David Hoppe

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:: Coal, like Mike Pence, is so 20th century

by David Hoppe

Change is hard. I mean really, really hard.

I used to think change required a crisis of some kind. But in the fourth year of a devastating drought, Californians can’t even agree on how to measure the amount of water they have left.

According to a ProPublica article by Abraham Lustgarten, published recently in the New York Times, Californians continue to insist on keeping separate accounts regarding the water they take from above-ground sources, like rivers, and the water drawn from below ground — even though these sources are often interconnected parts of the same system.

Lustgarten is forced to state the obvious about this delusional practice: “What this means is that there is even less water than people think…”

Why do Californians persist in this mismanagement of their most important resource when so much is at stake? Well, because so much is at stake. For starters, the state’s traditional agriculture industry, which has pushed back against sustainability legislation.

Something similar is happening in Indiana. Gov. Mike Pence has been publicly polishing his coal industry credentials, proclaiming that Indiana will just say no when it comes to EPA efforts to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2030.

Indiana, as we know, is a state particularly dependent on coal. We rely on the stuff for 85 percent of our energy needs. We mine it, and the coal industry is a big contributor to political campaigns.

So it’s not surprising when Pence argues further regulating the coal industry will lead to the retirement of some coal-fired plants and hiking rates for businesses and individuals. In a letter to President Obama, Pence wrote that cutting back on emissions would threaten “our stable source of affordable electricity.”

The governor fails to take into account that burning coal constitutes a known and measurable health hazard in Hoosier communities, a hazard that makes his “stable source of affordable electricity” an increasingly onerous trade-off.

But he misses something even bigger: the increasing obsolescence of fossil fuels.

As Paul Gilding writes for RenewEconomy, American coal companies have lost about 75 percent of their value in the last few years, while over the same period, the Dow Jones industrial average was going up by nearly the same amount.

Coal, in other words, is so 20th century.

Gilding goes on to observe that we are in the midst of a technology-driven sea change: “For over 100 years, energy markets have been defined by physical resources, supplied in large volumes by large, slow-moving companies,” he writes. “The new emerging energy system of renewables and storage is a ‘technology’ business, more akin to information and communications technology; where prices keep falling, quality keeps rising, change is rapid and market disruption is normal and constant.”

Gilding notes that traditional energy industry players are neither culturally nor structurally equipped to respond to these changes in a timely way.

That’s where leadership comes in. Gov. Pence could be using his office to help wean Indiana off its cumbersome, unhealthy dependence on coal. He could be trying to get us ready for what’s next.

But, like I said, change is hard.