Ken Miller’s guest opinion calling for action on climate change in Idaho was published in the Idaho Statesman on February 25. He states, “In its draft Clean Power Plan, EPA assigned states greenhouse gas reduction targets. Idaho’s is a 30 percent reduction by 2030. Idaho has commented on the proposal, but fighting this coal plant plan or refusing to implement the greenhouse gas emission targets can lead only to significant legal costs and the federal government writing Idaho’s plan instead. Idaho’s batting average in fighting federal regulations is unimpressive. It will only worsen if we resist a plan to address a problem our leaders admit already exists.”
Read on for the full piece.
The Feb. 6 article, “Idaho officials protest carbon reduction plan,” raised important questions about whether Idaho should do its share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A number of legislators and other policymakers in Idaho reject evidence that the climate is changing due to such influences as our utilities’ excessive reliance on out-of-state coal-fired power plants. They may dislike inevitable federal greenhouse gas emission controls, but they cannot wish those controls – or the consequences of climate change – away. Recall:
• Gov. Butch Otter issued a 2007 executive order that said in part, “The causes and effects of rising greenhouse gases, to the degree they are understood, may extend to the Western United States and the state of Idaho, and it is incumbent upon states to take a leadership role in developing responsive state-level policies and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, develop alternative energy sources, and use energy efficiently.”
• The Idaho Public Utilities Commission wrote in 2013, “The detrimental effects of long-term coal use on human health, the climate, wildlife, land and water are well documented.”
• In a 2012 rewrite of the Idaho Energy Plan, the Legislature said, “Coal combustion emissions are increasingly associated with the impacts of global climate change and other environmental concerns.”
• In 2013, the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security’s State of Idaho Hazard Mitigation Plan included a chapter on “Risk Assessment: Climate Change,” which reads in part, “Climate change impacts include threats to our health, safety, infrastructure, and economic vitality within Idaho. Scientific experts are analyzing climate change impacts and our government is noticing such observations.”
Despite skepticism by a diminishing minority in Idaho that climate change is a fact, it’s apparent that Idaho’s governor, Legislature, utility regulators and state Bureau of Homeland Security have expressed a different view.
It is awkward that while readily acknowledging that Idaho must take action in the face of already-occurring climate change, Idaho is simultaneously challenging pending federal regulations to reduce emissions from one of the primary contributors: coal-fired power plants.
The Feb. 6 news item noted Idaho’s position that “there are no coal-burning facilities in the state that could be subject to the carbon reduction rules,” but fails to note that 40 percent of the electricity consumed in Idaho comes from out-of-state coal plants. If we define Idaho’s “carbon footprint” to only include impacts of electricity generated in-state, then Idaho, with its large hydropower portfolio, ranks very well. But when we include the impacts of electricity generated from those outside coal plants, which utilities view as just as important as their hydropower, Idaho’s ranking is mediocre.
So who will bear the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Idaho-serving coal plants in Wyoming, Nevada, Montana, Oregon and elsewhere? You can bet those states where the plants are located aren’t going to accept all the responsibility for power exported to states like Idaho. So long as our utilities burn coal, customers will be on the hook for the inevitable associated regulatory costs, even though the 2012 Idaho Energy Plan points to a cleaner and certainly more affordable alternative.
In its draft Clean Power Plan, EPA assigned states greenhouse gas reduction targets. Idaho’s is a 30 percent reduction by 2030. Idaho has commented on the proposal, but fighting this coal plant plan or refusing to implement the greenhouse gas emission targets can lead only to significant legal costs and the federal government writing Idaho’s plan instead.
Idaho’s batting average in fighting federal regulations is unimpressive. It will only worsen if we resist a plan to address a problem our leaders admit already exists.
Ken Miller is the clean energy program director of the Snake River Alliance.