We are devoting this week’s commentary page to a sampling of editorials that have appeared in newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and across the United States since June 2, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced its new policy on carbon emissions from power plants.
The ‘War’ is real
President Barack Obama claims not to be conducting a war on coal, yet last week his administration proposed the strictest carbon emissions rules yet, using the Clean Air Act of 1970 in a way it was never intended.
Obama praised an “all of the above” energy strategy for 2014 during his State of the Union Address in January, but the requirement to cut emissions of carbon from power plants by 30 percent effectively means an end to any future for coal-burning power plants….
The EPA estimates coal would still factor in for about a third of the electricity mix in 2030, predicting about a 7 percent drop in coal use for power plants. And, Obama claims he doesn’t understand why opponents of the plan think electric rates will skyrocket….
While supporters claim it’s the U.S. having a duty to do what it can to save the planet, we continue to note that the Chinese, despite choking air pollution, direct evidence of illnesses among its citizens, and major cities that don’t see the sun — in other words, a nation that looks like U.S. industrial areas before the passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act — are not cleaning up their act.
Until all nations are doing their part, the U.S. doesn’t need to set an example with hundreds of thousands of jobs, increasing electricity costs and investments by utilities that could otherwise develop the smart grid to the point where every home is hooked into energy managed systems that would save energy use — and thus cut pollutants by requiring less production of energy.
— Steubenville (Ohio) Herald-Star
Culture of coal
Politicians have reached new heights of hysteria over proposed federal rules to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
Kentucky’s Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, added to the din when he called it a “dumb-ass thing to do.”
But the plain truth is that the rules proposed last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency represent a modest effort to gradually reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, pollution most often from coalfi red plants that contributes to global warming, health problems and an increase of extreme weather events — such as drought, floods and wildfires.
The plan sets as a goal reducing carbon pollution by 30 percent by the year 2030 — using the year 2005 as a baseline.
It allows states great flexibility in designing their own plans to meet the goals, including Kentucky which relies on coal to generate most of its electricity.
And it is a goal the EPA and many experts believe is attainable with minimal pain but great gain to the country overall.
And despite wails that President Barack Obama is waging a war on coal, the EPA maintains states will be able to continue to use coal although in decreasing amounts in future years, The Courier-Journal’s James Bruggers reported last week.
That’s already happening in Kentucky, which has seen mining jobs shrink largely because of mechanization of coal mining and an energy market shifting to cheaper, cleaner natural gas.
The culture of coal is deeply ingrained in Kentucky, as tobacco once was.
But coal does not appear to be the fuel of the future and Kentucky’s leaders must begin planning a future where jobs, especially in Eastern Kentucky, are not tied to digging a single mineral out of the ground.
— The Courier-Journal, Louisville
The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulation on power plant carbon emissions looks on the surface like a model of its kind — there’s time to comply (by 2030), a reasonable baseline year (2005) for a nationwide 30 percent reduction, and flexibility for states to pick their own compliance strategies.
Only two points are neglected: Such a drastic, and surely costly, overhaul of the electricity system will at the end of the day likely yield little benefit and would seriously set back the nation’s economic growth.
Carbon dioxide, a product of all combustion essential to plant life, is alleged to be the chief gas warming the planet. Reducing the expected warming is why EPA is proposing the regulation. Yet nowhere in the EPA’s 376- page “Regulatory Impact Analysis” could we spot any estimate of the degree of warming that would be avoided.
Perhaps that’s because all analysts — alarmists and skeptics alike — agree it would be a tiny fraction of a degree by 2100. The agency asserts that seven of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 1998. That evades the indisputable fact that the planet has not warmed as a whole since 1998.
The EPA asserts that the proposal will yield $55 billion to $93 billion in benefits in 2030 and even shrink electricity bills.
On the other hand, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it will reduce Gross Domestic Product by an average of $51 billion and lead to 224,000 fewer jobs a year — each and every year — between now and 2030. That’s a tremendous drag on growth in an economy for which the annual rate of change in the last nine quarters has averaged only 1.8 percent.
The political class, which too easily believes in false Cassandras, will applaud this ineffective president now trying to work on his “legacy” issues. The only hope to keep the nation from heading off this economic cliff will rest in the inevitable legal challenges.
— The Boston Herald
A bold move
The White House moved boldly last week to go it alone on braking climate change, leaving behind a gridlocked Congress.
The Obama administration is acting to regulate carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas driving up global temperatures — as the deadly pollutant it is. New EPA rules zero in on coal-fired power plants, setting national limits on carbon emissions from electricity generation and letting states decide how to meet their targets.
New York and other northeastern states already have a successful, so-called cap-and-trade system that, in effect, charges power plants for the carbon they generate. In 2010, Congress rejected a similar model, starting an unconscionable stalemate that left the President with no choice but to take solo action.
Nationally, Obama aims to reduce power plant carbon emissions 30% by 2030. In so doing, the President also hopes to claim global leadership and prod growing economies like India and China into limiting their own emissions.
The coal industry and its political allies have unleashed predictable howls of protest. Too bad. For years, Midwestern coal-fired plants have sent putrid emissions drifting east into our air.
And there is more to be done in New York. Lowcarbon natural gas remains bottled up in the Marcellus Shale, as Gov. Cuomo stalls any action to permit extraction. Meanwhile, he has vowed to close the Indian Point nuclear plant, a major source of electricity for New York City, without any credible plan to replace its power.
He needs to get with the President’s program.
— New York Daily News
Kill this measure
President Barack Obama, in presenting his strident new plan to reduce carbon emissions, is touting the health benefits of cleaner air. And there’s little doubt shutting down one-third of the nation’s coal plants will make America’s air cleaner and some people healthier.
But it will also risk making them hungrier, less prosperous and more likely to be unemployed as the nation’s economy slows and jobs disappear. The tough, new restrictions on smokestack emissions are the latest in a series of battles in the administration’s war on coal.
And while the power industry has achieved substantial reductions in carbon emissions over the past decade, the new standards would greatly accelerate the pace. The Environmental Protection Agency, which drafted the mandates, is targeting a 30 percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2030 based on the peak emissions year of 2005.
The power industry estimates that up to one-third of its 1,000 coal-fired facilities will have to close. Those plants produce 40 percent of the nation’s energy.
While everyone wants cleaner air, the fundamental problem with the administration’s agenda is that it has no credible plan for replacing the lost power.
While conservation and green energy sources such as windmills and solar will fill some of the void, they aren’t yet capable of producing anywhere near the power of 300 or so base-line coal plants. Natural gas will also play a big role — but it, too, is a fossil fuel, and one subject to disruptive price swings.
There’s still little appetite for expanded use of nuclear power. And many of the same environmental groups who are fighting coal and oil also push back against the infrastructure needed for wind, solar and hydro power and object to fracking for natural gas.
As usual, Obama tossed out a lot of very hopeful numbers on how much the United States will save in reduced health care costs, how many new green energy jobs will emerge and how much economic growth will result.
Such promises are always attached to green energy initiatives, but rarely materialize.
The White House cites as myth the projections by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that the regulations will reduce employment by 224,000 jobs annually, hike electricity bills by $289 billion and trim $500 billion from household incomes.
Europe’s experience with such hardline carbon rulemaking would suggest the chamber’s claims are more credible than the administration’s. Clean energy investment among European Union members dropped 14 percent in the third quarter of last year, as governments reconsidered policies similar to the ones Obama is putting in place.
The reason: Electricity costs in Europe are the highest in the world, and are helping to drive away manufacturing jobs. Instead of shutting down coal plants, Europe is actually building them again as a way of dropping those crushing electricity costs.
Higher utility bills will hurt poorer Americans the hardest, and ultimately will necessitate even more wealth transfer schemes.
In addition, the resurgent U.S. manufacturing industry will be slowed. Energy is a crucial component of building things, obviously, and today American manufacturers enjoy a distinct advantage because of relatively low electricity costs. Raising those costs will hit industrial states, like Michigan, particularly hard.
This is a major piece of policy that will impact the economic course of the nation for decades. And yet it is being done through the agency rule-making process, and not by Congress.
Such a monumental shift should come with the approval of the representatives of the American people, who, according to opinion polls, aren’t nearly as worried about the impact of carbon emissions as they are the stagnant economy and scarcity of good jobs. Obama’s carbon mandates will only exacerbate those concerns.
Four times, Congress has killed carbon cap measures.
It should act to block this one, too.
— The Detroit News
Coal not leaving
Take a deep breath. Despite proposed new EPA regulations, and despite the fears of business and political leaders and the hopes of environmentalists, coal-fired power plants almost certainly will not disappear in Indiana or elsewhere any time soon.
Here’s why: In a nation as energy dependent as the United States, 68 percent of electricity still is generated by burning fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
And the fossil fuel most often used to keep the lights on in factories, homes and businesses is coal. It’s the source of 37 percent of the nation’s electricity; wind and solar, in contrast, account for less than 4 percent com- bined.
The advent of fracking, used to unlock natural gas deposits, has put a dent in coal’s dominance in recent years and now is the source of 30 percent of electricity production. But, energy analysts argue, the frequent use of gas to heat homes and other buildings in the winter limits its feasibility as the dominant source for electricity.
Aggressive steps toward better energy efficiency can help, and should be encouraged, but as the economy and population grow, the need to produce more electricity will remain. Nuclear energy, for a variety of economic and environmental reasons, is a non-starter. And while wind and solar generation are growing, they’re likely to remain relatively minor pieces of the overall energy picture for many years to come.
All of which means that while King Coal’s reign is being challenged, it still hasn’t been dethroned.
So, can Indiana keep on digging and burning without concern, despite the EPA’s most recent move against the use of coal? Not at all.
For starters, there’s good reason to believe that Indiana’s current energy mix is tilted too far in favor of coal.
West Virginia (95 percent), Kentucky (90 percent) and Wyoming (85 percent) are the only states that are more dependent than Indiana (84 percent) on burning coal to generate electricity.
Neighboring states such as Illinois, Michigan and Ohio — which, like Indiana, are manufacturing hubs — rely significantly less on coal to power their industries and homes.
So diversification of energy sources can be accomplished, even in the industrial Midwest. That’s important to note because Indiana’s heavy reliance on coal may well hurt the state’s economy as the cost of coal-generated electricity rises and gives states with a better mix of energy sources a competitive advantage.
In addition, there are important health and environmental reasons to move away from such a heavy dependence on coal. Indiana’s air quality, while substantially better than in the past, remains among the worst in the nation. Mercury, a byproduct of burning coal, pollutes many of the state’s waterways. And a strong majority of scientists are pushing for reductions in CO2 emissions in order to slow climate change.
It was economic concerns this past week that prompted Gov. Mike Pence and other state leaders to raise strong objections to the EPA’s proposal to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent in the next 16 years.
But while federal government’s time frame may well be too aggressive to avoid inflicting severe hardships on ratepayers, Pence and others need to accept that the national trend away from coal is real and likely irreversible. Indiana can’t afford to get left behind in that transition.
That means making a strong push for heightened energy efficiency, a move Pence said his team embraces. The smart use of solar and wind, and continued advancement in the technology needed to develop both, should get a fresh look. And a systematic shift from coal to more reliance on natural gas needs to be a priority.
It’s not a question of abandoning coal. It likely will remain an important energy source for many years. Yet, for multiple environmental and economic reasons, there’s a need to wean the state from an over-reliance on an energy source that offers strong benefits but also poses deep risks.
— The Indianapolis Star
Much of the official Texas response to new regulations that aim to reduce carbon pollution from power plants falls firmly into the category of “knee jerk.”
As might be expected, the issue has become electionyear fodder and the shrill sounds of politicians can be heard across the state. It isn’t a pleasant noise.
In fact, so little were they concerned with what the regulations actually say that 29 members of the Texas congressional delegation fired off a letter to the White House in protest — before the final plan was even issued.
We would like to encourage a more reasonable and thoughtful approach, though that has somewhat gone out of style these days. An objective look at how Texas and the nation will be affected by the guidelines issued this past week will get us a lot further than the predictable histrionics.
The proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations aim to cut emissions from coal-fired installations that help fuel climate change. The goal is a 30 percent reduction nationally from 2005 carbon-discharge levels by 2030.
Because Texas is by far the nation’s leading bulk producer of carbon pollution, we have more cleaning up to do. Here, the target would be a 39 percent cut by 2030. But the plan leaves plenty of time to accomplish that, and Texas power producers already have been moving to clean up their acts.
The plan also leaves plenty of room to accomplish the goals through free-market approaches. Among the ways states and power generators might comply are improving energy efficiency, increasing use of natural gas, using more renewable energy and plant improvements.
As we look at the costs and benefits of President Obama’s plan, several questions come to us as important in determining its viability.
How much is this going to cost us? It’s the question everyone will ask first and we understand that. If it requires upgrading plants and building new ones, the costs will be directly passed to power users. Residential users will pay the biggest percentage increase and not just from rates alone. The costs of goods could also go up as companies pass along increased expenses to consumers.
How much is this going to save us? It’s a question some may overlook but it certainly is valid. As we reduce pollution, the rates of several medical conditions will also fall, especially COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is common in East Texas, particularly among older adults. It will be more difficult to accurately compute the savings but they do exist.
What will be the impact on employment? If coal-fired plants have to close, jobs will be lost. But they would probably be offset by the number of construction jobs created by building other plants, most likely fired by natural gas, which is much cleaner. Gas plants do employ somewhat fewer employees than coal plants.
What will be the impact on the oil and gas industry? Coal is important in Texas, but not nearly as important as oil and natural gas. A switch to natural gas would obviously be beneficial not only in jobs created but also on demand for and the price of natural gas, which is low enough now to depress exploration. That extra wealth would certainly be spread throughout the East Texas economy.
We don’t have definitive answers for these questions or many others regarding the regulations, but an objective look suggests positive possibilities exist.
It should tell us something that while politicians were screaming bloody murder this past week, officials of state agencies impacted by the rules were saying they’d need time to study them.
That’s the right approach.
— Longview (Texas) News-Journal