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Chicken Littles of the Coal Industry Come Home to Roost

Dan Lashof

Posted September 13, 2013 in Solving Global Warming

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To hear the coal industry tell it, EPA’s plan to establish sensible limits on carbon pollution from future power plants—due out at the end of next week—is tantamount to a ban on the lifeblood of America. If you want a preview of the coal industry’s talking points you need look no further than the front page of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, which faithfully parroted their claims.  

In reality, we have an obligation to protect our children and future generations from climate change, which is already imposing huge costs on our country in blood and treasure and putting our children’s future at growing risk. Part of the solution is to set the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, our country's single greatest source of the pollution that’s driving climate chaos.

As an excellent editorial in the Bloomberg View points out, the market for new coal plants has dried up in the face of far cheaper alternatives, like wind and natural gas, which together account for most of the new generating capacity we've built over the past few years. Meanwhile, energy efficiency has cut waste and costs for our businesses and families while trimming the need for new power plants.

If market conditions change, and a power company becomes interested in building a new coal plant, EPA’s proposed standard will—horror of horrors—reportedly require it to emit no more carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour than the average emission rate of existing natural gas power plants (new natural gas power plants emit about 20 percent less). Coal industry lobbyists cry foul and say it can’t be done. Which begs the question: If they’re right shouldn’t we be inventing a better light bulb as well better ways to power it?  

Fortunately we have. In just the last few years there have been remarkable advances in L.E.D. lighting, solar, and wind technologies. And the carbon-reducing technologies that would enable coal plants to meet the new standard are already being built and used successfully in places like Mississippi and North Dakota. 

The utility industry has a long history of claiming the sky is falling when new environmental safeguards are proposed, only to then rise to the challenge and find cost-effective ways to cut dangerous pollution once standards are established. The industry is already doing so for sulfur, nitrogen, and mercury. It’s high time to do so for carbon as well.

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Comments

Rudy HaugenederSep 17 2013 12:15 PM

Nothing humans do anymore is natural and there are deep and steep prices prices paid, and to be paid. And a fracking report paid for by the petroleum industry in oil-friendly Texas is somewhat like believing Assad's assertions that he doesn't store chemical weapons.
Nevertheless, Nature is already slowly fighting back.
Sciences shows and the news media increasingly reports that more and more deadly diseases (superbugs) that were once thought to be eradicated by vaccines are now immune and on the verge of an explosive comeback in a world with seven-plus billion people -- many of us worldwide having lost all or part of the immunity we had against the former weaker versions of these lethal diseases. The almost total annihilation of Native Indians in the Americas is an example of how deadly these multiple pandemics can be.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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