Acting on the Clean Air Act

June 2, 2014

Today, the EPA announced a big step to combat the growing impacts of global warming: new standards that will cut industrial carbon pollution from existing power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Here’s what you need to know and how to talk about this momentous step forward.   


  • Frame this as pollution versus public health, but also include climate. Industrial carbon pollution endangers our kids and our climate. The public strongly supports the EPA enforcing the Clean Air Act to protect public health from industrial pollution. Use that familiar terminology and then also talk about larger climate dangers.
  • Reassure by owning the status quo. The EPA has been enforcing the Clean Air Act since 1970. If you’ve got a problem with that, take it up with Richard Nixon. It is the EPA’s job to protect us from industrial pollution: it is not that the EPA is choosing to do this, it’s that they have to.
  • Confront costs confidently. Don’t lead with the issue, but don’t show fear when it comes up. The Clean Air Act sometimes costs a little money, but Americans know it is a deal. For what it saves us in public health costs, increased innovation and efficiency, it’s a bargain.


Enforcing the Clean Air Act will protect our health and our kids’ futures.
There’s nothing more valuable than our health and our kids’ futures.
It gets clearer every day that industrial carbon pollution is a major threat to both.It’s causing:
  • More illnesses like asthma, respiratory diseases, Lyme disease, and West Nile Virus; and
  • Major damage from stronger wildfires, hurricanes and droughts.
Right now there are no limits on industrial carbon pollution—the main cause of global warming.
Too much of our power comes from outdated plants that were built when there were no seatbelt laws and cigarettes were still advertised as good for your health.
We have a moral obligation to curb industrial carbon pollution for our own health and our children and grandchildren’s future.
Big polluters fighting the new EPA standards would rather have no limits at all on industrial carbon pollution, even though we all know the havoc it causes.
If we all drove cars with 1960s safety features, thousands more Americans would die each year. We updated our cars, we should update our power too.

 KEY:  Connect with your audience |  Make your case |  Show how your opponents differ


Industrial carbon pollution:

  • Use this phrase. It’s potent, all three words are important: pollution because people understand why that’s bad, carbon because it’s different from what’s been regulated in the past, industrial because it answers critics who say we create carbon with every breath.

Public health:

Global warming, climate change, and climate disruption:

  • Global warming: conveys the most danger and liberals and moderates respond to it.
  • Climate change: worth using with conservative and skeptical audiences, because global warming is seen as political and turns this group off. This does not fire up liberals, but does not turn them off.
  • Climate disruption: use climate change or global warming first, but use this term later because it reinforces the concept that human activity is affecting our climate.

Clean Air Act:

  • Talk about the issue as whether or not to enforce and uphold the Clean Air Act.


  • Talk about the EPA doing its job to enforce the Clean Air Act as it is required to do by law, rather than as a new policy from President Obama.

Big Polluters, Monopolies:

  • Other than with conservatives and people connected to the coal industry, these are good terms to use.
  • Rather than being angry with big polluters hurting our kids and our climate, reassure people that this is business as usual. It’s their job to protect their profits, but that’s why it’s the EPA’s job to protect our communities.


  • Don’t say regulations, say standards.
  • Setting standards encourages innovation, which is good for our economy.
Innovation versus outdated technology:

  • To put us on the right side of the economic argument, talk about innovation often.
  • We all want to be using current technology so point out how outdated the other technology is.
  • Clean energy innovation is constantly driving prices down.


ATTACK: “These regulations are going to cost regular Americans.”


  • There’s  reason Americans support the Clean Air Act: it’s a good deal. It protects our health, and there is nothing worth more than that. And it does it at minimal cost, by encouraging innovation and efficiency so we save big in the long run..
  • The new standards will mean technology transitions and new efficiency standards. In some places costs will go up in the short run, in some places costs will drop right away. In the end, they save all of us money.
  • When the law first required seatbelts, it made cars cost a little more. It also saved thousands of lives and millions of dollars in public health costs. That’s a good deal. Nobody would skip seatbelts to save money today.
  • Some big polluters may try to pad their profits at the expense of our health by using the new standards as an excuse to raise rates. We shouldn’t let them take advantage of us.
ATTACK: “These regulations will be expensive. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that they will cost $50 billion a year.”


  • It’s easy to see why the chamber’s numbers are so off. They ignore savings from efficiency, they ignore savings from innovation, and they ignore the cost of public health.
ATTACK: These regulations will cost American jobs.


  • Not true. In fact, one study estimated new industrial pollution standards could add nearly a quarter of a million jobs and save Americans nearly $40 billion on their electric bills by 2020.
  • Think about it: when the law required cars to have seatbelts, that didn’t cost jobs; it created new jobs making seatbelts.
  • Big polluters’ CEOs have a choice: they can modernize plants and clean up their act or close plants and eliminate jobs.
ATTACK: “Obama is abusing his executive authority again. Congress voted this idea down.”


  • Congress passed (and Richard Nixon signed) the Clean Air Act in 1970, which requires the EPA to regulate pollution when it poses a threat to the public health. The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that it is the EPA’s job to protect the public from industrial carbon pollution.
  • Given the hazards associated with carbon pollution—hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, asthma, and West Nile, just to name a few—the EPA was required by law to act. If Congress wanted to stop them, they should have repealed the Clean Air Act.
ATTACK: These regulations won’t do any good to combat climate disruption since the U.S. can’t limit other countries’ emissions.


  • The world follows America’s lead. We have not been serious about global warming, so they haven’t either. But if we lead, they will follow. Countries around the world have said as much. They are waiting for us.
  • China has tasked multiple institutions to analyze the new EPA rule. In the past, China, which is the world’s largest greenhouse gas producer, has insisted that it would not work on cutting emissions until the U.S. took a serious step toward decreasing its own.
ATTACK: These regulations won’t do any good because we are too far gone. We are just going to have to get used to it.


  • These standards will bring a moderate change, but enough to make an important difference. With this rule in place, we can avoid really catastrophic effects of climate disruption. If we don’t cut back on industrial carbon pollution, we can’t.



The EPA’s Standards
  • The largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. is the electricity sector, which produces 32% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Over 70% of our electricity is generated by fossil fuels—primarily coal and natural gas.
  • These rules don’t go into effect immediately. Once the administration announces the proposed rule, there will be a year-long period where the EPA will take comments on the proposal. After that, the EPA may make changes or may finalize the rule as it is.
  • The EPA rules won’t affect individual power plants. Instead, the EPA standards will give states tailored emission reduction targets and a deadline by which they must make those reductions. The rules will give states some flexibility: although they must reach targets, states will have discretion how to do it.
  • Many states are already in position to reach emission reduction targets using existing infrastructure. Pennsylvania, Colorado and Wisconsin are all set to see dramatic drops in carbon pollution by 2020.


  • The study by the Chamber of Commerce probably overestimates the costs of the regulations because it failed to account for any growth in renewable energies or natural gas, which the regulations are bound to cause. It also estimated the effect of requiring a 42% reduction of 2005 carbon emissions by 2030. The administration is actually calling for a 30% reduction.
  • Even if this estimate were true, that $50 billion represents only one-fifth of one percent of our economy. To put it in perspective, over ten years, the Iraq War cost us $2 trillion, with additional costs coming in the future.
  • Change is possible. The power plant in Homer City, PA, was once among the dirtiest power plants in the country. The operators of the plant warned three years ago that rules requiring plants to clean up coal pollution would have devastating effects. The operators even tried to block implementation of the EPA’s rule. Today, that plant is expected to be a model for best practices for coal facilities.
  • The price of using renewable fuels will follow price trends of technology: prices will trend down. The price of fossil fuels, however, will trend in the opposite direction as resources become more scarce and extraction becomes increasingly cumbersome.

Clean Energy

  • Innovation has cut the the price of solar in half just since 2010, and wind energy by almost as much. Solar energy costs more than 99% less than it did in the 1970s when solar panels first went up on the White House, and the price continues to drop. Solar is now cheaper than coal and natural gas in more and more places around the country.
  • States that get their power from solar and wind have seen power prices decline while all other states’ prices have gone up.
  • Coal contributes to 4 of the Americans’ 5 leading causes of death. Black lung disease alone kills 3 miners every day.
Public Health

  • So far, the Clean Air Act has saved us $22 trillion in health care costs—that’s without regulating industrial carbon pollution.
  • Using public health messaging to garner support for industrial carbon pollution was a strategy that was particularly effective in a 2010 campaign in California that would have rolled back carbon pollution regulations there.

Global Warming

  • Global losses from extreme weather have risen to nearly $200 billion each year. Here in the U.S., the economy shrank for the first time in three years during the first quarter of 2014. An unusually brutal winter—likely caused in part by climate disruption—is blamed for the temporary slowdown.
  • 97% of climate scientists agree that the warming trends we’ve experienced over the past decade are the result of human activities.
  • 75% of the oil and gas industry’s political donations – which totaled $238.7 million since 1990 – went to Republicans.
  • 2012 was the hottest year on record in the United States ever– by a lot. Last year’s temperature average demolished the previous record by a full degree Fahrenheit. (Remember that with people, even a few degrees increase in body temperature can kill a patient.)
  • Carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere is the highest it’s been in at least 650,000 years overall and at least 800,000 years in some regions.