Opinion Op-Ed
Op-Ed

Don't buy the smear of the EPA

EPA is risking 800,000 coal jobs? There aren't that many in the U.S. now
California's energy plan proves that EPA carbon approach can work

The nation's worst polluters and their allies have launched a propaganda campaign to convince you that the Environmental Protection Agency's new carbon pollution standards are nothing more than a backdoor energy tax that will kill jobs and cost you money.

That campaign is a lie. And what's at stake is too important to let the lie stand, or even start.

Right now, there are no limits on the amount of carbon pollution that coal-fueled electric plants can pour into the air. Zero limits on the worst pollution in America, pollution that increases the risk of asthma, heart disease and lung cancer. Pollution that is the leading cause of climate change.

For the polluters, the carbon pollution loophole has been one of the most lucrative giveaways in America. So it's not surprising that the EPA proposal would start them howling. The thing is, what they're saying isn't true.

Take the radio ads from the National Mining Assn. claiming that home electric bills will "nearly double" if "extreme new power plant regulations take effect."

In fact, the proposal calls for a 30% cut in pollution, which would at most create small, short-term changes in electricity prices of the sort the power sector already deals with. EPA chief Gina McCarthy compared the potential increases for families with the price of a gallon of milk a month. And those costs would be dwarfed by huge benefits in job creation and health savings, worth more than $90 billion, according to the EPA.

Even before the official EPA announcement, the opposition was lining up with a range of astonishing falsehoods. The folks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the plan they hadn't seen yet could cost $50 billion and kill 224,000 jobs (they have since said they're reexamining their numbers). GOP Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, the nation's largest coal-producing state, said Saturday that the Obama administration "set out to kill coal and its 800,000 jobs."

The truth? When these pollution cuts take effect, coal will still provide 31% of American electricity, down from 37% today — hardly a death blow.

And those 800,000 jobs? The National Mining Assn. itself counts just 90,000 coal miners in the whole country. Double that for the workers transporting it and working in coal-fired plants, and the figure is still far short of Enzi's numbers and short of the Chamber of Commerce jobs-at-risk numbers. Most of these coal jobs will remain. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of new, clean energy jobs will be created. Last year alone, investments in clean energy created more than 78,000 jobs, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs, a business group.

Among the toothless charges being made, my personal favorite is the claim that the EPA proposals represent "an illegal use of executive power," as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called it. The facts? The Supreme Court has twice (in 2007 and 2011) ruled that the EPA has the responsibility under the Clean Air Act to control air pollution that "endangers public health or welfare," and that this responsibility applies to carbon pollution and other heat-trapping pollutants.

The new EPA standards are a first step in the work that must be done to slow, stop and eventually reverse the climate chaos that is contributing to life-threatening heat waves, dangerous storms, rising seas and more. The EPA has proposed flexible, state-by-state limits that would enable states to invest in creative and locally appropriate solutions to curb dangerous pollution while providing dependable and inexpensive power to their citizens.

California is already proving that an approach like the EPA's can work. Thanks to the state's climate and clean energy plan, millions of Californians received a "climate credit" of $30 to $40 on their electricity bills this April (and residents can expect those credits biannually from here on out). What's more, California's emissions per capita have dropped 17% since 1990.

So when the coal and oil industry titans and their allies try to tell you the EPA carbon rules will kill jobs or send your electric bills soaring, tell them you don't buy their lies.

Tell them you want to leave our children and grandchildren a healthy, livable world, and that you're not willing to give the worst polluters in America a free pass anymore.

Frances Beinecke is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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