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This Map Shows Why Obama’s Green Push May be Too Late

The Obama administration just unveiled its most ambitious steps yet to curb greenhouse gas emissions and leave a green legacy for the Obama White House.

By , a deputy news editor at Foreign Policy, and
Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 5
Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 5

On Monday, the Obama administration laid out landmark rules designed to clean up the electric power sector, phase out coal, and increase the use of clean energy, all with an eye on curbing U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. The new rules will take years to get off the ground, if they survive a spate of legal challenges from Republicans, the coal industry, and other opponents, but represent the most ambitious effort yet to cut carbon pollution. Importantly, the new standards should help consolidate a shift that in recent years has helped re-jig the U.S. electricity sector away from coal and towards cleaner alternatives, such as natural gas.

The new standards leave it up to states to determine just how they want to clean up between now and 2030: they can regulate power plants directly, build more solar and wind power, boost energy efficiency, or pair up with other states and create cap-and-trade markets to trade pollution rights. ThisCritics of the new rules argue that they'll increase energy costs and threaten electricity reliabilty by pushing tried-and-true, if dirty, power plants into retirement. Supporters point to rapidly falling costs for renewable energy, and say the health and climate benefits vastly outweigh the program's cost. (Here are a couple of good explainers on the sprawling, 1,500-page rule.)

But despite the progress, the ongoing U.S. gas boom, and even after the closure of hundreds of polluting coal plants, the sheer size of the U.S. energy sector means that shrinking coal footprint still bigfoots the environment. Using the latest available data from the Energy Information Administration, the United States is second only to China in CO2 emissions from burning coal. The map also underscores how important coal is to the economies of the Asia-Pacific region, especially China, but also India, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia.

On Monday, the Obama administration laid out landmark rules designed to clean up the electric power sector, phase out coal, and increase the use of clean energy, all with an eye on curbing U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. The new rules will take years to get off the ground, if they survive a spate of legal challenges from Republicans, the coal industry, and other opponents, but represent the most ambitious effort yet to cut carbon pollution. Importantly, the new standards should help consolidate a shift that in recent years has helped re-jig the U.S. electricity sector away from coal and towards cleaner alternatives, such as natural gas.

The new standards leave it up to states to determine just how they want to clean up between now and 2030: they can regulate power plants directly, build more solar and wind power, boost energy efficiency, or pair up with other states and create cap-and-trade markets to trade pollution rights. ThisCritics of the new rules argue that they’ll increase energy costs and threaten electricity reliabilty by pushing tried-and-true, if dirty, power plants into retirement. Supporters point to rapidly falling costs for renewable energy, and say the health and climate benefits vastly outweigh the program’s cost. (Here are a couple of good explainers on the sprawling, 1,500-page rule.)

But despite the progress, the ongoing U.S. gas boom, and even after the closure of hundreds of polluting coal plants, the sheer size of the U.S. energy sector means that shrinking coal footprint still bigfoots the environment. Using the latest available data from the Energy Information Administration, the United States is second only to China in CO2 emissions from burning coal. The map also underscores how important coal is to the economies of the Asia-Pacific region, especially China, but also India, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia.

Keith Johnson is a deputy news editor at Foreign Policy.

Twitter: @edxjohnson

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