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Commentary: Speak Up for Pollution Restrictions

— Virginia is not immune to the dangers of climate change. In recent years, we have seen the damage sea level rise and storm surges have caused in our lowland areas. The science is clear that we must cut carbon to the levels scientists say are safe to address these issues.

Notably, coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of both air and water pollution in this country. These power plants are responsible for over half the toxic pollution dumped into our rivers, lakes and streams every year, impairing hundreds of bodies of water across the country annually. Additionally, 40 percent of our country’s carbon pollution, fueling irreversible global climate change, comes from these sources. By Environment Virginia calculations in a report issued last year, Virginia power plants contribute as much carbon pollution as adding 7.1 million cars to our roads in one year.

Right now, we have a great opportunity for action. As President Obama reiterated in his State of the Union address, his administration is setting the first standards to limit the amount of carbon pollution power plants are allowed to dump into the air, and Virginia now has a governor ready to implement these historic standards.

Unfortunately, outside groups and Tea Party extremists aim to block any action on climate change. These campaigns have adopted the strategy the tobacco industry used to block regulation of cigarettes, employing a misinformation campaign to confuse the issue and scare people with exaggerations, this time on job losses and sky rocketing electric bills. Despite all of this, poll after poll shows that the public favors climate action. Virginian voters support cutting carbon pollution from power plants two to one.

Avoiding commonsense standards on the carbon pollution is not only a public health risk, but it also erodes the innovation and economic benefits of taking action. States that get out early and embrace new technologies to replace coal and fossil fuels with cleaner alternatives are in the best position to prosper from the changes. We can look to other states already training their workforce for our clean-energy future to implement best practices.

Since 1970, every $1 in investment in compliance with Clean Air Act standards has produced $4-8 in economic benefits. According to a recent analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council and business and labor groups, cutting carbon pollution from power plants will add over 200,000 new jobs and save American families an average of $0.90 a month on their electric bills.

To address climate change in the long-term, we need policies that put a price on carbon, like a carbon tax, and the only way we will create a majority in Congress ready to address climate change is for members to hear from their constituents.

Right now, Virginian residents, local businesses and elected officials are taking action by highlighting the effects climate change is having on our community and by encouraging other Virginians to support the Obama Administration’s effort to cut carbon emissions. The recently proposed limits on carbon pollution for new power plants are now in the Federal Register and open for comment from the public until March 10. We hope that all Virginians share their opinion with EPA as well.