The Clean Power Plan: What It Means for Skiers

How cutting carbon dioxide emissions will protect our powder days

Bare ground remains under a chairlift at Shawnee Peak ski area in Maine on Jan. 5, 2012. PHOTO: Shawnee Peak
Bare ground remains under a chairlift at Shawnee Peak ski area in Maine on Jan. 5, 2012—one of the hottest years on record in the past decade. PHOTO: Shawnee Peak

President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the Clean Power Plan Monday from the White House, the President calling it the “single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.” It’s legislation that has major implications for skiers.

Climate change has affected Americans (and the world) in a myriad of ways, from stronger storms and longer droughts to increased insurance premiums, food prices, and allergy seasons. Last year (2014) was the hottest year in recorded history, and already the first half of this year has been hotter than normal. In fact, 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000, according to reports from EPA.

“Our climate is changing. It’s changing in ways that affect our economy, our security, and our health,” said the President in a video shared early Sunday on the White House Facebook page. “This isn’t opinion, it’s fact, backed up by decades of carefully collected data and overwhelming scientific consensus. And it has serious implications for the way that we live now.”

“Our climate is changing…This isn’t opinion, it’s fact, backed up by decades of carefully collected data and overwhelming scientific consensus.”
—President Obama

Due in large part to low snowfall in much of the West, skier visits were down nationwide last season. Last winter marked the fourth year of the fierce California-Nevada drought, forcing Sierra-at-Tahoe to close March 15. The Pacific Northwest faired no better. Mount Baker Ski Area, famous for its average snowfall of 641 inches, closed on March 9 with a total of 124 inches of cumulative snowfall for the season.

Mount Hood’s Palmer snowfield shut down summer skiing operations to the public on Sunday, August 2, a full five weeks earlier than Timberline Lodge Ski Area’s typical closing day on Labor Day weekend. The 2015 ski season in South America got off to a worrying start as well. May and June storms that typically build a strong base for their winter season were notably absent.

These are all troubling trends backed up by science that shows these patterns will only intensify, barring dramatic changes to to the way we live.

The Clean Power Plan requires states to turn away from coal and towards alternative energy solutions, like solar. PHOTO: The White House
The Clean Power Plan requires states to turn away from coal and towards alternative energy solutions, like solar. PHOTO: The White House

In 2009, the EPA determined—and courts upheld—that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long-lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment, including depleted snowfall and accumulation around the world. If greenhouse gas pollution continues to force temperatures to rise as they have been, good powder days are going to be few and far between.

If greenhouse gas pollution continues to force temperatures to rise as they have been, good powder days are going to be few and far between.

Power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, according to the EPA, making up roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. The Clean Power Plan will aim to cut carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants 32 percent below their 2005 levels by 2030—or 870 million tons less carbon pollution. That’s equal to the annual emissions from more than 166 million cars, or 70 percent of the nation’s passenger vehicles. Each state is required to make cuts based on a customized emissions reduction goal under the plan and will have various options for hitting its target.

While implementing the Clean Power Plan will cost $8.4 billion dollars, the EPA says the public health and climate benefits from the plan are worth between $34 billion to $54 billion per year in 2030. For every dollar invested through the new plan, American families will see up to $4 in health benefits. Reducing exposure to particle pollution and ozone in 2030 will avoid a projected 90,000 asthma attacks in children, 300,000 missed school and work days, and 1,700 hospital admissions, among other benefits. The plan is also projected to reduce electric bills by about $7 per month by 2030.

President Obama closed his address from the White House on Monday with a personal remark, focused on the future.

“I don’t want my grandkids not to be able to swim in Hawaii or not to be able to climb a mountain and see a glacier because we didn’t do something about it,” said President Obama. “I don’t want millions of people’s lives disrupted and this world more dangerous because we didn’t do something about it. That’d be shameful of us. This is our moment to do something right.”