Reducing harmful emissions is sound environmental and economic policy

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2017 will mark change for our nation as a new president is sworn into office. With any new administration, there is always change in leadership at critical federal agencies, and with it, the chance for significant policy change. It seems that with regard to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the new administration has signaled a significant shift away from evidence-based energy policy, where the health of the nation's environment was a core tenet. This is a shift that potentially takes us back to the days of burning fossil fuels at record pace with little regulation or enforcement. We cannot allow this administration to dismantle the progress we have made in protecting our environment.  

As the Ocean State, Rhode Island has a long history of recognizing the economic value of a healthy and sustainable environment. This is reflected in efforts to clean our shorelines, save our bay, preserve open spaces and the launch of the nation's first offshore wind farm. These efforts have been bipartisan from Senator John Chafee advancing the Clean Water Act to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's current advocacy. Our sound environmental stewardship has resulted in improved air quality, cleaner water, increased tourism, and now, the birth of a new industry with offshore wind. Our history proves that a strong economy and sound environmental policy are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, a clean environment promotes economic development.

With the uncertainty of new federal policies and the certainty of political infighting in D.C., the role of states to take the lead in setting policy is more critical than ever.

Recently, I joined a broad coalition of 19 states and cities to urge President-elect Trump to continue the federal government's defense of the Clean Power Plan, regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and to continue EPA's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The matter is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  

The Clean Power Plan is the culmination of a decade-long effort by partnering states and cities to require mandatory cuts in the emissions of climate change pollution from fossil fuel burning power plants under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Power Plan, along with the companion rule applicable to new, modified, and reconstructed power plants, will control these emissions by setting limits on the amount of climate change pollution that power plants can emit. The rule for existing plants is expected to eliminate as much pollution as is emitted by more than 160 million cars a year – or 70 percent of the nation's passenger cars.

The EPA adopted the Clean Power Plan through a multi-year stakeholder process that drew heavily on the experience of states and utilities in reducing power plant greenhouse gas emissions. 

A number of states, including Rhode Island, have already taken a leading role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by moving forward with their own programs.  Rhode Island is part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has reduced regional carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector by 40 percent from 2005 levels. We have shown that by a combination of encouraging shifts to less carbon-intensive fossil fuel generation, increasing reliance on renewable energy, and using proceeds to invest in energy efficiency, substantial reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are possible over a relatively short period, while supporting economic goals and maintaining grid reliability. An independent analysis found that in the first three years of the RGGI program, we have reduced total energy bills across the region by $1.3 billion and added $1.6 billion to the regional economy, creating an estimated 16,000 jobs in the process.

While Rhode Island is a leader in these efforts, we are still subject to damage caused by polluters beyond our border. We see firsthand the significant human and economic costs caused by unchecked carbon pollution. Rising sea levels are eroding our shorelines and causing more severe and frequent coastal flooding; warmer ocean temperatures are changing the fish species in our local waters; and a warmer climate is causing more severe weather events, from heat waves and cold spells to droughts and record-setting snowfall.

It would be wrong for the new administration to abandon the critical measures we as a nation have taken in cutting dangerous emissions and reducing carbon pollution. There is too much at stake for our air, waters and environment for this to become a political football.

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