Today and Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is hosting hearings in Atlanta on its controversial proposed rules aimed at reducing pollution from power plants. Today, an environmental advocate says the changes will create cleaner, healthier air for Georgians and create jobs in the process. Another writer says that, if enacted, the rules would cost Georgians heavily in terms of both power costs and economic growth, with the poorest Georgians being among the most affected. Read even more opinions about the proposed rules at MyAJC.com and ajc.com.
EPA owes Georgians time, answers
By Mike Duncan
Beginning today, Georgians will have their first and only opportunity to be heard in person about policies that would have a disastrous impact on the state’s economy. The EPA chose Atlanta as one of just four cities to host a public hearing on its proposal to regulate carbon emissions from America’s power plants.
EPA’s proposal represents one of the largest regulatory efforts in our nation’s history, fundamentally altering the way we power our homes and business. Georgia has traditionally relied on a diverse electricity portfolio drawing roughly one-third of its power each from coal, natural gas and nuclear. This diversity helps contribute to better reliability and more stable electricity prices. EPA’s proposal, however, would force Georgia to turn away from this sound approach.
Under EPA’s proposal, Georgia would be required to reduce the carbon emissions rates of its electric plants by 44 percent – the sixth-largest emissions reduction requirement of any state. EPA assumes Georgia can accomplish this by reducing its electricity from coal by 34 percent; increasing electricity from non-hydro renewable energy sources by more than 200 percent; and reducing consumers’ electricity use by more than 10 percent. These assumptions are unrealistic at best and unachievable at worst.
EPA acknowledges that its plan would increase electricity rates but the plan, released just last month, is more than 1,600 pages long so its impacts are still being studied. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), however, issued a model plan that
EPA lifted heavily from to shape their own proposal. An analysis of that plan found that electricity prices in Georgia could increase by as much as 35 percent.
Often overlooked is how dramatic spikes in electricity prices hurt the most vulnerable citizens. The less a household earns, the more they are impacted by energy costs. Georgia households that earn less than $50,000 annually spend roughly 24 percent of their after-tax income on energy.
For families on the lowest rung of the economic ladder, the disparity is even greater. The 329,000 Georgia households earning less than $10,000 spend a whopping 86 percent of their household budget on energy costs. Many of these families receive state and other energy assistance to help reduce costs, but double-digit increases in electricity rates would assuredly set them even further back.
In addition to families, Georgia’s employers also stand to be hurt by EPA’s proposal — particularly those in energy-intensive industries like manufacturing. More than 11 percent of Georgia’s economic output is owed to manufacturing, which employs nearly 9 percent of the state’s workforce. As electricity prices go up, many Georgia manufacturers will look to cut costs elsewhere.
What is already clear about EPA’s proposal is that it will hurt many states, businesses and workers. Unfortunately, there has been little time to fully analyze the proposal. As a first step, the EPA should extend their comment period, add more public hearings, and include opportunities for stakeholders to ask questions.
The Partnership for a Better Energy Future, a coalition of business organizations representing more than 80 percent of the American economy, last week sent a letter to the EPA making this request. The Partnership represents many organizations in Georgia, including the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Association of Manufacturers and the Georgia Railroad Association.
EPA needs to ensure that the state of Georgia is more than a prop in this process. The state, its businesses and its people deserve more time and more answers from the EPA.
Mike Duncan is president and CEO, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
Clean power is essential to our lives
By Ovie Mughelli
It shouldn’t be dangerous to breathe. But for thousands of kids in Atlanta, just going outside is like a fullback going into a game without a helmet — unhealthy and unsafe. Millions of American kids live in places where the air is so polluted that it’s not always safe to practice sports, go for a hike, or visit the local park. In fact, Atlanta has one of the worst asthma rates in the country, meaning the dreams of too many kids are at risk of getting sidelined by chronic health problems.
As a kid from South Carolina who grew up to become a professional football player in Atlanta, my career has been a dream come true. Now, with the Ovie Mughelli Foundation, my focus is on making sure kids all over Georgia and all over the country have the same opportunities to pursue their own dreams. And, like any good game plan, that starts with the fundamentals, like making sure we all have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.
For too long, these basic necessities of life have been getting blitzed by pollution. But now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is stepping up, proposing the Clean Power Plan — the first-ever action to clean up the carbon pollution from power plants that’s creating smog, triggering asthma attacks, and threatening our communities by fueling the climate crisis.
With the Clean Power Plan, the EPA is proposing we clean up how we power our country, asking states across the country to come up with plans that will cut carbon pollution by upwards of 30 percent. That can mean getting the power plants that are the largest source of this pollution to clean up their act. It can mean new investments in energy efficiency. And it can mean a new focus on clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar that are already creating jobs all over the country. But what it will definitely mean is cleaner air for our kids now and safer communities for their future.
The fact is, Atlanta communities have been paying the cost for unchecked carbon pollution for far too long. I don’t need to tell anyone who watches the news that smog is a serious problem here. The code orange bad-air days that plague our summers are keeping children, the elderly, and people with respiratory problems indoors. The code red or purple days are keeping all of us inside.
Smog pollution triggers life-threatening asthma attacks, reduces lung functions, and even shortens lives over the longer term. And the effects of this pollution are being felt already in Georgia, especially in some of our more vulnerable communities.
Seventy-one percent of African-Americans live in counties in violation of air pollution standards — so it’s no wonder the incidence of asthma among African-Americans is 36 percent higher than everyone else.
But the dangers of this pollution are truly colorblind. With record temperatures, record droughts, record wildfires, and record storms becoming the new normal, we are tasked with being the generation that must act to tackle the climate crisis. Extreme weather fueled by carbon pollution is threatening communities from coast to coast — but the Clean Power Plan is a huge step in the right direction. This plan doesn’t just slash that dangerous carbon pollution, but it recognizes the enormous economic potential in action — potential that will mean a better future in Georgia.
Too many kids across Atlanta and across Georgia already struggle to find safe places to play, to find healthy, affordable food to eat, and to connect to their communities in a meaningful way. The least we can do is ensure the basic building blocks of life, like safe communities and clean air, are available to them. And when we can create thousands of new jobs doing just that, you know we’ve got a blueprint for success. That’s why I am proud to add my voice to the millions speaking out for the Clean Power Plan.
Ovie Mughelli is a former player for the Atlanta Falcons whose foundation works to inform kids about environmental issues.
The proven folly of a carbon tax
By Doug Miell
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold public hearings in Atlanta and four other cities to hear from those interested in the proposed Clean Power Plan, which includes new rules regarding carbon emissions from power generating facilities. Of great concern is that the plan, which is on track to be finalized next year, relies on taxes and penalties rather than incentives – a method that has proved to be detrimental and that would likely jeopardize the stability of our economy.
To understand the inherent flaws with the current proposal, we need only look at what happened in Australia, where they opted to introduce what was recognized as the highest carbon tax in the world as a way to address emissions challenges.
The tax resulted in Australian companies facing costs much higher than their global competitors, undermining their international competitiveness, while consumers experienced significant and regressive hikes in power prices and their daily cost of living.
By Australian standards, the political folly surrounding the introduction of this tax was unprecedented. After two Prime Ministers were ousted from power, the current leader was elected with a mandate to abolish the carbon tax and other associated programs.
Recently, the Australian Senate delivered the last rites to carbon tax, making it the first tax of its kind to be repealed and saving families an estimated $550 per year as electricity bills are forecast to be around 9 percent lower with the repeal.
The sum total of the two-year life of this tax can be summarized as an estimated $15.4 billion hit to the Australian economy for the delivery of minuscule reductions in global emissions. So what lessons can we learn?
Reflecting on what Georgia has already achieved in emissions reduction, it can be argued that significant and ongoing change can be achieved without driving the national economy into a ditch, or forcing consumers to bear the burden of inevitable price increases not only in power price but all manner of goods and services.
Data in the 2014 Georgia Energy Report reveals that Georgia has significantly changed its energy generation mix and reduced its carbon emissions by fuel switching, utility investments, and consumption efficiencies. That’s a pretty impressive outcome that can be attributed to a combination of market forces, regulatory stimulation and consumer behavior. All achieved during a protracted period of slow national economic recovery and without a debilitating carbon tax.
The United States can learn a cheap lesson from the Australian experience. Taxation and heavy-handed regulation are not the panacea to achieving meaningful reductions in carbon emissions.
This pathway delivered at best symbolic emission reductions, placed an undue burden on Australian consumers, and clearly illustrates the economic uncertainty that faces the U.S. economy if the Clean Power Plan is implemented as proposed.
As has been demonstrated here in Georgia, it is indeed possible to achieve meaningful environmental outcomes without subjecting the economy to draconian measures that will hit business and consumer confidence, stall business investment and hinder employment growth.
Doug Miell is an energy and natural resources advisor to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
EPA’s clean power plan is necessary
By David Kyler
Many objections are being raised about the EPA’s proposal to cut CO2 emissions by as much as 30 percent by 2030. Such resistance is predictable, reactionary, and completely unjustified.
To the contrary, if comparable restrictions are not adopted and successfully implemented soon, the consequences for Georgians and other Americans will become increasingly dire.
Modest as EPA’s “Clean Power Plan” is, it’s an important step in the difficult process of reducing serious harms to public health, the economy, and world climate. In fact, the downside ramifications of not embracing such controls are already mounting.
“Risky Business,” a report co-sponsored by a team of renowned governmental and business leaders, warns that human-induced climate change will cause substantially worsening crop losses, reduced labor productivity, heat-related illnesses, premature deaths, and property risks, especially in the Southeast.
Although this report provides a long-overdue, compelling appeal to the business sector – an influential player that has fiercely fought climate policy – its implications reach far beyond economic interests.
Further vindicating the crucial need for carbon controls is the most recent National Climate Assessment, which reveals a range of trends that are already producing troubling consequences. Rising land- and ocean-surface temperatures, sea level, and ice melt as well as global glacier mass reduction all point toward an array of profound problems that are accelerating and interactively compounding.
The implications of this and related assessments include:
• Destruction of forests by wildfire – to increase at least 50 percent by mid-century.
• Increased food prices due to crop failures – as alternating drought and flooding curtail harvests.
• Destruction of coastal property from rising sea-level and powerful storm-surges – as much as $100 billion lost by 2050, and possibly five times that much by the end of the century.
• Compromised power-plant capacity and more frequent brownouts.
• Escalating water-supply conflicts.
As Risky Business team-member Tom Steyer says, “The longer we wait to address the growing risks of climate change, the more it will cost us all.”
In light of these warnings by leaders from across the political spectrum, taking action to reduce the causes of global warming is both urgent and prudent. Contrary to those who exaggerate the burden of proposed carbon-controls by focusing on a few temporary impacts, objective assessment indicates that EPA’s plan will produce at least eight times more benefits than costs.
• Reduced medical costs — a minimum of $55 billion annually
• Averted property damage — a minimum of $50 billion, likely double that.
• Avoided brown-outs and power-plant shut-downs — at least $100 billion.
• Reduced power costs – an estimated 8 percent cut – equivalent to $10 billion annually.
• Protection of crops, timber, and fisheries — worth at least $110 billion a year.
Unquestionably, EPA’s judicious carbon-control plan is an essential beginning, but it should go further. For instance, the carbon footprint of all energy sources must be more carefully examined and regulated accordingly. Based on reliable studies, the ‘life-cycle’ carbon burden of nuclear power is substantial, yet the plan treats nukes as carbon-neutral.
In the interest of the nation’s future, we must actively support timely controls on carbon emissions.
David Kyler is executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast on Saint Simons Island.