Thursday, June 5, 2014

Pence's EPA battle strands Indiana

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 4:00 AM

So, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wants to have a fight with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pence objects to a new EPA clean energy rule that will require in states to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent from their 2005 levels by 2030.

Pence used apocalyptic language to express his displeasure with the new regulation.

He said it was part of an "anti-coal agenda" and vowed:

"They will cost us in higher electricity rates, in lost jobs, and in lost business growth due to a lack of affordable, reliable electricity. Indiana will oppose these regulations using every means available."

Environmental advocates cast the new regulations in a different light.

"The state is so carbon-intensive," said Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. "There are a lot of low hanging fruits that Indiana could tap into to reduce its carbon footprint."

Most of the discussion followed those lines - lots of talking and not much listening.

Environmental activists cited the damage carbon emissions do to the atmosphere and public health. Coal executives said the new rule would cripple Indiana's manufacturing sector because it would increase the cost of providing energy.

I understand the coal companies' opposition to the regulation. Unless they diversify or there is some significant technological breakthrough that makes their product more environmentally friendly, they are about to enter into an era of diminishing returns.

What's harder to understand is Pence's position. It looks backward rather than forward.

The exploitation of energy reserves such as coal and oil generated much of the economic growth in the developed world over the past century and a half. In some ways, it was the ability to identify and make use of those energy sources that created the dividing lines between the developed world and the developing world.

The discovery and increasingly efficient use of those energy resources created great fortunes and millions of jobs.

Nothing, though, lasts forever. We now are entering into the waning days of the easy-energy era. Part of the reason gas prices continue to climb is that finding oil reserves is getting harder and more costly, which translates to higher fuel prices at the pump.

The next wave of growth in manufacturing and transportation - and the fortunes and jobs that will accompany that growth - will go to those who identify and exploit different, preferably renewable sources of energy.

That's why the smart states and smart businesses are looking ahead and trying to catch that next wave.

Indiana's governor, though, seems determined to ride the last wave until it crashes to shore - doubtless stranding a lot of Hoosiers on the rocks when the tide goes out.

That is unfortunate.

The debate no longer is about whether our traditional energy sources will run out, but when that will happen. The states, communities and countries that choose to bet on the past rather than plan for the future likely will spend generations, maybe even centuries, recovering from their foolishness.

The smart move here would be to start looking for ways to begin riding the next energy wave - and to help coal companies diversify their assets and their labor forces diversify their skill sets.

Instead, we're going to spend a lot of time and money trying to fight a change that is inevitable. That's like cursing the darkness when a candle blows out. Wise people look for another light. Foolish ones sit in the dark while they mutter and swear.

It is easy to reduce this debate to caricatures - to depict as a battle between jobs and clean air and water. It is those things, but it's also about the future.

It's about a future in which our children not only are able to breathe and drink the water, but also are able to work at jobs that aren't themselves dying. It's about creating new opportunities.

That is why this is a silly fight.

We should be spending our time planning for the future.

Instead, we Hoosiers and our leaders watch while the candle's light flickers as we wait for night to come and make sure that we're ready to curse the darkness.

John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of "No Limits" WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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