Ga. has nothing to gain by fighting climate rules

The planet’s climate is changing more quickly than at any time in the climatological record, and we are the only plausible cause of such change. There is no other suspect.

Those are the larger realities that confront President Obama, and that finally drove him to action this week. The lesser realities include a political system so fixated on tribal confrontation that it is no longer capable of responding to major challenges. Because of that paralysis, the only option open to Obama is to use authority granted to him by environmental laws passed more than 40 years ago, to address a different set of challenges.

Nonetheless, recent Supreme Court decisions have confirmed Obama’s authority to address climate change, and while new legal challenges are inevitable, they seem unlikely to succeed.

Critics also complain that reducing carbon pollution from power plants by an average of 30 percent by 2030 will cost jobs, particularly in areas dependent on carbon-intensive coal. While that is true to some degree, three other things are also true:

1.) Such complaints have been raised against every major environmental regulation of the past 50 years. Time and again, those warnings have come from special interests that shove the costs of their own pollution onto the rest of us; time and again those warnings have proved grossly exaggerated.

2.) Left unaddressed, climate change will cost much more in terms of jobs, lives and a degraded environment.

3.) New jobs, industries and technologies will be created as new energy sources are brought onto the market, with total employment likely to increase rather than decrease.

Utility companies have known for a long time that this sort of requirement was coming, and those firms with any degree of foresight had already begun to prepare. Georgia Power has been weaning itself from coal for as long as a decade now. Its investment in two new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle was motivated in part by recognition that the system had to change.

Under Obama’s approach, a lot of responsibility is put into the hands of state governments, which will have to decide how best to achieve the mandated emission reductions. That may prove to be a problem in states such as Georgia, which are controlled by politicians who treat climate change not as a serious environmental challenge but as a test of their political loyalty that they dare not fail.

Their instinct will be to fight this approach, perhaps by abdicating their authority to draft their own compliance plans and thus force the federal government to carry out the law instead. Given efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, Gov. Nathan Deal, Attorney General Sam Olens, the Georgia Legislature and the state Public Service Commission may take that course, at least initially.

But in time that opposition will fade, in part because Georgia Power and other energy providers will want a state plan that they can directly influence. Georgia’s business community will also demand the assurance of knowing they’ll have energy sources that comply with U.S. law. Fighting such changes may be politically and emotionally rewarding, at least in the short term, but it is a losing long-term strategy, for the state as well as for the planet.

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