More politics of dirt

Two trends bother me. On the one hand, scientists have increased their confirmation that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have raised and will continue to raise global temperatures. On the other hand, public opinion about climate change has entered the realm of “so what?” Were it up to the scientists, bold steps would be taken. Leaving matters to the political process virtually guarantees inaction.

Stymied by Congress, President Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency to devise strategies to reduce carbon emissions. So the EPA will implement a cap-and-trade program that promises to cut emissions by 20 percent, according to the New York Times.

The expected announcement follows the release of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report whose headline intended to scare but whose substance minimized projected costs of combatting climate change. The Chamber, strongly tethered to the Republican Party, will do its part to resist the Administration. Surely coal states will fight to the death, quite literally.

The Times includes an interactive chart of the United States, depicting coal-dependency. We in the Pacific Northwest consume relatively small amounts of electricity generated from fossil fuels. The Midwest, especially, relies on coal for most of its energy.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 9.50.32 AM

I occasionally ask myself a counterfactual: Would my views be different if I lived in Kentucky?

Kentucky, of course, is a coal state. Would I defend the use of coal to the point that I would deny climate change and re-elect conservative politicians beholden to coal companies?

I’ll never know, certainly. But I, a citizen of the Northwest, may be rightly accused of self-righteousness in condemning Kentuckians, or any resident of the dark brown states in the above chart.

Yet, since I have no reason or ability to dispute the climate scientists, whose warnings become increasingly apocalyptic, I believe that something should be done to reduce greenhouse gases. Since coal-burning is the most carbon-intensive form of electrical generation, the logical place to start would be states like Kentucky.

The soon-to-be released cap-and-trade plan expands on the existing program in the Northeast, which had then-Governor Mitt Romney’s fingerprints all over it. (He’s since renounced his own creation, as he did his Massachusetts health care plan.) The Times:

People familiar with the drafting of the rule said that after it is unveiled they expect many states to comply by joining the northeastern program, in part because the system has already been designed and tested.

“It’s a plug and play,” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, a commissioner of the regional program. “We’re finding that’s attractive to people. We’ve had states from all over the country calling up and asking, ‘How does this work, and how can it work for us?’ ” The regional program has proved fairly effective: Between 2005-12, according to program officials, power-plant pollution in the northeastern states it covered dropped 40 percent, even as the states raised $1.6 billion in new revenue.

So, a successful program, right? Not so fast say the diehard Republicans, including New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who withdrew from the northeast plan. Politics.

But an expanded program should have broader appeal. Here’s an Illinois public official:

…joining a larger, multistate program, we’ll be able to spread out the risk, to mitigate the economic impact.

Sounds reasonable. Ah, reason.

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