Obama plan proposes large reductions in greenhouse gases

The Obama administration released a proposal Monday to reduce by 30 percent over the next two decades the greenhouses gases emitted by coal-fired power plants, a plan that would have a major impact on Georgia’s largest utilities.

The proposed changes in the air pollution rules enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency represent, along with the Affordable Care Act, the biggest policy initiatives of Barack Obama’s two terms as president.

Like the healthcare act, the greenhouse gas proposal is generating intense partisan opposition from conservatives and business organizations while being applauded by progressive groups and environmentalists who warn that action must be taken soon on the issue of global climate change.

“The new safeguards not only protect our health and communities, but they will also spur innovation and strengthen our economy,” said Ashten Bailey, an attorney with the GreenLaw environmental law firm. “Cutting pollution that harms our communities will also save billions of dollars in health costs, disaster cleanup, and disaster recovery costs.”

“Extreme weather caused by climate disruption has already cost Georgia’s families, businesses, and farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue,” said Seth Gunning of the Sierra Club in Georgia.

The country’s largest source of greenhouse gases is the coal-fired Plant Scherer generation facility near Juliette operated by Georgia Power, which had a subdued response to Monday’s announcement.

“Georgia Power, and our parent company Southern Company, supports guidelines that comply with the Clean Air Act and allow us to continue providing customers with clean, safe, reliable, affordable power using an all-of-the-above energy portfolio,” corporate spokesman John Kraft said.

“Coal is an abundant, affordable, domestic resource in a diverse fuel portfolio,” Kraft said. “Emission guidelines should preserve the use of coal in electricity generation while encouraging advancements in innovative coal technology.”

In recent years, Georgia Power, with the approval of the Public Service Commission, has closed several coal-fired plants across the state and replaced them with generation facilities powered by natural gas. Georgia Power has also signed several contracts to buy electricity from solar and wind-generated sources.

Republican PSC member Tim Echols said the Obama proposal “will ironically have a disproportionate impact on red states like Georgia that use a lot of coal, and I am trying hard to believe it is just a coincidence.”

“The administration’s policy on nuclear waste and regulation is effectively wiping out an affordable, carbon-free source of energy,” Echols contended. “Now, by forcing states like Georgia to eliminate even more coal-fired power generation, energy prices will rise and manufacturing jobs will be lost.”

“The Obama Administration continues its war on coal with the issuance of carbon dioxide rules for existing coal plants,” PSC member Stan Wise said.

“These overreaching rules trump state authority, put energy users at risk to future price swings, ignores the investments and progress Georgians have made to improve the environment, and are a backdoor attempt to force federal renewable energy mandates,” Wise said.

Obama’s proposed plan would require carbon emissions to be reduced by 30 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030.

“Climate change is happening, and it’s happening now,” Obama said. “As a president and as a father, I feel a moral responsibility to do something about it. The world our children grow up in depends on what we do today.”

A poll released Monday by the Washington Post-ABC News showed that 70 percent of Americans agree the federal government should put limits on greenhouse gases from power plants.

The issue of greenhouse gas reduction was supported by 57 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of independents and 79 percent of Democrats in the national survey.

This article reprinted with explicit permission from Tom Crawford's Georgia Report. © 2014 by The Georgia Report.