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Obama's CO2 emissions limits called vital — and overdue

AP file photo

AP file photo

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Updated: July 4, 2014 6:13AM

The Obama administration’s plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030 was heralded Monday as historic and overdue by an Illinois grassroots coalition joined by elected officials.

The Illinois Climate Table coalition — made up of environmental, corporate, medical and community groups — declared Illinois should take a national lead in adopting carbon pollution standards for its power plants.

“For the last 12 plus years, our community fought to shut down two of the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the nation. How amazing it would have been to have had these regulations 12 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago,” said Kim Wasserman of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

Her group, complaining of pollution and high rates of respiratory illness afflicting the predominantly Hispanic Pilsen and Little Village communities — where Midwest Generation operated the Fisk and Crawford power plants — had waged a grassroots campaign to declare Chicago a coal-free city. It finally won the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a majority of the City Council, and agreements leading to shuttering of both plants in 2012.

The proposal announced by the Environmental Protection Agency Monday — to reduce pollution linked to global warming — would give states until 2017 to submit plans to cut power plant pollution, and 2018 if they join with other states to tackle the issue. The 645-page rule is expected to be final next year, with the administration hoping to get other countries to act when negotiations on a new international treaty resume next year.

“If implemented correctly, the new rules offer a great opportunity, opening the door to bigger and better energy efficiency programs, while jump-starting distributed generation like solar,” David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, said at the coalition’s downtown press conference.

“These are the key strategies Illinois needs to ensure affordable energy prices,” Kolata said.

RELATED: Obama: Power plant rule will shrink power prices

Despite concluding in 2009 that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare, a finding that triggered their regulation under the 1970 Clean Air Act, it has taken years for the administration to take on America’s power plants, the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S. Power plants account for about a third of the annual emissions that currently make the U.S. the second largest contributor to global warming on the planet.

Elected officials at the press conference — all Democrats — noted that President Barack Obama’s plan was quickly and rigorously attacked by Republicans, who largely dispute theories of global warming.

“The nation’s power plants freely dump unlimited amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. Yet Republicans have refused to even have any hearings on these issues,” said U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power. “I’ve suggested they change the Republican Party symbol from the elephant to an ostrich, because of their resistance to any open discussion on global warming.”

Also in attendance were U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley and Robin Kelly; and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Some corporate leaders noted the new rules will further spur businesses to move toward retrofitting cost-cutting, energy efficiency initiatives, while also driving green industry jobs and the economy.

“From 2009 to 2013, green construction generated nearly 8 million jobs in the U.S., and nearly $400 billion in labor earnings. These are American jobs which can’t be exported,” said Dan Probst, chairman of energy and sustainability services for JLL, a Chicago commercial real estate services firm. “Substantial efficiency opportunities also lie within the commercial buildings sector. Buildings are responsible for up to 70 percent of electrical consumption in major cities and up to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.”

The EPA is expected to offer states a range of options to meet their targets, based on where they get their electricity and how much carbon dioxide they emit. Options could include enhancing programs aimed at making households and businesses more energy-efficient; making power plants more efficient; reducing the frequency at which coal-fired power plants supply power to the grid; and investing in renewable, low-carbon energy sources.

“Today is a very important day. Finally, we’re going to have a real energy climate plan for the United States,” said Madigan. “Illinois is very well-positioned to take the next steps of bringing all the stakeholders to the table to start to determine what kind of energy mix our state will be providing to able to not just reduce carbon emissions and better protect our environment, but also protect people’s health and improve our economy.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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