Carbon Confederacy

As recent news focused on stories and commentary about removing the Confederate battle flag from public property, there has been a little-watched movement by secessionists of a different stripe.   

Yes, a number of leaders are calling on states to secede from the union once again, at least as it applies to the national environmental laws that are designed to protect public health and save money. I’m tempted to compare these misguided politicians to Donald Trump, because their reasoning makes no more sense than a certain New York billionaire who is running for President, but let’s just call them the Carbon Confederacy.

The Jefferson Davis of the Carbon Confederacy is the Republican Senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell. In March, he fired the equivalent of the Fort Sumter “first shot” with a letter to all fifty U.S. state governors that called on them to openly defy the federal government’s rules to curb carbon pollution.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases (generally called “carbon” pollution) are air pollutants as defined by the federal Clean Air Act. [1] It is worth noting that the majority of the justices on that Court were appointed by Presidents of the same political party as Mr. McConnell, a good indicator that this legal decision, and the rules in question, are the result of sound law, policy, and science, not politics.

The USEPA has been doing it’s job, as required by the Clean Air Act ever since, including finding that carbon emissions from motor vehicles and power plants “cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” [2]

Apparently more interested in protecting the coal mining interests in his own state, Mr. McConnell ignores these settled facts and uses what he sees as the only remaining option: secede from our “clean air” union.

Just as a few states in the 1800s wanted their citizens to maintain the right to own slaves and formed a Confederacy that seceded from the United States, several governors are proclaiming their right to poison their citizens and defy the USEPA: Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana (both declared 2016 Presidential candidates) plus Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Mike Pence of Indiana, and Greg Abbott of Texas.[3] The USEPA gives states wide latitude in finding ways to comply with the law, but apparently these governors don’t think their businesses and residents are smart enough to find the most cost-effective, money-saving options. Other states don’t seem to have the same blind spot.

California, which leads the “union” states in carbon-reducing policies, cut emissions by 1.5 million metric tons in 2013 (compared with 2012), while the economy grew at a rate greater than the national average.[4] Nine northeastern states created a carbon trading market that a recent report shows added $1.3 billion in economic value, created more than 14,000 new jobs and saved consumers $460 million on electricity and heating bills from 2012 through 2014.[5] Although not a declared member of the Carbon Confederacy, New Jersey Governor and 2016 Presidential candidate Chris Christie balanced his first state budget with revenues from this program, but then seceded from it when conservative politics trumped economic common sense (oh, sorry for using “trump” again).

One state among the rebels, Texas, which leads the nation in clean wind power, should note that Denmark today gets 140% of its energy from wind, meaning it has economic certainty (which fossil fuels can’t provide) and a good source of export revenue.[6] That uncertainty around fossil fuels is highlighted further by the recent news that BP now estimates it will end up paying some $54 billion for its 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, just one example of the true cost of our carbon dependency and another reason the secessionists should be wary of Mr. McConnell’s myopic suggestion.[7]

Just as slavery meant there was no motivation to invent labor-saving devices or to innovate more efficient products and processes, ignoring carbon limits leads to missed opportunity for economic growth. Just as common decency and subsequent events proved the Confederacy to be on the wrong side of history after the American Civil War, we have ample evidence that states today should not be flying their Carbon Confederacy battle flag either.