A major step to reduce carbon footprint

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's plan, announced last week, to require dramatic reductions in carbon output from coal-fired power plants brings a breath of fresh air from an administration that too often has been blowing smoke or sucking wind.

Many of President Barack Obama's early supporters, including this newspaper, have felt let down lately by his failure to deliver the hope and change he once promised, particularly with regard to a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, and by various misfires related to the war on terrorism. Now, at last, he is finally coming through with an aggressive initiative designed to tackle one of the planet's most critical problems: climate change worsened by carbon emissions.

The proposed EPA rules would force states to cut emissions 30 percent by 2030, which not only would mitigate global warming caused by a buildup of greenhouse gases but also would help make the air we breathe less toxic.

Admittedly, there are drawbacks. Future administrations can always reverse any long-range policy; the United States accounts for only 17 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, compared to 27 percent by China; switching to less-polluting forms of power generation will initially boost costs and cost jobs.

We can only hope that enough progress will be shown over the next few years to persuade the next line of presidents to continue the initiative. As for China, the United States must consider imposing tariffs on goods imported by any country that doesn't adopt similar carbon-reducing measures. We also believe that over time the rewards, both financial and health-related, will far outstrip any short-term added expense from cutting back on coal.

As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy pointed out during a press conference last week to announce the initiative, "If your kid doesn't use an inhaler, you should consider yourself a very lucky parent. . . . 2012 was the second-most-expensive year in U.S. history for natural disasters. . . . If we do nothing, in our grandkids' lifetimes, temperatures could rise 10 degrees and seas could rise by four feet. . . . Lower-income families and communities of color are hardest hit."

We in Connecticut can take special pride of the role she has taken in crafting and presenting the new policy. From 2004 to 2009 Ms. McCarthy was commissioner of this state's Department of Environmental Protection, during which time she implemented a regional policy to trade carbon credits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

As a result, Connecticut is one of the nation's top states when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. Last week the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection reported carbon emissions from Connecticut power plants have declined by 22 percent since 2005 and 31 percent since 1990.

"We know that our state has been a leader, legislatively, in the past," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told The Connecticut Post. "We also know that in the last 3 years we've had to deal with some of the most severe weather occurrences that we've ever experienced on a back-to-back-to-back basis. And there is no clearer sign of the danger of greenhouse gases and other pollutants than on the effects on weather that we've experienced."

Connecticut is one of nine states - the others include Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont - that in 2006 formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, holding auctions to sell emissions allowances and investing in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other programs to limit emissions. Over the past eight years member states have slashed their combined carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent.

At the same time, Connecticut has filed lawsuits against upwind coal plants in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, claiming their emissions pollute our air. We look forward to a day when such litigation is moot.

The initiative must not only inspire new technologies that will improve efficiency but also reinforce individual commitments to saving energy.

We must lower our thermostats in winter and raise them in summer, drive smaller cars more slowly and less frequently, buy energy-efficient products and in general, consume energy as if our lives depended on it. The fact is, they do.

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