Carbon Pollution Standards Open Options for Renewable Energy

Last month the Center for Rural Affairs filed official comments to the Environmental Protection Agency in support of proposed New Source Performance Standards. This rule creates first-ever limits on the amount of carbon pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants.

As the name implies, these standards apply only to new power plants, those that haven’t yet been built. A similar rule written exclusively for existing power plants will be released later this summer.

The negative consequences of coal combustion are well documented. The use of fossil fuels to produce electricity is far and away the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with coal-fired power plants providing an outsized contribution to this total. The leading cause of carbon dioxide pollution, continued use of coal is a primary driver of climate change.

The rapid progression of climate change presents unique problems for rural communities and small towns. In the past, it has been much easier to project changes to the environment and how those changes would affect communities and economies. Now those changes are becoming much harder to predict, requiring a greater focus on adaptation and proactive solutions to mitigate future damage to the environment and human health.

Without action to curb carbon emissions, a changing climate will chart a course that compromises the agricultural economy of the U.S. and increases food insecurity on a global scale. According to the USDA, “Climate change will exacerbate current biotic stresses on agricultural plants and animals. Changing pressures associated with weeds, diseases, and insect pests, together with potential changes in timing and coincidence of pollinator lifecycles, will affect growth and yields.”

In 2012, about 80% of American agricultural land was punished by the most extensive drought in at least 25 years. Extended drought and extreme weather conditions are directly attributable to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. It is indisputably important that this rule effectively place limits on these emissions and set strong standards for future power plants.
In contrast to fossil-fueled power plants, renewable energy emits no greenhouse gas pollution. In further contrast, renewable energy is a drought-resistant cash crop that is growing the same rural communities the proposed rule is written to assist. Instead of compromising these communities’ ability to enjoy a strong economy, renewable energy creates jobs and cheaper inputs, while dumping less carbon into our air.

For this reason, America has grown into a global clean energy leader, with the potential to go even further. Today there are 80,700 wind energy jobs and 142,698 solar energy jobs across the nation. Construction of turbines, solar panels, and associated parts also has the potential to enliven the manufacturing industry in numerous states. This new income for rural communities means more resources for fire and police departments, schools, and infrastructure.

Pollution from coal-fired power plants is compromising the ability of many rural individuals to enjoy the quality of life they deserve. We applaud the agency for tackling this very real problem, but ask that the final rule contain important changes that force those who rely on coal-fired power plants to achieve emission reductions they are technologically capable of.

Expanding renewable energy should be a key facet in any plan to address climate change. Changing the way we produce and consume energy is a proactive measure that can work alongside adaptive steps, and helps to lay out workable solutions. This rule must reflect this reality and set us on a course that enables every community to reach their full potential.