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Editorial: Don’t expect emission changes to be painless

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President Barack Obama’s proposal to put the brakes on global warming won’t be painless or cheap, as his administration would have you believe.

And while it’s worth a serious public policy debate, in the long run it may do little to reduce CO2 emissions enough to stop or significantly slow climate change.

Obama’s regulatory plan targets power plants, particularly coal-fired ones, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 in a plan that will be determined at the state level.

Congress blocked Obama’s cap and trade program in 2009, so he has turned to his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce new regulations to tame greenhouse emissions.

Even without Obama’s plan, in part because of recent discoveries of natural gas and the technology to recover it, emissions in the United States have already fallen 10 percent from 2005 levels and are still dropping.

Some environmentalists are optimistic, but others believe Obama’s plan doesn’t move the meter fast enough to forestall global warming’s worse predictions. Some want the compliance deadline moved forward to as soon as 2020. However, 2030 gives existing plants more time to comply or close and renewables time to, it is hoped, become less expensive.

Even as renewables become competitive, fossil fuel or nuclear powered electricity generation will still be needed to provide a reliable base load.

And the plan doesn’t address the question of whether U.S. CO2 reduction will matter, as nations like China and India are building coal plants at an alarming clip.

Public Service Company of New Mexico says it is in good shape to deal with new regulations as it is already planning to shut down two of the four coal-fired generating units at the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington and replace that energy production mostly with natural gas.

As expected, Obama’s plan drew harsh criticism from industry groups, Republicans and some Democrats up for re-election in energy-producing states. They contend it will kill jobs, drive up energy bills and harm the economy in some areas of the country.

Even without the new plan, the U.S. Department of Energy has predicted that energy costs will increase by 13 percent by 2020.

Obama’s plan is estimated to cost up to $8.8 billion annually in 2030, but until states figure out how to reach their targets, the real cost won’t be known.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the rule will cost businesses more than $50 billion a year; the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates it will save money overall; and the EPA’s analysis asserts that the benefits of avoided public health or climate change costs would outweigh the increased cost of energy for consumers.

Such diverging claims don’t advance the debate over what measures are both necessary and prudent for the United States to take. What is needed is honest, science-backed data.

But a truly honest discussion would include making sure the public clearly understands that coming changes are likely to require a lot more money out of pocket for everything that requires the production of energy.

Backed by the reasons it might be worth it.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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