June 27, 2014--In early June, the Environmental Protection Agency released new national carbon emissions standards aimed to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide pollution thirty percent by 2030. The proposed regulations are a landmark, the first ever attempt at limiting these harmful emissions. Although the new standards were designed to allow states flexibility in reaching the target levels, many Kentucky politicians were quick to brand the effort as a new phase in the mythical “War on Coal.”
In a Courier-Journal op-ed, Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) compared the new standards to those implemented in Germany, and went so far to brand them as a “dumb ass policy.” Stumbo listed three actions:“massive shifts to renewable energy” with dramatic coal reductions, a “complicated system of subsidies” and an electricity bill surcharge.underpinning the German plan. Then heposed the question: “Do these goals...sound familiar?”
No, in fact, they do not. What does sound familiar is the same old tune that Stumbo and other politicians keep singing: that renewable energy will always fail and that coal is our only reliable energy source. The Speaker’s logic is flawed when he insists that there is a direct correlation between the renewable energy policies of Germany and the United States—and Kentucky in particular.
Here are the facts:
· The U.S. has only planned to make moderate shifts to renewable energy. We will begin making reductions in the most polluting and expensive coal-fired power plants while maintaining our current nuclear power supply—not eliminating it.
· The U.S. is not setting up a complicated system of subsidies for these regulations
· The U.S. is not implementing a surcharge to pay for this transition
These stand in stark contrast to the supposed actions that Stumbo listed. Further, the Speaker failed to address some fairly major differences between Germany and the Commonwealth. At present, ninety-three percent of Kentucky’s electricity is generated from coal. The Commonwealth currently has no renewable energy policy and will be assuming only a one to three percent reduction of coal by 2016. Unfortunately, we are one of the last states to adopt any kind of reasonable energy efficiency measures. This means that the new emissions standards provide Kentucky with a great opportunity to address our dependence on a finite resource while assisting our utility providers as they transition into a renewable future.
Now, we can indeed learn valuable lessons from the growing pains of Germany. When that nation decided to become a leader in renewable energy, necessary investments had not yet been made in the grid’s infrastructure.
Germany invested heavily in solar capacity, when a more balanced approach incorporating increased wind power might have been a better option. Nuclear plants were shuttered, while new coal plants were constructed instead of modern natural gas facilities.
Finally, Germany set itself a lofty goal of becoming eighty percent renewable by 2050. To assist in achieving this, they instituted a tariff to be paid by residential energy customers while exempting the energy industry. This flawed policy created an unequal burden on ordinary German citizens.
Challenges aside, Germany understands that a fossil fuel-based energy system is simply not sustainable and it continues to work to improve the transmission & storage system so it can reap all of the rewards its renewable investments have created. We in the United States can learn from their growing pains and ensure that we do not make the same mistakes in leaving behind our extractive past and moving into our sustainable future.
In the conclusion of his op-ed, Stumbo offered some valuable advice. “We need new leadership in Washington that does more than just talk about worrying about the affect this [transition] will have,” he writes.
I agree wholeheartedly. Sadly, it seems that President Obama is one of the few currently exhibiting true leadership on this issue. We need politicians, especially from the Commonwealth, who will lead us into a sustainable, economically viable future. We need leaders to invest in sustainable forestry initiatives, local food movements, eco-tourism, energy efficiency integration, alternative energy sources and a balanced energy portfolio. We need representatives who recognize and assess the true costs of fossil fuel production paid by Kentuckians—poor health, high medical bills, and a shortened life span. And most importantly, we need leaders who can protect both Kentucky’s great natural resources and its hard-working miners by assisting them and their families through this transition by providing education and support.
The new emissions standards have provided Kentucky with a tremendous opportunity. We are now poised to take a comprehensive look at our energy policy and create a balanced portfolio that will protect our environment and increase both the fiscal and physical health of our state and its people.
Heather Warman is executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.