The Idaho Conservation League looks forward to a new year and signs of a renewed hope for protecting Idaho’s air quality and climate stability. President-elect Joe Biden campaigned on an ambitious agenda to address climate pollution so we’re encouraged that federal leadership will align with initiatives that ICL has pursued successfully during the past few years.
Idaho’s climate is changing due to human-caused climate pollution and the solution – investing in Idaho’s clean energy resources – is a boon for our economy and environment. Over the past several years, ICL has made substantial progress convincing Idaho utilities and regulators to accelerate coal-fired power plant closures in units they own or operate in other states. We hope federal actions will aid our efforts. As we look ahead to a new administration, here is what we see on the horizon.
Think globally, act locally
President-elect Joe Biden pledged on Dec. 12 that the U.S. would rejoin the international climate agreement known as the Paris Accord on the first day of his presidency. This U.N.-brokered agreement generally reflected a commitment to reduce carbon pollution by 30%. The Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the accord, while on the ground carbon pollution continued to decline due to market forces. By appointing former Secretary of State John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy on Climate Change, Biden announced loud and clear the U.S. would be reclaiming a prominent role in international climate negotiations.
International agreements, though, depend on local actions because, at the end of the day, reduction in local pollution levels will ultimately demonstrate compliance with our treaty obligations. So looking ahead, ICL will continue to focus on convincing Idaho utilities and regulators that using coal to generate electricity is more expensive than using cleaner options. By acting locally to clean up our energy system we can support a renewed commitment to international climate protection. You can help by telling Idaho Power to accelerate its exit from electricity derived from coal and increasingly invest in Idaho’s clean options.
What about the Federal Government?
Idaho’s leading climate pollutant is vehicle exhaust, and Idaho imports 100% of its fuels for cars and trucks, sending nearly $4 billion out of state annually. We can do better by electrifying transportation to cut emissions and make use of Idaho’s abundant, affordable, and clean electricity. Legislation that funds electric vehicle charging infrastructure, aids our public transit systems, and helps electrify the car and truck fleets of government entities would benefit Idahoans immensely.
Also, a federal clean energy standard mandating 100% clean energy by 2035 would provide much-needed clarity while supporting our local utilities who have made similar commitments voluntarily. Protecting Idaho’s quality of life by reducing climate pollution and investing in our clean energy future by taking the actions listed above should be the top priority of our Congressional delegation. Tell them so now.
If the Biden administration lacks support from Congress, it could rely on executive orders to protect our climate. These could include setting energy conservation standards for federal agencies and buildings, electrifying federal vehicle fleets, creating grant programs to support clean energy development, and issuing stricter rules on car and truck emissions and air pollution standards. Although we don’t know yet what the balance of power will look like in the U.S. Senate and who Biden will appoint to a variety of positions, there are a number of actions the administration on its own can take to combat climate change. To help you think through this wide range of possibilities, we recommend this podcast A Matter of Degrees with Dr. Leah Stokes and Dr. Katharine Wilkinson.
Climate pollution continues to impact Idaho and the rest of our world — hotter temperatures, more extreme weather events, massive wildfires, toxic algae outbreaks, and degradation of prime fish and wildlife habitat, to name a few. Fortunately, the solutions to combat these negative impacts are out there. Science and facts point to clean energy options as more reliable and less expensive than legacy fossil fuels. During the past four years, ICL has had major success standing up for the facts and accelerating Idaho’s transition from coal power to climate-friendly alternatives. Now, we look forward to federal leadership that aligns with Idaho’s clean energy future.