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Standing up to Polluters

By Student PIRGs

We all know that global warming is the environmental crisis of our generation. Unfortunately, massive pressure from the industries causing the problem—from Big Oil to power plants—means that getting the U.S. Senate to take action is appearing increasingly unlikely in the short term. 

This makes the Obama administration's efforts to use the Clean Air Act to clean up the largest sources of global warming pollution all the more important in the coming months and years.  The Clean Air Act has a 40-year track record of cost-effectively cleaning up a variety of air pollutants, now we just need to put it to work to combat global warming.  A recent report by the World Resources Institute found that using the Clean Air Act and having states take strong action against global warming could reduce emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 (the commitment President Obama made in Copenhagen). 

Already, the Obama administration announced new standards to make cars more fuel efficient an cut global warming pollution (known as clean car standards).  These standards are expected to cut global warming pollution from vehicles by over 100 million metric tons per year in 2016, or as much global warming pollution as is produced by 28 500-Megawatt coal-fired power plants.  These new rules will also cut gasoline consumption by roughly 11 billion gallons per year in 2016—nearly as much as consumed by all the vehicles in Texas in a year.

Following up on that, the Obama administration is considering new Clean Air Act standards which would go a long way toward cleaning up global warming pollution.  Specifically, the administration is considering the first-ever global warming pollution standards for coal-fired power plants and other large smokestacks.  Advancing strong standards for these pollution sources would help to cut our dependence on dirty fossil fuels while protecting our environment, our public health and our economy.

Fossil Fuel Industry Attempts to Thwart Progress
Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industries are already working with members of Congress to stop these actions and gut Obama's ability to use the Clean Air Act to hold polluters accountable and reduce global warming pollution.  So, while we continue to push for more good actions, we also need to stop Congress from passing these proposals. 

For example, this summer, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski worked with utility lobbyists to draft a resolution that would have blocked the EPA’s ability to clean up global warming pollution.  The resolution would have blocked not only the recent clean car standards, but any future attempts to cleanup global warming pollution from cars, power plants and other big smokestacks as well.  Thankfully, after a massive push-back from the environmental and public health community, Sen. Murkowski’s “Dirty Air Act” was defeated in the U.S. Senate on a 47-53 vote on June 10. 

Now, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller has drafted legislation which would block the Obama administration from using the Clean Air Act on global warming pollution for at least two years for all power plants and other stationary sources.  Because the bill blocks EPA from doing anything involving global warming pollution from stationary sources for two years, including background research, it would probably result in closer to a four-year delay in actual standards being issued.  Even worse, once Congress starts delaying action on global warming, it's a lot easier to just keep delaying it.

Our strategy to win

Along with generating media attention and lobbying in DC, Arizona PIRG, CALPIRG, ConnPIRG, INPIRG, Maryland PIRG, MASSPIRG, MoPIRG, MontPIRG, NJPIRG, Ohio PIRG, PennPIRG, WashPIRG, and WISPIRG are working to demonstrate that the vast majority of people want polluters held accountable and global warming pollution cleaned up. So, we're joining with others in the environmental community to gather tens of thousands of petitions from states across the country.