Sen. Roger Webb popped up in the Missoulian this week, trotting out the usual litany of Republican shibboleths about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. He says the plan, which will reduce carbon emissions from electrical generation by about 15 percent between now and 2030, is going to cost us an arm and a leg.* It’s going to devastate Montana’s economy. It’s going to drive the price of electricity through the roof. It’s going to have no significant effect on emissions. It’s…well, you know the drill. And as you also know if you’ve read my previous posts responding to Steve Daines, Rick Hill, Glenn Opel, Arnold Olsen and Keith Regier, and Bob Lake on this point, there’s not much new here, and it’s probably not worth plowing old ground to show, once again, how wrong headed it all is.
But Webb, who is in line to chair the Montana Senate Energy Committee, does say something that sticks out like a sore thumb. It's this: “Climate change is certainly a problem that we must tackle, but the solution to this problem must be at a cost we can afford… Republicans would prefer to...solve climate change… by focusing on making coal-fired electricity generation even cleaner than it is today”.
For most of us, the idea that “climate change is certainly a problem we must tackle” is hardly a revelation, but for a Montana Republican to acknowledge that fact is almost unheard of. Webb says something here that Daines and Hill and all those other guys just haven’t been able to bring themselves to say. As far as I can see, that’s progress.
But let’s take it up a notch.
If Webb is really serious about wanting cost effective measures to arrest climate change, he should stop attacking the Clean Power Plan and get down to business. Because the plan itself is designed to allow states to figure out how they want to reduce emissions. It doesn’t mandate solar, or wind, or end-use efficiency, or clean coal technology, or nuclear. It says that states can meet emissions reductions targets however they want, using any mix of strategies they chose, working in compacts with other states if that’s to their advantage, and employing cap and trade systems or carbon taxes if they think that will work.
In short, the plan gives states the flexibility to identify and implement the least costly strategy for reducing emissions, and that is what Webb says he wants. If Republicans really believe that the cheapest way to reduce emissions is to make “coal fired electricity generation even cleaner than it is today,” here’s their chance to prove it.
It’s not going to be easy: earlier this year Count on Coal Montana was telling us that carbon capture and storage at power plants is going to be very, very expensive. Now, apparently, it’s the source of our salvation. I guess we’ll just have to see. But whatever they do, Republicans should just bring it. They should stop this incessant whining about the Clean Power Plan and start using it to prove, if that's possible, that they can actually do something about the climate crisis.
* The Clean Power Plan is usually described as reducing emissions from the electrical generating sector by 30 percent between 2005 and 2030. But since half that reduction has already been achieved (for reasons other than the plan itself), we have about a 15 percent reduction to deal with going forward.