The Clean Power Plan Stinks

The Clean Power Plan is a US policy aimed at combating anthropogenic climate change by adopting carbon pollution standards for power plants. While the significance of the Clean Power Plan is/was important in its sincerity, it was unremarkable, it’s flawed in a way that could actually inhibit timely and meaningful action addressing climate change and bring us ever closer to hammering in that final nail in the coffin.

The EPA Clean Power Plan did help signal  the U.S. commitment on climate change that helped build global consensus for the Paris Climate Agreement limiting greenhouse gas emissions. But in actuality the CPP sets a goal too weak: a 32 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from a 2005 base year by 2030. The individual states were able to ‘customize’ their plans reflecting the variation in their electricity generation mixes and resources.

The CPP also has a fatal flaw. The plan encourages reducing carbon through the use of natural gas and  switching from coal to natural gas fired plants because natural gas produces half the CO2 of coal when burned.  The CPP does not account for the loss of methane occurring with the production, processing, transmission, or storage of natural gas or take in account the plentitude of other serious issues with natural gas such as radioactive waste, air and water contamination, consumptive water use, earthquakes, eminent domain etc or the other contributions of natural gas to the climate crisis through VOC’s, deforestation, and NOx gases.

According to a study by PSE Healthy Energy released in January, methane leakage from natural gas wells and gas infrastructure will severely undermine the climate objectives of the Clean Power Plan. In addition to Howarth’s methane argument that natural gas is the more lethal greenhouse gas in the time frame that will determine our fate,  we can’t afford fracked gas anymore because of the carbon dioxide it releases when combusted.  We can’t put any more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We must leave fossil fuels in the ground, the idea of toxic natural gas as a bridge fuel is wrong and extremely dangerous.

Independent scientific studies have put nationwide methane leakage between approximately 2 and 4 percent, with rates of 9 percent or higher measured in some places. It is known that there would be no climate benefit of gas -if leakage was over 2%, but a recent study from Harvard University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, documents a spike in US methane emissions to levels far higher than previous estimates- as much as 30 to 50 percent higher.

Even now, without drilling any new wells we have our hands full with leaks from the old infrastructure, abandoned and unaccounted wells which are known to be “super emitters” of methane and failures like Aliso Canyon in California which spewed methane uncontrolled for months and caused the evacuations of thousands. The only sure way for states to do their share to prevent catastrophic climate change is to focus on renewables rather than a switch to climate destructive natural gas.

Many Clean Power Plan proponents were disappointed by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to delay implementation of EPA Clean Power Plan rule limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. It was an unprecedented action by the court; for the first time in history the court put on the back burner an administrative rule where a lower court has refused to issue a stay and where an appellate court had not yet ruled on the matter. Congress, and many environmental groups are blindly supporting the Clean Power Plan, there are lawsuits and rallies etc to support it.

Some states may have a good plan but many states have disastrous ones. Pennsylvania’s plan only increased renewables by 7 %, its plan is to build new gas fired power plants and retrofit old coal fired ones to natural gas, and to have a massive build out of gas infrastructure and pipelines. PA’s plan will increase the use of natural gas right through to the target year of 2030.  Many of the pipelines are for the export of gas to foreign shores. Using natural gas as a bridge fuel may very likely get us to runaway global warming, sea level rise, dead oceans, mass starvations, prolonged drought and much worse not to be heard by the faint hearted.

COPout  21 was mainly  important because 195 nations of the world cgrview-48161-1ame together and agreed (finally ) that we must keep the planet below 2 degrees Celsius and that any temperature rise above 1.5 degrees would be disastrous to earth and her inhabitants. NASA’s global temperature data is measured from a 1951-1980 baseline, about 0.3 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels. February 2016 was the first month in history that global average temperatures passed the 1.5 degree Celsius mark. The COP21 contributions are also not going to get us to being assured that life will continue on this planet. China’s contribution was only to peak greenhouse gases by 2030. Scientists are warning us of catastrophic climate shifts with decades with warming happening much faster than predicted.

So is our goose cooked? Some say yes, all I know is that now is no time to take a back seat, we have to fight with all we have. Join the fight, reduce your energy usage, don’t buy anything unnecessary especially if it’s plastic or covered with plastic, think of the whole life cycle of a product before you purchase. Plant trees- do something! Don’t vote for a climate denier or one who doesn’t think that climate isn’t the most important issue of our time and who doesn’t plan to address it without the use of fossil fuels. A good goal would be as sustainable as you possibly can be and to hold your ‘powers that be’ accountable; demand a clean power plan for renewables; educate yourself, your friends and family – all of our lives depend upon it.

By Jenny Lisak- PA Stop the Frack Attack Advisory Council Member