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Editorial: Pollution control effort is historic moment

Outside of West Virginia and other coal regions, the Obama administration’s crackdown on carbon fumes and global warming danger is being hailed as a breakthrough for humanity.

“The proposed rule — and the importance of this cannot be overstated — signals the end of an era in which polluters could dump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without penalty,” The New York Times commented. It acknowledged that coal country may suffer some hardship, but the loss will be eased by new U.S. jobs in alternative energy sources.

“Because the rule will also greatly reduce harmful toxic pollutants,” it added, “the costs will be more than offset by health savings — by a ratio of as much as $7 in savings to every $1 invested in cleaner energy.”

It will cost industry around $8 billion yearly to meet the cleaner standards, USA Today explained — but “since the proposal is expected to reduce air pollution ... annual public health benefits will total $55 billion to $93 billion by avoiding up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks each year.”

Even more important, the limit on carbon dioxide fumes from coal-fired power plants will be a stride against the ominous peril of climate change, which is inflicting colossal losses from worsening twisters, wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, floods, tropical diseases, rising seas, superstorms and the like.

Nearly all West Virginia politicians — most Democrats, along with virtually all Republicans — are denouncing the new pollution controls. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., say they will introduce a bipartisan bill to block the federal cleanup. Democrats Nick Casey and Natalie Tennant, running for Congress, along with Democratic Gov. Tomblin, all joined Republicans in attacking the pollution cutback.

The protesting politicians ignore two important points: (1) Electric utilities already have taken enormous steps toward meeting the modest proposed federal standards for cleaner air — and (2) Central Appalachian coal already is fading, regardless of restrictions on carbon emissions.

After World War II, West Virginia had 125,000 miners, but the number has fallen to about 20,000 today. Thick, profitable seams are nearly wiped out. Inexpensive natural gas is seizing the power-generation market. These relentless trends can’t be reversed by allowing more pollution.

Meanwhile, former federal cleanup rules have caused power plants to reduce carbon fumes markedly since 2005. Therefore, it won’t be traumatic to attain the cleaner levels prescribed this week.

Amid the current storm and stress, history is being made.


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