President Barack Obama’s newly announced Clean Power Plan is a big step forward for a nation that needs to reduce harmful carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants. It’s a strategy worth extra attention in coal-dependent states like Missouri and Kansas.
The Show-Me State gets just over 80 percent of its electric power from coal, and the Sunflower State about 60 percent. Both rank among the top 14 U.S. states that most heavily rely on coal-powered plants to keep the lights on.
What’s the better alternative? As Obama stressed Monday, the country must greatly increase its use of cleaner renewable energies, especially wind and solar.
Ashok Gupta, senior energy economist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, noted in an interview that the costs of renewables are headed nowhere but down. The fuel expenses are literally nothing when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. Investing in renewable energy also reduces the future costs of dealing with huge environmental problems caused by burning coal.
Obama’s excellent goal to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power sector 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 is “so doable,” said Gupta, who works in Kansas City, Missouri, with a program designed to increase energy efficiency in buildings.
Environmental groups spoke out in favor of Obama’s plan, for good reasons. It creates jobs in the fast-growing renewable industry. The Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club praised potential improvements for the “quality of life for low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and vulnerable populations like asthmatics and the elderly.” The Union of Concerned Scientists said the plan “provides us with our best shot to … lead the rest of the world towards a strong international climate agreement.”
Cue the naysayers in the status quo fossil fuel industry, especially in the rapidly declining field of coal. The percentage of electricity produced by coal fell from 48.5 percent in 2007 to 38.7 percent in the country in 2014.
On Monday, Obama’s proposal predictably was derided as part of his “war on coal,” with claims that he had a “lack of empathy for hard working Americans across the country.” That last statement came from the euphemistically named American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
Obama deftly turned aside such criticism. Innovative American industries, he noted, have produced vehicles that are more efficient and pollute less, despite initial dire threats that it wasn’t possible to do that. U.S. utilities have slashed other dangerous pollutants in the past, he accurately pointed out, often at far lower costs than first predicted.
Now the country needs to follow that path again while weaning itself from coal. The laudable goals are healthier air, a lowered risk of climate change and less costly long-term costs of producing power to run America.