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Expert’s take: Proposed EPA regulations

Expert's take: Proposed EPA regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled its plan to “fight climate change” with sweeping regulations. Jon Entine, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, weighs in on what exactly the regulations entail, and what it means for us:

What, briefly, is the EPA’s latest agenda? 

This EPA draft rule has put global warming on public trial in the United States. The mandates would cut pollution at more than 600 coal-fired power plants in the United States 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 – the equivalent, according to the EPA, of taking two-thirds of all cars and trucks in America off the road.

The goal of the EPA, carrying out the political directive of the Obama Administration, is to pass a signature climate change measure, in this case a law that would circumvent a deadlocked Congress over whether or how to reduce carbon emissions. The EPA and its supporters are selling this as a ‘pollution control’ and ‘health’ measure not as climate change law for obvious reasons.

The president, who failed to push a global warming bill through Congress even when Democrats controlled both Houses, is now exercising his authority to have the EPA announce the regulation under the 1970 Clean Air Act, although he’s not issuing an executive order. The EPA was empowered by a 2007 Supreme Court decision to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant if it determined that carbon endangered human life and health. States are given wide sway in how to achieve these mandates; the hammer is if they resist, as has happened with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government can enforce cutbacks.

What is the likelihood the EPA will pass this legislation? What challenges do they face?

What promises to be a multi-year war between environmental activists and many Congressional Democrats on one side and Republicans and the energy industry on the other has erupted. It has already ignited a rancorous debate among Congressmen, particularly Republicans and politically vulnerable Democrats, who maintain the Obama Administration is exceeding its authority by using a decades-old law never designed to apply to green house gas emissions.

The announcement is just the latest step in what will be a drawn out and ugly process. The coal industry has indicated it might sue, if for no other reason then to try to delay implementation. The rule is an administrative order so it does not require Congressional approval, although Congress could make the process messy, much as it has done with Obama care. The EPA will take public comment and spend a year refining the proposal before releasing an updated rule next June. States will then be given another year to submit compliance plans, or apply for an extension. By then we’re approaching the 2106 presidential election year; a Republican president could result in the reversal some aspects of the package.

What would the repercussions be for the average American?

Everyone agrees that because coal is the country’s largest source of electricity, the average electricity buyer will pay more and the economy will take a hit.  How great and whether the short-term pain will be outweighed by long-terms economic and health gains is anyone’s guess.

The EPA, whose views are almost certainly optimistic, estimates annual costs would run $7.3-$8.8 billion, but electricity bills will fall by the time the program is fully implemented in 2030. The Chamber of Commerce, which is known to inflate the damage estimates that legislative rules might have on the economy, contends the costs could lower the GDP by $50 billion annually. The coal business will be hit hardest, as it will be shoved towards extinction unless daunting new technologies are developed.

The Obama Administration is also selling this as a health measure. The EPA forecasts that the rule will prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks, although there is no link between carbon pollution and asthma. The agency also estimates that future coal plant closures will lead to a 25 percent reduction in traditional air pollutants like soot, sulfur and nitrogen, which are linked to respiratory diseases. Although coal plant closures will undoubtedly lead to some health improvements, these are pie-in-the-sky guestimates, with little science behind them.

Who is right? Frankly on costs we don’t know. However, we do know that few people today would want to turn back the clock on the Clean Air Act, which was opposed by many of the same corporate and Congressional critics denouncing the current rule. As for whether this will significantly cut greenhouse gases and lower the danger of accelerating climate change, the answer is blurrier. The action is premised on the consensus belief that the rule would cut greenhouse gas pollution sharply in the US—and it should—but its passage, without comparable moves by other countries, particularly China and India, would have almost no impact on reducing global carbon emissions, which is one of the central political arguments in support of the mandate. Perhaps it will stir other Western nations to act similarly, but China or India? No way.

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