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Net benefits, woes from climate change policies far from clear

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The reaction to Friday's announcement of carbon emission standards for new power plants was, as expected, pretty swift.

Here’s what the National Association of Manufacturers said in a statement via the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association:

“If energy has been the one bright spot in the U.S. economy, then the regulations unveiled by the EPA today aim to dim it and jeopardize our gains.”

True. If we mess up what we have going on in the so-called recovery, then we’re in trouble.

But then here’s this recent example of how exactly energy is being a bright spot, from one of my online articles just last week:

“In the past five years, UGI has added more than 58,000 customer accounts. Natural-gas prices have fallen more than 30 percent for customers since 2008 thanks to drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, the company said. This and environmental benefits of burning gas are driving ‘unprecedented demand,’ according to UGI.”

So, one of the reasons energy is a bright spot is the change because of, in part, environmental benefits.

I’ll leave the extent-of-benefits debate to another day, but transitioning to less-polluting fuels is a goal of more than just the White House and federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The market is already calling for this, though the level and extent might be debatable -- as is the extent to which President Obama’s administration is going on regulation.

That’s the main point here: This issue is vast and complex, so much so that it’s probably hard to tell how it will all shake out in the business ecosystem.

Who knows? In the end, it could be a net good for the country’s gross domestic product -- even independent of getting into another debate of whether climate change is man-made and whether, if true, these regulations will hold off resulting economic upheaval on the horizon.

But I will also throw this conclusion in for good measure:

The market is already transitioning at enough of a pace, I’d argue, that shows the president is not showing true leadership with actions to curb climate change but instead following something that’s already underway.

Leadership, for good or for ill, would have come before everyone knew the term “shale gas.”

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey covers York County, agribusiness, energy and environment, and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at brentb@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @brentburkey.

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