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Eliminating Coal is Crucial to Stopping Global Warming

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Two weeks ago U.S. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), a longtime clean energy and public health champion, released a discussion draft outlining his ambitious plans to combat global warming and create jobs. (Hearings are currently being held for this draft bill too, check out the Sierra Club's liveblogging of them on this very blog).

Waxman laid out a bold plan that holds the promise to renew and rebuild our economy, shift U.S. energy production toward clean, modern, and cheap sources like the wind and the sun, and slash our dependence on oil and coal—all while reducing global warming and creating millions of new jobs.

What makes this bill a good start?

??? * a strong target to cut pollution twenty percent over the next decade,
??? * a robust renewable electricity standard requiring 25 percent clean electricity by 2025, and
??? * many strong measures to reduce energy waste and help businesses and residents save money.

These provisions are all critical to wean the US off of old, inefficient and unreliable coal plants, reduce our imports of oil and coal, and get to the clean energy economy President Obama has outlined for the Nation. This bill is also an important beginning to ensure Congress demonstrates it is serious about the United States doing its fair share to combat global warming before the major international climate talks scheduled for December in Copenhagen.

But it's also important to fix some flaws in this discussion draft -- flaws which will get the way of accomplishing its ambitious goals. These provisions reflect the preferences of? coal industry allies, and would limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act.

In order to move America forward, EPA must maintain the ability to shut down the oldest and dirtiest coal plants. We should continue to focus our efforts on securing this authority, known as New Source Performance Standards and New Source Review provisions. ?

There is one other provision that is cause for serious concern.: the discussion draft also contains a provision that would establish a huge pool of "offsets" which would allow the coal industry and other major polluters to pay other countries or industries to reduce carbon emissions or increase carbon storage as in forests. The number of actual offsets available will depend on the stringency of EPA regulations and it is critical that any framework be tough enough to keep bogus offsets out of the system. Failure to establish and maintain rigorous criteria either in the legislative or regulatory process could potentially result in the failure to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2020.

These potential flaws reflect a reality -- the politics of this is very difficult. That's why we are so fortunate to have Henry Waxman in charge of negotiating the best possible clean energy and global warming bill. No one has done more to ensure Americans breathe clean and healthy air over the past two decades. His discussion draft is a good start to solving global warming. But as the coal industry provisions described above demonstrate, he needs all the help we can provide to keep the coal industry and their allies on his committee at bay. We are going to have to fight to ensure the final bill that emerges from his Committee is based on science and protects public health, and is not watered down with concessions to fuels of the past.

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