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OPINION: Cutting CO2 emissions the right thing to do

Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed new rules that will force South Dakota utilities to decrease their total carbon dioxide emissions by 35 percent by 2030.

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Fifteen years, 35 percent.

Certainly, this is something that can be done — for both the health of our environment and our own health. However, despite the obvious benefi ts, the proposed rule has ignited a battle of the superpowers: it’s wind and natural gas against coal and its allies.

The EPA ensures that its proposal “builds on what states, cities and businesses around the country are already doing,” as EPA administrator Gina McCarthy told the Orlando Sentinel editorial board earlier this month.

Wind energy has seen a boom in our state, and it looks like it will be the direction energy conservatives and environmentalists will push the rest of the energy industry toward. After all, it makes sense to invest more into what we are already investing in. (Unless, of course, you own a coal company or work in the coal industry.) For us, that’s natural gas and wind.

However, Gary Hanson, chairman of South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission, warns that natural gas, while it is an alternative now, might be the victim of the next EPA regulation change because it also emits carbon dioxide.

Those opposed to the new rules claim that cutting emissions will increase electricity bills and the cost of doing business. The EPA is quick to note that the flexibility and timeframe of the proposed cuts will actually result in smaller consumer electricity bills in or by 2030.

Look, not all change is good. And not everything that will change with this proposed rule will be good. The EPA acknowledges that, along with decreased dependency on coal, there will be job losses in plant construction and mining — but they also fi gure more jobs (upward of 34,000 more) will be created than lost between 2021 to 2025.

Now, has the EPA always been right? Nope, but that’s been to its benefi t, too. Dean Baker, a Washington, D.C., economist and the co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told ThinkProgress that historically what the EPA has projected new regulations would cost has been significantly less than their actual cost. Why? Because they do not take into consideration new innovations and only base their predictions on what we know and have today.

That’s something we thought of, too. In 15 years, with all of the advancements in technology that we have already made, will a 35 percent cut be enough? Given what is considered “cutting-edge” now versus 15 years ago, we can’t be certain.

Bottom line: For our future, cutting carbon dioxide emissions is the right thing to do. Sure, there will be growing pains but, if we don’t do it now, it will be another conversation that just keeps happening.

The EPA is set to finalize its proposal mid-2015.