President Barack Obama arrives to speak about his Clean Power Plan, Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, in the East Room at the White House in Washington. The president is mandating even steeper greenhouse gas cuts from U.S. power plants than previously expected, while granting states more time and broader options to comply. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The Obama administration’s new Clean Power Plan, announced Aug. 3, sets national standards to curb carbon pollution from power plants—a potential boon for communities of color, environmental and human rights activists said.
While the federal government has established other standards to reduce soot and toxic emissions, power plants—the largest source of greenhouse gases—have been given free rein until now.
“Right now, our power plants are the source of about a third of America’s carbon pollution. That’s more pollution than our cars, our airplanes and our homes generate combined,” said President Obama. “That pollution contributes to climate change, which degrades the air our kids breathe. But there have never been federal limits on the amount of carbon that power plants can dump into the air.
“For the sake of our kids and the health and safety of all Americans,
President Barack Obama speaks about his Clean Power Plan, Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, in the East Room at the White House in Washington. The president is mandating even steeper greenhouse gas cuts from U.S. power plants than previously expected, while granting states more time and broader options to comply. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
that has to change. For the sake of the planet, that has to change,” the president added.
Under the new plan, 2005 levels of carbon dioxide emissions overall will be reduced by 32 percent, and asthma-causing pollutants by more than 70 percent, by 2030.
According to the NAACP, 75 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, making the implications of the new plan particularly significant. African Americans are disproportionately susceptible to respiratory illnesses such as asthma, lung cancer and pulmonary disease. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Blacks lead all racial and ethnic groups in rates of asthma—approximately one in nine (11 percent) Blacks of all ages and approximately one in six (17 percent) Black children had asthma in 2009. From 2001 to 2009, the greatest rise in asthma rates—nearly a 50 percent increase—was among Black children.
Further, according to the NAACP, African-American children are three times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for an asthma attack and twice as likely to die of asthma.
“We stridently refute the contentions of those who have used an equity and civil rights frame to oppose regulations on carbon pollution by claiming undue cost burden on vulnerable communities,” Jacqueline Patterson, the NAACP’s director for Environmental and Climate Justice, said in a statement. “The cost these communities are paying from their close proximity to polluting plants and from choking down toxins daily is the toll that compromised health, negative educational outcomes and challenged work performance takes on community wellbeing and growth potential.
“While further comment is forthcoming on the contents of this extensive plan as our focus is ensuring that it is a strong rule with a robust environmental justice analysis,” Patterson added, “we commend President Obama for finalizing carbon pollution standards and for advancing efforts to protect the environment on which we all depend for our very existence.”
In addition to adverse public health effects, carbon pollution plays a key role in climate change, manifesting in record temperatures, longer wildfire seasons, record droughts and super storms, all of which also disproportionately affect vulnerable communities, experts and activists said.
According to the new rules, states will be required to come up with their own plan for reducing emissions within the next few years. States that take action sooner will be rewarded, because, as President Obama said in his remarks, “There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.”
The plan will also drive more investment in renewable energy and prioritize its deployment in low-income communities that need it most, and create jobs in the clean energy sector.