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Editorial Support for the Clean Power Plan

Pete Altman

Posted June 9, 2014

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I wrote last week about the broad support for the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan isolating the coal industry.

Editorial opinion throughout the nation reflects this isolation of the coal industry as well, with newspapers in blue, red and purple states expressing their support for the standards. In fact, many editorials - including those from coal-reliant states - went out of their way to urge policymakers to stand up to the coal lobby instead of for it, and shamed politicians who blindly oppose the standards.

West Virginia's Charleston Gazette editorialized twice, first criticizing knee-jerk opposition from West Virginia politicians: 

As we’ve said before, instead of raging against pollution controls — or trying to score political points — West Virginia leaders should launch intelligent planning for the inevitable future when coal is gone. . . Out-of-control climate change is inflicting horrendous costs on America through worse tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, seashore loss and other painful effects of global warming — including loss of lives. The Obama administration is wise to try to reduce the hundred-billion-dollar toll.

Political ranting and posturing by conservatives won’t solve anything. Instead, sensible leaders should focus on adapting West Virginia’s economy to ongoing change that is unstoppable.

And the next day, the Gazette hailed the EPA plan as an "historic moment," pointed out that "it won't be traumatic to attain the cleaner levels prescribed this week" and neatly summarized the case for action:  

Outside of West Virginia and other coal regions, the Obama administration’s crackdown on carbon fumes and global warming danger is being hailed as a breakthrough for humanity.

“The proposed rule — and the importance of this cannot be overstated — signals the end of an era in which polluters could dump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without penalty,” The New York Times commented. It acknowledged that coal country may suffer some hardship, but the loss will be eased by new U.S. jobs in alternative energy sources.

“Because the rule will also greatly reduce harmful toxic pollutants,” it added, “the costs will be more than offset by health savings — by a ratio of as much as $7 in savings to every $1 invested in cleaner energy.”

It will cost industry around $8 billion yearly to meet the cleaner standards, USA Today explained — but “since the proposal is expected to reduce air pollution ... annual public health benefits will total $55 billion to $93 billion by avoiding up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks each year.”

Even more important, the limit on carbon dioxide fumes from coal-fired power plants will be a stride against the ominous peril of climate change, which is inflicting colossal losses from worsening twisters, wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, floods, tropical diseases, rising seas, superstorms and the like.

Kentucky's Louisville The Courier-Journal praised the standards and offered stern words for both of the state's Senate candidates, as E&E News (subscription required) reported"

Louisville's The Courier-Journal criticized them both, suggesting sarcastically that their rhetoric could be harnessed for electric power.

"For Mr. McConnell, it's just another tiresome rant against the administration to mask his utter lack of effort to focus on the future of Kentucky -- particularly impoverished Eastern Kentucky, for too long dependent on dwindling coal jobs," the newspaper wrote. "What has he done to diversify the economy or provide more opportunities to the region?

"For Ms. Grimes, it's a failure to lead on an issue where she could distinguish herself from her opponent and show that she accepts the challenge of diversifying the economy and pursuing new, cleaner sources of energy for Kentucky. Why is she afraid to own a Democratic initiative?

"Besides, neither appears to have the hearts and minds of voters on this one.A new Washington Post-ABC News poll ... shows that a significant majority of Americans from both parties support limits on greenhouse gases from power plants, even if it means higher utility bills. That includes people in coal-producing states including Kentucky, which gets almost all of its electricity from coal.

Virginia’s Roanoke Times also noted that we should not be deterred by the coal lobby:

Monday, President Obama is expected to release proposed rules to limit for the first time the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by existing power plants, the nation’s biggest source of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas.

This is bound to ignite a fresh outcry from coal interests and their political allies in Congress that the administration is escalating a “war on coal.” This would be an unhelpful reaction when there are reasonable alternatives for shifting energy policy in ways that can help the country ease a painful period of economic dislocation.

Colorado's Durango Herald urged readers to applaud the EPA for the standards, and, noting that certain special interests will fight against them, said

The EPA is within its authority to regulate greenhouse gases: A 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling clarified that. Nevertheless, it is a sure bet that the agency’s new rule will face legal challenges from those whose interests are threatened by it. That should not deter the EPA from doing what is right. The rule, which is expected to be announced Monday, is a significant move in that direction.

Pennsylvania’s Times-Tribune welcomed the new rules and made clear that polluters need to be held accountable:

Northeast Pennsylvanians have firsthand knowledge of what happens when coal producers and utilities don’t bear a cost for pollution: they pollute. The region still faces challenges left by the anthracite industry.

Pennsylvania already is headed in the right direction. Its abundant natural gas already has supplanted a great deal of coal-fired power generation as a matter of economics. And it has the potential to effect greater energy efficiency at many levels, and to increase the statewide mix of fuels for power generation and vehicles.

Because Pennsylvania is downwind from coal-fired power plants in other states, the new regime will have vast benefits for public health.

The state government should embrace the initiative and develop an innovative plan for compliance, using a commitment to leave behind its history of industrial pollution.

David Kushma, editor of Ohio's Toledo Daily Blade, discussed the need for carbon limits and the political forces arrayed against them, noting that

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers dire warnings of economic slowdowns, higher electric bills, and job losses because of the plan, especially in Ohio and other Midwest states.

Similar arguments distorted the debate in Columbus — to the extent there was one — on freezing Ohio’s clean-energy standards. Ohioans, and everyone else, can only hope that Washington politicians will give the new carbon rule a better chance to succeed before they trash it.

Kushma quoted NRDC Senior Fellow Dan Lashof, who noted, “The big polluters say these sorts of things every time,” Mr. Lashof says. “And every time, they’ve been wrong.”

In many other states, editorials have focused on the long overdue need to take action, the wisdom of the EPA's flexible approach, and the readiness of utilities to make the changes necessary.

Maine’s Portland Press Herald captured the sentiment of many editiorials, writing that the “EPA rules would be breath of fresh air for Maine residents, businesses,” and urged Mainers to “applaud the announcement Monday of proposed rules by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

North Carolina’s Asheville Citizen-Times awarded the letter grade of “A to President Barack Obama’s push on climate change.”

Michigan's Detroit Free Press described the key attributes of the plan:

It’s a sensible, long overdue initiative that anyone interested in the next generation’s health and welfare should welcome.

The new rules announced by the Environmental Protection Agency would set tougher emissions standards for the nation’s power plants, which generate more than a third of the carbon dioxide emissions most implicated in climate change. The new standards are tailored to each state’s energy profile and economic circumstances, and the EPA has given state governments enormous autonomy to decide how each will meet its target.

Iowa's Des Moines Register welcomed the standards, writing that 

There has been a lot of talk about the effect of climate change on agriculture, cities, people and economies. Now there might actually be some action.

A new federal goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions was announced Monday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is a step toward a modest reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide from the production of electricity. . .

The EPA proposal should be applauded — and implemented.

The Minnesota Star-Tribune, also a standards-supporter, observed that

The proposal to reduce the nation’s carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent from their 2005 levels was received in stride by this state’s utility companies and elected officials alike.

The Denver Post praised the standards and challenged a central coal-industry claim,

The Obama administration's plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030 from the level that existed in 2005 appears ambitious but doable. It will also allow the U.S. to reclaim a leadership role in the world in terms of reducing greenhouse gases.

And while reaching the 2030 goal will be expensive, human ingenuity will no doubt ensure that it's not as costly as the dire estimates emanating now from some critics. To emphasize what should be obvious, for example: It's not going to cripple the economy.

In sum, its clear that a diverse array of editorial boards and writers across the nation are on board with the simple message: Its time to tackle climate change, the EPA's Clean Power Plan is a good way to get started, and let's not allow coal interests and polluters to hold us back any longer.

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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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