Yesterday, Dakota Free Press commenters (who despite their occasional digressions and insults remain the most diverse, intelligent, and thought-provoking online commenters in South Dakota) got into a brief dust-up over Public Utilities Commissioner Gary Hanson’s stance on climate change.
In the spirit of that exchange, let’s note that Commissioner Hanson appears to be much more open to talking about the practical impacts of fossil-fuel use on climate change than many of his noisier Republican colleagues.
Check out what Commissioner Hanson wrote in December 2005 when he chaired a state energy task force:
Additionally, we continue to debate to what extent humankind influences the environment. However, we know climate change takes place and that we influence it through the burning of fossil fuels. We also know that fossil fuel combustion accounts for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. And we know that burning fossil fuels creates smog, toxic wastes, acid rain, and health problems. So shouldn’t we diligently and vigorously pursue the development of renewable energy? [Gary Hanson, chair, Public Utilities Commission, Joint Report of the South Dakota Energy Infrastructure Authority and South Dakota Energy Task Force, December 2005, p. 63.]
As of 2013, his position did not appear to have changed. Nodding toward deniers, he maintains that we can’t responsibly consume enormous quantities of a finite and polluting fuel source and not expect consequences:
“The globe’s always been changing,” Hanson said. It’s a point that he’ll concede to climate-change deniers. There’s also truth to some of their claims that humans aren’t the only source of greenhouse gases, he said. “That’s fine. Let’s recognize that.”
But we annually burn 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 1 billion tons of coal, and 7 billion barrels of oil every year in North America alone, he said. “How can burning that much fossil fuel … have zero effect on our climate?” Hanson asked. “I can’t image how it could not.”
There’s no end to the political argument over climate science, so Hanson tries to approach the issue from a different perspective. Most people will agree that people have a responsibility to be good stewards of the planet, and most people will agree that fossil fuels are a finite resource. “Once they are burned, they are gone forever.” For those reasons alone, the nation has a responsibility to conserve and find alternatives, “because we want our great grandchildren to be able to have the quality of life that we do” [Don Haugen, “In South Dakota, Seeking Safe Islands for Energy Policy,” Midwest Energy News, 2013.12.09].
Commissioner Hanson still stood in the way of Keystone XL opponents who wanted to discuss climate change as a reason to deny TransCanada its permit to build the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline across South Dakota (the renewal hearing on which is happening in Pierre right now). But Commissioner Hanson’s affirmation of anthropogenic climate change and the need for us anthropos to stop generating it should weigh on our discussion of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. According to this map, the President’s plan would require South Dakota to make the biggest percentage cuts in carbon dioxide emission rates by 2030 relative to 2012 rates:
However, as Grist points out, South Dakota would still have an option to be able to emit more CO2 in 2030 than it did in 2012, just not as much as current plans to bulk up on dirty fossil-fuel power would. President Obama’s plan allows states to write their own emissions-reduction plan and choose whether they want to reduce the rate of CO2 emissions per megawatt-hour of electricity produced or the overall mass of CO2 emissions. But either way, we’d be meeting the goal that Commissioner Gary Hanson has said we should pursue of reducing our impact on the climate and leaving our grandkids a better environment.