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Op-ed: EPA carbon plan works for Utah, despite delegation's complaints

Published June 14, 2014 12:37 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sadly, some in Utah's congressional delegation greeted EPA's long-awaited "Clean Power Plan" with a knee-jerk response that amounts to no more than uninformed fear-mongering.

Rep. Chris Stewart dismissed these welcome limits on the nation's biggest carbon polluters as "big-government regulations and less freedom for American business and American families." Sen. Orrin Hatch described it as a "radical policy."

In reality, the EPA's proposal is a straightforward and flexible approach that will help Utah families. Research and on-the-ground reality around the country prove that energy efficiency and clean energy — the quickest paths to cutting carbon pollution — create more jobs and strengthen the economy.

Elected officials beholden to dirty energy interests like to pretend that only fossil fuels can produce jobs, but of course that's not true. A paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy summarized 15 other studies. It found that renewable energy sources and energy efficiency initiatives "create more jobs per unit energy than coal or natural gas." More jobs!

Coal and natural gas provide 11 jobs per 100 megawatt hours of power created, the study found. Energy efficiency standards create more than three times as many: 38 jobs. Solar energy creates nearly eight times more: 87 jobs!

The authors conclude that aggressively raising efficiency standards and increasing the percentage of renewables in the nation's energy portfolio could generate 4 million jobs by 2030.

The initiatives spurred by the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan will also generate long-term jobs. Locally, for example, solar company SunEdison proposes investing $500 million in Utah by 2016, creating 700 construction jobs and 10-15 permanent positions in Iron County, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. That is just one example.

Clean energy entrepreneurs are charging optimistically into the future, even as some of our leaders remain willfully in the past.

We only need to look around us to see how Utah has been missing out. Sixteen percent of the electricity produced in Idaho comes from renewable sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Our other neighbors are well ahead of us as well, with Wyoming and Colorado at 13 percent and Nevada at 11.

Utah? Our renewable energy portfolio sits at just 4.4 percent. Our leaders unfortunately shun renewable energy while Utah's largest utility, Rocky Mountain Power, continues its love affair with coal and aggressively pushes anti-solar measures. These actions limit the choices of Utah consumers. They leave us forcibly tied to dirty energy, while missing out on the renewable energy opportunities our Western neighbors are embracing.

Thankfully, despite some of the negative rhetoric in Congress, a recent Washington Post poll shows that the public strongly supports EPA's Clean Power Plan. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all overwhelmingly favor limiting carbon pollution from power plants in order to protect the climate.

The EPA's Clean Power Plan gives Utah the control and flexibility to find the best way to meet our unique needs. It's not a rigid energy mandate, but a pollution target. Utah gets to determine what mix of energy efficiency initiatives, renewable technologies, and updates to our existing infrastructure will most effectively, efficiently, and economically get us to the targeted limit for carbon pollution.

Despite the unfortunate rhetoric of Rep. Stewart and Sen. Hatch, the Clean Power Plan is precisely the tool that will give Utahns the freedom to enjoy cleaner air, buy the cleaner energy we want, and create more jobs right here in Utah. Hopefully Utah's elected leaders won't keep us from that future.  

Christopher Thomas is executive director of HEAL Utah.