- - Tuesday, December 27, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While President Trump will need legislative approval by Congress to accomplish parts of his economic policy agenda, he can also implement several critical initiatives on his sole authority as chief executive. Increasing the affordability of both U.S. and global energy is an important economic and humanitarian objective and should be at the top of the list. The following three actions are among the most critical Mr. Trump can take to roll back the outgoing administration’s job-killing assault on affordable energy.

End U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement and defund the U.N. Green Climate Fund. Contrary to claims by the Obama administration, the recently negotiated Paris Climate Agreement is no mere update of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is a new treaty, designed to lock future administrations and Congresses into a policy straitjacket inimical to the production, transport, and use of America’s most affordable and abundant energy source — fossil fuels, including coal, gas, and oil.

President Obama refused to submit the agreement to the Senate for its “advice and consent,” as required by the Constitution, even though the pact entails greater costs and risks for the United States than any environmental agreement in history. Why did the president refuse? Because there was no chance the Senate would consent to new international climate commitments. Mr. Trump should formally withdraw from the agreement while clarifying that we never properly joined. He then should submit the agreement to the Senate for a ratification vote, where it would likely fail.

For similar reasons, the incoming administration should zero out the hundreds of millions of dollars of annual funding for the Paris agreement’s foreign aid program, Green Climate Fund.

Overturn the Clean Power Plan. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP) is an unlawful power grab that will increase consumer electricity prices, reduce U.S. job and economic growth, and have no discernible impacts on global warming or sea-level rise. The CPP is an attempt to inflate a three-sentence, seldom-used provision of the Clean Air Act, Section 111(d), into a mandate for decarbonizing the U.S. electric power sector, a purpose Congress has not approved.

Instead of setting emission performance standards that actually require fossil-fuel power plants to improve their performance (reduce the quantity of emissions per megawatt hour), the CPP imposes standards no individual plant can meet, and then gives owners the “choice” to comply by reducing output, shutting down the unit entirely, or “investing” in new renewable generation. ‘Produce less,’ ‘shut down your facility,’ and ‘subsidize your competitor’s wind farm’ are illegitimate, nonperformance mandates, not bona fide Clean Air Act performance standards.

To overturn the CPP, Mr. Trump should direct the Justice Department to side with the 28 states and numerous industry and nonprofit petitioners challenging the Plan as unlawful and unconstitutional, if the litigation reaches the Supreme Court. He could also direct the EPA to repropose the rule affirming petitioners’ legal theory that the Clean Air Act only allows the EPA to set performance standards based on emission-reduction strategies the regulated facilities can affordably implement. In effect, this would limit the CPP to requiring incremental, low-cost, energy-efficiency improvements in coal and gas power plants.

Stop claiming huge health benefits for pollution reductions in areas already attaining National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Over the past two decades, the EPA has relied increasingly on coincidental reductions in fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution to inflate the perceived benefits of its regulations. The most egregious example is the agency’s Mercury Air Toxics Standards rule.

If we consider just the hazardous air pollutants targeted by the mercury rule, the estimated costs of $9.6 billion in 2016 exceed quantifiable benefits by up to 2,400 times. To avoid a public relations disaster, the EPA claimed collateral reductions in PM2.5 pollution would avert thousands of deaths, yielding up to $90 billion in health benefits in 2016. However, such estimates are flimflam.

Nearly 100 percent of the mercury rule’s supposed PM2.5 co-benefits are projected to occur in areas where exposures will already be below the NAAQS for fine particle pollution. By law, NAAQS must be set at a level “requisite to protect public health” with “an adequate margin of safety.” Claiming multibillion dollar health benefits for pollution reductions in areas already deemed to have healthy air is scientifically illegitimate.

Mr. Trump should instruct federal agencies to make their PM2.5 co-benefit estimates consistent with federal NAAQS determinations. Only PM2.5 reductions from amounts above that standard should be counted in agency cost-benefit estimates.

Mr. Trump has many additional options to strengthen constitutional discipline and quality control in federal regulation. The three discussed above would go a long way to protect the job creators who produce and depend on affordable energy.

Marlo Lewis is a senior fellow in energy and environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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