Good Riddance to Bad Clean Power Plan
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a notice in the Federal Register it is rescinding former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP)—providing more proof gridlock in the congressional swamp is not slowing President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back ineffective and extremely costly climate programs.
EPA’s decision was not unexpected. Trump has repeatedly said the United States faces numerous problems more important than climate change, pledging to eliminate CPP as well as other climate regulations hampering economic growth and domestic energy development. As part of his March 28 “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” executive order, Trump directed EPA to review CPP and rescind or revise it, if necessary, to promote the wise development of natural resources, unencumber energy production, and enhance job growth.
EPA based the decision to rescind CPP on three main grounds: CPP is inconsistent with the 1970 Clean Air Act; CPP violated states’ authority to decide the best mix of power generation within their borders and eroded longstanding federal/state partnerships necessary to achieve environmental improvement; and enforcement of CPP would have had a devastating effect on jobs and raise energy costs for consumers while not preventing climate change.
CPP was the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s policy of moving the United States away from the use of fossil fuels, beginning with coal, in order to fight climate change. CPP would require states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, on average.
To comply with the plan, states would have to force utilities to shutter dozens of coal-fired power plants prematurely. The Energy Information Administration had projected CPP would result in $1.23 trillion in lost GDP (in 2014 dollars) between 2020 and 2030, with an average annual GDP loss of $112 billion. Estimates indicate CPP would boost people’s electric bills 11 to 14 percent per year and cost more than 100,000 jobs in manufacturing and other sectors annually. Despite those substantial harms, the Obama administration acknowledged in testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on July 9, 2015, if the United States met CPP’s emission reduction targets it would prevent at best 1/100th of one degree C of temperature rise by 2100—talk about all pain, no gain!
Twenty-seven states, led by West Virginia, and several industry groups and trade associations challenged CPP’s legality in federal court. In February 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of ordering a nationwide stay on implementation of CPP before it went into effect, pending the outcome of the legal challenges.
By rescinding CPP, Trump is doing what he promised to do and what any president should do, putting Americans and American jobs first. While I applaud Trump’s action, I do so with a caveat: Unless Trump wants CPP or something like it reimposed by the courts, EPA must withdraw its endangerment finding.
CPP and other climate regulations imposed by the Obama administration were justified based on the endangerment finding: EPA’s determination carbon dioxide poses a threat to human health and the environment. Relying upon unsubstantiated projections produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, EPA determined carbon dioxide emissions from cars and industry threaten human welfare.
Environmental groups and some state government officials have already announced they will sue to keep CPP on the books. The endangerment finding is the lever they will use to do so.
As long as the endangerment finding exists, no climate regulation or rule Trump acts to rescind or block is truly dead. To solidify his climate deregulatory efforts Trump must direct EPA to reconsider its endangerment finding and demonstrate through independent, validated research that carbon dioxide emissions are toxic (which they aren’t at any foreseeable levels) or that global warming is causing measurable amounts of sea-level rise, increased hurricane numbers or intensity, the spread of disease, or other harms attributable directly to carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. If EPA can’t directly link such problems to U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, or can’t show such problems can be dramatically reduced by cutting U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, EPA should withdraw the endangerment finding.
Withdrawing the endangerment finding would end the legal justification for the panoply of climate regulations while ending radical environmental activists’ ability to use the courts to impose climate rules on an unwilling public whose elected representatives have repeatedly rejected climate policies.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland research fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.