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Wasted energy: Coal plan’s opponents can’t argue its necessity

The critics of the new plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants stop short of arguing that polluted air is actually good for you.

Indiana is one of the nation’s most coal-dependent states. We’re seventh in coal production and fourth in use of coal to produce electric power. So, in a sense, it’s understandable that reaction from Hoosier officials was particularly vituperative.

Gov. Mike Pence didn’t even pause to argue that climate change is unproved science, as he has in the past. “Indiana will oppose these regulations using every means available,” he said in a statement Monday. Sen. Dan Coats said the regulations “will damage Indiana’s economy and hike electric bills for all Hoosiers.”

Indeed, it will cost money to retrofit old coal-fired plants in Indiana so that they emit 20 percent less carbon dioxide by 2030 than they did in the mid-2000s.

But panic and political hot air don’t help, particularly when, as Indiana and Michigan Power spokesman Brian Bergsma says, “It’s too early, really, to speculate on what the impact might be” on customers’ electric bills.

Instead of just saying no, Indiana leaders need to take this opportunity to help shape how the state responds to the new anti-pollution goals.

The cost of cutting carbon emissions, for instance, can be modified by switching to alternative fuels and electricity-saving strategies. Increasing state reliance on natural gas would make a difference. So would Energizing Indiana, a state program to encourage electrical efficiency. that will die at the end of this year.

Other sources of alternative energy could have an effect in Indiana over the next 15 years as well. When it’s completed, the nation’s largest geothermal project will eventually cut Ball State University’s carbon footprint in half. A smaller geothermal system is being installed at Indiana Tech.

It’s not clear whether geothermal will be a larger answer to Indiana’s energy needs, but the new energy regulations at least will lead us to pose the question.

Projects such as Ball State’s and Indiana Tech’s deserve the state’s enthusiastic backing.

We must look also to other established sources of electrical power: natural gas, solar power, wind power. None will fill all of Indiana’s needs, but all may play a role. Nuclear power certainly poses challenges, but there may be safer ways to harness it in the next 15 years. Even now, more than a third of I&M’s electricity is produced without any carbon emissions, according to Bergsma. Could nuclear power meet the fears of its critics and once again be expanded? It’s worth being part of the discussion.

Another key point that’s lost in the instant hand-wringing is that the reduction of carbon emissions will pay dividends in terms of the nation’s health.

When the plan is fully in place by 2030, it will mean large reductions in premature deaths, asthma attacks in children, heart attacks, hospital admissions and missed school and work days. For every dollar that’s spent on controlling power plant emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates, the nation will save $7 in health care costs.

Only a few states produce more carbon emissions from power plants than Indiana; so the health and economic benefits of reductions here might be even more dramatic.

And will a plan that will clean up Indiana’s air, along with Ohio’s and Michigan’s and the rest of the country’s, really be so harmful to economic development? Perhaps getting a handle on the biggest source of carbon pollution might make our state an even more pleasant place to locate a business.