Are complicated politics going to fix our planet’s changing climate or is it time for each individual American to take responsibility for the growing problem?
By Linn Smith
June 18, 2014—-An article in the USA TODAY, June 9, 2014, titled, Retiring Coal Plants Won’t Do Much to Clean Air, caught my attention while sitting in the local cafe in a small town in the mid-west. Why? Because the proposed plants to be closed account for only 4% of all the CO2 emissions in the U.S. and “are mostly small, old generating units in the Midwest and South.” According to USA TODAY, the top polluting coal plants are located predominantly in five states. Texas has the most with 19, followed by Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Alabama and Georgia and the top 10% of these coal plants account for 69% of the carbon release in the U.S.
The Clean Power Plan
With the latest version of the Clean Power Plan that the EPA is proposing, the guidelines in many cases will build on what states are already doing to cut pollution. But for states that aren’t moving away from coal, the coal dependent states such as West Virginia, lower guidelines are proposed by the EPA. West Virginia could have a target carbon emissions reduction of only 20% by 2030, while states, such as New York, could have a reduction target of 44%, because they are already headed toward cleaner energy which makes it easier for them to meet their standards.
States have 2 years, until 2016, to submit their plans, with the option to use a two-step process for submitting final plans, if more time is needed. States can meet their targets by requiring efficiency upgrades at coal plants, create programs to save energy in homes and businesses or by using cleaner-burning natural gas as well as zero-carbon renewable sources such as solar, wind and nuclear. The “or” is important here. It gives states the choice. The EPA has stated on their website: We have identified four measures–that are commonly used, technically sound, affordable, and that result in significant reductions in carbon intensity. They are – 1) improving efficiency at existing coal-fired power plants, 2) increasing utilization of existing natural gas fired power plants, 3) expanding the use of wind, solar, or other low- or zero-emitting alternatives, and 4) increasing energy efficiency in homes and businesses. States can choose one or any combination of the four measures to meet their goal. If they choose increasing energy efficiency to homes, it is my understanding, that the largest coal plants may not be required to make any changes. Or as USA TODAY wrote, there could be changes only to some of the smaller, older plants, The choices are left up to each state.
Equalizing the Effort Among States
Dallas Burtraw, one of the nation’s foremost experts on environmental regulation in the electricity sector, stated at a recent “Resources for the Future” Seminar, ” When you look at the rule (of the EPA) and the justification and how these building blocks are described and constructed, there’s no appearance that the EPA is explicitly invoking a criteria of achieving an equal marginal cost (among states). What it appears they really are doing, for example, (in the blended emission rate—the different states have very different emission rates)—is equalizing the effort that different states are going to have to make. I’m imposing this; that’s not explicitly stated by the EPA, so that’s my opinion. Having said that, I think it is true that there’s going to be very different marginal costs, although total costs in the different states to achieve what’s being asked of them are sort of similar.” He also recently stated, ” The biggest single way to reduce carbon emissions is to cut coal use. In fact, according to EIA data, U.S. coal plants have cut carbon emissions 21% since 2005, but that’s mainly because they cut generation 21% (due to renewables) at the same time.”
The Cap and Trade Program
Jeffery Holmstead, former Assistant Administrator for the EPA under the Bush administration, left the EPA to become a lobbiest for the big coal companies. He says, “These coal plants won’t be retiring anytime soon because it’s not cost effective to replace the biggest emmitters”– in other words, it’s not cost effective for the coal companies. Holmstead attended the recent “Resources for the Future” Seminar saying, ” States have complete flexibility…..I think that the targets (for each state) will not be meetable in many states, unless they have either a cap and trade program or a carbon tax. There’s no other way to accomplish these goals without being really heavy handed and expensive. So I think many states will face the basic question, do we want to have a cap and trade program or a carbon tax, and EPA lets you have either or some other thing, so it’s entirely a question of politics, not a question of law.”
The “Cap and Trade” that he is referring to is an attempt to reduce emissions by providing profit incentives. A limit (cap) on pollutions is set and companies can sell their unused portion of allowed pollution to another company that can’t comply with their cap limit, they produce more pollution than is allowed. Europe implemented this system in 2005, but most people think it’s a failure in reducing CO2. Alex Berezow, founding editor of RealClearScience concludes, “It suffers from considerable drawbacks, such as unpredictable price fluctuations and the creation of an inefficient, complex bureaucracy which leads to corruption. This fosters a chaotic atmosphere that is not only bad for business, but undermines public confidence in a government’s ability to reduce CO2 emissions.”
In conclusion, I have only questions: Are complicated politics going to fix our planet’s changing climate or is it time for each individual American to take responsibility for the growing problem? Can we size down instead of sizing up in our domestic comforts? If we wait for politicians to solve the global warming problem, it could be too late. The world of politics is complicated. Also, China, the top producer of CO2 on our planet, is polluting so we can have cheap stuff. What are we willing to sacrifice? In my opinion, bigger and cheaper is not going to save our planet!