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Confrontation vs. innovation

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Arkansas took a great step in the right direction last week. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Public Service Commission announced the state would move forward to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan. This decision gives Arkansas a unique opportunity to lead the way in the switch to clean power.

The Clean Power Plan is the biggest step ever taken by the United States to curb climate change. The plan calls for Arkansas to reduce its carbon emissions by 36 percent by the year 2030.

Unfortunately, the issue has become partisan, when it's really about doing our fair share to protect the planet for our children and improve living conditions for all Arkansans. Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge vowed to "continue to fight the final rule" and "take any and all appropriate legal action to prevent its implementation."

Luckily, the ADEQ and the PSC are putting partisan politics aside to do what is best for the state. The CPP provides guidelines for states to reduce CO2 pollution by shifting away from coal power to cleaner, smarter alternatives. Carbon pollution is the single largest driver of climate change. It fuels extreme weather conditions threatening the health and livelihood of Arkansas communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color.

Renewable energy is better for consumers, creates jobs and lessens pollution that causes health problems, including asthma and cancer. ADEQ and the PSC are working with ratepayers, utility companies and other stakeholders to create the best plan for Arkansas. The state needs to develop a strong plan that fully provides an environment for clean energy and energy efficiency. This same plan must protect our economy without exposing Arkansans to energy cost increases.

We should consider all options to find the ones that work best for Arkansas. One promising solution is market based: a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend (CF&D).

CO2 polluters pay a fee levied at the source of fossil fuel production or the port of entry for imports. Those dollars are returned to all Arkansans, which in turn goes back into the economy. CF&D is fair, simple, and puts money in YOUR pocket.

It will make local and green energy alternatives more affordable, creating investment in biofuel, wind, solar and energy efficiency programs. These renewable sources are the future of energy, where the jobs will be. Arkansas can be at the front end of the inevitable shift in our energy economy.

A 2014 study of a national CF&D found the economy would add 2.8 million jobs over the next two decades. Emissions would be reduced by more than half, and most coal power plants would no longer be operating.

We need to study the potential for CF&D, and other ways to clean our energy footprint here in Arkansas. All options should be on the table.

Ignoring the EPA's Clean Power Plan is not an effective solution. The lawsuits challenging the CPP are likely to fail. If they do fail, Arkansas will be in a better position by considering cleaner options. In the unlikely event the legal challenge is successful, Arkansas will still be in a better position to capitalize on the economic opportunity clean energy provides.

This CPP innovation creates jobs, grows the economy, stimulates clean energy investment and innovation, and leads to healthier communities. The majority of Arkansans support the CPP. According to a poll by Impact Management Group commissioned earlier this year by the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation, 67 percent of Arkansans support the Clean Power Plan. Arkansans want to move our state in the right direction for ratepayers, businesses and future generations. With the added incentive for a dividend for fighting carbon pollution, public support would be stronger.

Robert McAfee is a member of the Arkansas Citizens' Climate Lobby.

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