News | January 19, 2017

What does the new Congress and administration mean for clean air and climate change?

The Clean Air Act has been a hugely successful public health law. Since it was adopted in 1970, the nation has seen huge reductions in pollution coinciding with major growth in the economy. The new federal administration and anti-environmental leaders in Congress threaten these advances, putting all of us—especially children and the elderly—at risk.

As long as there has been a Clean Air Act, every time an air pollution standard is set industry raises the specter of high costs and lost jobs. But again and again, this has been shown to be a false prediction; we have protected public health and the economy at the same time. For instance, in the South, since 1990 the average annual residential electricity bill has held essentially steady in real dollars, and as a percentage of median household income. Yet, emissions of pollutants that create smog and soot have plummeted on the order of 80-90 percent.

Currently, the fossil-fuel industry is claiming pollution reductions that curb climate change will bankrupt the economy. In reality, states across the country—including in the Southeast—are reducing pollution and enhancing jobs. In North Carolina, for example, we’ve seen an explosion in clean solar power, with the state ranked second nationally for the amount of solar electric capacity installed in 2015. This clean industry growth has translated into more than 206 solar companies employing 5,950 people in the state.

Unfortunately, the new Administration and incoming Congress are suggesting they may take actions that would turn back the clock on these advances and hamper our ability to effectively tap into these growth industries and safeguard our natural environment at the same time.

The most high profile, but far from the only, element of this strategy is the incoming administration’s vow to scrap the Clean Power Plan. This landmark rule sets statewide targets for carbon dioxide pollution from coal- and gas-fired power plants across the country. Given that the South is home to a large number of old, polluting coal-fired plants, without these mandatory state-based goals establishing a clear, long-term objective, it will be harder and more complicated to achieve the reductions necessary to clean up our air and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The new administration also suggested they will reconsider the U.S. commitment to reduce greenhouse gas pollution under the 2016 Paris Climate agreement. Seen as a key tool to achieve international reductions in carbon pollution, its creation was bolstered by America’s leadership role. Any move by the U.S. to back away from that commitment could have disastrous global impacts.

SELC believes that everyone in the Southeast and beyond deserves to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a healthy, prosperous environment. This belief drives our continued commitment to protecting the laws and policies that ensure those birthrights for all Americans.