, Salem, MA


November 5, 2013

Column: Obama's actions on coal-fired plants heartening


California, Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia are convinced. They have just announced a new compact to use cleaner-burning fuels in transportation, push for zero-emission vehicles and tax polluters who contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.

Obviously, four regional governmental bodies, even if they actually can put into practice their promises, can’t make much of a dent in a global problem.

But the compact will make others realize that, yes, there is cause for concern in how we are treating our environment. We don’t even have the tired old excuse that somehow future technology will solve the problem; climate change is already occurring. Re-creating the ozone layer is not possible. Thus, it is not just our grandchildren and their grandchildren who will suffer; we will be affected and so will our children.

Ironically, the Obama administration is permitting new coal-fired plants in the United States if they meet strict new antipollution standards, which, of course, are costly and still being challenged by industry. If developing nations can afford to meet them, the United States presumably would support new coal plants with new technology, although that is not yet clear.

Obama’s Climate Action Plan, announced in June, will be extremely difficult to implement and almost certainly will not happen in his remaining three years in office.

But it is historic and will show future historians and scientists that we knew early in the 21st century of the dangers of climate change.

We have seen enough science fiction movies to know how fragile our ecosystem is. I, for one, do not want to go hurtling through space searching for an atmosphere that can support life.

Certainly, our next home won’t be Kepler 78b, a newly discovered Earth-like planet 400 light years away. Its temperature is as high as 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Rocks melt at that temperature. But the debate over coal wouldn’t be an issue.


Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email

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