Op-Ed: EPA plan to limit carbon vital to Long Island
By U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice
In the nearly three years since superstorm Sandy, life has changed for all of us on Long Island. Sandy destroyed many of our homes and small businesses, wreaked havoc on our infrastructure, and robbed us of millions of dollars in economic activity. And as we continue to recover, it should be clear to anyone that climate change is a real and destructive threat to our communities.
This week President Barack Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a bold plan to protect our health and our climate by reducing carbon emissions from power plants.
This plan hinges on two indisputable facts: carbon pollution is the main contributor to climate change; and power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.
Right now there are no limits on the levels of carbon that power plants can release into the air we breathe. Cutting carbon emissions at their biggest source is the best thing we can do right now to help reverse the effects of climate change, enhance public health, and accelerate the transition to an economy powered by clean, renewable energy.
Power plant emissions contribute to higher rates of heart and respiratory conditions, and nationwide account for $100 billion in health costs and more than 12,000 annual emergency room visits. Cutting pollution from power plants will have immediate health benefits for New Yorkers, particularly senior citizens, children and people living in poverty, all of whom are most susceptible to the health effects of climate change.
Just as alarming as the health effects of carbon pollution is its direct connection to rising sea levels. Studies have shown that if we fail to significantly limit greenhouse gas emissions, we face a future in which communities like Freeport could be completely underwater. In the meantime, we will face more extreme weather events like Sandy, along with more intense storm surges that flood our coastal communities and batter our infrastructure.
The President’s plan will help prevent that future from becoming a reality – and it will create tremendous economic opportunity for our state and for Long Island. By paving the way for more aggressive investments in alternative energy sources, Long Island can position itself at the center of a green economy boom. Getting those jobs is crucial to giving our region and our workers a bridge to the 21st century economy.
Fortunately, in New York, we have a head start. We’ve taken enormous strides towards reducing carbon pollution and creating more green jobs for communities in our district. As a member of a coalition of nine Northeast states working together to reduce carbon pollution by incentivizing power plants to cut emissions, we’ve already begun to see the benefits. A report released just last month found that this program has generated more than $1.3 billion in economic benefits throughout the region, created more than 14,000 new jobs, and saved customers more than $460 million through lower energy costs.
President Obama’s plan offers an incredible opportunity to build on this success. We must seize that opportunity. As the plan is finalized and implemented, we must be prepared to not only meet but exceed minimum federal protections. In the aftermath of Sandy, we must be committed to finally move past the fruitless debate over climate change and take aggressive action to fight it.