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Rescinding clean water protections: Quite unwise under climate warming

By FRANCES LAMBERTS

With 80 rooftop installations feeding electricity into the grid under TVA’s Green Power Producer program and the Johnson City Power Board’s solar farm to be built soon, clean alternative energy is making inroads in our region.

East Tennessee is thereby joining an important national trend on which a Business Insider article reported in January. It stated that “solar and wind jobs are growing at a rate 12 times as fast as the rest of the US economy” and most large firms hired additional workers “to address issues of sustainability over the past two years.”

This is among welcome developments related to energy and the climate. The Brookings Institute finds 30 U.S. states to have begun decarbonizing their economies. Over the 2000-14 year span, while successfully increasing the gross domestic product (GDP), they have steadily decreased climate-damaging carbon emissions. Tennessee is among these states. Collectively they have reduced emissions by 19 percent while growing their GDP by “a robust 22 percent.”

This disproves the frequently asserted view that curbing carbon emissions in order to protect the climate must harm the economy. It will yet be necessary to speed up the pace of decoupling economic growth and carbon pollution, if warming in excess of a dangerous, 2-degrees-Celsius level is to be prevented. Yet the quite impressive success these states have achieved allows “cautious optimism in the campaign to limit global warming,” the authors state.

Then there is “the Good-News” report, so headlined, from the national Carbon Tax Center. In December, it documented “A clean electricity boom” as reason “why the Clean Power Plan is way ahead of schedule.” Electricity savings through energy conservation and efficiency, along with wind and solar power, make up “clean energy” in the report’s analysis. The finding: Clean energy played an even greater role than substitution of natural gas for coal in helping the US power sector to reduce its carbon emissions. Thus, by the end of 2016, as the Tennessee Valley Authority had confirmed for its operations, reaching the mandated reductions was clearly in sight, without undue rate or cost increases. In the nation as a whole, as the report found, utilities by then had already achieved “nearly four-fifth of the 2030 carbon-reduction goal set by the Obama Clean Power Plan.”

An even more hopeful, because more impactful, method of reducing heat-trapping pollution was recently proposed by senior political leaders from earlier Republican administrations. The Climate Leadership Council proposes putting a fee on carbon-based fuels and giving the revenue back to households.

A similar, Carbon-Fee-and-Dividend approach is being advocated by the national, Citizens’ Climate Lobby organization, with district chapter in Northeast Tennessee. Such a policy would bring carbon emissions down by 50 percent in 20 years, save many lives, add 2.8 million jobs and grow the economy nationwide, as the “good-news” states have proved able to do on a much smaller scale.

We should follow these states’ example, accelerating and magnifying their success through carbon-dividend legislation – not, as the current administration seems intent on doing – roll back climate protections already in place and working.