Pathway to Paris

The Trump Administration has made no secret of their intent to roll back the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of the climate commitment the US made at the 2015 Paris climate summit. The Clean Power Plan will save lives by slashing dangerous carbon pollution, and Trump’s expected attack on it is yet another effort to boost the profits of his corporate polluter pals at the expense of the health of our families. However, it turns out that the Clean Power Plan is but one building block to meeting our Paris commitment. New analysis, just completed by the Sierra Club, shows that action at the local and state level - by towns, cities, businesses, and state governments - are also critical parts of slashing carbon pollution and meeting our Paris commitment.

This analysis shows that upwards of 60 percent of the reductions needed to meet the Paris commitment can be met through action by local residents, elected officials, and business leaders to replace aging coal-fired power plants with clean energy, secure large investments in energy efficiency, and stop the rush to natural gas. In addition, there are huge opportunities to build on existing actions by businesses and local governments to further accelerate US progress away from fossil fuels and towards an economy powered by 100 percent clean energy.  

This analysis underscores how we can build on the success of the nationwide move away from coal and continue to make record investments in clean energy, like wind and solar. In the past seven years action by the Sierra Club, in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and over a hundred allied organizations, has secured the retirement of 248 coal plants nationwide, almost half of the US coal plants that were operating in 2010. Last year the US investment in wind and solar reached a new peak, with clean energy becoming the number one source of new electricity generation, beating out natural gas and nuclear. This is also providing significant new jobs and local tax revenue for communities.  

The graph in this post shows the progress the US has been making between 2005 and 2016, and how three buckets of action can help close the gap to Paris: 1) accelerating the replacement of coal with clean energy (the dark purple wedge), 2) existing policies like the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, CAFE standards, HCFC rules, and more (the light purple wedge), and 3) local action by businesses and local elected officials to embrace clean energy and transition away from fossil fuels (the green wedge).

First, the biggest near-term opportunity is continuing to accelerate the transition from coal to clean energy in the electric sector. The primary driver for carbon reductions over the past five years has been the retirement and replacement of 15 percent of the US coal fleet with clean energy, with an additional 15 percent of the coal fleet announced to retire before 2025. This analysis shows that if we are able to keep this momentum goin gand get to half the US coal fleet retired and replaced with clean energy by 2025 that it will reduce annual US carbon dioxide emissions by at least 437 million metric tons. This is the equivalent to 60 percent of the gap between the US pledge under the Paris Agreement and the economy-wide emissions in 2025 projected by the US government in its 2016 biennial submission ot the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Secondly, we also need to defend the clean air policies and programs put in place during the Obama Administration, including the Clean Power Plan, the tax credits for wind and solar, and the methane capture standards. Some of the measures are already fully implemented, such as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, and cannot be reversed by the new Administration. Others are clearly in the crosshairs of the new Administration and we plan to use all means available to defend these programs. We plan to stop rollbacks in the courts. We plan to educate our elected officials about the importance of these programs. And we plan to implement stronger programs at the city and state level to buttress and replace any federal programs that the Trump Administration repeals.

Third, at the state and local level, we will keep building on the huge amount of momentum created by local activists, elected officials and businesses. In response to the new Administration’s hostility to clean energy, states are proposing bold clean energy targets and driving demand for renewable energy and efficient cars. Cities nationwide from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Georgetown, Texas, have made commitments to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2030. Cities like Dallas, Los Angeles, and Boston are looking at ways to prevent major methane leaks within their cities. Local communities are expanding mass transit, bicycle infrastructure, and electric vehicles. Businesses like Apple and Amazon are powering their operations with increasing amounts of wind and solar.

You will notice there is some overlap between the wedges on our graph. This shows that if part of these efforts is delayed or obstructed - for example, if the Clean Power Plan is attacked - we can pick up the slack through increased coal to clean energy transition or increased action by local actors who step in if the Administration steps back. For example, the Beyond Coal Campaign can expand our scope of engagement and/or states could choose to adopt their own local safeguards and regulations should the federal government fail to sufficiently protect communities.

To be clear, existing federal safeguards like the Clean Power Plan are important, and the Sierra Club and our allies, including many states, are fighting to defend them every step of the way. The EPA has estimated that, by 2030, the Clean Power Plan would prevent 150,000 asthma attacks and up to 6,600 premature deaths annually, providing up to $93 billion of climate and health benefits every year. EPA projects that in 2030 when the plan is fully implemented, electricity bills would be roughly eight percent lower than they would been without the actions in state plans.

In the long-run the federal government can and should be an important partner in solving the climate crisis and providing international leadership. Trump’s aggressive and misleading pro-polluter actions only mean residents of heavily polluted states will suffer from dirtier air while missing out on many of the benefits of the fair and just clean energy economy the Clean Power Plan would help create.

We’ll fight Trump in the courts, in the streets, and at the state and local level across the nation, making it clear that Americans want clean energy and climate progress, and we take our international commitments seriously. And at the same time we will partner with a growing coalition of Americans from every walk of life, elected officials, and businesses who are not going to stand idly by and ignore the opportunity of clean energy and the urgency of solving the climate crisis.