The Obama Environmental Protection Agency just condemned to death an entire U.S. industry - a legal and scientific horror story that congressional Republicans failed miserably to prevent.
The EPA’s newly proposed greenhouse gas emission standards for coal-fired power plants will be finalized by the Obama administration, win or lose, after the November election.
Though the proposed standards leave alone existing coal-fired power plants, they effectively prohibit the construction of new plants by establishing an impossible-to-meet emissions standard.
But don’t get the idea that the EPA threw the coal industry a bone by omitting existing coal-fired plants, as the agency has already issued two regulations - the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury Air Toxics Standard - that will prematurely retire about 20 percent of existing coal-fired plants over the next few years.
The supposed scientific grounds for the new EPA greenhouse gas emissions is global warming. But even if you believe that man-made emissions are changing climate for the worse, there are two realities that expose the EPA’s moves as purely political.
First, if all U.S. coal plant emissions were to stop today, the average global temperature might be reduced over the next 90 years by, at most, an insignificant 0.15 degrees Celsius, according to United Nations-approved models. EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson essentially admitted to this futility in a July 2009 Senate hearing.
Next, as the United States reduces its greenhouse gas emissions, the rest of the world, especially China, has its emissions pedal to the metal. It has been estimated that by 2035 China will become the all-time leading emitter of greenhouse gases. That is, in the space of about 45 years, China will have emitted more greenhouse gases than the United States has in 150 years.
So the Obama EPA is accomplishing nothing with its new power plant rules except the destruction of the U.S. coal industry, which has played a leading role in powering America for more than 100 years.
On the legal side, and notwithstanding the narrow 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA in 2007 that gave the agency the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, it is obvious that when Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1970, 1977 and 1990, it did not intend to provide the agency with authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
It is simply not credible that Congress intended for the EPA to write emissions permits for more than 6 million sources of greenhouse gases - an effort the agency has estimated would cost $63 billion and require an extra 250,000 employees over a period of three years.
But President Obama has decided that the coal industry should no longer exist and so has ordered new EPA and other regulatory agency controls to implement his political whim.
So where is the Republican opposition?
In their defeat, Senate Republicans can at least point to the fact that they don’t run their body. Still, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s failure to convince Sen. Lamar Alexander, Sen. Scott P. Brown, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe and Sen. Susan M. Collins to vote for GOP-sponsored bills to rein in the EPA certainly draws into question his leadership capabilities, if not his zeal.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, House Republicans have held many hearings on the EPA. On occasion, some members have even made an effort to express mild outrage at the agency - that is, when they’re not pandering to the EPA for constituent permit approvals or handouts from the slush funds that the EPA controls.
The GOP-controlled House has even passed bills to rein in the EPA, but none that had a prayer of passing in the Senate.
Although House Speaker John A. Boehner has had the power to threaten the EPA’s budget, he has inexplicably refused to use his only real weapon against the agency.
Considering that in the 2012 election cycle Republicans have so far received 89 percent of the coal industry’s contributions to political parties - amounting to more than $3 million - the industry must be asking itself why it continues to support politicians who fail so miserably.
Ironically, the coal industry’s only hope is to support Republican candidates across the board in 2012, in hopes of gaining the White House and both houses of Congress. Then, a GOP-controlled Congress could pass and a Republican president could sign a single bill rolling back or overriding all Obama EPA overreaches.
Recapturing the White House or Senate alone will not be enough to alter the fate of the coal industry. It’s not at all clear that a Republican president would be willing to undergo a painfully drawn-out process for rescinding EPA regulations on a rule-by-rule basis. Even with a GOP-controlled Congress, it’s unlikely that there would be a two-thirds majorities to face down Obama vetoes of efforts to rein in the agency.
It ought to shock the conscience that for no scientific reason or legal justification at all, a single regulatory agency can unilaterally kill off a multibillion-dollar industry that supplies more than 40 percent of the nation’s electricity - and get away scot-free.
Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is author of “Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them” (Regnery, 2009).