Time to hold polluters and their allies accountable

The recently proposed EPA safeguards limiting carbon pollution from the nation's fleet of power plants is a critical opportunity for the U.S. to lead on climate change, improve our health, and modernize our power sector.

For far too long, corporate polluters have had a stranglehold on Washington, using their power and influence to advance a destructive agenda that puts their profits ahead of our health. 

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Power plants are our nation's biggest individual source of carbon pollution, responsible for 40 percent of the emissions that fuel climate change. This pollution is changing our climate in ways that harm public health, worsening air quality — which triggers more asthma attacks and aggravates respiratory diseases — and leading to more extreme weather like powerful storms, devastating wildfires, and damaging floods. 

Big polluters such as the Koch Brothers and their allies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence elections so that they can continue to pollute our climate and the air we breathe.

Not surprisingly, polluter-backed organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Association are desperate to hold onto outdated, dirty, and dangerous sources of energy and have once again resorted to making false claims to protect industry profits.

It's a tired – and failed – playbook that we've seen before. Industry groups similarly tried to block EPA safeguards on acid rain by making catastrophic predictions about costs. In reality, those safeguards ended up costing consumers about a fifth of what industry predicted, and the costs were a tiny fraction of the health savings achieved by saving lives, preventing severe medical conditions, and reducing hospital visits and missed work days. Together, the benefits of the acid rain program and other protections included in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments have outweighed the costs by a ratio of more than 30:1.

The EPA's draft Clean Power Plan takes a flexible, state-based approach that builds on proven  actions that are already helping to grow the economy and reduce pollution at the same time. About a quarter of the U.S. population already lives in areas covered by programs that are reducing carbon pollution, and they're seeing real economic benefits. Northeastern states are taking action against carbon pollution through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which hasinjected more than $1.6 billion into the regional economy and saved consumers $1.1 billion on their electric bills in just the first three years alone. Meanwhile, California's carbon trading market has raised almost $2 billion in seven credit auctions.

Curbing carbon pollution from existing power plants  also makes for good politics.

A strong majority of Americans believe that we have a moral obligation to act on climate change to leave future generations with a better world, and voters of both parties, across key voting blocks, want to see limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Just as importantly, they overwhelmingly trust the EPA over Congress to tackle the issue.

EPA safeguards on carbon pollution are popular in swing states like Michigan, Virginia and North Carolina, and even across more conservative states Mitt Romney won last cycle, including Georgia, Louisiana and Montana.

Recent election results further prove the point. Take Virginia, where millions of dollars were spent in an unsuccessful effort to defeat Tim Kaine (D) and Terry McAuliffe (D). Both candidates defended the EPA's ability to protect the air we breathe and they now serve as senator and governor, respectively, in a state where the coal industry has traditionally shaped the political landscape.

Similar stories occurred all across America last cycle, as environmental champions like President Obama and Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Angus King (I-Maine), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) all won big. In fact, despite record spending by corporate pollutersattacking candidates on energy issues, not a single Senator who supported action on climate change lost his or her race.

The bottom line is that the American people understand that climate change is one of the biggest challenges that our generation faces and we cannot wait to act. We owe it to our kids and future generations to take bold action now to reduce carbon pollution so that they can have a world that is safe and clean, not damaged and polluted.

Karpinski is the president of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which works to turn environmental values into national priorities.