A game of chicken little

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In a P&C article today on the proposed Pee Dee coal plant, Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter shows that he is apparently perfectly willing to proclaim the sky is falling when it serves the interests of his company, but quite unwilling to believe the claims of climate change experts that global warming just might seal the fate of all mankind.

Chicken Little embraced:

As Santee Cooper's chief executive officer, Lonnie Carter runs a utility that provides power to 2 million South Carolinians in 46 counties. "It's easy for people to take cheap shots," he said in his office in Moncks Corner recently. "But we have to suit up every day, every hour and have somebody that's producing electricity." If Santee Cooper doesn't build the Pee Dee plant by 2012, he can't guarantee all his customers will have power on peak energy days....

He's also sensitive to people's electric bills. Some proposals to tax carbon dioxide would raise rates between 15 and 60 percent, he said. "And 60 percent isn't Chicken Little."

Chicken Little ignored:

He's skeptical that utilities should be blamed for global warming in the first place. "In some ways it can be a little bit gaudy to think that we can actually affect the climate." America is "the Saudi Arabia of coal," he said, adding that coal plants reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources. "We can't abandon coal."

How convenient.

UPDATE: OK. It looks like I may have been a little off-base in criticizing Carter. It seems, he does believe in global warming, but he just doesn't know if public utilities, like electricity producing coal plants, play a part in getting Ma Earth all hot and bothered.

Q: What are your thoughts about global warming?

LC: Global warming is probably one of the most interesting issues that not only our country faces but the world as a whole. I personally believe that the science demonstrates that the climate is warming. From there, you can go into and listen to a whole host of different folks who have different opinions about it.

Where I come down on it is as an utility executive is that if we're going to work on this issue, it falls back into the same camp that utility executives should look at it anyway: If you can reduce emissions and do it economically, you ought to do it.

So I don't let myself get wrapped around the axle about science. In some ways it can be a little bit gaudy to think that we can actually affect the climate, actually change it or stop something that's going on. But the fact is that this is a global issue. If you look at where greenhouse gasses come from, this country can't alone address this. It's going to take

international cooperation and a lot of research and development if we're really going to make any headway.

Q: Do you think utilities contribute to global warming?

LC: I don't know. If you listen to the scientists and how they parse out the data, the utility is a portion. Transportation is another good-sized portion, and then you have residential and industrial side. They aren't hugely different in terms of percentages. There's no doubt that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. There are some basics that I don't think should be argued about.

The real issue is how much can be done and what will it achieve. I'm always somebody who asks: If we're going to take steps, what are we going to achieve? And that's where the scientific community starts to unravel. It can 't tell us what we will achieve. If I don't have any hard scientific evidence to tell me where I should be, I go back to what we ought to do: If we can reduce emissions, we should reduce emissions.

You can read the P&C interview with Carter here.

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