Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Time to Get Serious

When Steve Daines rose on the floor of the United States Senate last month to talk about the Clean Power Plan, he had the opportunity to address the world’s greatest deliberative body about the world’s most pressing challenge: arresting climate change. Montanans might have hoped that Daines would use the occasion to say something thoughtful and productive about how we can meet that challenge, but no: what we got was tendentious, polemical, and sadly misinformed.

You can watch Daines’ disturbing performance here, but if you’re not up for quite that much vitriol, just consider these points from the speech:

Like a snarky teenager, the senator refers to the EPA as President Obama’s “Employment Prevention Agency.”

Either because he’s delusional or simply doesn’t care about the truth, Daines calls the Clean Power Plan the President’s “plan to devastate Montana’s coal industry.”

Because under the plan Montana’s emissions rate must fall from 2,481 to 1,305 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour between 2012 and 2030, Daines figures our carbon emissions – and by implication, our burning of coal - will go down by 47.4 percent. But it won’t happen. Danes is confusing a decline in the emissions rate with a decline in emissions mass, and doesn’t seem to realize that that the two  will only be the same in the very unlikely event that over those same 18 years there is no increase at all in electricity generation.*

He says the plan would “make construction of any new coal-fired plant virtually impossible,” conveniently forgetting that for market reasons, nobody’s planning to build coal-fired power plants anyway.

He claims that the plan would be “devastating for our economy” and that “thousands of family wage jobs would be lost,” apparently failing to take into account all the jobs that would be created in the renewables and energy efficiency sectors, and grossly overstating the economic impact of a contraction in the coal industry, the extent of which is, in any case, unknown at this point.

He argues that the plan will stifle energy innovation and the development of “clean coal” technology, willfully ignoring the fact that the plan allows states to reduce their emissions however they think best. If coal-fired power plants can really find a low cost, efficient way of reducing emissions that allows them to go head to head with renewables and enhanced efficiency, the Clean Power Plan says more power to ‘em.

And so it goes. But there’s one thing that Daines doesn’t do. He never once – not one single time – mentions climate change. He never once acknowledges that to arrest climate change, carbon emissions are going to have to go down. He never once shows us that he realizes that in order to reduce emissions, the global energy system must be restructured. And he never once admits that since John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, no Republican has made any serious proposal whatsoever for dealing with climate change.

We desperately need to have a serious, dispassionate, and thoughtful conversation about how we can arrest climate change. To do that we need leaders who can leave politics, the well-being of campaign donors, suspicion, name calling, obfuscation and abuse of the truth at the door. We won’t get there with leaders who, like Senator Daines, act like a five year old kid who sticks his fingers in his ears, stamps his feet, and just screams “no, no, no!”

*Okay, maybe I should cut the senator a little slack on this point. It is confusing and I tried to clarify it in this post last year.