There's much to like about the Obama administration's proposed rules on carbon emissions - especially if critics from the political left and right will take the time to recognize political realities and environmental benefits.
The Environmental Protection Agency draft regulations unveiled Monday are designed, by 2030, to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants - a major source of greenhouse gases - up to 30 percent from 2005 levels. Wisely, the proposal leaves ample room and time for states and companies to accomplish these goals through free-market approaches.
States and utilities, for example, would have a broad array of ways to comply, such as improving energy efficiency, increasing the use of natural gas, using more renewable energy and making power plant improvements. Consumers would be offered discounts to shift electricity use to off-peak hours.
This is significant progress, given that President Barack Obama had largely ignored the climate change issue since failing to pass comprehensive energy legislation during his first term. At last, the president's climate change policy is more than occasional promises to do something.
Conservative critics will wrongly call the new rules a job killer and political overreach; environmentalists will contend they don't go far enough. Here's the truth: Instead of establishing hard caps, the regulations would give utilities and states 15 years to get the job done and provide them the authority to implement tailored emissions reduction strategies. Texas, which generates roughly 30 percent of its power from coal, would have to make larger cuts over time than some states. However, Texans benefit from replacement of dirty energy sources with cleaner ones.
Carbon emissions have dropped nationally since 2005. Cleaner-burning natural gas now supplies about half of Texas' electricity needs. Going forward, companies are likely to shutter dirty plants, invest in modern equipment that limits CO2 and other carbon emissions, or increasingly invest in cleaner alternative technologies.
This newspaper still favors tough carbon controls and is open to the idea that some states may implement stricter carbon caps to achieve their emissions goal. Meanwhile, the corporate landscape is changing. For example, Exxon Mobil, which used to spend millions of dollars to lobby against efforts to tax or limit carbon emissions, is among at least 29 major businesses now factoring carbon regulation into long-range plans. Among the other firms are Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Disney, Wells Fargo, General Electric and nine major energy companies, according to research group CDP North America.
Not surprisingly, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality responded Monday with disappointment that the EPA, not Congress, was in the driver's seat in this latest effort to regulate CO2 emissions. We urge Texas regulators to put aside objections such as this one and recognize that these rules are not a threat, but rather a health-conscious opportunity for our state and the entire nation.