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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 6/4/2014

EDITORIAL

Ohio’s energy retreat

Columbus is making it harder for the state to respond to Obama’s sensible plan to curb carbon pollution

President Obama’s proposal to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants is reasonable, flexible, and likely to improve the nation’s environment and economy. But because of the none-of-the-above approach to nontraditional energy taken by Gov. John Kasich and the General Assembly, Ohio will find it especially — and needlessly — hard to comply with the plan and realize its benefits for the state and its people.

The proposal, outlined this week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, aims to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Heat-trapping carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas that contributes to human-made climate change. Power plants account for nearly 40 percent of emissions of the gas.

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Instead of dictating how such cuts must occur, the EPA plan will set emissions targets for states and allow them to determine how to meet these goals. Ohio’s task is likely to be tough because it is one of the nation’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases among states. It relies on coal to generate two-thirds of its electricity, compared with about 40 percent nationwide.

Still, the state will have plenty of options. It can promote renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, and advanced energy, such as nuclear power, fuel cells, and clean coal. It can encourage more-efficient use of energy.

It can call on utilities to substitute natural gas for coal to generate electricity. And it can, by itself or with other states, work to limit carbon emissions by creating a “cap and trade” network of pollution credits that industries can buy and sell — finally imposing a price for spewing pollutants into the air.

But Ohio’s government is already ruling out most of these options. Lawmakers have passed, and Governor Kasich has said he will sign, Senate Bill 310, which would make Ohio the first state to repudiate its standards for energy efficiency and alternative energy.

The Kasich administration has expressed its distaste for cap and trade, even though Ohio utilities favor the market mechanism. And while greater use of natural gas will provide a market for gas fracked from Ohio’s shales, that is a transitional stage in ending our state’s overreliance on coal, not the final outcome.

The usual critics, in Ohio and elsewhere, are accusing the President of waging a “war on coal,” and claiming that his carbon proposal will cost jobs and increase consumers’ electric bills. But environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council offer credible analyses that conclude just the opposite — that job losses caused if coal-fired power plants closed would be more than offset in Ohio by job gains in renewable-energy and energy-conservation industries. The NRDC study also argues sensibly that a greater emphasis on conservation will cut electric bills.

There will be other benefits: Cleaner air means better public health, with fewer work and school days lost to illness. Not least, the United States — now the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon — will have greater credibility when it calls on nations such as China and India to reduce their emissions.

Mr. Obama’s plan faces inevitable political obstruction by Congress, which rejected his previous sensible proposal for a carbon tax. The proposal also is sure to be subjected to legal challenges.

The President will be out of office by the time the carbon rule takes full effect, if it ever does. But that is no excuse for doing nothing now to work to limit the potentially catastrophic effects of global climate change.

More immediately, Governor Kasich still has time to veto SB 310, making clear to Ohioans whose votes he seeks in his re-election campaign this year that he places their interests ahead of those of fossil-fuel industries and change-averse utilities. If the governor has presidential aspirations in 2016, a veto also would demonstrate his capacity for national leadership. His signature on the bill will show the opposite.



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