- President Obama’s ‘clean power plan’ is neither good for consumers nor constitutional, but hey, its all about fundamental transformation
By John Wood
In 1973, the United States Congress passed, and President Richard Nixon signed, the Clean Air Act, which directed the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to regulate pollutants emitted into the atmosphere that would “endanger the public health and welfare.” In accordance with that empowerment of the EPA over the practices of private industry and state policy as it concerns carbon emissions, President Obama is in the process of giving new teeth to this requirement via a proposed new policy called the Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Power Plan would regulate the amount of carbon emissions used in electricity production nationwide. Proponents argue that it will benefit the environment and lead to lower costs of electricity over time, but while that is at best uncertain, what is certain is that in many cases short term energy costs will rise dramatically, while the rights of state and local governments to set their own energy policy will be undone.
Current power plants that emit carbon above a certain rate would have to shut down for modifications, according to the requirements of this proposed rule. In states that produce a substantial amount of power, such as Texas, which generates roughly 11% or the nations electricity, this will have a dramatic impact on energy production in the near term. Over half of Texas’ coal fire plants will be shut down, (according to a report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation), and as energy availability decreases rates can be expected to rise accordingly.
Some argue that the modifications of these plants will lead to more affordable energy over the long term, including President Barack Obama. Critics find it difficult to trust the President’s sincerity in making this claim however, because in 2008 as a candidate for President, he boldly admitted that by capping carbon emissions his energy policy would make electricity rates “skyrocket:”
“Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket…because I’m capping greenhouse gases, coal power plants, natural gases, you name it, whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money, they will pass that [cost] on to consumers.”
What animated the president then (when he was admirably honest about the impact of his policy) is the same concern that advocates supporters of this policy now, and that is combating climate change. But regardless of whether or not one believes global warming to be settled science or not, indications point to this new policy as having an utterly marginal impact on greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. The rules purpose is to reduce CO2 emissions by from the production of electricity by 30%. According to TPP, that will yield a 0.02 percent decrease in CO2, equivalent to 2 weeks of emissions produced by the rapidly industrializing and unregulated economy of China.
What is certain to be a result of this proposal, however, is that local municipalities and rate setting bodies in state governments will effectively be neutered in their ability to set energy policy in a manner that makes sense to them, for their own states, cities and counties. Traditionally local governments have had the power to set rates, determine when and if new plants should be opened, closed or reconfigured. But while nothing has changed in the United States Constitution to suggest that they no longer have this power, the expanded ability of the EPA effectively allows it to bypass the authority of local governments to establish energy policy on a local level, from the federal government.
There is but little argument to be made that this policy will be good for American consumers, or even the environment. There is no argument to be made that it is constitutional.