Groups representing businesses and evangelicals teamed up Monday to announce their strong support for the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to curb carbon pollution from existing U.S. power plants.
Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2, a national, nonpartisan business group advocating for "sound environmental policies that grow the economy," and the Evangelical Environmental Network, which describes itself on its website as a "ministry dedicated to the care of God's creation," each delivered comments to the EPA on Monday in favor of the Clean Power Plan.
"Our two groups represent very different sectors of America," E2's Executive Director Bob Keefe said on a conference call with reporters. "It shows, I think, the really broad support for the Clean Power Plan."
"Acting on climate change, cutting carbon, this isn't something that knows politics or religion or business or occupation," Keefe added. "It's something that's good for America. It's good for our economy. It's good for our environment."
E2's letter of support to the EPA was signed by 350 business leaders from across the country, ranging from "the executive chair of Google" to "mom-and-pop solar installers in the middle of Iowa and Illinois," among other individuals, Keefe said. And the Evangelical Environmental Network turned in 229,000 supportive comments from more than 102,000 "pro-life Christians," said the group's President and CEO Rev. Mitchell Hescox, who called climate change "the greatest moral challenge of our time."
"We have a moral responsibility to act, and it's time the church stands up and is that moral voice, not for Democrats or Republicans, but to stand on biblical principles that we can unite all America together to care for this common problem," Hescox said.
Power plants account for 40 percent of the country's carbon emissions, making them the nation's single biggest source of such pollution, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Similarly, power plants in Illinois are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the state, producing 41 percent of statewide emissions.
States are given flexibility under the EPA's proposed regulations to meet carbon standards. Illinois has an EPA target of reducing power-plant carbon emissions by 33 percent from 2012 levels by 2030. The state legislature is expected to move on legislation related to its carbon-rule compliance plan next year.
The EPA plans to issue its finalized regulations for existing power plants in June 2015, and states would be required to turn in implementation plans by the following year.
The agency's draft regulations to crack down on carbon emissions from existing power plants is a component of Obama's climate action plan, which was released in June of 2013. Additionally, the EPA has already put forward proposed standards to reduce carbon pollution from power plants that are not yet built.
Many of the comments submitted by the Evangelical Environmental Network in support of the Clean Power Plan ask the EPA to "provide maximum flexibility to the states, including language in the final rule that would make it clear that a pollution fee would be an acceptable option for states to choose," Hescox said.
Keefe, who called the EPA's proposal one of the most "significant environmental policies in recent history" and "a huge potential economic catalyst," said there are areas where it can be stronger. Among other suggestions, E2 wants to see a broader range of efficiency programs included in the EPA's carbon-reduction plan.
"With some tweaking from the EPA and smart implementation by the states, we think this can drive a lot of job growth, economic development, economic growth and be good for both the environment and the economy," he said.
The Clean Power Plan, Hescox added, is "just one step in this grander picture of investment and innovation to drive us into a clean energy future."
"It's time to build hope with a new future, with a solid economy of good jobs, pure air and clean water," he said. "This isn't a call for bigger government, but a smarter government. We can no longer afford to live in the past or promote and protect industries that have reached their end. Coal was vital to our past, but less so for our future. It's time to admit that coal jobs have shrunk, and a transition to a new energy future is inevitable. But we have to ensure that happens quickly enough to overcome climate change."
Meanwhile, more than 26,000 comments from Illinoisans in support of the Clean Power Plan have been submitted to the EPA, according to the Sierra Club, which helped collect the comments with allied organizations.
Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, released the following statement on Monday in response to the end of the Clean Power Plan comment period:
The Clean Power Plan opens the door for tremendous economic opportunity in Illinois, which is why so many Illinoisans support it. Modernizing the way we get our energy will create jobs while reducing the air pollution that threatens our health and our future.
Clean, renewable energy is a smart investment for Illinois; it has already created over one hundred thousand jobs and millions of dollars in electric bill savings for Illinois families and businesses. Thanks to the work we've already done to bring clean power online, Illinois is well positioned to meet these targets while bringing more of those benefits to Illinois consumers.
We thank Governor Pat Quinn for his commitment to addressing climate disruption in Illinois, and urge Governor-Elect Bruce Rauner to seize the many new business opportunities a strong state Clean Power Plan will create. Climate disruption threatens every sector of our economy, but prioritizing solutions like energy efficiency and renewable energy creates jobs in diverse communities across Illinois. 26,000 citizens from across Illinois have voiced their support for the Clean Power Plan, and now it's time to plan for the clean energy economy of the future.
Check back with Progress Illinois for an update on the final decisions surrounding the Clean Power Plan. Click through to submit your own comment on the plan by today's deadline.