Last week the federal Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal it is calling the Clean Power Plan. If enacted, it would cut carbon pollution nationally by 30 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030. Because Montana has already taken steps since 2005 to promote renewable energy and invest in energy efficiency, our state would only need to reduce our carbon pollution by 21 percent from existing levels. Under this new proposal, Montana would be afforded enormous flexibility to craft regulations that fit our economy, our natural resources, and our power needs.
Though not a panacea for stopping climate change, the Clean Power Plan proposal would be a significant step in the right direction. In fact, it may be the most important policy to address global warming that this country has ever undertaken. Power plants are currently the largest source of carbon pollution in the country. If we are to act to address the changing climate, power plants can’t be ignored.
And act we should. Ninety-seven percent of peer-reviewed scientific studies agree that carbon pollution is altering the earth’s climate. As a result, around the world we are seeing rising temperatures, more severe rainstorms, more intense hurricanes, and rising sea levels. Montana is getting more than our fair share of impacts. Here in the state, trends show temperatures are up, mountain snowpack levels are down, spring runoff comes earlier, extreme storms are happening more often, forest fires are more frequent and intense, bark beetle infestations are destroying whole forests, and the list goes on.
In short, here in Montana and around the globe the problems created by the changing climate are considerable; and if we continue on the same carbon emitting path that we’re on, the problems undoubtedly will become catastrophic. University of Montana climate scientist Dr. Steve Running put it into perspective in a recent Great Falls Tribune article on the Clean Power Plan. He said:
If the American people are serious about slowing down climate change, this is the logical first step to do, and if we're not serious about climate change we need to sit our children and grandchildren down and say, 'Sorry, we don't feel like doing anything.’
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what many politicians want to do. In his official statement responding to the proposed Clean Power Plan, our own Congressman Steve Daines called the proposal a “war on coal that kills Montana jobs and hurts Montana families.”
Nowhere in his official statement does Congressman Daines use the terms “climate change” or “global warming”. That’s because he considers himself a “climate skeptic”. In his mind, “the jury is still out” on whether carbon pollution is altering our climate. In one interview on Montana Public Radio he even went so far as to say “solar cycles” may be causing it. It is this head in the sand attitude that allows him to take such a misguided stand on the proposed Clean Power Plan.
If he understood the overwhelmingly-agreed-upon science and the gravity which it portends, he might have a more nuanced position on the proposal’s impact on lost jobs and the economy. If he understood the science, Congressman Daines might think more about crop damages farmers face from extreme weather events like the recent hail storm near Billings. He might be a little put out by the lost revenues hotels, restaurants, and gas stations encounter when major wildfires erupt around the state and tourists disappear. He might be upset about the stress and added family medical bills caused by increased asthma attacks brought on by the smoke from those same wildfires. He might consider the clients fishing outfitters lose in late summer when rivers are closed due to high stream temperatures and low flows, and he might be concerned about the long-term health of the timber industry faced with forests dying off because of bark beetle infestations.
With an understanding of climate science, the proposed Clean Power Plan should be viewed as a jobs security plan, not a jobs killing one. Reducing carbon certainly hasn’t hurt the economies of the nine northeastern states working to reduce their states’ carbon pollution through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Since 2009 these nine states have cut their carbon emissions by 18 percent, while their economies grew by 9.2 percent. By comparison, over the same period carbon emissions in the other 41 states fell by only 4 percent, while their economies grew by only 8.8 percent.
Montana is in the bullseye regarding the impacts of climate change. Left unchecked, it would devastate our forests, waters, wildlife and agricultural lands. Our way of life and our economy are at stake. I sure don’t want to have to explain to my kids and my future grandkids why my generation did little to reduce the carbon pollution causing climate change. I want my government to act. The Clean Power Plan is a good step in the right direction. It would cut carbon from our most polluting industry, and it would allow each state the flexibility to craft its carbon reduction plan in ways it best sees fit.
The science of climate change is too clear and too important to willfully ignore. We owe it to future generations to act. Please call Congressman Daines and tell him Montanans deserve better.
This is David Dittloff, Regional Representative for the National Wildlife Federation.