By SHEA VAN HOY
In 1975, the year I was born, Congress enacted Corporate Average Fuel Economy Regulations, aimed at improving the efficiency of vehicles sold in the United States.
At that time, the combined miles per gallon achieved by cars and trucks sold in the country sat at about 13 mpg.
In 2012, cars and trucks got an average of nearly 24 mpg, up more than 1 mpg than 2011.
It’s a good example of a government enacting positive change and helping the environment, at least in terms of making a polluting entity more efficient. Of course, higher oil prices also play a part in this, and consumer demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles — including hybrids, alternative-fuel and electric cars — has led automakers to produce what they want.
In another positive government move, the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month announced its Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions. The new standard seeks to implement a 30 percent cut in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030 from 2005 levels. States have until June 2016 to submit plans for meeting their specific carbon reductions.
The goals, however, vary by state. Coal-dependent Indiana has three years to come up with a plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent over the next 16 years. Energy-efficiency programs are among the tools states can use to reach their carbon-reduction goal.
Coal-energy producers, their lobbyists, some legislators and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, have slammed the Clean Power Plan, which Pence has vowed to fight. The arguments against the EPA’s plan center around claims of higher electricity prices for consumers and talk of lost jobs in the energy industry.
The catch is, Indiana already had a plan in place to help, but lawmakers approved a bill in March that will halt the state’s fledgling Energizing Indiana program Dec. 31, ending its energy-saving efforts such as low-income home weatherizations.
Citizens Action Coalition Executive Director Kerwin Olson told The Associated Press that lawmakers were “short-sighted” in light of the EPA’s plan announcement.
Although Pence said in March he was disappointed lawmakers killed the program without offering a replacement, he allowed the law to take effect, the AP reported earlier this month. The Republican governor said he would propose an alternative program for lawmakers to consider next year.
Indiana’s five largest electric utilities have all filed proposals outlining energy-efficiency programs they hope to implement after the Energizing Indiana program ends, according to AP, all of which need the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s approval.
Energizing Indiana, which began in 2012, has saved enough energy to power nearly 93,000 Indiana homes, according to its website. Its goal was achieving a 2 percent annual savings in total electric sales by 2019.
Supporters, including businesses and environmental groups, said it has employed hundreds of workers and saved money for consumers who receive free in-home energy audits, AP reported. But Indiana’s manufacturing and utility interests argued the program, financed through a fee on monthly electricity bills, had proven too costly and industrial users saw few benefits.
Olson said the utilities’ plans are “not bad” but all but one of them would cover only a single year. He said the consumer watchdog group would prefer utilities offer three-year programs.
With all the talk of energy alternatives, what’s the alternative to doing nothing?
The EPA says that even with the rules, coal will still provide about 30 percent of the nation’s power in 2030. It supplies just less than 40 percent now.
But every time we replace a percentage point of coal-powered energy with a more environmentally friendly version, we make the Earth a better place to live, if not for us, for future inhabitants.
Consider this, also from the EPA: “The major scientific agencies of the United States — including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — agree that climate change is occurring and that humans are contributing to it. In 2010, the National Research Council concluded that ‘Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.’”
This isn’t up for debate. It’s a fact.
What is up for debate is how to mitigate the damage we’re doing. Everyone can do his or her part in conserving energy, but it’s going to take a move like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan — and more like it — to make a major change.
And, it’s going to take consumer demand for power companies to provide cleaner energy.
— Shea Van Hoy is editor of the News and Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-206-2130. Follow him on Twitter: @sheavanhoy