- - Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The president’s Dream Act-by-dictate provides the latest evidence of this administration’s determination to push its agenda through without respect to Congress, the Constitution or the rule of law. While there are enough examples to fill a book (which I wrote and titled “Democracy Denied”), the most outrageous of all is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) being used to advance an extreme anti-energy agenda that the American people decisively rejected when Mr. Obama proposed it as cap-and-trade. Wednesday we’ll find out where every U.S. senator stands.

In 2008, Barack Obama explained his energy policy: “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. Even regardless of what I say about whether coal is good or bad.” He went on to explain, “So, if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can - it’s just that it will bankrupt them.”

That plan was utterly repudiated by the American people. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was able to narrowly grease it through the House with hundreds of pages of corrupt special-interest provisions, but the Senate refused to even bring it up for a vote. Dozens of House Democrats who voted for it were turned out of office largely because of that vote. One coal-state Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, won a Senate seat by literally shooting a bullet through the bill in a campaign spot called “Dead Aim.”

Yet the day after the 2010 election, Mr. Obama said, “Cap and trade was just one way of skinning the cat; it was not the only way. It was a means, not an end.”

The following week, the Center for American Progress released a report, complete with a cover letter from Obama transition co-chairman John Podesta, outlining ways in which Mr. Obama should bypass Congress and move his agenda forward by manipulating regulatory and executive power. Mr. Podesta’s report specifically recommended a regulation purporting to regulate mercury as a way to shut down coal plants and advance the global warming agenda.

Mr. Obama did just that, and it has become the linchpin of the war on coal. It is officially known as the “Mercury and Air Toxics Standards,” but is better known as Utility MACT, because it requires the “Maximum Achievable Control Technology” for mercury at coal-fired power plants.

U.S. power plants account for just 0.5 percent of all mercury in the air we breathe. According to an analysis by Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Willie Soon, coal plants emit an estimated 41-48 tons of mercury, while U.S. forest fires emit 44 tons per year, cremation of human remains 26 tons, Chinese power plants 400 tons, and natural sources like volcanoes and geysers about 9,000-10,000 tons.

Yet proponents of the rule, including the White House, insist it has enormous “co-benefits.” This dishonest argument claims that using mercury as a pretext to shut down coal plants will improve health outcomes - unrelated to mercury - by reducing particulate matter. Of course, particulate matter is already strictly regulated.

The EPA itself estimates annual compliance costs of about $10 billion per year, versus benefits from regulating mercury and other toxic emissions of just $6 million per year. A more realistic analysis from the National Economic Research Associates found compliance costs of $21 billion per year, with 183,000 lost jobs per year. The supposed health benefits would accrue to unborn babies of pregnant women in subsistence fishing households who eat in excess of 100 pounds of fish per year - a population the EPA has not proven actually exists.

More than 90 percent of utility industry executives believe the costs of Utility MACT will be passed on to retail customers, and more than half predict the price increases will be significant. Recent studies have projected retail price increases of at least 10 percent to 20 percent for most of the country, and more than 20 percent in the coal-dependent states of the Midwest.

That’s just the beginning. Pending greenhouse gas regulations - slated, conveniently, to go final just after this year’s elections - will require all coal plants undergoing major modifications to shut down or convert to natural gas. Because Utility MACT requires most existing coal plants to undergo major modifications, the two rules will combine to force mass coal retirements and accomplish Mr. Obama’s 2008 goal of bankrupting coal.

Wednesday the Senate is scheduled vote on Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe’s S.J. Res. 37, which would overturn Utility MACT. Each senator will either vote to let Mr. Obama govern by regulatory decree and make electricity prices “necessarily skyrocket,” or reject Mr. Obama’s plan and take responsibility as a legislator.

Phil Kerpen is president of American Commitment and author of “Democracy Denied” (BenBella Books, 2011).