- - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When Richard Nixon signed the legislation establishing the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, he was praised for his vision and commitment to conservation “going forward,” though that cliche had yet to be coined. A few critics — “outliers,” in another cliche waiting to be born — warned that the EPA could grow into a nightmare of a bureaucracy, but no one paid attention. Jeremiahs are rarely popular at the picnic.

Forty years on, and the EPA is an agency out of control, listening neither to Congress nor the courts, determined to substitute whim, caprice and vagary for common sense, imposing on one and all in the name of the greater good.

Its latest crusade is another attempt to regulate the emission of carbon dioxide — the stuff we all breathe and necessary for the life of plants — this time in the generation of electric power.

Under a rule designed to change the behavior of existing power plants, something called the Clean Power Plan employs an obscure and rarely used section of the federal Clean Air Act to “encourage” states to regulate the production, transmission, and consumption of electricity. The objective is to set and meet numerical targets for carbon-dioxide emissions, bringing emissions down 30 percent by 2030 to forestall further damage to the economy from “global climate change,” the phenomenon called “global warming” before the natural global warming cycle ended two decades ago. Everyone can agree that the climate changes: sometimes it rains, and sometimes it doesn’t.

This scheme to control the production of electric power works, says its advocates, because it’s grounded in the principles of federalism, that the participation of the individual states is voluntary. But “voluntary” only in the way that turning over your wallet, your watch and your car keys to the thug holding a gun at your head is voluntary. You don’t have to turn it over if you’re willing to take a bullet.

The loaded gun the EPA points at the states is the threat, which is without precedent, to shut down the electricity generating capacity of states that refuse to join the combine. “Once again, we see a Washington power grab of a highly complex and critical sector of the economy that affects every American consumer without thinking through all of the consequences,” says Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. It’s like Obamacare, deja vu all over again.

The implementation of the rule has been delayed, in the way Obamacare had to go briefly back to the drawing board, so that the EPA can work with the states to “help” them develop compliance plans and work out the agency’s strategy for combating challenges in Congress and the courts. This proposal is costly, unnecessary and will inevitably drive up the cost of electricity for the consumer. It’s likely to reduce the reliability of electric power as well. “Pay more for less” doesn’t work. If the new Congress, which came to Washington with immense bravado and lots of brave talk, wants to transform some of the big talk to action, this is a place to do it.

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