If you think President Obama’s unilateral exercise of executive powers granting near-blanket amnesty to illegal immigrants was an abuse of power, get a load of what this administration is doing over at the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan regulations are the most expansive and economically disruptive rules in four decades from an agency that is notorious for its reckless disregard for the financial consequences of regulation under the Clean Air Act.
The EPA’s rule aims to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants by 30 percent. That’s an enormous and costly burden on our power generating utilities. According to Energy Ventures Analysis, an energy research firm, the annual costs for residential, commercial and industrial energy customers in America would be about $173 billion higher in 2020 — a 37 percent increase. Average annual household gas and power bills would increase by $680 or 35 percent.
However, the overall reductions in the planetary volume of carbon-dioxide emissions would be microscopic — like trying to reduce the rise of the oceans with a syringe. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s own official number crunchers say that we must reduce global carbon-dioxide emissions by 80 percent over the next several decades to avert catastrophic warming. The EPA’s proposed cut would yield an immeasurable 0.018 degree Celsius cooling.
This is going to save the planet from catastrophe? Good luck.
For this imperceptible step forward, the new rule would expand federal control over electric power on a scale comparable to Obamacare’s transformation of health care but with a disturbing difference. At least Congress passed the Affordable Care Act — albeit without a single Republican vote — to overhaul the nation’s health care system.
By contrast, Congress has repeatedly rejected legislation to give the EPA the power to control carbon dioxide. Congress has rejected carbon taxes, the Kyoto Treaty, cap-and-trade schemes, and other regulatory measures that would harm jobs and the economy. Regardless of how one feels about global warming, this is hardly the way the Constitution intended for the really big decisions affecting our economy and livelihoods to be decided.
Most amazing of all is that we have here is an extraordinarily expensive rule, but the EPA can’t tell us what it hopes to accomplish.
Consider how the EPA almost comically keeps changing its story. Originally, the agency claimed that the power plan rule would prevent dangerous warming. The futility of even more unilateral and draconian carbon cuts while the rest of the world’s increasing emissions dwarf the symbolic reductions in the United States is almost universally recognized as having no impact on any global warming trends. Even more problematic for the EPA has been the 18-year lull in rising temperatures, which has turned “global warming” into “climate change.”
Next in line was the EPA’s standard propaganda that the proposed regulation would prevent thousands of deaths. Yet, unlike pollutants listed in the Clean Air Act, carbon dioxide has no adverse health effects at ambient levels. Unlike smog, lead or carbon monoxide — all forms of pollution that have been dramatically reduced in recent decades — no one gets sick from carbon dioxide. So the health effects of the Clean Power Plan are trivial.
EPA has now conjured up a new rationale. In testimony before the Senate this past summer, Administrator Gina McCarthy stated that the Clean Power Plan has nothing to do with reducing pollution. “The great thing about this proposal is that it really is an investment opportunity. This is not about pollution control. It’s about investment in renewables and clean energy.” So now EPA is an economic planning agency.
But wait. This is the same administration that “invested” hundreds of millions of dollars into Solyndra, Fisker Auto, battery plants and other mega-green energy flops. After tens of billions of dollars of federal subsidies, the U.S. still only gets about 3 percent of its electric power from wind and solar power while natural gas — a clean and abundant fuel — has surged as a power source virtually without a dime of Ms. McCarthy’s prodding.
As an act of total desperation, the EPA is now playing the race card. The agency is adopting the theme that shutting down coal plants and other fossil fuel development is necessary to secure “climate justice for communities of color.” Ms. McCarthy pitched this gibberish in August: “Carbon pollution standards are an issue of justice. If we want to protect communities of color, we need to protect them from climate change.”
This is just short of derangement. “Communities of color” are poorer than whites. Blacks and Hispanics spend a larger share of their budgets on energy — the lowest income quintile spends well more than twice as much of its budget on utilities and home heating than do wealthy families. So imposing expensive green energy on racial minorities is a regressive tax on these families and communities.
None of this probably matters to a White House that has deluded itself into believing that if America jumps off the green energy cliff, China, and then India, Russia, Mexico, Indonesia and the rest of the developing world with more than 3 billion people will follow suit. Meanwhile, the EPA’s power plant rules are already throwing tens of thousands of coal miners and others out of work and into the welfare lines. How this promotes “justice” is anyone’s guess.
• Stephen Moore is chief economist at the Heritage Foundation. Kathleen Hartnett-White is Distinguished Senior Fellow-in-Residence at the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.