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Energy claims and realities

By James Tonkowich

web posted November 1, 2010

Pennsylvania is lucky. Even amid this prolonged recession and depressingly high unemployment (9.5% in PA), families and businesses in the Keystone State are still paying just 9.4 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity.

That's due in large part to the fact that Pennsylvania gets 53% of its electricity from coal. A lot of people vilify that black rock. But just think how much easier it is to cool our homes and cook our food at this price – or operate a factory, farm, office, store, hospital, school, church … or government agency.

Of course, 9.4 cents per kilowatt hour might seem like a lot to pay, compared to Indiana (where people pay only 7.1 cents), Kentucky (where electricity costs just 6.3 cents), or West Virginia (where it's a rock-bottom 5.6 cents a kWh).

But just think how much harder all that would be if we lived in California, which generates just 1% of its electricity with coal, and people pay 13 cents per kWh; in Rhode Island, which gets no electricity from coal, and they shell out 16 cents a kWh; or just across the Delaware River in New Jersey, where families and businesses have to cough up 14.9 cents per kWh, largely because the state uses coal to produce just 15% of its job-creating electricity.

California already has its own cap-tax-and-trade global warming law, renewable energy mandates that get tougher and costlier every year, and programs that spend billions of taxpayer dollars subsidizing major wind and solar energy initiatives. The once-Golden State also has the second highest unemployment rate in America (12.4%), a budget deficit of almost $20 billion, and some $500 billion in unfunded pension liabilities for government workers! It ranks 49th out of 50 among states for "business friendliness."

Its burdensome rules are justified by assertions that they prevent climate change caused by rising CO2 levels.  I'm no scientist, but thousands of scientists disagree. Last year's leaked emails by top US and British alarmist researchers show that the science of global warming has become politicized to the point that scientists who disagree, or remain unconvinced, are condemned as heretics – and alarmists are actually manipulating thermometer data and computer models to get the "climate crisis" results they want. That is dishonest and wrong.

Moreover, even California's total contribution to the planet's carbon dioxide levels is tiny. Pennsylvania's is smaller still. Even if the Golden State or Keystone State totally eliminated its CO2 emissions, China's and India's emissions would completely replace those painful, job-killing reductions in just a few months.

According to some climate experts, even if the entire United States cut its CO2 emissions by 83% by 2050, as required by pending congressional legislation – that would, at most, reduce global temperature increases by a mere 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

Worse, that 83% reduction would send CO2 emissions all the way back to 1910 levels (1870 levels, if you consider population and technology changes since 1900). So we're talking about truly painful cutbacks, and real pain at the pump, electric meter and bank account.

California's actions are already forcing companies to lay off workers. A federal law would do the same on a national scale. Millions of workers would lose their jobs, as energy prices skyrocketed and we are forced to switch from fossil fuels that provide 85% of our energy, and replace them with expensive wind and solar power that requires huge subsidies, works only 30% of the time, on average, and currently provides just 1% of America's energy.

Does anyone honestly think we can cap-tax-and-trade, regulate, litigate and otherwise penalize oil, natural gas and coal use – and not cause serious, even massive, harm to Pennsylvania's economy? To the economies of the other 26 states that rely on coal for 47-98% of the electricity that generates their jobs, opportunities, prosperity and modern living standards?

States like Arkansas (47%), Colorado (65%), Illinois (48%), Indiana (95%), Kentucky (94%), Missouri (81%), North Dakota (91%), Ohio (85%), West Virginia (98%) and Wisconsin (66%), to name just a few. Penalizing coal use would cost millions of American jobs, and increase families' energy and overall cost-of-living by thousands of dollars a year, according to studies by the Brookings Institute, Heritage Foundation, Congressional Budget Office and other analysts.

As a theologian and former pastor, I embrace God's command to be wise stewards of His creation, to care for the Earth and our fellow human beings. We are not to waste the resources with which He has blessed us, but we are to use them for our benefit.

We are also supposed to prevent or solve environmental problems. However, we are given the wisdom to make sure the problems are real, serious and imminent, before we spend billions trying to solve them – and before we create new problems that impact the environment in new ways and hurt families still more.

Increasing energy, food and transportation costs, and sending millions into unemployment lines, in the middle of a recession, is certainly an example of creating new problems. So is installing thousands of wind turbines that cover millions of acres, require vast raw materials and kill thousands of birds, to produce electricity that is too expensive and unreliable to power modern factories, shops, homes, hospitals, schools and cities.

We need to think this through very carefully, before we enact costly policies that threaten to do much more harm than good. ESR

The Rev. Dr. James Tonkowich, a former pastor, is a senior fellow of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

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