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DRIESSEN: The heavy price of regulations

- - Monday, October 28, 2013

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed onerous new limits carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. The standards would prevent construction of new facilities, gradually close older ones and, eventually, affect even gas-fired units.

The EPA says the rules will safeguard our health from storms, sea-level rise and other ravages of man-made climate change. They are in addition to 1,900 other Obama-era regulations designed to curtail or terminate coal mining and use — and dictate activities affecting air and emissions, land and soils, waterways and puddles.

Far too often, the rules are based on speculative health and environmental claims, cherry-picked studies, dismissal of analyses that contradict agency assertions, and computer models that reflect unfounded assumptions and agenda-driven rule-making.

Many scientists challenge the EPA's claim that carbon dioxide controls climate change. They point to solar, cosmic and oceanic factors the agency ignores, and they note that higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon-dioxide spur plant growth and the greening of our planet. They also point out that human beings contribute only 4 percent of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere each year, and U.S. coal-based power generation is responsible for only 3 percent of humanity's carbon-dioxide emissions.

In other words, the power plants the EPA wants to shut down account for a trivial 0.01 percent of the carbon dioxide added to Earth's atmosphere annually, which raise levels to about 0.04 percent of the atmosphere.

There has been no increase in average global temperatures in 16 years. No Category 3 or higher hurricane has hit the U.S. mainland in eight years, and 2013 has spawned the fewest tornadoes in decades.

Making the EPA's rules even more preposterous, China, India, Russia and Brazil alone emit twice as much carbon dioxide as the United States. Therefore, even if the theory that carbon dioxide controls Earth's climate is correct, the new regulations will have no effect on climate change.

EPA justifications for expensive, job-killing regulations of mercury, soot and other emissions are equally questionable.

Moreover, countless other federal, state, local and international regulatory authorities are busy interpreting, implementing and imposing rules under thousands of laws, ordinances and treaties. The Competitive Enterprise Institute's "Ten Thousand Commandments" project calculates that federal rules alone cost American businesses and families $1.8 trillion in annual compliance costs. No one has estimated the enormous cumulative costs of all the multiple layers of rules on our innovation, job creation and retention, prosperity and pursuit of happiness.

Legislators and regulators justify the rules with assertions that they control miscreants and bring vast benefits to the citizenry. All too often, however, the benefits exist only in their imaginations, computer models and press releases.

Worse, this is barely the tip of the iceberg. The legal and regulatory behemoth, our crushing $17 trillion national debt and massive unfunded entitlements mean fewer jobs, more layoffs and steadily declining quality of life for tens of millions of Americans. They cannot heat and cool their homes properly, pay rent, mortgage or other bills, take vacations, or save for college and retirement.

Work also brings purpose, pride and opportunities to serve one's family and community. The inability to find or keep a job erodes self-confidence, self-worth and psychological well-being.

The stress of being unemployed — or having to hold several low-paying, part-time jobs — can mean poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, stressful and expensive commuting, higher incidences of depression, and alcohol, drug, spousal and child abuse. It means lower life expectancies and higher suicide rates.

It means every life allegedly saved as a result of regulations is offset by lives lost or shortened because of those rules. The EPA doesn't even mention any of this, a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires that regulatory actions protect the quality of the overall "human environment."

It also violates Information Quality Act guidelines, which require that regulatory agencies base "major" and "influential" rule-makings on analyses that are accurate, unbiased and complete — not cherry-picked, agenda-driven and without regard for the pernicious impacts of the regulations themselves.

Congress, state legislatures and the judicial system must address this huge and growing problem, and not just with regard to the EPA, but all regulatory agencies. Requiring this comprehensive analysis for all regulations would be a valuable addition to the Reins Act, although our courts could already demand it under existing laws.

Business, family, health, welfare and other public interest organizations should nevertheless join concerned legislators in requiring this fundamental and essential cost-benefit analysis for all regulations. Who could honestly oppose safeguarding the health, welfare and lives of American citizens?

Paul Driessen is senior policy adviser for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and author of "Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death" (Merril Press, 2012).