Time for the Clean Power Plan to Go, Endangerment Finding Should Be Next

Published February 20, 2018

Even before the ink was dry on former President Barack Obama’s signature mandating the creation of Clean Power Plan (CPP) regulations, state governments and industry were rushing up the courthouse steps to challenge the plan and block its implementation.

Despite the fact CPP is just two years old, it has already traveled a long and winding road to its final oblivion (one hopes)!

CPP required states to reduce their electric power sector carbon-dioxide emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels on average nationwide by 2030—part of Obama’s vain effort to fight against alleged human-created climate change. The emissions reductions were established on a state-by-state basis, with some states—especially those who generated a large portion of their electricity from cheap coal-fired power plants, primarily red states—having to reduce emissions by 40–60 percent. By contrast, states that already didn’t generate a significant proportion of their electricity by coal, typically blue states with comparatively high electric prices, had much lower emissions reduction targets. Some states were not required to reduce emissions at all.

A variety of utilities and other industries joined attorneys general from 27 states, more than half the states in the nation, to challenge CPP’s legality. Among the arguments states and industries raised against CPP were that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exceeded its power under the 1970 Clean Air Act, violating powers historically reserved to the states to designate the appropriate sources of electric power within their borders. Others, including Laurence Tribe, a well-known professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, argued CPP was not just illegal, but was unconstitutional in both its design and execution.

Perhaps indicating it suspected the allied groups fighting CPP would prevail, on February 9, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court placed a preemptive nationwide stay on CPP until all related court actions were finalized. This was an unprecedented decision.

Everything would soon change, however, because Donald Trump was elected president. Trump, who argued climate regulations were unnecessarily hampering domestic energy development and economic growth, directed EPA on March 28, 2017, to review CPP to determine whether it is justified. Following Trump’s directive, EPA issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposed the repeal of the Clean Power Plan on October 16, 2017.

All this history and more is further detailed in comments made in response to EPA’s proposed repeal of CPP submitted by Peter Ferrara, a senior fellow for entitlement and budget policy, and Isaac Orr, a research fellow for energy and environment policy—both colleagues of mine at The Heartland Institute.

While Ferrara and Orr address the illegality of CPP—agreeing with the Trump administration’s EPA analysis concluding “the CPP exceeds the EPA’s statutory authority and [must] be repealed”—the meat of their comments address the economic harm CPP would do if it came into force (and was already doing despite being put on hold by the Supreme Court). Specifically, they address the virtues of and need for fossil fuels and that CPP, if left in place, would have no effect on climate change.

Although CPP has not been implemented, Ferrara and Orr note it has already caused significant damage to the energy sector, because utility companies must plan years ahead. Utilities have prematurely shuttered or scheduled for closure multiple coal-fired power plants in anticipation of the CPP eventually coming into effect. This has put people out of work and contributed to higher electric power prices.

Looking at the overall economic costs of the plan, Ferrara and Orr write:

EPA estimated the annual cost of complying with the rules would range between $5.1 billion and $8.4 billion. NERA Economic Consulting estimated the rules could cost dramatically more, between $29 billion and $39 billion per year, more than a quarter-trillion dollars over a standard 10-year federal budget planning cycle. … NERA also estimated CPP regulations would have caused electricity bills to increase between 11 percent and 14 percent per year. At that rate of growth, electricity costs would have multiplied to eight times as great after 15 to 21 years.

A common principle in moral philosophy is “ought implies can,” meaning people (and I would argue institutions) cannot be required to undertake actions that are logically or physically impossible for them to do. A corollary of that principle is government should not impose laws on people or institutions in an effort to reach impossible goals. CPP violates that principle. People should only be required to prevent climate change if it is possible for humans to control the climate—and it isn’t.

Ferrara and Orr make it clear CPP violates this fundamental moral principle:

Despite the high price tag associated with CPP, it would have delivered no measurable environmental benefits. According to the Obama-era EPA-sponsored Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Induced Climate Change … the CPP regulations, if implemented, would have averted only .019 degrees C of potential future warming by 2100. This amount is too low to be accurately measured with even the most sophisticated scientific equipment. Given that most climate models have predicted too much warming, the reductions in future ‘global temperatures’ resulting from CPP would likely have been even lower. In other words, by EPA’s own estimates, the CPP was all pain and no gain.

In addition, as Ferrara and Orr point out, developing countries have indicated they have no intention of cutting their own fossil-fuel use because they need coal, natural gas, and oil to help raise vast segments of their populations out of the grinding poverty they still find themselves in in the 21st century. For example, on July 18, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines said about the Paris climate agreement, “You are trying to stymie [our growth] with an agreement …That’s stupid. I will not honor that.”

Ferrara and Orr’s testimony also details the tremendous amount of resources governments around the world have wasted promoting wind and solar energy as alternatives to fossil fuels, all done to fight climate change. For instance, did you know in 2013, per unit of energy produced, wind received $35.33 per megawatt hour (MWh) in subsidies while solar power received $231.21/MWh in subsidies? By contrast, coal received only $0.57/MWh, and natural gas and petroleum, combined, received just $0.67/MWh in subsidies. You read that right, wind and solar received 52 times and 345 times more in subsidies than coal, respectively.

These policies have already been linked to significant economic problems around the world. For instance, largely due to its green-energy subsidies and mandates, “businesses and households in Germany paid an extra 125 billion euros in increased electricity bills from 2000 to 2015 to subsidize wind and solar power.” As a result, Germans pay 300 percent more for electricity than Americans.

Quoting extensively from the recent book Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy, Ferrara and Orr point out the Industrial Revolution was powered by fossil fuels. Indeed, the discovery and development of technologies used to exploit fossil fuels are responsible for the stark, rapid, and blessedly higher growth in gross domestic product, incomes, wages, health, life expectancy, population, and reduced poverty that have occurred during the past 250 years.

And the growth in carbon-dioxide emissions resulting from the burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for energy has contributed to a general greening of Earth, including a welcome, massive growth in agricultural abundance. Due in part to carbon-dioxide fertilization, staple crop and cereal grain records have been set and reset, year after year, repeatedly, over the past half-century—all during a period of relatively moderate warming. As a result hunger, malnutrition, and starvation have fallen dramatically across the globe.

Ferrara and Orr’s comments are comprehensive and dispositive, clearly establishing EPA’s decision to repeal CPP was the right one. If you can only read one document describing the flawed logic behind CPP and why it must be repealed, this is the one to read.

[Originally Published at the Cornwall Alliance]