Herald-Leader Editorial

Stop whining and help create jobs; Ky. can gain from new climate plan

June 27, 2013 

Some Kentuckians might be willing hostages to the coal industry, but most Americans are not.

That's why our Republicans in Congress should get over their predictable conniption fits and get busy harnessing the tide of history to help those they are sworn to serve.

This tide won't — and should not — be turned. If President Barack Obama deserves criticism for his newly unveiled plan to curb climate change, it's that he waited too long. Obama did not exaggerate the stakes when he told students at Georgetown University, "I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing."

The president also called for giving "special care to people and communities that are unsettled by this transition." Kentucky has to be near the top of that list.

Not only are our electrical utilities extraordinarily dependent on coal, but a century of carbon extraction has devastated our mountains, economically and environmentally.

Long before this latest setback for coal, the people of Central Appalachia desperately needed new sources of employment.

That's where Congress should come in. Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency have the power and obligation to regulate new and existing power plants to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide; the Supreme Court said so six years ago.

But only Congress can put a price on CO2 emissions, through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, that would incentivize industry to reduce emissions and generate money to offset impacts on the coal-dependent.

The climate change plan that died in Congress in 2010 had provisions for offsetting higher power costs, such as helping consumers pay electricity bills. Revenue from putting a price on carbon could also help compensate Eastern Kentucky for the sacrifices it has made to power this nation in the past.

Until recently, Republicans supported such market-based approaches to pollution control, including the one that curbed acid rain.

Instead of waging a losing war against the future, Kentuckians in Congress should seize this opportunity. That would require some vision and more concern for their constituents and their constituents' grandchildren than for the special interests that finance their campaigns. So don't hold your breath.

Perhaps Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters are more promising advocates for Kentucky's future. If only they had followed through on the energy plan they unveiled after taking office, Kentucky would be much better prepared for the coming transition. We're thinking of the requirement that utilities diversify their energy portfolios with more renewables. At least 30 states have mandated such diversification.

As best we can tell, Beshear never lifted a finger to push that part of his plan through the legislature.

Beshear should think about all the victims of weather disasters he has seen as governor and ask himself what's more important: Staying tight with coal operators? Or protecting his descendants and a state that he seems to genuinely cherish from more frequent and severe droughts and storms and from the conflicts over resources and violence that climate disruptions will spawn?

What we heard from Sen. Mitch McConnell and other Republicans was their usual insistence that protecting future generations would needlessly harm the economy.

Remaking energy will obviously generate jobs and investment. Our elected leaders should focus on how to get Kentucky in on that action.

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