The initial reaction among North Dakota’s leading elected officials to a new air quality standard promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is so over-the-top as to border on apocalyptic. It is more sky-is-falling Chicken Little rhetoric than credible critique. It is almost as much political hot air than is emitted from the average coal-fired power plant.
And it’s predictable.
Every time – every time – new clean-air regulations have been thrown at the state’s coal-fired electrical generation sector, the end of the world as we know it was predicted by industry officials, state regulators and the congressional delegation. North Dakota would lose thousands of jobs, they warned. The state’s residents would see utility bills skyrocket to levels that would drive homeowners and business people into poverty. The state’s economy would all but collapse.
Did not happen.
Whether it was the industry (and its allies in government) whining about NO2 reductions, a tougher mercury emissions standard, forced limits on particulates or, years earlier, ordered SO2 cuts (that’s the acid rain stuff), they nevertheless did it. They met or exceeded standards; and coal companies kept digging coal, generation companies kept using coal to make electricity, and North Dakota consumers did not see utility bills break their budgets. The lights did not go out – or even dim. Oh, and by the way, the state’s economy not only grew, it thrived.
This time it’s EPA’s carbon rules. Reducing CO2, a greenhouse gas, is the aim. The proposed reductions and the time proposed to meet them are daunting. The industry has all but said that this time (the carbon rule) it’s different, and that the goals cannot be achieved without killing the coal-to-electricity industry in North Dakota. Really?
It can be argued – and the polluters are doing it – that more time is needed to reach the goals. Maybe so. And maybe as the implementation process moves ahead, modifications in timetables and other elements of the rules will be made. That’s not unreasonable when faced with such a major change in emissions standards. Often the science and engineering need to catch up. Indeed, that’s been a pattern that has repeated itself after every new major environmental regulation became the law of the land.
EPA critics, who relish using the agency as whipping boy No. 1 (good politics, after all), should dial it down. Their knee-jerk reaction puts their credibility at risk. In their rush to shill for big coal, they might want to pay attention to surveys – national and in North Dakota – that confirm most people are OK with paying a little more for electricity if it means clean air for their kids and a healthier environment for the long term.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.