Opinion Columns & Blogs

President Barack Obama: Protect our planet

We only get one planet. We only get one chance to protect the health of our kids.
We only get one planet. We only get one chance to protect the health of our kids.

Last week I announced America’s Clean Power Plan – the single biggest step the United States has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.

Climate change is no longer just about the future we’re predicting for our children; it’s about the reality we’re living with every day. Fourteen of the planet’s 15 warmest years on record have all come in the first 15 years of this century. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. Already, we have seen stronger storms, deeper droughts and longer wildfire seasons. Over the past three decades, nationwide asthma rates have more than doubled, and climate change puts those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital.

In the United States, power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution – pollution that warms our planet and degrades the air our children breathe – more than our cars, airplanes and houses combined. Yet until last week, there were no limits on the amount of carbon that power plants were allowed to dump into the air.

We limit the amount of toxic chemicals such as mercury, sulfur and lead in our air and water, and our children’s health is better off for it. But power plants were able to dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air we breathe.

For the sake of our planet, our country and our children’s health, that had to change. And thanks to the Clean Power Plan, it will.

Over the past two years, the Environmental Protection Agency worked with states, communities, power companies, faith groups and other stakeholders across the country to develop the first-ever nationwide standards for power plant emissions. The result is a plan that is flexible, achievable and ambitious.

Here’s how it works. Over the next few years, each state will have the chance to put together its own plan for reducing emissions, tailored to its unique energy mix. We will give states the time and flexibility they need to cut pollution in a way that works for them, while rewarding the states that take action sooner instead of later.

As states work to meet their goals, they can also build on the progress our communities have already made. Many power companies have already begun modernizing their plants and reducing their emissions, creating new jobs in the process. Nearly a dozen states have already set up their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution. About half our states have set energy efficiency targets, and more than 35 have set renewable energy targets. More than 1,000 mayors have signed an agreement to cut carbon pollution in their cities. Last month, 13 of some of the nation’s biggest companies made bold new commitments to cut their emissions and deploy more clean energy.

So setting standards for cutting carbon pollution isn’t new. What is new is that Washington is finally catching up to the rest of the country. Under the Clean Power Plan, carbon emissions from power plants will be 32 percent lower in 2030 than they were a decade ago. By 2030, we will drastically reduce premature deaths from power plant emissions – and thanks to this plan, there will be 90,000 fewer asthma attacks among our children each year.

Already, special interests and their allies in Congress have promised to oppose this plan with the same tired arguments we hear every time we take action to protect the air our kids breathe or the water they drink. Every time, American ingenuity has proved them wrong. That’s why air pollution has decreased by nearly 70 percent since 1970, while our economy has tripled in size.

We only get one planet. We only get one chance to protect the health of our kids. For the sake of ourselves, and future generations, we must make the most of it.

Barack Obama is president of the United States.