I Think We Can … Reduce Carbon Pollution

Jodi Perras, Indiana representative, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

By Jodi Perras, Indiana representative, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

When it comes to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, I wish Governor Pence and Indiana’s business community sounded more like the Little Engine That Could than Chicken Little.

For those who don’t recall childhood fairy tales, the Little Engine volunteered to pull a heavy load up a large hill – a task that larger, stronger engines had refused to try. The Little Engine makes it to the top with a valiant effort and his mantra, “I think I can, I think I can…”

Instead of taking this approach to protecting our children and grandchildren from the economic risks of climate threats, the governor and Indiana’s so-called business leaders sound more like Chicken Little, who ran off to tell the king, “The sky is falling!” because an acorn had fallen on her head.

Those who criticize the proposed carbon rule should read what the Clean Power Plan actually requires, before crying that their sky is falling.

Under the proposed safeguards, Indiana must develop a plan to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector by about 20 percent by 2030, using a 2012 baseline.

These goals are very achievable in Indiana, and the Clean Power Plan will result in cleaner air and water, healthier people, and more jobs in the energy efficiency and clean energy sectors.

In 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Indiana’s electric power sector emitted 114 million metric tons of climate-disrupting carbon pollution – ranking fifth worst in the nation behind Texas, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. That same year, we ranked just 38th in generation of clean, renewable energy.

We can and must reduce carbon pollution. For starters, we should restore Indiana’s energy efficiency goals that were struck down by the Indiana General Assembly this year, reducing overall energy demand by 12 percent. We could also generate more energy from Indiana wind and sun – currently just 4 percent of our energy supply. More than 10 states are already generating 10 percent or more of their electricity from wind alone, including conservative states like Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska.

The Clean Power Plan does not force coal-fired power plants to close. With nearly 40 percent of Indiana’s coal-fired power plants more than 40 years old, they will be retiring soon of their own accord and in the best interests of ratepayers – because they are getting too old and expensive to operate and because people don’t want unhealthy coal pollution in their communities.

Respected economists say the transition to clean power can and must be done. Former Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson wrote recently in the New York Times, “We already have a head start on the technologies we need. The costs of the policies necessary to make the transition to an economy powered by clean energy are real, but modest relative to the risks.”

There are jobs to be gained in energy efficiency and clean energy to offset jobs that will be lost at coal-fired power plants and coal mines. Indiana needs a plan to manage this transition and help train affected workers and young people for a new energy economy, rather than holding on to the old, unhealthy one.

The health benefits of generating electricity in a cleaner way will be enormous. A study by the Indiana University School of Medicine concluded that the public health cost of burning coal in Indiana was $5 billion annually. That’s a cost we pay for coal-related heart disease, lung disease, and asthma – and the mercury that contaminates our fish.

Indiana businesses have been leaders in building automobiles, electrical equipment, batteries, medical devices and pharmaceuticals. Why not be a leader in the clean energy economy and the jobs it can bring to Indiana?

I think we can.

Jodi Perras is the Indiana representative to the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. She can be reached at jodi.perras@sierraclub.org