Foreign Policy Blogs

One Small Step for a Man

Okay, the U.S. may have been the first to the moon, but we have not been the first to regulate greenhouse gases.  However, we’re getting there.  California has been advancing its cap-and-trade regime among other terrific programs, we’ve got the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast and there are all sorts of other programs moving forward, including the federal government’s GHG regulatory regime.  In the endless foofaraw surrounding federal programs, very much exacerbated by the political climate of the day, it might be tough to miss the fact that the EPA has been steadily, carefully, but inexorably moving toward a comprehensive program.  As this press release yesterday indicates, EPA has been mandated by a Supreme Court ruling and the Clean Air Act to determine if greenhouse gases are an “endangerment” to the public health and the environment, and, if so, to regulate those GHGs as air pollutants.  That’s what’s been underway for a couple of years.  Yesterday’s announcement of the first rules to curb greenhouse gases from new power plants is another critical step along this path.

The unsinkable Lisa Jackson said:  “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies – and the health and economic threats of a changing climate continue to grow. We’re putting in place a standard that relies on the use of clean, American made technology to tackle a challenge that we can’t leave to our kids and grandkids.”  The Washington Post article on this watershed moment reports on the requirement  for “…any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits 800 to 850 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.”

Excelsior as we say in New York.


  • Windy City Kid

    Bill, this will do nothing to change the course of CO2 accumulation to any significant degree that will alter the BAU trend for CO2. Unless Rajendra Pachauri, who is the head of the IPCC and has a Nobel Prize, wasn’t telling the truth in 2007, he stated, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” Well Bill it’s 2012 and I am not aware of any retraction by Rajendra Pachauri offering that the IPCC got the science wrong in 2007 and that now 2012 is not too late.

    Thus, how meaningful will the actual reduction of CO2 be with California and the Northeast carbon reduction programs? The answer for data/facts driven people is that it will not be meaningful at all. These programs are similar to the Kyoto Accord which resulted in very little CO2 reduction. As you can see Kyoto did nothing to lower emissions and we are still at BAU emissions.

    Given that China is already emitting 10 billion tons/yr. of CO2 and on a pathway to reach 20 billion tons/yr. by 2020 and with the rest of the BRICS also increasing CO2, California doesn’t matter a bit. Based on Rajendra Pachauri/IPCC 2007 statement, it would be illogical and unscientific not to accept that we are beyond Kyoto style solutions for carbon reduction, not to accept the failure of current political/policy driven solutions to reduce CO2 and not to accept that it’s time to move forward to start the process for plan B!

  • Bill Hewitt

    Kid – I am, as I think you are well aware, painfully aware of the dire situation in which the world finds itself. I am also, as I hope you are aware, as you have been good enough to follow some of my thoughts here along the way, not a Pollyanna. Neither the American political system nor the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has managed, so far, to deliver the goods. But, as I have documented here many, many times, there is tremendous progress taking place: renewables, green building, other clean tech, a renewed focus on avoided deforestation and re-forestation (and afforestation), and greater overall attention to the many aspects of sustainable development that can, one has to hope, pull our sorry asses back from the brink. The EPA’s regulatory regime on greenhouse gases is not an economy-wide cap-and-trade program. But, it’s moving us in the right direction. There are, as you know, all sorts of initiatives, all over the world, that are moving us forward. Will we avoid full-blown climate catastrophe? That’s not in my crystal ball. But, I would certainly say that we are in an extraordinarily better position today than even five years ago – and better, in fact, than many analysts could have predicted.

  • Bill Hewitt

    By the way, Lester Brown’s “Plan B” is an excellent approach, explicated in a great book. I use it in my Clean Tech class. see (Not incidentally, it’s got nothing to do with geoengineering. On the subject of that particularly dangerous course, see Alex Steffen here: “Our goal should be to cool the planet in ways that reinforce and restore the resilience of its natural systems.” For my money, those are words by which to live.


Bill Hewitt
Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change