This week, President Obama delivered a critically important speech on climate change to a packed house at Georgetown University. I was proud to be sitting in the audience for his remarks, and I look forward to supporting his comprehensive plan to reduce carbon pollution and improve the global environment.
The President’s plan includes sweeping efforts to cut carbon pollution from existing and future power plants. The EPA already sets limits for arsenic, mercury and lead emissions, but these plants are allowed to release unlimited amounts of carbon pollution. Under the President’s plan, the U.S. will reduce carbon pollution by at least three billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030.
We need look no farther than our region to see the benefits of these new regulations. Just last year, the City of Alexandria saw closure of the GenOn coal-fired power plant, once the largest stationary source of air pollution in the region. Before federal involvement, nearby residents complained of poor air quality surrounding the plant, in large part due to the short smokestacks that emitted the hazardous toxins directly into the living rooms of high-rise apartment buildings. After years of work, GenOn was forced to reduce its emissions and scale back its operations to comply with the Clean Air Act as a result of a lawsuit and enforcement actions, ultimately concluding that the facility was unable to compete with cheaper and cleaner natural gas powered electricity.
While the GenOn coal-fired plant closure was a victory for Northern Virginia, according to the Edison Electric Institute there are 1,142 coal-fired utilities in this country. The President’s plan will make it easier for communities across the U.S. to follow in our footsteps and close down the oldest and dirtiest of these plants that also happen to be the largest source of carbon emisisons.
We are seeing the impacts of climate change: increasing numbers of extreme weather events, sea level rise, catastrophic droughts, and increases in wildland fires. The longer we delay action on climate change, the costlier the consequences will be. To help communities prepare for even more extreme weather, the President’s plan calls for improvements to natural disaster risk mitigation standards for federal projects, making our hospitals more resilient during dangerous weather events and establishing a Climate Data Initiative to collect and distribute information for use by state and locality disaster preparedness coordinators.
President Obama’s actions are even more important given the stagnant, even counterproductive efforts by the Republican majority in the House. Over the past several years, we have seen the House majority block the EPA from regulating new sources of greenhouse gas emissions and weaken implementation and enforcement of the Clean Air Act that protects us from toxic air pollution.
Even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, there still remain many lawmakers who refuse to acknowledge the connection between greenhouse gases and a changing climate. Given this inaction in Congress, President Obama is right to move forward with executive action.
There is a moral and ethical obligation to responsibly address this growing threat. I will continue supporting his efforts to fight climate change and preserve our planet for future generations.