The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its new Clean Power Plan last week, and the sounds made by those who oppose it — mostly politicians and lobbyists — closely resembled what was heard when the Wicked Witch of the West got doused with water in “The Wizard of Oz.”
To be sure, the plan aims to bring about big changes in the power-producing industry, and the new regulations will hit Texas hard, but mostly because our state has done just about everything possible to resist cleaner air standards. Notice that we said the “state” has resisted, as opposed to industry itself.
We won’t say the Texas power-producing industry is exactly on the leading edge of change, but it has been playing by the rules set forth by the state. Fortunately, it has not always followed the state’s example.
While the state’s leaders have been filing lawsuits — mostly unsuccessful — the power industry has been busy working to improve its many coal-fired plants in Texas and building and planning gas-fired plants for the future. This is progress, but it still leaves the industry in a tough place in the future.
The new plan requires existing power plants to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The good news is that most plants have made significant changes since 2005, and the result has been impressive.
The bad news is there isn’t much else they can do with current technology to lower the emissions much further than they are now in the coal-fired plants. Many Texas plants are hampered by the fact they use large quantities of Texas lignite coal, which is of poor quality.
Even though 2030 still is 15 years away, and that sounds like a long time, it is actually quite short when it comes to building a power plant. That’s also just one plant. To supply Texas’ growing power needs and meet emission standards, a number of plants are going to have to be retired and replaced to hit the goal.
So here is an idea, and one we believe the power industry would endorse: Why not begin now negotiating with the EPA in good faith to find some sensible common ground? It’s true our state’s long contentious history with the EPA might make this difficult, but it is worth trying.
Such negotiations, if successful, not only would reduce emissions, which is what the EPA wants, but would give the power industry some regulatory certainty going forward. Constantly aiming for a moving target has to be an organizational nightmare, and one that increases costs, too.
To get to that point, Texas leaders have to get the right mindset and be willing to negotiate. The same could be said for the EPA, however. Simply issuing mandates from above is not going to work, nor is it realistic to think all coal-fired plants can go away in the next 15 years.
Reasonable attitudes on all sides and giving power producers solid long-range goals to hit will get us closer to the goal than mandates followed by more lawsuits.
We ought to try that for a change.