“If someone wants to build a new coal-fired power plant they can, but it will bankrupt them because they will be charged a huge sum for all the greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”
- Candidate Barack Obama, 2008.
Well, we can’t say we weren’t warned. This week, the unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency released a set of proposed rules designed to target greenhouse gas emissions. If enacted, these rules would virtually destroy the coal industry - just as President Obama once promised he would do.
Under the proposed rules, new power plants will be required to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity; coal plants average 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt. As Jordan Weissmann writes for the Atlantic, “Natural gas plants already meet this requirement. But if a utility wants to burn coal for electricity, it will need to install carbon capture technology - and that’s really expensive.”
Carbon capture and storage technology allows carbon-dioxide emissions to be stored in the ground instead of being released into the atmosphere. But the technology is, for many coal-energy producers, prohibitively pricey. Even assuming new coal plants are actually built under this regulatory regime, to whom do you think those new expenses will be passed on to? That’s right - energy consumers.
Rich people will be able to pay those extra costs, though they may gripe about it. But middle-class households will see a rise in their energy bills that will put them in even greater financial distress than they already are under in this abysmal “recovery.” Poor and working-class people will be especially hurt, of course, as is almost always the case when wealthy pencil-pushers hatch a brilliant plan to “save the planet.” Among the pencil-pushers is EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who crowed: “Today we’re taking a common-sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy.”
Will coal-power producers try to forge ahead with new facilities under these proposed regulations? Doubtful. Remember, this is an industry already groaning under the weight of a slew of new regulations imposed by the Obama EPA, including emission limits on mercury and sulfur dioxide, “which would require utilities to eventually upgrade old plants or build entirely new ones,” Mr. Weissmann notes.
True, the EPA is taking pains to stress that the new regulations would apply only to new plants. Gina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation, assured lawmakers at a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the agency has “no plans” to curb greenhouse gas emissions for existing plants. But no one believes that, not Republicans who grilled EPA officials at Wednesday’s hearing, nor environmental groups who have long sought the death of King Coal.
David Doniger, climate program policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council notes that the Clean Air Act likely will make it inevitable that the EPA will train its anti-carbon guns on existing coal-fired power plants. Just so we know where the council stands, Mr. Doniger promises, “We look forward to reaching an agreement with EPA on a schedule for completing the standard for new sources and developing standards for existing sources.” Doubtless, Mr. Obama’s EPA won’t need much of a nudge from Mr. Doniger’s group.
Unlike his promises to close the terrorist detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay, keep lobbyists out of the White House, and oppose an individual mandate for health insurance, at least we know that Mr. Obama was true to his word when he promised to bankrupt an entire industry that employs tens of thousands of Americans.
Matt Patterson is the Warren T. Brookes Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and senior editor at the Capital Research Center.