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Obama’s Clean Power Plan: Let’s Listen to Experts, Learn From Experience | Commentary

President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan has no shortage of critics, but it’s important to ask whether those criticisms are in good faith. Of course every policy should be carefully scrutinized, but we would be wise to base arguments on the facts provided by the experts. That way we can base our scrutiny on the real issues, instead of on talking points.

Every new policy proposal comes with a slate of questions. How will it work? Will it work at all? Who will it help? Who could it hurt? What problem is it fixing? What problems could it cause?

It’s vital to address these questions in an open and honest manner, allowing policymakers a chance to fine-tune the rule as it is developing.

To cut through the political posturing, it’s always helpful to look at what independent scholars have to say. In that spirit, Vanderbilt University’s law school and medical center brought together a number of experts to discuss the health, energy and economic benefits of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

Beyond providing an evidence-based foundation for answering policy questions, this forum helps to prove that smart energy policies know no cultural or geographic bounds. Across the mid-South, academics, utilities, nonprofits and even churches are taking the threats of climate change seriously and ramping up clean-energy efforts to protect us from the problems that we’ve already started to see.

Across the country, traditional political boundaries have started to fall away as the United States moves to a clean-energy economy. Georgia’s tea party groups have started embracing solar and have formed a “Green Tea coalition.” In Texas, one town has banned fracking, while another is moving to 100 percent clean energy by 2017. It’s clear that across the South, climate change is recognized as a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed.

And clean energy is becoming more prevalent, in part because it’s getting cheaper by the day. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s draft 2015 Integrated Resource Plan shows that reducing emissions won’t make electricity cost more, and incorporating clean energy into our power grid won’t cause blackouts.

While critics of the Clean Power Plan will paint scary pictures of rate hikes and blackouts, what’s happening in the real world, where we’re already incorporating clean energy into the grid with positive results, tells a different story. It’s not just the expert’s findings, but our experience that undermines the fearmongering of to the ideologues and spokesmen out to protect industry profit at all cost — even human lives.

Make no mistake, there are lives at stake. A new peer-reviewed study found that if implemented, the Clean Power Plan will save 3,500 to 6,100 lives per year. So the answer to “Who might it help?” is pretty clear — thousands of Americans. And who might it hurt? Only those who stand to profit from the burning of fossil fuels that make people sick while causing climate change.

So for the sake of the health of Americans, let’s listen to what the experts, and our experience has to say about the Clean Power Plan. All the real-world indications are that clean energy will bring down prices, improve health and, of course, help fight climate change.

Rep. Steve Cohen is a Democrat from Tennessee.

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