- - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

If Barack Obama could summon the will to make war on America’s enemies abroad with the enthusiasm he makes war on Americans at home, joy all sublime would descend on the mountains, dells and every fruited plain. But the Environmental Protection Agency released the final version Monday of a new scheme to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants in 49 states, and it’s a shocker. The fruit on the plain is likely to shrivel.

The Clean Power Plan seeks to shift the burden of cleaning up the quality of the world’s air to the United States, specifically to the American taxpayers, leaving the Chinese, the Indians, and other championship polluters to continue on their merry way for at least another 15 years.

A draft rule the EPA put “out for comment” last year carried a price tag of $366 billion, according to an analysis by NERA Economic Consulting. That was bad enough. Such an impact would be catastrophic for taxpayers and would do much to redeem Mr. Obama’s long-ago promise to “drive the cost of electricity through the roof.”

Now comes the final rule, to change, perhaps forever, the way Americans heat their homes, power their businesses and run their air conditioners. But the Clean Power Plan, according to various analyses, including one conducted for the American Council for Clean Coal Electricity, will have no actual effect on global warming (or climate “change,” as it is currently called.)

Congress could have stopped this if pro-energy Democrats and Republicans had found a way to work together to thwart the obstruction of the president’s Senate go-fer, Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. That they couldn’t is a testament to the way congressional gridlock and infighting among conservatives have enabled Mr. Obama to have his way. The free-market members of Congress often seem more interested in lobbing mud balls at each other rather than contending with those for whom words like “socialism” and “central planning” drip from their tongues like honey.

There’s hope that the Clean Coal Plan can be defeated in the courts. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the MATS (for Mercury and Air Toxics) case, in which the prevailing side upbraided the Environmental Protection Agency for not comparing the costs of the regulation to the total economy, measuring such costs against expected benefits. Justice Antonin Scalia’s reasoning in that case, that it was wrong for the agency to have “impose[d] billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits,” seems to apply here.

Unfortunately, litigation requires years to work its way through the courts, years in which investment decisions will have been made, long-term plans will have been written, and electricity-generating plants will have been shuttered. The price of winning will be expensive and the victory will be pyrrhic.

At this late hour the only options left are to enjoin the EPA from enforcing the rule while appeals are argued in the courts. What judges at the lower level can do may be undone by judges at a higher court. Congress must find a way to block the EPA from spending money on implementing the Clean Power Plan until the Supreme Court rules. It’s an imperfect strategy. It won’t calm the fears of investors but it might prevent the price of electricity from doubling or tripling, as President Obama dreamed it would. To stand aside and do nothing is to condemn low- and middle-income taxpayers and Americans on fixed incomes to make unpleasant choices, like whether to eat or go hungry while freezing.

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