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Robert Pollin says legally halting executive order on power-plants poses possible “disaster” for future emissions reduction

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, coming to you today from the PERI Institute in Amherst, Massachusetts. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary block of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. This came about as a result of an Obama executive order that directed the EPA to reduce coal emission, mostly from coal power plants. The court split 5-4, the five conservative members for the temporary block and the four liberal members against it. The case in front of them was brought by 29 mostly Republican-led states and the energy industry. Now joining us to talk about the consequences of all this is Bob Pollin, who is the co-director of the PERI Institute. Thanks very much for joining us. ROBERT POLLIN: Thanks very much, Paul, for being here and having me on. JAY: So if I understand it correctly, the reason the Supreme Court has this decision at this time, because it’s kind of weird, in June the U.S. Appeals Court is actually going to hear the case. So why have a temporary block when your appeals court is going to hear it, and in fact none of the states have to even comply for two years? It seems to be mostly to get the U.S. Supreme Court to send a kind of directive, not legally binding of course, but an indication that the U.S. Supreme Court thinks that the underlying case of these 29 states has merit. Do you think the underlying case of these 29 states has merit? POLLIN: Well, I, of course, am not a legal scholar. So I can’t really judge on this particular, narrow issue as to the degree of states’ authority versus federal authority in establishing environmental standards–. JAY: Which is what, what it’s more about. It’s not the underlying case of whether or not carbon emissions from coal plants cause climate change. It’s does President Obama have the right to have such authority. POLLIN: Have the authority to establish, by executive order, that wasn’t a vote of Congress, by executive order, this authority. So–. JAY: So what will be the consequences? When this order was passed, it was seen as one of the few–and I know, I’ve listened to you in our previous interviews, not the only thing done by the Obama administration. But one of the few really binding things that would actually have some real impact on carbon emission, and now it looks like the courts are gonna–might undo it. POLLIN: Well, I mean, the consequences are really catastrophic if we take climate science seriously. If we want to act as though climate’s, the issues around climate change are just another thing that we can debate back and forth, and it, and it changes, the political views change when parties come into power, then we don’t have to pursue climate stabilization. If that’s the attitude and we don’t take climate science seriously, it’s not a big deal. If we take climate science seriously, the Obama initiative, which was attempting to establish a 30 percent absolute reduction in emissions from power plants as of 2030, that was a very serious positive step. And it was one, of course, that was recognized throughout the world, and was a major force in promoting a global agreement in Paris with respect to all countries taking serious steps. JAY: And people like Jim Hansen from NASA have said if you’re going to start anywhere, start with coal plants. POLLIN: Well, yes. I mean, I think we have to start across the board, because we don’t have time to, like, lag this thing. We have to–I mean, if we are going to follow roughly what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is minimally necessary, and in fact out of Paris even their standards are being recognized as too modest, but let’s take those standards, which says that we need to stabilize the climate at 2 degrees above the pre-industrial level. We have to cut global emissions absolutely in the range of 40 percent within 20 years, and by 80 percent by 2050, which is only 34 years from now. This is an 80 percent reduction, essentially a total transformation of the global energy systems. And so Obama’s measure was a significant–not sufficient, but a significant step in the right direction. Now, to say that we are going to, you know, this is going to get bollocksed up in courts and therefore is never going to get implemented has to be considered catastrophic. JAY: All right. Thanks very much, Bob. POLLIN: Thank you. JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Robert Pollin is Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He is the founding co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI). His research centers on macroeconomics, conditions for low-wage workers in the US and globally, the analysis of financial markets, and the economics of building a clean-energy economy in the US. His latest book is Back to Full Employment. Other books include: A Measure of Fairness: the Economics of Living Wages and Minimum Wages in the United States, and Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity.