You'd never guess it from all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in our U.S. Senate race, but the Obama administration's long-awaited plan for reducing heat-trapping gases from power plants should come as a relief to Kentucky.
The Environmental Protection Agency's climate plan mirrors in significant ways recommendations by Gov. Steve Beshear's coal-friendly Energy and Environment Secretary Leonard Peters.
Peters, who sent his ideas to the EPA last year in a detailed white paper, was trying to protect Kentucky's 220,000 manufacturing jobs from precipitous increases in power costs that could force energy-intensive industries to move overseas.
The EPA ended up agreeing with Kentucky on perhaps the most important point: The agency is not subjecting existing power plants to strict new limits on how much carbon each may emit. That means Kentucky will not have to retire and replace its fleet of coal-fired power plants, at enormous cost to ratepayers.
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Instead, states are being given a target for reducing heat-trapping carbon emissions by 2030 and the flexibility to achieve the reductions in a variety of ways, including energy efficiency and transitioning to renewable energy. That is the approach Peters advocated.
Energy efficiency is low-hanging fruit for Kentucky; because of our historically cheap electricity, we've always wasted lots of it.
The EPA is giving Kentucky the time and impetus to phase in carbon reductions without sudden massive disruptions to the state's economy, the nation's most electricity intensive.
The EPA is taking into account that states such as Kentucky will have a harder time moving away from coal-fired power. While the overall goal is to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent nationwide by 2030, the EPA is requiring an 18 percent reduction in Kentucky, which because of our heavy reliance on coal will still remove a lot of carbon — as well as other pollutants that damage human health — from the air. (Yes, coal does make us sick.)
Coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of carbon in the atmosphere, so there's no way to address climate change without reducing coal-fired power.
Nonetheless, the EPA estimates that under the new plan, coal will generate 30 percent of U.S. electricity in 2030, down from about 40 percent today.
Given what's at stake, that is far from a radical change, which is why the European Union's Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard sounded a bit disappointed: "All countries including the United States must do even more than what this reduction trajectory indicates," she said.
Americans of all political persuasions support regulating carbon from power plants and are willing to pay for it, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll conducted May 29 to June 1.
Limits on greenhouse gas emissions have the support of 57 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of independents, 79 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Tea Party supporters.
Asked whether limits should go forward even if they "raised your monthly energy expenses by $20 a month," 63 percent said yes, including 51 percent of Republicans. And, in the 19 states where coal provides the majority of power, 69 percent said the government should limit greenhouse gas emissions.
In other words, only the most selfish and self-interested are willing to risk climate disaster to protect fossil-fuel profits.
Rather than resist inevitable change, Kentucky should get busy putting people to work retooling our energy economy for the future.