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Regulators, coal industry should cooperate

As Dexter Perkins, University of North Dakota geology professor, notes, "coal is the No. 1 cause of global warming and associated climate change."

But as Jason Bohrer, president and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council, also notes, a crackdown on coal means developing countries "will buy the newest technology elsewhere -- or worse yet, build plants with outdated technology that would hurt the environment."

What to do?

The answer is obvious: Compromise.

Coal-energy emissions and their impact on the environment aren't issues for the month or year. They're issues for the decade and century.

So, while there may not be time to waste, there's certainly time to deal.

That means the Environmental Protection Agency should restart talks with the coal industry, and draft rules that the industry can live with and profit from.

The industry is willing to talk, as its executives and spokespeople have made clear. The industry's own proposals include emissions limits that at least are in the same ballpark as the EPA's tough rules.

True, the results of this dialogue are sure to be somewhat looser limits than regulators are calling for now.

But think of it this way:

First, if America is going to make real progress on reducing CO2 emissions, the change needs the "buy-in" of our whole society. As the paralysis that's gripping Washington shows, stalemate won't get the job done.

Far better for the Obama (and every other) administration to work with willing partners in industry, even if the rules that result aren't fully as exacting as purists would demand.

Second, even tight limits on coal-energy emissions in the United States won't make more than a fractional difference in global warming. So, let's make just a little less of a difference within that fraction -- because by doing so, we can save thousands of jobs, keep our technological edge and enjoy the coal industry's full cooperation.

We've tried confrontation, and it's not getting us anywhere. Now, on the slow-moving issue of climate change, let's try cooperation. We might just be pleasantly surprised at the results.