Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan

Why skiers should be cheering the new legislation

Here's to a future with clean air and deep snow. PHOTO: Reuben Krabbe

Here’s to a future with clean air and deep snow. PHOTO: Reuben Krabbe

WORDS: Clare Menzel

Call me a hopeless romantic, but summer should be the only time skiers face a life without our one true love: snow. Thinking basically along the same lines, the Environmental Protection Agency released the proposal for President Obama's Clean Power Plan on Monday. The plan, which has the support of SnowSports Industries America and National Ski Areas Association, will require a nationwide reduction of carbon emissions by 30 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2030. It directly targets the power sector, which emits about a third of the United States' domestic greenhouse gases.

This is a big move. Currently there are no national limits on carbon pollution, even though it accounts for 84 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Regulating the nation's largest source of emissions would make considerable progress in reducing overall carbon pollution. If this plan is successful, it will also support growth in the clean energy industry and give the U.S. the grounds to persuade countries like China to follow suit. Ideally, this could spur mass pollution policy reform. For skiers, a worldwide effort like this to curb carbon emissions could mean more consistent and stable snow-filled winters.

"This is what we've been waiting for... This announcement is groundbreaking," says Chris Steinkamp, executive director of Protect Our Winters, who emphasized how pivotal it is now for people to reach out to their state governments and express support of the plan as it moves into a hearing process. "This is the boldest step ever taken by a U.S. president on climate change."

Environmental concerns have long been part of Obama's platform, but a dysfunctional Congress has precluded substantial legislative efforts at the national level, most notably in the failure of a 2010 cap-and-trade bill. This plan circumvents congressional support, and is instead backed by the 1970 Clean Air Act, which gives the EPA the authority to regulate air pollution.

The Clean Power Plan encourages states to be creative in combining different strategies to meet carbon goals. Strategies include introducing plant upgrades and funding development of technology that will improve their efficiency, implementing pollution reduction policies at the state level, diversifying energy sources or moving away from coal entirely, and promoting use of renewable energy outside power plants. In many cases, the plan will provide much-needed motivation to focus on and allocate the means needed to grow energy-efficiency programs states may already have in place. If a state fails to produce a sufficient plan by June 2016, the act permits the EPA to impose one.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, in a news release, said that with such a flexible plan, "we don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment." Auden Schendler, who is the vice president of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company, though pleased with the direction of the plan, insisted there was still a lot of work to do for stable winters.

“The Obama rule is a huge step forward on climate, and for the ski industry it signals a new era, one in which we’re headed towards a fix, and a stable future,” said Schendler in an e-mail. “We do, of course, have more work to do–we need a price on carbon, a national clean energy standard, a national program to control methane leakage–but I think, for the first time in U.S. history, the train is moving on climate.”

We skiers do love us a healthy environment. A healthier environment means more snow, and more snow means more skiing, and more skiing makes for some pretty happy skiers. Pretty easy math.