“Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.” That gem came from outside White House adviser Daniel Schrag when President Obama made his climate change speech in June. This morning, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a big step in that direction by announcing its revised regulations for newly constructed power plants, which would essentially halt new coal plant construction.
Originally proposed in March 2012 with a standard threshold of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per megawatt hour, the new source performance standards set a limit for new coal-fired power plants of 1,100 pounds of CO2 equivalent per megawatt hour (or 1,000–1,050 pounds over a seven-year period) and 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour for larger gas-fired plants and 1,100 for smaller ones.
For comparison, the average coal-fired power plant emits nearly 1,800 pounds of carbon emissions per megawatt hour. Therefore, to meet the new regulations, companies would have to equip new coal-fired plants with carbon capture and sequestration, which has significant costs and questionable scalability. In other words, President Obama is making good on his promise to act on climate change by going around Congress.
Doing so will raise energy costs for families and businesses and restrict economic growth and job creation. Although the Administration believes that the EPA’s regulations are good for the economy and will spark a clean energy revolution, the reality is they will be economically damaging and shrink the economic pie.
Of course, the EPA does not take this into account in the proposed rule, as it assumes that no new coal plants will be built anyway as a result of low natural gas prices. But coal is still competitive with cheap natural gas prices in certain parts of the country, and even so, if a dramatic shift takes America toward more natural gas and less coal in the future, that shift should occur as a result of market forces, not dictated through needless, bureaucratic regulations.
To make matters worse, the new carbon dioxide regulations proposed by the EPA will have no effect on climate change. The EPA even admitted this in its own proposed rule writing that “this proposed rule will result in negligible CO2 emission changes, quantified benefits, and costs by 2022.” EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said as much in a recent House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, saying:
I think what you’re asking is can EPA in and of itself solve the problems of climate change. No we cannot. But the authority you gave us was to use the Clean Air Act to regulate pollution, carbon pollution is one of those regulated pollutants, and we’re going to move forward with what we can do that’s reasonable and appropriate.
Except a big problem with that statement (other than acknowledgement of the futility of these regulations) is that the authors of the Clean Air Act never intended carbon dioxide to be included as a regulated pollutant. Congressman John Dingell (D–MI), author of the Clean Air Act, called the EPA’s regulation of CO2 “a glorious mess.”
McCarthy stressed that the U.S. needs to be a leader to attract international commitment. But if the U.S. leads on this issue, the countries that would make a difference in reducing global emissions—namely, India and China—are highly unlikely to follow. Urging developing countries to curb their economic growth to reduce carbon emissions is immoral as these countries are attempting to lift their citizens out of poverty and have more pressing environmental issues, such as obtaining breathable air and clean drinking water, neither of which CO2 reduction will address.
Congress needs to act now. As the EPA moves on to finalize this rule, the agency will begin working on CO2 regulations for existing plants, which will further inflict economic pain—again, for no impact on the climate. Congress should prevent the EPA and all other federal agencies from regulating CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the economic harm that will ensue.
Nicolas Loris, an economist, is a Policy Analyst at The Heritage Foundation . http://www.heritage.org/ Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. Loris researches and writes about energy prices and other economic effects of environmental policies and regulations, including climate change and “cap and trade” legislation. He also articulates the benefits of free market environmentalism.