. County beach access

    In the ongoing battle between the California Coastal Commission and property owners over public access to the beach, one of the lengthiest skirmishes has been the one the state agency waged with Malibu resident Lisette Ackerberg. But after more than a decade of legal wrangling in and out of court,...