Finally, action — or something approximating it. Last week, after years of congressional dithering, the Obama administration proposed new regulations on coal-fired power plants that would reduce the nation’s carbon emissions by 22 percent by decade’s end, and by 30 percent by 2030, over 2005 levels. (Florida’s utilities would have to achieve a 38.3 percent reduction.) This is both dramatic and not: It’s far less than the carbon reductions candidate Barack Obama (and, for that matter, candidate John McCain) proposed in 2008, and much less ambitious than what environmental groups wanted, but nonetheless could be the most significant concrete action on the looming climate crisis this country has ever taken.
Republicans, quite predictably, reacted with their by-now-patented admixture of apoplexy and head-up-ass denial. This was, we were told, part of a nefarious War on Coal (like that would be a bad thing), and would kill jobs and cripple the economy (like climate-related catastrophes won’t do the same).
The American Public Power Association, of which JEA is a member, voiced objections, too, to “regulations that call for too much change too fast” and “unnecessary coal-plant retirements.” The local utility, meanwhile, warned that it may have to spend as much as $100 million to bring its coal plants up to the new standards, which could mean higher electricity rates. Roughly two-thirds of the electricity JEA generates comes from coal. That mixture will have to change, probably in favor of natural gas — which, while still a fossil fuel, emits about half the carbon pollution as coal.
There are other solutions beyond natural gas and retrofitting coal plants: a cap-and-trade system; taking advantage of the state’s abundant solar energy; a greater emphasis on conservation. But these require leadership — a quality sorely lacking in Tallahassee, where no one seems to give a damn about climate change or clean energy whatsoever. Not the Legislature, which steadfastly refuses to join 38 other states in setting standards or even ethereal targets for renewable energy. Certainly not Gov. Rick Scott, who can’t even decide if climate change is a real thing, and who repealed a law passed under Charlie Crist to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Under Scott’s watch, Florida — the Sunshine-freaking-State — has fallen to 18th in the nation in solar capacity, and renewable sources account for a pathetic 2.2 percent of the state’s energy supply.
Perhaps the EPA will snap the state out of its blissful ignorance. (The Obama administration’s proposal, which will be finalized next year, requires states to set up their own carbon-reduction schemes. If they fail, the feds will step in.) More likely, however, we’ll see industry-types caterwauling and the politicians they’ve bought foot-dragging and threatening lawsuits.
To which I say: Bring it. This country — and this state — have postponed an actual, inevitable war on coal for far too long. It would be naïve to say there won’t be downsides. So what? Every war has casualties. Even if electricity bills tick up, even if jobs are lost, even if the economy slows down, the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term costs. The price of inaction is much, much greater.
This is a war we have to fight. This is a war we have to win. Our future depends on it.