November 9, 2015
Fighting climate change could bolster KY economy
By Andrea Wilson Mueller
It’s always a huge disappointment when Kentucky leaders continually focus on scare tactics instead of things that actually impact Kentucky businesses. Our incoming governor, Matt Bevin, is making it a priority not only to ignore making a plan for our energy future but to use state dollars to fight it. As if fighting and litigation are more successful strategies than simply recognizing the world is changing and using the Clean Power Plan as an opportunity to bolster our economy.
Last year, Sen. Mitch McConnell said that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan constituted “the single worst blow to Kentucky’s economy in modern times.” It seems as usual he forgot about mechanization and market forces and, as a business owner, I can tell you he’s wrong. It’s not even close. The worst blow is shaping up to be climate change, not efforts to address it. And we’re not doing nearly enough in the Bluegrass State to prepare.
Business owners like myself know that, whether it’s your bottom line or your climate, you plan for the worst even as you hope for the best. It’s time for Kentucky’s congressional delegation and state representatives to think more like a businessperson and plan for the worst – because, ultimately, fighting climate change now can actually help our economy grow.
Presumably, Sen. McConnell is arguing climate action would ruin Kentucky’s coal industry. However, he’s missing a key point. The coal industry is already getting hammered, but whatever you might have heard about a “war on coal,” it’s the market that’s going after coal, not the Obama administration. With increased reserves of natural gas and greater adoption of renewables, the market is speaking.
That shift remains a far greater threat to coal than the EPA’s rule could ever be. Even if, somehow, the Clean Power Plan went away, the market would not let up. It’s not reasonable to say that this rule will put our very livelihoods at risk when the market has already decided on the future of coal. But Kentucky shouldn’t ignore the market: Renewables are the future.
The costs of both wind and solar have plummeted in recent years, they’re better job creators than fossil fuels, and they’ll ensure that the state doesn’t get held hostage to finite energy sources that the market doesn’t like anymore. Yes, it’s true Kentucky is lagging on these energy sources, but given our universities and our research capabilities, clean energy could be brought to scale quickly. All we have to do is make it a priority.
Best of all, the Clean Power Plan lets the state choose how to meet their targets – through efficiency measures at plants, increased use of renewables or lower-carbon energies, or other measures.
But this still leaves the question of how to help coal-dependent communities like we have in Kentucky. While the Clean Power Plan won’t make things worse, it is not designed to assist the workers, businesses, and communities as market pressures on coal continue. For that, we need to think outside the box.
For one, the state could follow the advice of former Rep. Bob Inglis, R.-S.C., and implement a carbon tax. Yes, a tax. While that may sound like a fool’s errand, a carbon tax actually represents a perfect conservative idea: It’s a totally free-market solution that forces polluters to account for the social costs of carbon pollution instead of throwing those costs onto others. And it can be structured to be revenue-neutral by cutting other taxes while at the same time providing funding to help coal-dependent communities transition into a lower-carbon economy. There’s a strong business case for this policy; that’s why groups like the American Sustainable Business Council support it.
Our company, Inside Out Design, has already integrated carbon-saving measures such as solar and geothermal. We plan to be 100 percent renewable energy in our offices by the end of this year, 2015. We have reduced carbon emissions by driving fuel efficient vehicles when possible with the purchase of two Toyota Prius vehicles.
As a long-term plan, we have implemented and will continue to install trees as part of a reforestation project on our land to help sequester carbon. Native plants and trees need to be planted, as native habitat is disappearing at a disturbing rate, making an ecological imbalance. Native insects feed on native plants, native birds feed on native insects, and the food chain goes on, all beginning with healthy soils and native plants. Humans are dependent on this habitat, clean air and water for life. As a business owner and mother, now is the time. If not because we want a decent future for ourselves and our children, the economy as well. Each person, especially businesses can make a significant impact on our environment by embracing this reality and putting forth the effort for change.
It would be a grave mistake, however, to pretend we can reverse coal’s fortunes just by fighting against action to address climate change. Not only would it ultimately not save the coal industry, it won’t help address the grave threat climate change will pose to our economy. It’s time for Kentucky policymakers to embrace policies to fight climate change. If government should be run like a business, then policymakers, like business owners, must plan for the worst even as they hope for the best.
Andrea Wilson Mueller is co-owner of Inside-Out Design located in Frankfort, Kentucky, and a member of the Kentucky Sustainable Business Council