U.S. shakes up climate debate
WASHINGTON—The United States announced the most aggressive climate-change measures in its history yesterday—a move that promptly triggered speculation about a potential ripple effect in other countries, including Canada.
The regulations released by the Obama administration would chop carbon emissions from U.S. power plants by 30 percent by 2030; the majority of those cuts coming by the end of this decade.
They would take the U.S. a large step toward actually achieving the target it shares with Canada of 17 percent greenhouse-gas reductions by 2020, and single-handedly would gobble up about one-third of the Americans’ objective.
Powerful economic trends also are playing in the U.S.’s favour.
American coal plants, the country’s biggest polluter, already are being supplanted by increasingly abundant, cheap, and lower-emitting natural gas.
In Canada, the highest-polluting sector—oil and gas—still is on the rise.
Four years after Congress stalled a cap-and-trade plan, the announcement is the clearest example yet of President Barack Obama using executive authority to bulldoze his way past a hostile legislature.
To put the scope of yesterday’s announcement in context, consider that the measures have a potential impact hundreds of times larger than what’s at stake in the headline-grabbing debate over the Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline.
“This is something that is important for all of us,” Obama said on a conference call, where he cast the issue as not only central to his legacy but to the legacy of entire generations.
“As parents, as grandparents, as citizens, as folks who care about the health of our families—[we] also want to make sure that future generations are able to enjoy this beautiful blue ball in the middle of the space that we’re a part of.”
Obama brushed off warnings the measure could cost billions and kill thousands of jobs.
That barrage of lamentations came not only from his Republican opponents and their allied organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but also from more centrist members of Obama’s own party.
The president described those warnings as a broken record—similar to those uttered whenever the U.S. has curbed air pollutants.
The issue now will be contested on multiple battlefields.
The first test will be political, in this fall’s congressional elections.
Democrats close to the White House have released polls that suggest the issue can be a political winner for them, and that climate action is especially popular with women and growing voter groups—young people and Latinos.
Then there are the inevitable lawsuits. The administration believes it’s protected by a 2007 Supreme Court decision that gave it all the power it needs to regulate carbon emissions.
Finally, the U.S. has a new bargaining position to take into the next global climate talks in Peru in December.
Meanwhile, there were no signs yesterday of the announcement altering the course of events in Canada beyond a gentle diplomatic nudge from Bruce Heyman, the newly-appointed U.S. ambassador to Canada.
“We need to continue that work together moving toward a low-carbon future, with alternative energy choices, greater energy efficiency, and sustainable extraction of our oil and gas reserves,” Heyman said in prepared remarks he delivered last night in Ottawa.
“Newfound energy abundance should not distract us from the need to improve efficiency and combat climate change,” he stressed.
When asked to comment on the U.S. measures, the Canadian government patted itself on the back.
Environment minister Leona Aglukkaq issued a statement expressing satisfaction that the U.S. was joining Canada, which regulated its own electricity sector two years ago.
“We are pleased that there will now be pan-continental regulations for this sector,” she noted.