28 March 2012
This was republished on Crikey’s environment blog, Rooted.
There is great news overnight that US President Barack Obama is about to commence the end of the age of coal. The US EPA is about to bring in a greenhouse gas emission standard for new coal fired power plants that is so stringent that it effectively bans any new ones being built.
Just last weekend, Queensland voted in a new Liberal National Party government that is going in exactly the opposite direction to President Obama. The LNP’s policy is to expand coal use and coal exports, seemingly forever. They have no understanding that the world is already investing in renewable energy and making the transition to a low carbon future.
The US EPA decision is a measured, rational policy position, carefully crafted in response to three factors.
Firstly, climate science is right; we are warming the planet and we have to stop, now.
Secondly, President Obama was unable to get the fractious US Congress to agree to a national carbon control policy, so he has gone around it.
Thirdly, the fossil fuel industry has been talking about ways to make it Greenhouse-friendly, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), since 1986. If the coal industry really believes its own hype, then it will build low-emissions coal fired plants and keep going, business as usual.
This EPA decision should send shockwaves through Australia’s political economy, dominated as it is by mining companies. It is time for the Australian Coal Association, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata to either invest real money in CCS and prove that it works, or admit it was all spin.
Queensland’s new Premier, Campbell Newman has a tough job ahead of him, trying to implement rational policies on resources and energy. He is a moderate who leads a party that is blinded by coal.
Mr Newman won the election on the weekend in a landslide that ushered a flock of inexperienced characters into government on his coat-tails. We all saw Newman’s federal Liberal colleagues depose their moderate leader, Malcolm Turnbull, over his rational climate policies and the Premier will be terrified of the same thing happening to him.
Some of these new LNP MPs are almost certainly anti-science, conspiracy extremists) like their federal colleagues, Senators Barnaby Joyce and Ian Macdonald. These characters hate things they don’t understand, i.e. almost everything new, such as solar power, wind energy, electric vehicles and the smart grid.
Tellingly, on the same weekend that Campbell Newman came to power, the world’s leading technology company, General Electric, declared its support for Australia’s carbon tax. It is another indication that Australian conservatives are blinded by coal, while the rest of the world moves on to better things.
GE’s vice-chairman John Rice praised the Labor-Greens carbon tax as a ‘gutsy’ and necessary move.
Campbell Newman, the incoming Premier of Queensland, should take the opportunity to clarify that he understands this economic reality. If the Queensland Press gallery do a good job, they will rigorously pursue the LNP over its irresponsible coal policies and any of his MPs who turn out to be irrational, anti-science extremists.
If you had to choose who had the most responsible climate and energy policy, who would it be, US President Barack Obama or the new Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman?
Note: The new EPA standard is 452 kg (1000 pounds) CO2 per MWh of electricity. The Victorian government has just abandoned a standard set at 800kg per MWh.