We seldom are trendsetters in Indiana. And for the most part that’s OK. But sometimes our reluctance to accept change has serious consequences, including harming our health and our quality of life.
That’s certainly been true with our slow, downright stubborn, refusal to more aggressively cut our dependence on coal as our primary fuel source for generating electricity.
Nationwide, coal is used to produce only 33 percent of the electricity consumed in America’s homes and businesses. In Indiana, we still burn coal to generate about 85 percent of our electricity. Only three states — West Virginia, Kentucky and Wyoming — are more dependent than Indiana on coal.
To hear Indiana’s top political and business leaders tell it, the state has little choice but to continue its heavy reliance on coal. To do otherwise, they say, would risk wrecking the state’s manufacturing-dependent economy because the cost of electricity would surge.
Perhaps. But then why have neighboring states such as Ohio and Michigan, also centers of manufacturing, been able to significantly reduce their reliance on coal? Is Indiana’s economy really less able to adapt to change than our neighbors?
Those questions arise out of an enlightening new investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, the USA TODAY Network and the Weather Channel. Their report found that about one-third of all industrial air pollution in the United States is produced at 22 sites. Four of them, all coal-fired power plants, are in southwest Indiana, near Evansville.
The health consequences for Hoosiers, and for our neighbors in other states, are serious. Air pollution significantly increases the risk of cancer, heart attacks and respiratory illnesses, such as asthma.
So yes, the average cost for electricity is a bit cheaper in Indiana than in Ohio — 11.33 cents per kilowatt hour versus 12.47 cents. But how much do we lose from higher health care costs and insurance rates? How many years of productivity are lost because workers are burdened by chronic illnesses?
Even more important, how many lives have been cut short because our state has been slow to further reduce air pollution?
Despite strong evidence that our dependency on coal has hurt Hoosiers’ health and reduced our quality of life, state leaders, including gubernatorial candidates Democrat John Gregg and Republican Eric Holcomb, are still reluctant to take the lead in promoting alternatives to coal.
The question isn’t whether Indiana could rely more on natural gas, wind, solar and even geothermal energy to generate electricity. We could. Those alternatives are increasingly reliable as energy sources and increasingly competitive with coal in terms of cost.
Is Indiana finally ready to catch up with the rest of the nation in terms of air quality and safeguarding public health? We will all breathe easier if the answer is yes.
IndianaDG Editor's Note: To better understand this Editorial, please see http://www.indianadg.net/super-polluters-many-states-have-at-least-one-in-southwest-indiana-there-are-four/.