President Obama recently announced his climate-change program, which represents an important milestone in his tenure. It seeks to fulfill the moral obligation of protecting the environment for us and for future generations. The major thrust of the program is geared toward upgrading coal-powered electricity plants to capture the emitted carbon-dioxide greenhouse gas, developing new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for reduced emissions from such plants, allocating $8 billion in federal loans for energy-efficiency projects, developing new fuel efficiency standards for the heavy-duty vehicles and incorporation of energy-efficiency principles in multifamily housing.
The plan aims to cut the country’s accumulated carbon footprint by 17 percent by 2020.
The U.S. carbon footprint stands at 5.5 billion tons a year. This accounts for close to 20 percent of the total yearly carbon emissions on the globe. Obama’s focus on coal-powered plants makes sense. Although about 1,450 coal-powered plants provide close to 40 percent of electricity, they are responsible for about 80 percent of the carbon emissions.
Any EPA recommendations of retrofitting the coal plants with carbon-capture technology should keep in mind the age of such plants, in the 30- to 40-year range. Since the transformation of an old coal plant to have carbon-capture capability can cost on average of $3 billion a plant, it would be preferable to retire plants that are close to the end of their life cycle. Any electricity shortage that results can be met by increasing production of the cleaner gas-powered plants that currently are being used to meet 30 percent of power needs. In addition, new installments of nuclear, hydropower and renewable-energy power plants can meet further shortages.
The electorate must have a clear understanding of the issues. For the plan to succeed, it will be necessary to educate the public about environmental sustainability at the grassroots level. The federal and state governments must support such initiatives in educational institutions and local communities.
The enhancement of “reduce, reuse and recycle” programs, tree-planting initiatives and of public transportation and energy conservation are some of the steps that will support the president’s climate-change program.
Khalique Ahmed, professor and chair, Department of Natural & Applied Sciences, Lynn University, Boca Raton