Obama’s carbon initiative is important, even with its associated costs - The Buffalo News

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Obama’s carbon initiative is important, even with its associated costs

New rules proposed by the Obama administration that would dramatically cut carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants were inevitable. The country cannot pretend the world isn’t warming. It has to play a role in checking that alarming trend. The question wasn’t if Washington had to act, only when.

The 2030 timeline for implementing the new rules is reasonable, though some flexibility should be allowed for an undertaking as vast and complicated as this.

As News Washington Bureau chief Jerry Zremski reported, the move could make it costly for the coal-dependent Midwest. New York has an advantage because of its early shift away from the dirtiest fossil fuel.

Under the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal, coal-fired power plants would have to cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent, compared with 2005 levels, by 2030.

New York has six coal-fired plants. Two, including NRG Energy’s facility in Dunkirk, are set to convert to natural gas. New York’s other coal-fired facilities, which include NRG’s Huntley station in the Town of Tonawanda and the former AES facility in Somerset, may be on the endangered list as a result of the new EPA rules.

But New York also has nuclear and hydroelectric power, as well as the advantage of being among those states at the forefront toward reducing carbon emissions under the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative, a compact with eight other Northeastern states to reduce carbon emissions from the power industry.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, is a critic of the new federal rules. His district includes the Somerset plant. Besides his contention that the rules, which the Obama administration is pursuing under its executive authority, could hurt the U.S. economy overall, Collins is understandably concerned about the likely huge costs involved in the installation of anti-pollution equipment. This, despite a previous round of improvements that made the Somerset plant one of the cleanest coal-fired power plants in the country. Collins’ concerns are not imaginary. There will certainly be a cost to these changes, but the cost of doing nothing is almost certain to be worse.

And there are compensations. Jobs will be lost, but jobs also will be created through the development and implementation of cleaner technology. And the Earth will breathe a little easier.

The new rules have provided political fodder for Republicans eager for midterm election issues. And, to some degree, the pressure is working in states such as Kentucky, where Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is challenging Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell. Grimes has reportedly voiced her “fierce” opposition to the Obama administration’s proposal, which she described as the president’s “…attack on Kentucky’s coal industry because protecting our jobs will be my No. 1 priority.” That’s not what it is, but politics has its own logic.

States that still rely heavily on coal-fired plants include Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky. They can all expect higher electricity prices as utilities move away from coal and likely over to natural gas.

Painful changes always have winners and losers, but the imperative of cutting pollution and improving public health outcomes is worth the effort. And, if not now, when?

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