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Climate Action: A Catalyst for Change

June 17, 2015

Take_action-580x386The coming months promise to be the most hopeful yet in our long fight against global climate change.

President Obama is moving forward with a plan to clean up dirty power plants. The Clean Power Plan will do more to cut the dangerous carbon pollution that's driving climate chaos than any single step ever taken, and it will also spur tremendous innovation and create tens of thousands of clean energy jobs.

Elsewhere, Pope Francis is poised to issue a papal encyclical on our collective moral obligation to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change. And more than a hundred and ninety world leaders will gather in Paris later this year with the goal of taking concerted action to confront the climate crisis. In doing so, they will also be creating a more equitable, just, and sustainable future for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

And yet, powerful forces, most notably the fossil fuel industry and its political allies, are prepared to do everything they can to derail this progress. Theirs is a simple agenda: put fossil fuel profits first — even if it puts the rest of us at risk.

In the two-year run-up to the midterm elections last November, the fossil fuel industry spent more than $720 million to support its agenda and its allies in Congress. They seem to be getting their money's worth. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have been pushing legislation meant to block the Clean Power Plan, while offering no alternative of their own to address climate change.

We can't let them get away with it.

To help counter the political muscle and deep pockets of our opponents, NRDC has joined with scores of national and statewide environmental groups. Through the Climate Action Campaign, we're helping to broaden public understanding of the stakes in this fight. By combining our strengths and talents and by speaking with one voice, we are helping to forge a national consensus for change. Different environmental groups fulfill different roles. NRDC has deep expertise in the areas of law, science, and public policy. Others bring to the table a network of state-level field workers, or long experience that complements our ability to develop grassroots support.

It is a mix that is delivering real results. Through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, fostered in large part by NRDC and its partners, nine Northeast and mid-Atlantic states have already cut power plant carbon pollution by nearly 40 percent since 2005. Those states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont — have joined California in showing the rest of the country what success looks like in the fight for climate stability. In these states, cutting carbon pollution has meant new jobs, lower electricity bills, and better health — a trifecta we mean to replicate nationwide.

Climate change is the defining issue of our generation — but it isn't just an environmental issue, it is an economic, social, and moral one. That's why NRDC is partnering with faith-based, environmental justice, affordable housing, and social and democratic justice organizations to ensure that we are standing together for climate action and for economic sustainability and prosperity for more Americans.

We also need to safeguard our democracy from the overwhelming influence of corporate money and determined efforts to undermine voting rights. We can't and won't stand by while corporations and wealthy campaign contributors drown out the voice of the people. That's why NRDC is an active partner in the Democracy Initiative, a progressive coalition of labor, civil rights, voting rights, environmental, and good government advocacy groups working to make American politics more transparent and reflective of the nation's diversity. We're joining forces with those who are fighting for real campaign finance reform and standing up for the Constitutional right of every American to vote and be heard on issues affecting their communities.

We need to recognize that some communities and segments of society bear a greater burden and pay a greater price for the ills caused by our addiction to fossil fuels. Communities like the low-income neighborhoods in Chicago that live hard by massive mounds of petroleum coke — fine particles of residue from petroleum operations that blow into the air they breathe. Or the children in communities of color that suffer high rates of asthma attacks because of soot, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and other chemicals from nearby incinerators, refineries, and power plants that burn coal. Or elderly people in cities where climate change is raising temperatures, exacerbating drought, and contributing to higher rates of heat stroke, respiratory ailments, and other illness.

There is no better opportunity to knit together the strands of environmental, economic, and public health goals than with the president's Clean Power Plan. This summer, the Environmental Protection Agency will issue its final rules for the plan, which maps out a way to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent by 2030. The plan is both sound and fair. It tailors carbon reduction goals to the specific energy mix in each state. States then work with their local power companies to determine the most cost-effective way to hit their targets. For some power companies, that will mean encouraging families and businesses to do more with less. For others, the answer will be to get more power from the wind and sun. Still others will make their generating systems more efficient, or opt for some combination of all of these options.

In addition to reducing the nation's carbon footprint, these measures will lead to better health and more prosperous regional economies from coast to coast. Research shows that by building the next generation of energy-efficient homes, cars, and workplaces, we can create more than 274,000 well-paying jobs in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, and Virginia. We know that doing more with less will save families $100 a year, on average, on their electricity bills. And we know that by reducing power plant pollution and striking a blow against climate change, we'll also be cutting back on other types of pollutants that contribute to asthma, allergy attacks, and other respiratory illnesses.

Acting together to fight climate change, we can pull together the best of who we are andHeadshot_reha_suh_for_PhilanTopic who we hope to become by leveraging the strengths and joining the common interests of a broad and diverse array of groups united by the goal of creating a sustainable and healthy planet for all its inhabitants.

I write at a hopeful moment. But we must act with urgency. With the broad support of the philanthropic, private, and public sectors, and with the force of a single voice forged in unity, we will succeed.

Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy organization with more than 2.4 million supporters and activists nationwide.

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