Within hours of President Barack Obama’s announcement of a clean-air proposal, conservative critics from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lined up to denounce it as an overreaching job-killer.
Conservatives should be cheering, not fighting this approach. The targets are attainable, and free-market advocates should like a plan built on choices and options.
In its final plan released Monday, the administration wants the nation to reduce power plants’ carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. That’s a 9 percent greater reduction target than the administration proposed in draft documents last year. However, utilities and states can reach these goals if they continue to make clean-air improvements now.
The best part of the plan is that states and utilities will be allowed to customize solutions instead of being forced into a single federal remedy. States are free to cap carbon emissions, expand renewable energy sources or even collaborate. States also have until 2022, two years longer than initially proposed, to begin phasing in pollution cuts to ease the impact of the transition. What is overreaching about a plan that allows each state to decide how best to proceed and gives them 15 years to reach the targets?
Progressive business leaders are becoming more vocal about the nation’s failure to deal with climate change as the real threat to the economy. In a Point Person interview published in The Dallas Morning News on Sunday, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, appointed by George W. Bush, said global climate change is “going to change life in America in fundamental ways,” ranging from the destruction of agriculture to businesses that are no longer able to operate.
“It is not too late to act,” he warned. “But it is important to act very quickly. Doing nothing is radical risk taking, and it’s the height of irresponsibility.”
At least 29 companies — including Wal-Mart, Walt Disney, Exxon Mobil and General Electric — now factor the likelihood of carbon regulation into their long-range plans. Many former military officials say humanitarian disasters, destabilized governments and other national security threats could result from further inaction on climate change. These aren’t ideological environmentalists. These are people and companies who recognize the calamities that could come from doing nothing.
Texas would be foolish to fight these modest rules. The state has impressive wind power and natural gas assets, and can do more to encourage energy efficiency and power plant improvements to reach its goals. Warns John Fainter, president of the Texas Association of Electric Companies: “You’re better off being at the table than having the [EPA] come down with a federal plan.” He’s right. Besides, courts have upheld the EPA’s authority to regulate in this area, and politically motivated lawsuits would not benefit the state.
Texas must bury the old, tired canards and take advantage of this opportunity to shape a competitive energy future.
The conservative case
Why conservatives should embrace the president’s climate change plan:
It is not a mandate from Washington: States and utilities can decide how best to reach state-by-state reduction targets.
It doesn’t require an overnight transition:States will have until 2022 to begin phasing in carbon reduction strategies.
It is market-based: The plan encourages incentives for early reduction and innovation.
It is not a job-killer: Businesses want action on climate change and have begun to factor climate change regulation into their global strategies.
It doesn’t eliminate fossil fuels: Fossil fuels will remain part of the energy economy but will be cleaner and more efficient.
It helps national security: Military leaders say action on climate change would reduce the probability of humanitarian crises, unstable governments and reliance on fossil fuels.
It will keep the lights on: The plan includes a safety valve to prevent disruptions to the power supply as older power plants are phased out or upgraded.