"Courage" and "regulatory agency" are two descriptions not normally associated with each other. But the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's decision this month to turn down a permit for twin 700-megawatt coal-fired generators bears the mark of courage in the extreme.
It is, according to the Reuters news service, the first time a state has rejected a coal-fired power plant due to health concerns. Reuters described the decision as follows: "A dozen states have rejected plans for new coal-fired power, at least in part because of concerns over carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. However, Kansas does not regulate carbon emissions and is believed to be the first state to tie CO2 to health risks and use that as the only stated reason for denying a required air permit."
The United States has been woefully slow in tying greenhouse-gas emissions to health risks. But state governments, at least, are starting to recognize the urgency of the situation even as the federal government lags way behind. Eight state attorneys general, including those on both coasts (California and New York), asked Kansas to dunk expansion plans for coal-fired energy because its resultant pollution would sour air quality nationwide.
Kansas' decision is significant in that state leaders killed a nearly $4 billion plant expansion that shorter-sighted advocates claimed was necessary to create jobs and provide cheap energy to local residents.
Sure, the plant would have done those things. But the long-term environmental degradation that it also would have caused would have done much more to harm the state's and the nation's economy than the short-term good created by those jobs and that lower-cost energy.
It's not so far-fetched to blame California's massive wildfires, at least in part, on man's seeming addiction to CO2 emissions. According to the Daily Green, a Web site for green consumers, "There were four times as many major wildfires between 1986 and 2004 as there were from 1970 to 1986, and a sixfold increase in the area of forest burned in the Western United States."
There are other major weather events, in the United States and elsewhere, that must give one pause. Remember Greece's aberrational forest fires this past June? Remember Texas' record floods? Have you lived through, as I have, the mid-Atlantic's devastating and costly drought this summer, or this summer's southwestern U.S drought?
None of these bizarre weather events, nor the California wildfires, can be pinned specifically on climate change. But the more weather "acts up" the more we have to wonder what's going on.
Commentator Mary Mostert, on the conservative Web site RenewAmerica.US/, tries to blame the Sierra Club and forest-preservation policies for California's wildfires. She writes: "It has been known for many years by those actually involved in the forests that the Sierra Club policies which became public policy in the 1990s under Bill Clinton would cause exactly the kinds of fires we are now experiencing. ... I identified the real culprit in the growing forest-fire problem in an article in 2002 titled, 'Our Burning Forests the Legacy of Radical Environmentalism."' Right, extra trees caused California's wildfires, not the Southwest drought.
Some anti-environmentalists take a scorched-earth approach toward climate change. Until the planet resembles a lunar landscape they'll continue denying that greenhouse gases have anything to do with bizarre weather patterns. By then we'll all be burning in a man-made hell on earth, instead of just those who deserve the roasting.Luckily for the rest of us, a growing number of state officials are getting religion and doing what they can to prevent man's contribution to climate change. Kansas' decision to nix its coal-fired plant is the latest in a string of rejections this year, including plants once planned for Texas, Florida, Oklahoma and Minnesota. Courage is on the way in. Denial is on the way out. There is hope for mankind.
Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe@CompuServe.com.