Clean Power Plan, Endangerment Finding Should Go

01/31/2018 09:36

by H. Sterling Burnett


Even before the ink was dry on former President Barack Obama’s signature on his Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP), states and industry were rushing up the courthouse steps to challenge the plan and block its implementation.


CPP required states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from their electric power sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels on average nationwide by 2030, in Obama’s vain effort to fight climate change. The emission reductions were set on a state-by-state basis with some states – those that generated a large portion of their electricity from coal-fired power plants, primarily red states – having to reduce emissions by 40 to 60 percent or more. By contrast, states with little power generated by coal, typically blue states with comparatively high electric prices, had much lower emission reduction targets. Some were not required to reduce emissions at all.

A variety of industries joined attorneys general from 27 states to challenge CPP’s legality. Among other things, they argued 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. Other CPP opponents, including Laurence Tribe, a well-known professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, went further, arguing CPP was not just illegal but unconstitutional.

Perhaps indicating it suspected EPA’s action went beyond what the law or Constitution allows, on February 9, 2016 the United States Supreme Court, in an unprecedented decision, placed a preemptive nationwide stay on CPP until all court actions in the cases were final.

Everything changed when Donald Trump became 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 was justified. Following Trump’s directive, EPA published on October 16, 2017 an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

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

While Ferrara and Orr discuss CPP’s illegality, the meat of their comments addresses the economic harm CPP would do if it came into force, the virtues of fossil fuels, and the fact CPP would have no effect on climate change.

Although CPP was never implemented, Ferrara and Orr note it has already caused significant damage to the energy sector. Because utilities must plan decades ahead they prematurely shuttered, or scheduled for closure, some coal-fired power plants in anticipation of CPP eventually coming into effect. This put people out of work and has 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 be required to prevent climate change only if it is possible for humans to control the climate – which it isn’t.

Ferrara and Orr make 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, 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 twenty-first century. For example, on July 18, 2017 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’s 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 to fight climate change. For instance, did you know, in 2013 wind received $35.33 per MWh (per unit of energy produced) in subsidies, while solar power received $231.21/MWh in subsidies. By contrast, coal got only $0.57/MWh, and natural gas and petroleum combined received just $0.67/MWh in subsidies. You read right, wind and solar received 52 times and 345 times more in subsidies than coal, respectively. 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 of, and the development of technologies to exploit, fossil fuels are responsible for the stark, rapid, and blessedly higher growth in GDP, incomes, wages, health, life expectancy, population, and reduced poverty that have occurred in the past two-and-a-half centuries.

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 the 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 globally.

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


SOURCES: The Heartland Institute and Harvard