- - Monday, July 9, 2012

For months, we’ve heard about President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, but recently, it has become clear that it would be more accurate to call it “none of the above.” The administration has launched a war on affordable energy through actions such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new Utility MACT (for Maximum Achievable Control Technology) regulation. Senate opponents failed to overturn this rule in a 53-46 vote on June 20.

Virginia’s two Democratic senators, James Webb and Mark Warner, voted against the Utility MACT rule and thus for affordable energy. Unfortunately, Maryland’s two Democratic senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, voted the other way.

The Utility MACT Rule, which forces utilities to meet stricter air-quality standards or shut down, would raise electricity rates by approximately 20 percent and cost users $10 billion. The EPA contends mercury emissions endanger a speculative computer-modeled population of unborn children whose mothers annually consume more than 225 pounds of local freshwater fish caught from the most polluted 10 percent of U.S. inland waterways.

This massive governmental overreach is an attempt to prevent a predicted loss in IQ by an undetectable 0.00209 IQ points for each of the 240,000 infants guesstimated to be born in subsistence-fishing households.


Electric utilities - and ultimately, ratepayers - will be forced to spend $10 billion to prevent an infinitesimal and unverifiable decrease in IQ, even though in the more than 20 years that the EPA has studied the health effects of mercury, the agency has not identified a single child who has been harmed by his mother’s consumption of fish.

The EPA clearly has gone beyond protecting the environment to actively targeting entire industries with virtually no justification. The agency estimated that approximately 10,000 megawatts’ worth of grid capacity would shut down because of Utility MACT and other regulations. In fact, utilities already have announced plans to shut down 26,000 megawatts - equivalent to blacking out Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

Independent groups have suggested that when those regulations take full effect, up to 81,000 megawatts of generation capacity could be taken offline - equivalent to plunging Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado and Idaho into darkness. Such large declines in electricity supply would reduce economic output by billions of dollars and destroy tens of thousands of jobs.

The Obama administration’s energy strategy is to artificially raise the price of electricity generation above its market value by increasing compliance costs via regulation. Supported by its environmental lobby allies, the administration is attempting to dramatically raise the price of coal-fueled electricity generation to make high-cost wind and solar power more competitive by fiat.

Overregulation is thus part of a market-rigging strategy that also includes “crony capitalist” corporate welfare subsidies for economically unsustainable alternative-energy companies like Solyndra, the solar-panel manufacturer that went bankrupt after spending half a billion of your tax dollars.

But don’t we need to move “beyond coal” to reduce the carbon-dioxide emissions that supposedly cause global warming? Ironically, the EPA’s regulations won’t decrease carbon-dioxide emissions. Let’s assume the United States scraps 40 percent of its generation capacity from coal. U.S. domestic demand for coal would decline, and so would the price.

Consequently, foreign demand for U.S. coal would increase. That would encourage developing nations to burn more coal. The likely result would be global carbon-dioxide emissions remaining constant or increasing.

Cutting American coal power generation will turn on the dark in the United States, increase costs on American energy users, reduce Americans’ standard of living and fail to decrease worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions one iota. It truly will be the start of darkness.

The administration is just beginning with the Utility MACT Rule. Other EPA regulations are on the way that will raise energy prices even higher. We must hope that once the American people see the full extent of President Obama’s war on affordable energy, there will be enough votes in the Senate (as there already are in the House) to overturn those rules.

Andrew Follett is a research associate at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Myron Ebell is director of CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment.