Here's some advice for Kentucky politicians freaking out about the Environmental Protection Agency's new Clean Power Plan: Calm down, take a deep breath and face reality.
On second thought, maybe they shouldn't take that deep breath. Kentucky has some of America's dirtiest air, and most of that pollution comes from the coal-fired power plants those politicians are trying to protect.
Kentucky leads the nation in toxic air pollution from power plants, according to a 2012 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Those plants also are the main source of man-made greenhouse gasses that are causing climate change.
The Clean Power Plan, unveiled in final form last week, is the Obama administration's better-late-than-never attempt to fight climate change. Its goal is to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's power plants by 32 percent from 2012 levels by 2030. That is tougher than the 30 percent in an initial proposal, but states would be given more flexibility and two additional years to meet their targets.
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Still, the EPA's goal is modest by international standards. Many European nations have pledged to do more, and scientific studies show carbon emissions must be cut dramatically if the world hopes to curb the disastrous effects of climate change.
Despite the politicians' howling, Kentucky was on track to meet its initial EPA target of an 18 percent cut in carbon emissions. That's because utilities already were planning to phase out old coal plants or convert them to natural gas to save money.
The final plan calls for Kentucky to cut emissions by nearly 30 percent — a tougher goal, but still one of the least-stringent among the states. In addition to phasing out coal-fired power plants, Kentucky can meet its target by adding more renewable power sources and improving the energy efficiency of buildings, two areas where it lags many other states.
As with previous environmental rules, segments of corporate America and the politicians they sponsor are fighting back.
Kentucky is one of 16 states suing to block the Clean Power Plan, with Attorney General Jack Conway taking a lead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged states to simply ignore the EPA's requirement to submit a compliance plan — and risk having one imposed on them if the new rules are upheld in court.
It is no coincidence that Kentucky, West Virginia and other states leading opposition to these rules are places where the coal industry dominates the economy or politics, or where energy-intensive manufacturers have long enjoyed cheap electricity subsidized by damage to the environment and public health.
It will be up to the federal courts to decide whether the EPA's modest and long-overdue plan to cut carbon emissions, clean the air and water, and improve public health will take effect next year.
But Kentuckians should ignore the scare tactics of politicians, who know they must toe the coal industry's line if they want to get campaign contributions and votes.
The EPA's Clean Power Plan won't ruin the economy or "kill jobs." It will require some difficult transition. But a number of studies predict that, in the long run, the move toward cleaner, renewable power will create a stronger economy with more jobs. At least for those states that embrace inevitable change rather than fight it.
Think about it: Since environmental laws first were enacted 40 years ago, each new regulation, from cutting automobile emissions to curbing acid rain, has been met with corporate and political opposition and dire predictions of economic disaster.
Those predictions have never come true. In fact, just the opposite. That is because environmental regulations have stimulated innovation, creating jobs and growing the economy. Since 1970, air pollution nationwide has been cut by 70 percent and the size of the U.S. economy has tripled.
Regardless of your views on climate change, cleaner air and water mean a better quality of life, a stronger work force and better public health. Those are not small issues in a state like Kentucky, which has some of the nation's highest cancer and asthma rates.
Kentucky and its leaders have a simple choice. They can cling to the past and fight a losing battle to preserve pollution. Or they can face reality and realize that change is inevitable, pollution is unhealthy, global warming is a threat, renewable energy is the future, and innovation will create a stronger economy.