Placing state’s hope on coal unwise move

(Bloomington) Herald-Times

That Gov. Mike Pence is continuing his opposition to the federal government’s Clean Power Plan — in fact, he says flat out that Indiana will refuse to comply with the terms of the plan if they don’t change — comes as no surprise.

First, the plan has been drafted by a federal agency that answers to Barack Obama. That by itself makes it unlikely that any right-leaning Republican governor would jump aboard, simply because … well, you know. Just because.

But Indiana also depends on coal-fired electric power plants to supply most of the Hoosier state’s electricity. The U.S. Energy Information Agency reports that last year 85 percent of the state’s electricity was generated by burning coal, most often in the many power plants that loom across Indiana’s southern landscape.

The same agency reports that Indiana is among the top coal producers in the country. Coal is abundant here, reducing transportation costs, a significant reason it’s the cheapest power source for Hoosiers. But its combustion also produces huge volumes of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is inexorably warming the planet (that’s the consensus of the world science community).

The new federal plan requires significantly greater reduction in carbon emissions than a draft proposed last year, which already had coal-state politicians gnashing their teeth.

The fear here is that to meet those limits, power companies will have to spend billions to retrofit old plants or build new, more environmentally friendly plants that will jack up the cost of doing business in the state, as well as dramatically raise homeowners’ electric bills.

Miners’ jobs also will be threatened, of course, as will the jobs of workers at manufacturing plants that could close because their electric bills are too high.

That all may be true. Or it may not. One environmental group, the Hoosier Environmental Council, argues that the state should embrace the new rules and invest in development of renewable energy, not only for the sake of our environment and our grandchildren, but because Indiana stands to gain more jobs per person in the renewable energy field than 48 of the 50 states.

There is yet another reason to put our efforts into looking for alternatives to coal rather than fighting to keep it.

That is economic, based on the rapid growth of alternatives to coal. Natural gas, with huge reserves uncovered in recent years, is cheaper to burn than coal. Power companies increasingly are turning to natural gas fired generating plants. Wind and solar, while still contributing only a tiny percentage of our energy, are fast developing industries.

If we throw all our effort into one bucket — that is, a bucket of coal — we will be left behind, struggling to keep coal viable as the rest of the business world leaves us behind.

And there remains that larger reason to welcome the new rules, provided one believes in the science of the matter. Danger lies ahead for us all if we don’t act quickly to reduce carbon emissions.

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