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A Momentous Global Climate Pact, and Idaho Focuses on Meeting Emission Reduction Targets

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As world leaders and climate activists bask in the afterglow of the historic international climate accord agreed to by 195 nations in Paris last weekend, the reaction in Idaho has been for the most part muted – and for Idaho clean energy advocates, that’s not such a bad thing.

There’s no question where Idaho’s congressional delegation sits on this historic agreement to cap global temperature increases and to reduce the climate changing greenhouse gas emissions that are baking the planet. They are against it. Congressional Republicans jetted to the Paris talks to show that they will not be bound by President Obama’s commitments. However, in Idaho, state energy leaders have kept their powder dry by not criticizing the agreement and making steady progress on how the state will meet its obligations under the federal Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants serving Idaho’s electricity demand.The greatest impact from the Paris talks may be more acceptance, if not agreement, that the century-old era of coal is quickly ending, and that we need to change how our electricity is generated. Nearly half of Idaho’s electricity is from out-of-state coal plants, some of which are almost certainly facing early retirement. And there is the growing acceptance that, past denial or skepticism notwithstanding, most Idahoans and the businesses who operate here accept climate change as fact, and see coal as largely to blame.

Another unfavorable omen for King Coal is that the political needle on climate change is shifting. The latest national survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that majorities of registered Democrats, Independents, and liberal and moderate Republicans want action on climate change and will vote for presidential candidates who support it. Only conservative Republicans are less likely to vote for such a candidate.

So while Idaho political leaders in the past might have denounced the Paris talks — we’re not hearing that reaction so much today. Instead, the Idaho Office of Energy Resources (OER), joined by the Department of Environmental Quality and the Public Utilities Commission, are methodically determining how to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in ways that are minimally disruptive and bring exciting new economic opportunities in Idaho’s new clean energy economy:

  • OER continues meeting with energy offices in neighboring states to explore possible regional approaches to reducing and eliminating carbon dioxide emissions from power production.
  • The state on Dec. 16 submitted detailed feedback to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on how Idaho can participate in a voluntary Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) that could credit Idaho for investments in certain renewable energy or energy efficiency measures.
  • OER will hold “stakeholder” forums to hear from all interested public and private parties who are interested in developing Idaho’s implementation plan to comply with the EPA coal plant emissions rule.
  • Importantly, Idaho has so far declined to join the 20-plus states suing EPA over the coal plant rules, choosing instead to determine the compliance path best suited to state interests.

Many Idahoans watched with excitement and optimism as nearly 200 nations large and small found something (maybe one of the very few things) on which they could all agree — the urgency to reduce the largest threat the planet faces. The the coming months, Idahoans will be able to participate and determine how commitments made in Paris will translate into action at home.

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