Obama has right plan for climate change

Some of the highest ranking politicians in Washington have decided they can dismiss discussion about climate change by simply saying they are not scientists, but governors do not have the luxury of pretending climate change is not causing real damage.

We are on the front lines of hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and other natural disasters. We live with the consequences of congressional inaction and, in Delaware’s case as the lowest-lying state in the nation, it could literally put much of our state underwater. 

Those who continue to raise doubts about settled science slow our ability to confront this challenge with an appropriately scaled response.

So while there has been plenty of political reaction to the Obama administration’s decision to rein in carbon pollution from power plants, this effort is required to improve our environment and health. Using the right approach, it will also strengthen our economy.

Governors have learned a lot about climate change from experience. We are seeing its impact, from rising sea levels to more frequent and powerful extreme weather events that put families and businesses at risk

In Delaware, climate change could decimate our world-class beaches and tourism industry. Our largest industry, agriculture, faces both dangerous droughts and prolonged periods of heavy precipitation that damage crops. Businesses dependent upon abundant clean water confront saltwater intrusion contaminating their water supply. Inland and coastal communities alike experience more flooding during heavy rain events and more intense storms, like Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. Extreme heat waves threaten the health of our most vulnerable populations. 

The accelerating impacts in Delaware are similar to those in other states across the nation, as outlined in the National Climate Assessment released last month.

In light of these vulnerabilities, we have acted to make our state more resilient and protect our critical infrastructure. We are restoring wetlands, nourishing beaches, repairing dikes, dams, and impoundments, modernizing stormwater infrastructure, and updating policies like drainage codes and floodplain standards. 

While steps like these are important, no state can simply adapt its way out of this challenge. We must address the root cause of climate change, not just the symptoms — and do it in a way that bolsters the economy. That means limiting carbon pollution from power plants.

We already have safeguards against other pollutants like mercury, soot and arsenic. But every day, power plants are allowed to dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air, endangering public health and putting communities at risk. It is common sense to set limits on carbon pollution and unleash American ingenuity to achieve the most cost-effective reductions.

To claim that the president’s actions will kill jobs and hurt the economy flies in the face of hard evidence. Our experience in the First State proves that the administration’s goals are achievable and can strengthen the economy when states are given the flexibility to implement innovative solutions.

Over the past five years, Delaware has shifted from one of the dirtiest energy mixes in the nation to one of the cleanest. We have decreased emissions by a greater percentage than any other state in the nation, while creating jobs at the same time. And we have done so with the same approach the president proposes for the country.

Local generators have fuel-switched or shut down nine out of 10 coal plants in favor of cleaner generation facilities, while the remaining unit installed $300 million in pollution controls. We have invested in energy efficiency and our solar energy deployment has grown by 30-fold. Each of these investments creates opportunities for research, manufacturing and construction jobs.

Meanwhile, Delaware and eight other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based system that has helped reduce carbon pollution from power plants in our states by more than 40 percent since 2005. By capping pollution, auctioning pollution allowances, and investing the proceeds in energy efficiency and clean energy, our states have simultaneously reduced energy bills, supported construction jobs and cleaned up the air. 

Several governors across the nation are also doing their part to reduce carbon pollution and prepare for the impacts of climate change — and demonstrating the economic benefits that can result from action — but no state can do this alone. We need a national-scale approach that spurs domestic innovation and catalyzes global progress. With the Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement, the president is providing the essential national leadership to facilitate that progress and address some of the greatest threats to our future. 

Markell has been Delaware’s governor since 2009. He is a member of the White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.