Polarization on climate change helps no one

Partisanship can’t get in the way of environmental progress.

by Jennah Fannoun

Under President Barack Obama’s direction, the Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal for stricter regulations to curb power plant pollution last week. The Clean Power Plan would require that power plants reduce carbon emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Plants would likely reduce emissions by cutting back on the use of coal and choosing natural gas and cleaner energy alternatives. The EPA projects that the costs of cutting emissions — between $7.3 and $8.8 billion — will be minimal compared to the anticipated $55 to $93 billion in health and climate benefits that will result from less carbon pollution.

Naturally, few politicians are happy about the proposal. While Democrats from coal-mining states opposed the plan, many Democrats and environmental organizations have complained that the proposal doesn’t go far enough to curb carbon pollution.

In contrast, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, summarized to Al-Jazeera America the prevailing Republican viewpoint: “The president’s plan is nuts.” But these predictable party lines, drawn long before the proposal was released, are useless.

For every argument, there is a contradictory source for an opposing view. As I said, the EPA — a federal organization that many conservatives oppose — projects that the plan will save at least $55 billion. But the Chamber of Commerce, which heavily leans Republican, claims that cutting pollution will be a massive burden, costing at least $50 billion, if not more.

Who is correct? If your choice depends on which party you affiliate with, the problem of partisanship should be obvious.

The inability of either major party to acknowledge the other’s concerns is crippling the nation’s ability to deal with climate change. Environmental issues weren’t always controversial. Historically, Republicans took major environmental steps, from establishing the EPA to eliminating acid rain. It’s only recently that Republicans decided not to believe in it.

The plan certainly isn’t perfect: It will not be enough to resolve the issue of carbon pollution, and whether it will be beneficial or burdensome may be up for debate. However, it’s a step toward encouraging renewable energy investment and curbing emissions from one of the most intense sources of pollution on the planet.