Gov. Scott Walker is making a mistake in having Wisconsin join other states in a lawsuit challenging the first-ever requirements to lower carbon emissions from power plants. While the federal regulations announced Monday aren’t perfect and could use some changes to credit Wisconsin utilities for the work they’ve done in recent years, overall the new regulations promise a healthier and more sustainable energy future for the country.
In addition to the health and environmental benefits the new regulations provide for the United States, they also show that President Barack Obama is willing to take the lead in the global fight against climate change. That’s a strong message in front of an international summit on climate later this year.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan is probably not as draconian as its opponents charge or as transformative as its proponents claim. It is a reasonable step forward in reducing carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants that contribute to climate change and poor health.
Utilities across the country, including those in Wisconsin, have been working for decades to reduce carbon emissions from power generation. That includes making coal plants cleaner and developing wind, solar and other renewable sources of energy. The country is already well on its way to Obama’s goal.
As is Wisconsin: DNR spokesman Jim Dick told the Journal Sentinel’s Lee Bergquist that Wisconsin has already achieved significant reductions in carbon emissions through the state’s energy efficiency program known as Focus on Energy and the use of renewable power. The result has been about a 20% reduction in carbon emissions since 2005.
The new rules ratchet up those efforts: An EPA fact sheet on the plan says that once it is fully in place in 2030, carbon pollution from the power sector will be 32% below 2005 levels. In addition to reducing emissions that contribute to climate change, the fact sheet says, “By 2030, emissions of sulfur dioxide from power plants will be 90% lower compared to 2005 levels, and emissions of nitrogen oxides will be 72% lower. Because these pollutants can create dangerous soot and smog, the historically low levels mean we will avoid thousands of premature deaths and have thousands fewer asthma attacks and hospitalizations in 2030 and every year beyond.”
The final plan — the result of years of study, 4.3 million comments on the draft plan and input from hundreds of meetings with states, utilities, communities and others — also gives states a fair amount of flexibility in coming up with plans to meet emissions reductions goals.
Walker and other critics say the plan is too costly: The governor cited figures from the state Public Service Commission and the Department of Natural Resources estimating that Wisconsin consumers would be forced to pay an additional $13 billion in compliance costs between now and 2030. And Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business group, said higher energy prices would hurt manufacturing, noting that Wisconsin relies more on that sector than many states.
The EPA says they’re wrong: The average American’s monthly electricity bill will drop by 7% in 2030, the agency says, and opponents are ignoring lower health care costs in the coming years.
The EPA’s estimate may be too rosy and WMC’s estimate too dark. But climate change is real, and carbon emissions are contributing to its rise. As the EPA notes, “2014 was the hottest year in recorded history, and 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the first 15 years of this century.” This is not an issue that’s going to go away, and, yes, dealing with it will come with a cost. But the costs of doing nothing could be far more severe.
Climate change also is a national issue; no state can do this alone. The Obama administration is not overstepping its authority; it’s taking the necessary steps to lead here and across the planet.