By Dr. Charles Steele, Jr.

As the President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), I frequently travel throughout the U.S.  And in my journeys, I’m quite often struck by the fact that so many families are struggling to find financial security.  I find it troubling that hardworking Americans are often eking out a living, barely making it from paycheck to paycheck.

I often wonder how these families are managing to keep food on their table?  And how, during a particularly bitter winter season, did they manage to keep their homes warm?

I raise this point because I’m particularly concerned by new regulations that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing.  As a step toward addressing climate change, the EPA wants to greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants, and wants governors across the country to close the coal-fired plants in their states.

Such a move could affect Nevada since coal-fired power plants provide roughly 15% of the state’s electricity.  Many other states also depend heavily on coal, which means that the affordability of electricity for millions of Americans is at stake.

The problem with the EPA’s plan is that the power plants in question often provide the largest portion of our electricity, and usually at the most affordable rates. No matter one’s views on the climate issue, the EPA’s approach is simply too blunt. There is already a consensus among energy experts who oversee the nation’s public utilities that the EPA plan will cut power production without offering reliable alternatives, and will have almost no actual impact on climate.  The only tangible result will be a significant jump in the cost of electricity for both homes and businesses.

So let’s focus for a moment on those families who are struggling to make ends meet.  What will higher monthly utility bills mean for them?  Paying for electricity is not a discretionary expense.  The poor and the elderly on fixed incomes already pay an out-sized portion of their limited budget in order to have heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.  And they already have fewer dollars to pay for these necessities.

I understand the intended reasoning of the EPA plan, namely to cut carbon dioxide emissions.  But we already have it within our power to move toward a cleaner environment without causing harm to lower income Americans.  We have clean coal, and advanced technologies are already helping us achieve lower emissions.  And U.S. power plants are already far cleaner than factories and power plants in Asia.

We can get to a cleaner environment without victimizing those who are already struggling financially.  And so, before the EPA adopts these measures, it should think twice about pursuing extreme rules that will have a negligible environmental impact, but could bring great pain to hard-working everyday Americans.

Dr. Charles Steele Jr. is president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a civil rights organization co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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