Our opinion: A good starting point


Some say Pres. Barack Obama's new proposal to cut pollution from America's power plants is too onerous and costly, while others say it doesn't go far enough to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions blamed for worldwide climate change.

That can only mean one thing: The proposal is a good compromise that will serve as a starting point for effecting real change.

Obama's 645-page proposal would force a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030 from 2005 levels. To meet their targets, states could make power plants more efficient, reduce the frequency at which coal-fired power plants supply power to the grid, and invest in more renewable, low-carbon energy sources.

Environmental activists were split, with some hailing the plan and others calling it insufficiently strict to prevent the worst effects of global warming. Fossil-fueled U.S. power plants account for 6 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, so even a steep domestic cut affects just a portion worldwide, the Associated Press reports. And even with the new limits, coal plants that churn out carbon dioxide will still provide about 30 percent of U.S. energy, according to predictions by the Environmental Protection Agency, down from about 40 percent today.

While the plan would push the nation closer to achieving Obama's pledge to reduce total U.S. emissions by 17 percent by 2020, it still would fall short of the global reductions scientists say are needed to stabilize the planet's temperature.

Connie Hedegard, the European Union's commissioner for climate change, called the rule "the strongest action ever taken by the U.S.government to fight climate change." But she also said, "All countries, including the United States, must do even more than what this reduction trajectory indicates."

Meanwhile, Republicans, industry groups and even a few Democrats who are facing tough re-election campaigns in energy-dependent states wasted no time in criticizing the plan. They're using the all-too-familiar arguments that it would kill jobs, drive up power bills and crush the economy in certain regions of the U.S.

We hear this same refrain every time there is an attempt to enact legislation to reduce the harmful pollutants that wreak havoc on the environment and on our own health. But as Obama said in a conference call with public health leaders: "What we've seen every time is that these claims are debunked when you actually give workers and businesses the tools and the incentives they need to innovate."

What's more, the administration said the nearly $9 billion price tag will be offset numerous times over by health savings from reductions in other pollutants like soot and smog that will accompany a shift away from dirtier fuels.

Carbon dioxide from coal burning, a main cause of global warming, does not cause heart or lung problems itself, but the soot, chemicals and particles that accompany it can make people sick, the New York Times explained. Climate change can also contribute to illness by changing pollen releases in ways that worsen allergies and asthma, by causing "desertification" that pours clouds of dust into the air and by producing heat waves that endanger people who are ill or frail.

"Power plant pollution makes people sick and cuts short lives," the American Lung Association said in a statement, adding that cleaning up the air would have "an immediate, positive impact on public health."

In fact, the new rule would prevent up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks in the first year it takes effect, the Times reports.

Dr. Byron Thomashow, a lung specialist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and chairman of the board of directors of the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Foundation, said the foundation supports the new regulation.

"With more than 300 million individuals worldwide affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and total deaths expected to increase more than 30 percent in the next 10 years, it is critical that strong measures be taken to limit carbon emissions and the associated particulates produced that can contribute to flares of the chronic lung disease," Thomashow told the Times.

While opponents are spewing on about the short-term monetary costs of this proposal, the price of doing nothing -- in terms of human lives and the untold financial burden of climate change -- is far greater. The fact is, something needs to be done to curb the impact of manmade pollution on the environment, and it needs to be done sooner rather than later.

This proposal may not be enough to fully reverse climate change, as some have argued, but at least it's a step in the right direction.


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