How Green Is Barack Obama?

Politico Magazine
December 4, 2014

President Obama’s sixth year in office might be his greenest yet, with new Environmental Protection Agency rules to reduce power plant emissions and ozone pollutants, plus what he called a “historic” climate agreement with China. Some even say these are the boldest environmental steps the United States has taken since the 1970 Clean Air Act.

But just how big of a deal are they in the long run? How close will they get us to the moment that presidential candidate Obama promised in 2008, when “the rise of the oceans [begins] to slow and our planet [begins] to heal”? As United Nations delegates meet in Lima this month to draft an international greenhouse gas-reducing agreement, Politico Magazine invited leading thinkers to consider the long-term effects of Barack Obama’s climate agenda. Of the environmental measures he has undertaken as president, we asked, which program or rule or deal matters most, and will have the biggest impact for future generations? Here’s what they told us.

1. Getting power plant emissions under control
By Fred Krupp

In the effort to solve any pressing challenge, there is a moment, a turning point, that sets us on the path toward the ultimate answer. By itself it is only one step, but it creates the momentum necessary for all that follows. For climate change, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan might be that step. President Obama’s decision to limit carbon pollution from its largest source—power plants—is the most important action ever taken by a president on this critical issue. By carrying out his responsibility under the nation’s clean air laws, Obama is protecting the country from a serious threat.

The plan, which gives states and companies the flexibility to cut emissions in the most efficient ways they can find, is important not only for the pollution it will prevent. It has also set in motion a series of other actions that will push the nation and the world toward overcoming this challenge. Because the United States has taken this significant action, we were able to announce a historic effort with China, the world’s largest emitter of climate pollution. For the first time, China, too, has agreed to limit its carbon pollution in the years ahead, which requires it to begin shifting its economy now to reach those goals.

This action by the world’s two leading economies has, in turn, pushed the rest of the international community to act ahead of upcoming climate talks in Paris. With the largest developed and developing economies now moving forward, no nation has an excuse to avoid contributing to a solution.

The Clean Power Plan—and the announcement by the United States and China—has also given a boost to investors, inventors and entrepreneurs, who see opportunity in the move toward clean energy. That demand will focus the power and ingenuity of the marketplace on creating technological solutions.

I should note that since the plan means more natural gas will be burned, whether the plan will help the climate will be largely determined by whether the president follows through on his commitment to control the unacceptable leaks of methane from oil and gas operations which undermine, and could even erase, the climate benefits of using this fuel.
In the end, Congress will need to pass a comprehensive solution to climate change. But a strong Clean Power Plan may be the turning point that leads to that day.

Fred Krupp is president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

2. Playing ball with the rest of the world
By Connie Hedegaard

Obviously, it makes a difference on a global scale when the United States of America engages much more strongly in the fight against climate change. For too many years, the world has been witnessing the planet’s two biggest emitters playing the “After You, Sir” game. The United States would not move its position without China also doing so—and vice versa. For far too long, this game has delayed important climate action.

It is therefore extremely good and very much needed that the G2 instead have now agreed hand-in-hand to move forward. China will peak its emissions at the latest in 2030, while the United States has presented a target for reductions in 2025.

The world has a lot of questions as to whether this really is the maximum that the two major powers can produce, but an even bigger question remains: How sure can the world be that the United States will actually deliver on its promise—not just next year and the year after but in the years after a new president and a new administration take office? Global performance standards for power plants play a crucial role here. Those standards, to be determined when the world meets for the Paris climate conference late next year, will be decisive for how much trust the world’s developing and most vulnerable countries put in the whole international agreement. What assurances will, and can, the United States give that the reductions will actually materialize? The answer to this question will make the difference between acknowledging that the Obama administration wanted to make a big difference—and acknowledging that they actually did.

Connie Hedegaard, the European Union commissioner for climate action from 2010 to 2014, is incoming chair of the Copenhagen-based Kann Foundation.

3. Cleaning up our cars
By Sen. Edward J. Markey

With all of the leadership President Obama has shown on climate change and clean energy—cleaner power plants, climate agreements with China and the international community, massive investments in clean energy—there’s one place where Americans can really feel how the president is driving change: behind the wheel. In May of 2009, gas prices were back on the rise following the economic collapse of late 2008. Temperatures were rising from carbon pollution, with 2009 on track to be the eighth hottest year on record. And our dependence on foreign oil was still greater than 50 percent.

That’s when the president took what is probably his most significant step to fight climate change to date, set a new energy agenda and increase our national security. He took the 2007 congressional increase in fuel economy, which I authored in the House, and accelerated it by using his authority to reduce carbon emissions from motor vehicles. Instead of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, we’d now reach 54.5 mpg by 2025. It was a bold move, one that showed how a combination of congressional action and executive authority can reap huge rewards for consumers, for American auto companies, for our energy security, and for climate change and the environment.

The results are already staggering. Last year, new vehicles reached an all-time high in fuel economy, hitting 24.1 mpg. And average carbon dioxide emissions reached a new low. And the EPA estimates that these standards will save American families more than $8,000 per vehicle in fuel costs by 2025. By becoming more efficient with our oil use, in combination with increased production and use of renewable fuels, America is now importing less foreign oil than at any time in the last 30 years.

This is a shining example of why Congress should continue to push for forward-looking climate and energy policies, and how they pay huge dividends at the pump, for our environment, and for our economy and national security.

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, co-Chair of the Senate Climate Clearinghouse and co-Chair of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change.

4. Feeding America’s carbon binge
By Bill McKibben

Unfortunately, President Obama’s most lasting environmental impact is probably overseeing the rise of America as the world’s greatest oil and gas power, surpassing even the Saudis and Russians. And opening up vast quantities of new federal land for coal mining. Obama has done more on climate than his predecessors, but he has also presided over (and aided) an unprecedented carbon binge. I mean, he’s even the guy who opened the newly melted Arctic to oil drilling. He’s the guy who takes up jogging, but accompanies it by developing a two-pack-a-day habit. Let’s hope in his last two years he aims for real intellectual and practical consistency.

Bill McKibben is co-founder and president of 350.org, an international climate campaign.

5. Empowering states to cut
By Christine Todd Whitman

Of the environmental measures Obama has attempted to enact as president, the most influential is the draft EPA rule that would regulate carbon emissions, which was released in June of this year and will be finalized in June 2015. The proposed rule would require that power plants across the country cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The rule also includes specific state-level goals that offer the states flexibility on how they achieve those goals.

While not perfect and subject to legal review, this rule does something unusual: It has the potential to strike the important balance between a national standard for reduced emissions and state flexibility to achieve that end. As a Republican in the original sense of the word, and a champion of local government, I think giving states the flexibility to achieve their target through a variety of means is a positive step.

Unfortunately, the rule is not without its flaws. President Obama developed the rule under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, which directs the EPA to set goals and allows states to submit plans to use those goals. This is problematic because this provision of the Act has only been used a handful of times, leaving the EPA relatively little precedent to rely on in attempting to enforce it. The fact that Obama’s support of this action has been sporadic does not help either—it has only further fired up Republicans who will try to starve the EPA financially in response.

I am hopeful that despite these hurdles, carbon emission regulations can be enacted. If they are, it will be the most significant environmental accomplishment of President Obama’s administration.

Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is president of the Whitman Strategy Group.

6. Boosting renewables
By Todd Foley

From very early on, President Obama has played an important leadership role in advancing bipartisan support for renewable energy. Starting with the response to the 2008 financial crisis, that support has proven very important to the continued growth of the U.S. renewable energy market and to a cleaner environment.

The financial crisis abruptly and dramatically limited the amount of capital available for renewable energy project development, and ultimately crippled the economy. With bipartisan support, the 2008 Emergency Economic Stabilization Act helped to mitigate the crisis by extending the renewable energy production tax credit for a year and the investment tax credit for eight years. With the president’s leadership and with bipartisan support, energy provisions from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, such as the 1603 policy to monetize the tax credits, were extended in 2011, and successful loan guarantee program adjustments further improved renewable energy finance. Thanks to these measures, from 2008 to 2013, following a period of financial crisis and recession, the private sector was able to invest more than $224 billion in U.S. renewable energy. In fact, 2012 was a record year, with more than 49 percent, or 16 gigawatts, of all new power capacity coming from renewables.

As the President’s Clean Power Plan recognizes, increasing renewable energy deployment is also an important part of any cost-effective strategy to reduce carbon emissions. Although the plan understates the growth rate for renewable energy—since 2008, renewable energy has been the fastest-growing source of new electrical generation in the United States, responsible for 37 percent of all new capacity—renewable energy power generation is important to reducing electricity costs and ensuring an affordable, reliable and resilient power system for years to come.

The Obama administration has played a very important role in bipartisan policy support for renewable energy. The industry has done its part to reduce costs and deploy capital, and consistent bipartisan policy is essential to continued market growth and a healthier environment.

Todd Foley is senior vice president for policy and government relations at the American Council on Renewable Energy.

7. Letting the frackers frack
By Bjorn Lomborg

The biggest U.S. environmental impact of the Obama era is the one that nobody (not the president, not Congress) envisioned. It is the shale gas revolution that was made possible by the United States spending $10 billion on R&D to develop hydraulic fracturing over the past 30 years.

Over the past five years, this investment has made gas much cheaper, allowing a significant shift in electricity production from coal to gas. Since gas emits less than half the carbon dioxide per energy unit than coal does, this means that in 2012, when adjusting for more wind and lower economic output, the gas switch reduced U.S. emissions by about 300 million metric tons of CO2, causing emissions to hit lowest level since 1994. At the same time, it is estimated that the economic benefit to the United States is about $283 billion per year. This compares favorably to all of Europe’s wind and solar energy, which reduces CO2 emissions by about 91 million metric tons and cost about $40 billion annually.

Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus think tank and author of Cool It and Skeptical Environmentalist.

8. Fighting a global problem with a global solution
By Kate Gordon

Climate change work is inherently bipolar. On the one hand, the impacts of a warming planet are extremely local, even within the United States, where each region of the country faces significantly different climate risks. (Try talking to a Floridian about fewer days below freezing in Minnesota, or a North Dakotan about sea level rise.) But the challenge of actually slowing or stopping climate change is a global problem demanding a global solution. Like all international policy issues, that means it’s the subject of delicate, painfully slow negotiations between countries that usually have competing economic and security agendas.

That’s why I’m so impressed by the climate agreement forged between the United States and China during President Obama’s recent trip to Beijing. On the U.S. side, the president committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 25-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. On behalf of China, President Xi committed to peak his country’s emissions by 2030 (or, hopefully, earlier) and to increase its renewable energy to 20 percent of the country’s overall energy mix by the same date.

Forget the specific numbers for a minute, though they’re substantial. The fact that the two largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world even made this kind of public commitment on climate is a huge diplomatic win. It’s also already having a measurable impact on the markets: Citigroup recently published an analysis arguing that due to the U.S.-China deal alone, oil and coal companies can expect to lose nearly $3 trillion in revenue between now and 2030 as oil demand ratchets down, industrial processes become more efficient and renewable energy is used in place of coal.

Make no mistake: This agreement was months, if not years, in the making—and its full importance could take years to fully recognize. But there’s no question that in injecting serious, specific near-term targets into the often-esoteric global climate debate, Obama and Xi have moved the ball a yard down the field toward a global climate deal. And that’s no small thing.

Kate Gordon is vice president and director of the Energy & Climate Program at Next Generation.

9. Clearing the air
By Leon G. Billings

Much has been said about President Obama’s recently announced Clean Air Act rules addressing climate change, and, indeed he deserves commendation for his bold use of that law to address a challenging and extremely important environmental problem. Senator Edmund Muskie (D-Maine), the chief sponsor of the Clean Air Act of 1970, and his bipartisan group of co-authors would be thrilled to see their carefully crafted statute used, as intended, to address emerging air pollution threats.

That said, it might be that Obama’s recent proposal to tighten the ozone (smog) standard not only is similarly important but corrects a major mistake. The current smog standard, that President George W. Bush set and Obama affirmed three years ago, is not protective of public health. An appropriate new ozone health standard will provide direct, demonstrable and immediate positive effects on the health of vulnerable Americans. It will drive down pollution and tell the public the truth about the quality of the air they breathe.

The law requires that the EPA use the best science available to advance the public health protection goals the Senate unanimously approved more than 40 years ago. President Bill Clinton acted to tighten regulations on pollution that had a direct impact on public health, including ozone and fine particles. Now it is Obama’s turn to set a new ozone standard to join his 2012 particulate standard.
The most important aspect of Obama’s recent environmental initiatives is that, like Clinton and George H.W. Bush, he recognized that the American public wants clean air. They want a Clean Air Act that is dynamic and a president who puts public health above special interests. At a time when the public’s faith in elected leaders is so fragile, Obama’s clean air initiatives send a clear message that this decades old statute is alive and well, and doing the job the public was promised.

Leon G. Billings was staff director of the Senate Subcommittee on Environmental Pollution from 1966 to 1978 and was principal majority staff author of the Clean Air Act. He later served as chief of staff to Senator and Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie.

10. Using the sun to clean the air
By Rhone Resch

While President Obama and his administration have been very supportive of solar energy in general, we believe the EPA’s Clean Power Plan will go down in history as the president’s signature environmental achievement. As an organization—and as an industry—we at the Solar Energy Industries Association are totally supportive of efforts to reduce harmful and damaging carbon emissions, which pose a serious threat to our nation’s future prosperity, as well as to public health.

At the same time, we should not ignore the role that solar energy is playing in helping us to meet the Obama administration’s new environmental standards. At the president’s direction, the Bureau of Land Management has approved 29 utility-scale solar energy projects on public lands since 2010, boosting our efforts to assist in the fight against climate change. As the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America, solar contributes in a big way to our economy and to a balanced energy portfolio, and we’re only scratching the surface of solar’s potential. The 17,500 megawatts of solar energy currently installed throughout the United States can generate enough pollution-free electricity to displace 20 billion pounds of coal or 2.2 billion gallons of gasoline. That’s the equivalent of removing 4.3 million passenger cars from our roads and highways. For states trying to meet the EPA’s new, enhanced air quality standards, solar can be a real game changer.

Rhone Resch is president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

11. Spurring the rest of the planet
By Robert Stavins

The recent joint announcement of national emission reduction targets by China and the United States was a great diplomatic breakthrough and represents the beginning of the realization of the promise offered by the 2011 U.N. climate meeting in Durban, boding well for a productive new path forward for international climate negotiations.

The announced China-U.S. quantitative contributions are themselves significant. For China, capping its emissions by 2030 (at the latest), plus increasing its non-fossil energy generation to 20 percent of its total by the same year, will require very aggressive measures, according to a recent MIT analysis. For the United States, cutting its emissions by 26-28 percent below the 2005 level by 2025 means doubling the pace of cuts under the country’s previous international commitment.

But more importantly, China’s and America’s commitments create a sufficient foundation for meaningful future steps among the entire global community, beginning with the 2015 Paris agreement that is being drafted in Lima over the next two weeks. With the announced Chinese and American national determined contributions, the future Paris agreement would include countries that together account for more than 40 percent of global carbon emissions. With Europe already on board, the total amounts to more than 50 percent of the world’s emissions.

It will not be long before the other industrialized countries announce their own contributions, and the pressure is now on the other large, emerging economies—India, Brazil, Korea, South Africa, Mexico and Indonesia—to step up too. Some countries may well announce their contributions in Lima, but all are scheduled to announce at least by the end of the first quarter of 2015. By that point, we might well look back and see that the recent U.S.-China commitment was one of the most important moments in more than two decades of international climate negotiations.

Robert Stavins is Albert Pratt professor of business and government and director of the Environmental Economics Program at the Harvard Kennedy School.

12. Going big on policy and politics
By Peter Lehner

President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants is a groundbreaking victory for our health and environment. It is the single most important thing the United States can do to confront climate change right now. And future generations will remember it as the turning point when America finally got serious about the climate threat.

The plan is a breakthrough on the substance. Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in our nation—they kick out 40 percent of carbon emissions. The EPA has proposed cutting carbon from power plants by 26 percent in 2020 and 30 percent by 2030. That is a major dent in the pollution that causes climate change. And it is a big improvement for families: Every $1 invested in reducing carbon pollutions will reap $7 in health benefits, according to the EPA.

The plan is also a breakthrough on the politics. Obama has brought climate change to the forefront of national policy. He has offered a solution to the problem that is destroying homes, undermining businesses and impairing people’s health. The vast majority of Americans welcome this leadership. A Washington Post poll, for instance, found that seven in 10 people view climate change as a serious threat and support the EPA’s action to reduce greenhouse gases. This support reaches across parties: A survey by Harstad Strategic Research reported that 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents and 87 percent of Democrats support the EPA’s carbon limits.

Climate change is not an issue to ignore; it is a challenge to address, and people expect leaders to do it. If GOP lawmakers continue attacking the EPA and saying America should put fossil fuel profits ahead of our children’s future, they will lose the battle for hearts and minds. Meanwhile, the EPA’s plan has already achieved impressive results. It has helped prompt China to commit to reducing its carbon pollution, spurred innovation in renewable power and put America on the path toward cleaner air and greater climate stability. Families will benefit from these advances for generations to come.

Peter Lehner is executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

13. Making more efficient vehicles the new normal
By Michael Oppenheimer

It’s a tough call. The EPA regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants and the China deal are both critical steps forward toward solving the climate change problem. If the arrangement with China sticks, it has the potential to avert the largest amount of emissions, and its symbolic value cannot be overestimated. Then again, it’s difficult to say how much China (or the United States, for that matter) might have done absent the agreement. Coal-fired plants, meanwhile, are already hemmed in by regulations on mercury and other traditional air pollutants. And a second step in the EPA regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants and other sources, needed to implement President Obama’s commitment to reductions by 2030, might be precluded by actions of the Congress and the next president. However, such regulations are needed to fulfill the U.S. commitment to China, so dropping them would mean going back on the deal, which could be diplomatically costly.

The piece of the whole package that seems relatively invulnerable and likely to produce benefits for the long haul regardless of political developments is the strengthening of standards for greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. This two-phase strengthening is already a done deal. It could be modified by a review scheduled for 2017, but with automakers already anticipating the tougher regulations, this seems unlikely. These rules will have a profound effect on emissions from the car sector and hopefully will stimulate a new round of innovation, which can subsequently lead to even more efficient vehicles.

Each of these actions by the administration is important, and I hope they will endure. But the motor vehicles rules are where I’d lay my bet for a lasting effect that would not have happened otherwise.

Michael Oppenheimer is Albert G. Milbank professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University and director of the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) at the Woodrow Wilson School.

14. An “all of the above” approach on emissions
By Rick Boucher

President Obama’s legacy will rest on two primary pillars: the Affordable Care Act and policy changes leading to the greatest improvement in environmental quality since passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970.

Foremost among his environmental achievements are the numerous steps he has taken to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These steps have included the much-discussed EPA rules on emissions from new and existing power plants and the groundbreaking agreement with China through which that nation agreed to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and increase the non-fossil fuel share of its overall energy supply to approximately 20 percent by that date. Now, it’s widely speculated that India, the world’s third-largest GHG emitter, will follow China’s lead.

While the agreement with China followed months of negotiations, a highly significant GHG emission reduction step was achieved with far less effort and received far fewer headlines. In August 2012, the Obama administration finalized new standards for automobile fuel efficiency that require an average of 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light duty trucks by model year 2025. The new standards will cut in half GHG emissions from vehicles, saving 6 billion metric tons of CO2, an amount equal to more than the total CO2 emissions in the United States in the year 2010. Making this achievement all the more remarkable was the absence of notable improvements in average vehicle corporate fuel efficiency in the decades prior to the start of the Obama presidency.

President Obama can rightfully take his place as an environmental president. He didn’t get there by the path he preferred, having favored the passage of GHG control legislation. But history will record his tenure as president as the time when, with U.S. leadership, the world seriously tackled the challenge of climate change.

Rick Boucher is a former congressman representing Virginia who chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality. He is a partner in the Washington office of Sidley Austin LLP and leads the firm’s government strategies practice.

15. Using his power wisely
By Carol M. Browner

President Obama has built a legacy worthy record on environmental issues, especially efforts to address climate change. But more important than any single component of his record is the manner in which he built it, through strategic and judicious use of his executive authority.

The president has used his executive authority, based on authorities granted by existing law, to take bold actions and implement the laws as passed by Congress. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a landmark policy that sets the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the pollution that fuels climate change. He set historic fuel efficiency and clean car standards that drastically reduced tailpipe pollution. He has taken steps to lower the limits on mercury and other toxics in our air and water. And, he has proposed new science-based standards for ground level smog.

While most Americans appreciate the president’s willingness to use his executive authority to protect public health from dangerous pollution, some in Congress and others who don’t support the president’s policies charge that he has abused the authority. In fact, the president has issued executive orders at the slowest rate in more than 100 years.

More importantly, the public health impacts of these actions are significant. For example, the EPA projects its Clean Power Plan will prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children and up to 490,000 missed work and school days in 2030. It will also prevent 3,300 heart attacks, and up to 2,800 hospital admissions. And the Clean Power Plan will spur innovation in clean energy technology that will create jobs and economic growth. Taken individually, each of these measures is a significant public health accomplishment. Taken together, they represent an environmental legacy built on the authority of the president to exercise leadership on matters important to all Americans.

Carol M. Browner is a former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.

16. Setting a standard—in theory—for the fossil fuels industry
By Annie Leonard

President Obama’s climate legacy has yet to be written. But in this final half of his final term, the promises he has already made have the potential to show true leadership in the global effort to address climate change, if the president follows through on them.

In his June 2013 Climate Plan announcement, Obama said, “Our national interest will be served only if this [Keystone] project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” With its estimated emissions equivalent to more than 37.7 million car tailpipes, Keystone XL should have no way of passing this “Obama test.” If the president’s logic were seriously applied, the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to expand the extraction and export of coal, oil and gas could not move forward. Natural gas expansion is quickly ruled out, as the combined climate impact of fracking and burning have the potential to be as bad as that of coal. We would also see the end of the Interior Department’s coal leasing program, which continues to prop up Peabody Energy and Arch Coal with subsidized access to taxpayer-owned coal. Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic, which need the president’s approval, fail the “Obama test” twice, since having more oil to burn means more global warming, then more ice melting making way for more oil drilling, in a vicious circle of destruction and pollution.

Which part of Obama’s presidency will have the most positive environmental impact down the line? It’s the precedent he’s set by promising that major fossil fuel projects—like approving Keystone XL—should not be approved when they exacerbate carbon pollution. Now he has to deliver on it.

Annie Leonard is executive director of Greenpeace USA.

17. A free enterprise-friendly deal with China
By Bob Inglis

The agreement with China to reduce greenhouse gases can be impactful if a solution is added to the sentiment. Thus far we have only the sentiment of reductions and non-binding goals. The solution will come from accountable free enterprise.

The boldest policy would be a border-adjustable, revenue-neutral, carbon tax. Revenue neutrality is crucial. If a new tax is to be created for carbon dioxide, there must be dollar-for-dollar cut in existing taxes. The border adjustment is also crucial: A carbon tax should be imposed on imports based on the CO2 content of those goods. China might challenge the border-adjustment in the World Trade Organization, but if it is upheld, it would be in China’s interest and in the interest of other trading partners to impose the same price on carbon dioxide in their own countries. Why let the United States collect a carbon tax on entry when you could have collected that tax in your home country? With a border-adjustable carbon tax in each country, the hidden, societal costs that currently aren’t attached to fuels would be “internalized.”

When all costs are in on all the fuels, the free enterprise system will deliver innovations that will solve the climate challenge—better, faster and cheaper than the EPA could ever imagine in the regulation of CO2. Challenger fuels will overtake incumbent fuels—not because of fickle tax incentives or clumsy government mandates or government-growing regulations, but rather because the government will have simply brought accountability to the marketplace. When consumers see the true cost of fuels at the meter and at the pump, the liberty of enlightened self-interest will lead us to an energy revolution as exciting as the tech revolution.

Bob Inglis, a former congressman representing South Carolina, is executive director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative.

18. A moral and practical commitment
By Angela Ledford Anderson

The significance of the U.S.-China climate deal cannot be underestimated. The world’s two biggest polluters announced their commitments over a year ahead of the official deadline for a new global deal, giving that process much-needed momentum. The power plant carbon rule and the clean car standards are also critical elements of the U.S. emissions cutting strategy. Marketplace trends, namely the falling costs of wind and solar and the steady erosion of the economics of coal, helped to make the power plant rule possible and should enable the administration to go even further.

When the President stood outside at Georgetown University on a sweltering summer day last year to announce his Climate Action Plan, he became the first president to lead the nation to face the realities of climate change—that we must simultaneously prepare for more severe weather, longer fire seasons and rising seas while we transition to a low-carbon economy. Both the moral leadership and the policy initiatives he has proposed are a very big deal for the environment. The efforts to reverse them will be fierce. But if the policies stand, they could reverse the dangerous emissions trends driving global warming.

Angela Ledford Anderson is director of the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

19. Clean energy stimulus
By Alan Nogee

It’s very tempting to choose either the agreement with China or the power plant carbon emission standards. But I’m going to call out the clean energy stimulus funding, because it helped drive more than 30-60 percent cuts in the installed costs of wind, solar and batteries. Those cuts, and the momentum they have created, have helped make both the power plant carbon standards and the China commitments—as well as going beyond them—both feasible and affordable.

Alan Nogee, former director of the clean energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is principal at Clean Energy Consulting.

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