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Editorial: Air pollution proposal animates the usual critics

Predictably, West Virginia conservatives went ballistic over the Obama administration’s modest, reasonable attempt to reduce air pollution and curtail global warming caused by coal-burning power plants.

The state Republican headquarters issued a statement titled “When Obama Attacks.” It said West Virginia Democrats are lying and “they will lie again about how they helped Obama destroy coal and power plant jobs.” It added:

“Incumbent Democrats here were either fooled by Obama, or worse, are traitors who joined him on a course to destroy what remains of West Virginia’s economy.”

Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey declared that “President Obama has a callous disregard for the poverty plaguing West Virginia and our country.” He vowed to wage court battles against the proposed federal rules that “impose nationwide limitations on carbon dioxide emitted from existing coal-fired plants, requiring a staggering 30 percent reduction from these plants in a mere 15 years.”

A West Virginia front group for the oil billionaire Koch brothers likewise attacked, attempting to blame the new pollution controls on Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., whom the Kochs are attempting to defeat through intensive political spending.

Democrats also reacted, but less hysterically. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called for more “clean coal” breakthroughs to reduce pollution. He added: “Utilities and their providers have already reduced carbon emissions by 23 percent compared to 2005 levels, and are projected to reduce carbon emissions by an additional 15 percent by 2020.” That’s encouraging. Industry is moving to meet the moderate power plant goals announced Monday.

As we’ve said before, instead of raging against pollution controls — or trying to score political points — West Virginia leaders should launch intelligent planning for the inevitable future when coal is gone.

Already, Central Appalachian Basin production is fading relentlessly. Thick, easy-to-reach seams are nearly depleted, leaving only expensive coal. Lower-priced natural gas and cheap Wyoming coal are grabbing the electricity market. These economic factors are crimping Appalachian coal, regardless of pollution limits.

Out-of-control climate change is inflicting horrendous costs on America through worse tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, seashore loss and other painful effects of global warming — including loss of lives. The Obama administration is wise to try to reduce the hundred-billion-dollar toll.

Political ranting and posturing by conservatives won’t solve anything. Instead, sensible leaders should focus on adapting West Virginia’s economy to ongoing change that is unstoppable.

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