Trump EPA Scuttles Costly Obama-era “Clean Power Plan”

Embattled big government overreach finally meets its demise

MacIver News Service | October 9, 2017

The following first appeared at the MacIver Institute.

The Trump administration on Tuesday will officially put an end to a draconian slate of Obama-era environmental regulations known as the “Clean Power Plan.”

The EPA’s decision comes as little surprise after President Trump in March issued an executive order instructing the agency to begin a review of the controversial, economically devastating rules. Repealing the CPP was a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign platform.

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“That rule really was about picking winners and losers,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told Fox News on Monday. “The past administration was unapologetic, they were using every bit of power, authority to use the EPA to pick winners and losers on how we pick electricity in this country. That is wrong.”

“Repealing the Clean Power Plan is the right move for the economy and for the rule of law. The Obama administration’s signature climate rule was a vast, unlawful expansion of government authority into the energy sector with wide-reaching consequences for our economy,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) in a statement.

The Clean Power Plan, a series of devastating regulations developed by Obama’s EPA, would limit carbon emissions from coal-fired electricity power plants, cutting the allowable amount of emissions by more than half. Despite the high economic cost, the CPP would only change global temperature by under two-hundredths of a degree Celsius by the end of the century, according to researchers at the CATO Institute.

Volumes of research clearly show the economic damage the rules would have inflicted across the nation. The CPP would have hit Wisconsin particularly hard, since its electricity supply is more reliant on coal power than most states.

A joint study by the MacIver Institute and The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in 2015 found that the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan would cost Wisconsin $920 million in 2030, and reduce disposable income in the state by nearly $2 billion.

The study also found that the CPP would have cost Wisconsin 21,000 jobs and increased the average household electric bill by $225 per year and the average commercial business electric bill by $1,530 per year. The average Wisconsin factory would be hit with an extra $105,094 per year in higher energy costs if the CPP were implemented.

Recognizing the regulations’ devastating costs, Wisconsin joined 26 other states in suing the Obama EPA over the rules, a lawsuit that eventually resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court halting the rules’ implementation in early 2016 for further review. Delaying regulations and overturning a lower court is a rare move for the high court, indicating the justices saw compelling evidence that the burdensome rules presented the risk of immediate harm to the economy.

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The MacIver Institute joined Gov. Scott Walker, Attorney General Brad Schimel, and Speaker Paul Ryan in celebratingthe court’s decision. “The Supreme Court recognizes the significant damage this rule will have on our economy and our way of life,” said Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute.

In their lawsuit, Wisconsin and other states argued that the Clean Power Plan, which relied on the authority given to the EPA under the Clean Air Act, was an unlawful power grab by federal bureaucrats that exceeded the law’s authority.

By scrapping the Clean Power Plan, the Trump EPA also repudiates the federal overreach and recognizes, like the Supreme Court, the imminent harm the new regulations posed to the nation’s economy.

After he signs an order on Tuesday formally rolling back the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt intends to begin work on a new rule that falls within the bounds of the Clean Air Act.

On EPA overreach

My column in the La Crosse Tribune this month focuses on the question of EPA overreach. This time, the agency that under Obama is a haven for tree-hugging environmentalist wackos on sabbatical from laying down in front of construction equipment in fracking country is trying to tighten regulations on ambient ozone levels because, in Western Wisconsin, we have this (imaginary) perpetual blanket of smog reminiscent of a soot-belching communist industrial zone on the outskirts of Shanghai:

When bureaucrats in Washington heard that average Americans were suffocating, they obviously got the wrong idea.

Though Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is at 2008 levels, it’s clear our state and national economy have a long way to go. And despite this fragile economy, the President Barack Obama and his Environmental Protection Agency figure now’s the ideal time to impose what could be the most expensive regulation in our nation’s history, throwing more cold water on what passes for an economic recovery these days.

The proposal being pushed by the EPA would revise ozone rules known as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Under the proposal, the current eight-hour ozone standard of 75 parts per billion would be reduced to between 65 ppb and 70 ppb. The EPA also is exploring levels as low as 60 ppb, which would put nearly the entire nation out of compliance — including La Crosse. The EPA’s final decision is expected by October.

P.S. – I’m not sure who “Wong” is – he must be a lobbyist for the anti-regulatory efforts. Be it known that I did not submit a headline with the piece, much less a misspelled one.

Whole thing here.

Passing the Buck

The DNR conducted an analysis of We Energies’ large coal power plant in Oak Creek, Wis., and noted that the cost of installing CCS on the plant would be about $4.3 billion. The estimated pipeline cost to ship the captured carbon dioxide to Illinois for storage was $750 million of that total cost.

-Brian H. Potts in a column today

Mr. Potts, a partner at a long-established law firm in Madison and who specializes in environmental affairs, offers an insightful opinion today on new rules proposed by the EPA that could cost Wisconsinites a lot of money. Mr. Potts writes:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed a rule that would require all newly built coal power plants in this country to install a new technology called carbon capture and storage, also known as CCS.

CCS removes the primary greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) from the power plant’s exhaust and pipes it to underground storage reservoirs.

Let’s ignore the startling reality that an executive branch agency, in the hands of extreme-minded people, can essentially make these ground-shifting decisions unilaterally. For now.

As with all decisions like this one, the EPA is making these calls knowing with one hundred percent certainty that the massive costs will be shifted onto the backs of ratepayers if the onerous CCS regulations are imposed.

In economics a concept called externalities holds that every decision has a cost to the environment – human and natural – outside the organization in which the decision is made. But the impossibility of knowing what far-flung corners of the universe our decisions will affect, the infinite complexity of the ripple effect, makes realistic externality calculations mostly arbitrary.

The decision making of towering government regulation is packed with externalities, the most pressing of which are the pillaging of average Americans’ pocketbooks (or ETF debits, if I’m to not be square). CAFE standards result in crappier, more expensive cars. Energy efficiency mandates drive up home ownership costs and tighten the screws on expanding businesses. More broadly, an adversarial and intrusive executive branch that bases its decisions on unproven evidence – most science is as yet unproven (scientists don’t even agree that time is a thing) – forces higher compliance costs, disincentivizes the risk taking that leads to economic growth, and focuses resources away from pioneering economic activity and toward building a cocoon to protect from a hostile outside environment.

In short, regulation sells out future economic opportunity at the price of security today. Security based on iffy-at-best evidence by the same crowd that can’t even predict next week’s weather.

In shorter, the mandate Mr. Potts writes about sells out the cash-strapped ratepayer on the basis of dubious evidence that flipping a lightswitch will directly correlate to our grandchildren living in a real-life “Waterworld,” where criminal gangs pillage old oil platforms on grungy old PWCs and a Kevin Costner-reincarnate finds a big lost island using a map tattoo’ed on some girl’s back.

The proposed mandate targets coal power, which the Obama Administration hasn’t really hidden as a chief target of its policies. Most of our power is generated by coal, and though natural gas plants are burgeoning, the war on coal is a war on current energy rates. The EPA doesn’t really care if you consider today’s rate low or not – it wants them to be higher.

For those genuinely concerned about the emissions from coal power plants, take note: the new EPA mandate doesn’t require the sequestering of heavy metals like Mercury. Instead it does treat carbon dioxide in a similar fashion as nuclear waste, even though some 7 billion human beings, including those proposing these regulations, breathe the gas out every few seconds.

And what are the future externality implications of storing massive amounts of carbon dioxide underground? Do the left-wing environmentalists have the same concerns about this as they do to melting permafrost that they claim will release naturally stored carbon dioxide deposits?

Let’s not forget that even a potent greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide has a finite lifespan in the atmosphere; most of it is absorbed by oceanic algae (some by forests) within 100 years. Some is frozen into polar ice. Let’s also not forget that centuries years ago, a mini-Ice Age kept the River Thames frozen all year long. Unless Shakespeare drove a Range Rover unbeknownst to historians, that was unlikely the result of human activity.

The real point isn’t to discount the proposition that adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere might result in the increased reflection of ultraviolet radiation back toward Earth’s surface. That very greenhouse effect, in all its epochal undulations, is the reason life can comfortably exist on Earth’s surface where it would both freeze and suffocate on the surface of a planet like Mars.

Our government and society must decide whether the evidence proposed by a group of mere moral scientists competing over federal grants is sufficient to warrant a fundamental re-working of the building blocks of our economies. At $4.3 billion for just one power plant in Wisconsin, that’s going to be a pretty big cost. We need to decide if we have a century or so to let the free market take its course toward higher-efficiency means of energy production, which I believe we do.

We also have to decide in whom we’re going to entrust such massive decision making power. To be so utterly convinced that human activity over a couple centuries amidst 500 million years of higher life on Earth can wreck the planet – from the perspective of just a couple generations of high science and reliable planetary temperature measurement – strikes me as quite arrogant in light of the giant cost it would place on everyday Americans (and not on everyday Chinese citizens, or citizens of any other emerging nation, mind you.)

I’m a proponent of vigorous research into next-generation energy sources, from fuel cells that power individual homes and decentralize the energy grid to nuclear-based prospects, even fusion power. That’s a long way off. So is – at the risk of sounding too out-there – antimatter – but we should work toward it.

That doesn’t equate to the unilateral dictates of an imperial EPA that forces multibillion dollar costs on today’s energy sources and requires cash-strapped middle Americans to keep their thermostats at 62.

Quote of the Day

“I like your company.” “Well, I like a good swig of gin at lunch but I’ve learned to do without.”

-Toby & Debbie in The West Wing, “Memorial Day”

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