On Monday, President Obama unveiled details of the cornerstone of his climate plan: Limits on carbon-dioxide emissions from the nation’s fleet of existing power plants. The rules are likely to be the biggest step toward the president’s goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 17 percent by 2020. The rules are already taking heat from the fossil-fuel industry and Republicans in Congress, despite having the support of a majority of Americans. So what’s all the hullabaloo about, exactly? Here’s what you need to know:
Why regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants?
By now it’s well established that carbon dioxide from human activities is the single biggest driver of climate change. The news this month that severe glacial melting in Antarctica has already nearly guaranteed up to 10 feet of global sea level rise was just the latest reminder of the dire need to slash our carbon pollution. Power plants and vehicles are the two biggest sources of this pollution in the United States, accounting for about 38 and 31 percent of carbon emissions, respectively. The Obama administration has already taken aim at motor vehicles; it placed new emissions limits on cars in 2009 and ordered them forheavy-duty trucks this year. But there are currently no restrictions—at all—on how much carbon pollution the nation’s existing fleet of power plants can produce.