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October 18, 2013

The Plan: How the U.S. Can Help Stabilize the Climate and Create A Clean Energy Future

The plan copyIn our continuing effort to highlight diverse voices from across the climate movement, Sierra Club periodically runs guest columns from representatives of other organizations. The following is a submission by Matthew Lichtash, a recent graduate of Wesleyan University and a representative of the Wesleyan Climate project.

After decades of presidential promises to wean ourselves from foreign oil, break from the debilitating grip of petroleum cartels, and, more recently, address the urgent need to reduce climate pollution, these problems are still staring us right in the face.

U.S. News and World Report recently carried an opinion piece on a new report written by myself and two others, called "The Plan: How the U.S. Can Help Stabilize the Climate and Create A Clean Energy Future," which seeks to change that. The report outlines the actions and policies that are necessary to go beyond President Obama’s recently announced Climate Action Plan and achieve the emissions reductions that the world’s scientists have deemed necessary.

The set of policies that we have proposed would put the U.S. on a path to carbon neutrality by 2050, ensure that fossil fuels extracted in the U.S. aren't burned elsewhere (after all, the climate doesn't care where the fossil fuels are coming from), and put the U.S. in a position of leadership in order to foster international cooperation.

Here are the six main actions The Plan calls for:

1. Going Beyond President Obama's Plans
The report shows that the President's plans fall short of reducing emissions to the levels we need to reach and posits that they rely too heavily on risky technologies - fracked natural gas, nuclear power, offshore drilling, and carbon capture and sequestration. The administration's plans also lack a forward-thinking vision for our transportation future and fail to prevent emissions from increasing in other countries despite decreases here at home.

2. Comprehensive Greenhouse Gas Fee
A fee on emissions from all energy sources is the most effective single policy tool available to reduce emissions and could provide a much-needed source of revenue. This revenue could be used to protect the most vulnerable households from price changes due to policy, provide adaptation funding, incentivize smart land-use practices, upgrade the electrical grid, and fund research and development.

3. Energy Incentives Restructuring
Providing incentives for bio-sequestration, removing the corn ethanol standard, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, issuing no new nuclear subsidies, and allowing free competition for federal loan guarantees will ensure fairness in energy markets and encourage the deployment of risk-averse climate solutions.

4. National Green Bank
Such a bank would reduce interest rates for investments in emissions reducing technologies and help leverage private capital. This will reduce the cost of these technologies at no net cost to taxpayers and with savings for ratepayers.

5. Supply-Side Fossil Fuel Regulations
President Obama can use his executive authority to reject major projects that will significantly worsen emissions. He can also ensure that leases of fossil fuels on federal lands are valued to reflect the true costs of combustion.

6. Presidential Commission on the Unfolding Climate Crisis & Our Energy Future
Lastly, our report argues that President Obama hasn’t done enough to engage the American public or Congress on climate solutions like the types we outline in The Plan. While we recognize the limits of Presidential Commissions, we believe that Presidential engagement will be helpful in moving the politics forward.

We acknowledge that changing the course of U.S. energy policy will be no easy task, but the opportunity to take bold climate action is too good to pass up. The U.S. has come to a fork in the road: we can either continue marching down the path that relies on dangerous technologies with insufficient potential to avert the worst effects of climate change, or take the road paved with American leadership and ingenuity that will bring us true energy independence and help to maintain a safe climate. The Plan will put us on the latter.
          
Matt Lichtash graduated from Wesleyan University in May 2013 with degrees in Economics and Environmental Studies. His co-authors are Evan Weber, who also graduated from Wesleyan in May 2013 with degrees in Economics and Environmental Studies, and Dr. Michael Dorsey, a visiting professor at Wesleyan and the director of Dartmouth College’s Climate Justice Research Project.

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