Probably one of the oddest statements you hear in politics nowadays is “I’m not a scientist.” The idea, of course, is that because politicians aren’t climate scientists, they’re not qualified to say that climate change is real.
Of course, you don’t have to be a scientist to know climate change is real — although the vast majority of climate scientists do know that — or to understand how its effects, such as extreme weather or damaging heat waves, can be devastating to businesses and the economy.
That’s why the introduction earlier this month of the final Clean Power Plan is such an important event — because it represents the single biggest step the U.S. government has taken to deal with climate change. But to make it work, states will need to step up in a big way — and the business community will need to push for that to happen.
Addition by subtraction
Overall, the final rule will require 32 percent reductions in carbon emissions by 2030, using 2005 levels of carbon dioxide as a baseline — an easier threshold to meet than current levels, whichcontinue to rise on a yearly basis. But that reduction is the national aggregate. Go down to the state level, and things change considerably.
Each state will have its own emission reduction threshold to meet, based on factors such as the number of oil and coal plants and the potential for increased renewable energy installation.
That’s why some states will have very low goals to meet — for example, Idaho at 10 percent reduction and Connecticut at 7 percent have the lowest bars to reach. (Alaska and Hawaii, as non-contiguous states, have not been given targets yet; Vermont does not have a target because it has no coal-fired plants.)
Best of all, states get to decide how to meet the targets. States such as the Dakotas, which have some of the highest emissions reductions, also have some of the fastest wind speeds in the country, making wind energy an attractive choice for them. Others could invest in renewables such as solar, hydropower or biomass, or through energy efficiency.
States even have the option to join together in a regional energy market, similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the Northeast.
This all sounds great, right? Well, there are still a few problems.
State of play
Sixteen states, many of which receive the vast majority of their electricity from coal, are suing the EPA to try to overturn the rule. This isn’t new, either; 15 states previously had sued to block the rule before it was even finalized, but the courts dismissed that suit.
Even if the EPA wins, some — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — have urged states to simply refuse to develop a plan.
There are a few reasons why his idea is terrible. For one thing, states that don’t set up their own plans will have to use one created by the EPA — and there’s a good chance that those states will see bigger energy rate hikes than if they created their own.
The bigger risk, however, is that states refusing to commit to a plan will limit the rule’s effectiveness, not just for dealing with climate change but also for improving economic growth.
Because the EPA is limited in how much authority it would have to curb emissions — under the Clean Air Act, it may be able to curb only emissions from coal-fired power plants, not require states to invest in renewables or energy efficiency — a federal plan would be leaving those other tactics unused. Those cleaner energy sources are not only crucial for economic growth; they’re also key tools for fighting climate change.
The business of cutting carbon
Considering how many people have claimed these rules will be job-killers, small businesses might be the last people you’d expect to back these rules. But national, scientific polling released by ASBC last year confirms that they’re on board: 64 percent of small business owners nationwide said government regulation was needed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.
That may not make a lot of sense at first, until you consider another result from the same poll: 53 percent of small business owners believed climate change adversely would affect their businesses. Nearly one in five said it already had.
We’ve written in the past about how there’s really not as much of a gap between liberals and conservatives on climate change as one might think. Yes, there’s differences of opinion on the solutions, but having people sit down and talk together makes it clear there is actually broad agreement on climate change being a real economic threat. What we need now is for policymakers at all levels of government to realize that.
Business people can help. One is to tell their governors to develop a plan instead of stalling.
Another is to attend the ASBC Sustainable Business Summit Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Washington, D.C. Among the presentations and discussions will be a session called “Getting Serious about Climate Change — Putting a Price on Carbon.”
While that’s a somewhat different issue from the Clean Power Plan, this discussion — featuring political leaders from both sides of the aisle, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and former Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC) — is a chance to begin a new dialogue and find business-friendly solutions to climate change that all stakeholders can agree on.
Ideally, discussions about transitioning from fossil fuel should include all stakeholders —and certainly all types of business. By following an approach that is balanced, pragmatic and non-ideological, business people can contribute a much-needed reset to a conversation that has become too polarized. Together, we must work to find a solution. The alternative is unthinkable.