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If Carbon Pollution Can’t Be Stopped Now, Then When?

By Staff | Aug 21, 2015

In bipartisan harmony, North Dakota’s congressional delegation, state officials and coal executives have all been singing a dirge for the coal industry since the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

While the vast majority of creditable earth scientists agree that the earth is warming, the beneficiaries of pollution have found a handful of scientists who are willing to challenge this scientific fact.

When scientists come up with a new medication for an incurable disease, naysayers believe scientists. When scientists predict an eclipse of the moon, naysayers believe scientists. When scientists design futuristic electronic devices, naysayers believe scientists. But when scientists warn of earth warming, the same naysayers who believe all other scientific discoveries are in denial.

There is a reason for this. Being present-oriented animals, human beings have a hard time sacrificing today’s comforts for tomorrow’s benefits. So when scientists tell us that our grandchildren won’t be choking for another 50 years, today’s benefits look too attractive to pass up.

The case against the EPA rules is not scientific. It is always an economic argument that stresses the loss of jobs and the cost of electricity. Rather than accept the truth about the long-term consequences of earth warming, we choose denial and obfuscation.

In response to the EPA’s mandate, coal-producing states are asking that enforcement of new regulations of carbon emissions be left in their charge. History tells us that each state will march to its own parochial drum. They favor state control so less will be done.

While those of us in North Dakota feel convinced by our parochial arguments, the rest of the country is not. Of course, they do not face the economic consequences for a local industry, so it is easier for them to be cavalier about the issue.

But the evidence of earth warming is becoming more and more irrefutable. As the proof mounts, people outside of the coal states will demand steps to curb air pollution and there are a lot more of them than there are beneficiaries in the coal states.

In fact, recent polls indicate that a majority of the people are ready to limit carbon dioxide emissions. There is sympathy for action even in North Dakota.

A 2014 poll sponsored by the N.D. Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives found that 67 percent of the respondents favored Congressional action to limit carbon dioxide and 77 percent thought it was important for their utilities to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

In the American status quo political system, the will of the majority can be restrained for a time but it will eventually prevail. Eventually, the majority will demand action of some kind.

As far as the economic consequences are concerned, North Dakota now has more jobs than workers, billions of dollars in the bank and general prosperity across the state. If we can’t handle the cost of the pollution problem now, then when?

All of this being said, we still cannot simply dismiss the importance of the coal industry to North Dakota. Scientists estimate that we have enough coal to keep the industry humming for 800 years. This is too great an asset to let slip through our fingers.

We can’t afford to depend on the federal government for a crash effort researching clean coal. With the state treasury bulging, we have the means to chart our own destiny. With a multi-trillion-dollar industry at stake, developing clean coal would be worth investing a billion or two.

Whether we like it or not, we are rapidly approaching the point of doing or dying.

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