Obama’s CO2 Restrictions Will Hit Hardest in Key Senate States

Published July 7, 2014

The Obama administration’s proposed carbon dioxide restrictions will impose their highest costs on states with key U.S. Senate races this November. The restrictions, which do not apply uniformly throughout the nation, threaten the chances of Democratic Senate candidates who argue their party identification gives them extra leverage with the Obama administration.

Different States, Hugely Different Standards
Under the proposed restrictions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assigns each state a different emissions reduction requirement. The state of Washington, for example, will have to reduce its power plant carbon dioxide intensity by 72 percent, while North Dakota will have to reduce its emissions by only 11 percent.

The rationale behind the differences makes little sense. For example, Washington is required to make the largest cut in carbon dioxide emissions even though it currently produces more than 70 percent of its electricity from emissions-free sources. North Dakota will be allowed to emit 1,783 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity generated, whereas Washington will be allowed emissions of only 215 pounds per MWh.

Battleground States Hit Hardest
In Senate battleground states, the Obama administration’s emissions reduction requirements are particularly stringent. Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia will all have to reduce their emissions by more than the 30 percent overall national reduction.

Democrats Had Little Pull
Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) is being put in a particularly difficult political vice. Landrieu claims her position as chairwoman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee gives her greater influence on federal energy and environment policy than her Republican opponent Bill Cassidy would wield. However, her vote for Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader helped empower Reid to block a vote on legislation that would invalidate the costly new power plant restrictions. Landrieu would presumably vote for Reid as Senate Majority Leader again, thereby perpetuating Reid’s authority to cement the onerous national and Louisiana-specific emissions restrictions.

In bad news for Landrieu, Louisianans are being hit especially hard by the proposed restrictions, with the state being singled out for a 40 percent emissions cut, one-third above the national average reduction. The Pelican State will have a particularly difficult time meeting the mandate, as Louisiana already produces more than 75 percent of its electricity from emissions-free nuclear power or low-emissions natural gas.

Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (D) similarly failed to leverage his Senate influence into a good or even fair deal for his state. Arkansas will have to reduce its emissions by 45 percent, 50 percent above the national average of mandated increases.

Incumbent Democratic Sens. Al Franken (MN—41 percent reduction), Kay Hagan (NC—40 percent reduction), Jeanne Shaheen (NH—46 percent reduction), and Mark Udall (CO-35 percent reduction) also face tough reelection contests this year and have failed to safeguard their states from power plant restrictions tougher than the national average.

In two open seats that are also closely contested, Georgia (44 percent) and Michigan (32 percent), the Democratic candidates will similarly have to justify their party imposing tougher than average emission reductions on their states.

Shutting Down Good Power Plants
Many states will be forced to shut down perfectly good coal-fired power plants to meet their emissions requirements. Shutting down fully functional power plants merely to force the expensive construction of replacement power plants will cause electricity prices to “necessarily skyrocket,” as Obama admitted during the 2008 presidential campaign. Even in the limited circumstances where new power plants would be necessary anyway, coal is the least expensive widely available source of electricity. Natural gas, nuclear, wind, and solar are all substantially more expensive than coal for electricity generation.

Empirically, states that have already started down this route by imposing renewable power mandates are experiencing much more rapid increases in electricity prices than the national average. The Obama administration proposal will accelerate such electricity price inflation while forcing such price inflation on those states that have wisely chosen not to carve out a guaranteed market share for the renewable power lobby.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. This article first appeared at TheFederalist.com, and is reprinted with permission.