The election was a referendum on energy policy

Lance Brown Contributor
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The pundits will be analyzing Tuesday’s election results until we’re counting down to the new year, but one thing is clear: the American people are fed-up with high unemployment, the weak economy, and the government’s continued overreach into energy policy that effects the everyday lives of American families and businesses. Regardless of politics, the election is a mandate to restore fiscally responsible policies and get jobs and the economy back on track.

Although White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs oddly plugged a dead-on-arrival renewable energy standard yesterday, the conventional wisdom is that the election is a mandate to “put the brakes” on sweeping energy legislation.

For the past year, the energy debate has been a major one from the halls of Congress to the most rural parts of our country, because energy policy affects every person and every aspect of our economy. We dodged many more bullets to the already poor economy, as proposals for expensive cap-and-trade programs and renewable energy standards failed when Americans realized how they would impact our everyday cost of living and the reliability of our energy grid.

We all agreed that we needed to find ways to cut energy costs and incorporate more of our resources — especially renewable resources like wind, solar, and biomass — into the national grid, but we likewise agreed that imposing expensive caps or an arbitrary national standard would only hurt our economy. We agreed that the last thing we should do is disincentivize our most affordable and reliable sources of energy, like fossil fuels. It’s best to let states and individuals decide which energy sources work for them, especially while the economy is still suffering.

However, with the Environmental Protection Agency’s expensive and burdensome regulations on the power industry right around the corner — January 2, to be exact — I see the election also as a mandate to stop the administration from imposing regulations that will result in higher prices across the board, more lost jobs, and a less reliable energy grid.

As I’ve written before, the EPA will begin regulating greenhouse gases on January 2, 2011. These regulations will require many energy producers and other so-called “polluters” to purchase expensive pollution permits, which will in turn cause energy prices to skyrocket and jobs in all sectors to be lost. The EPA has a slew of additional regulations planned, which will be rolled out over the next several months.

It’s become increasingly clear that the regulations won’t simply impact cost and jobs, but will also impact the reliability of our energy. As my colleague Dr. Charles Steele of Working People for Fair Energy wrote last week, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) released a study finding that the regulations will “subtract between 46 and 76 gigawatts of generating capacity from the U.S. grid by 2015,” which equals more than 7 percent of our energy capacity. The majority of the capacity will be lost from coal-fired plants, which produce over 50 percent of our energy — and our most affordable and steadily reliable electricity, to boot.

The regulations won’t simply impact coal producers, but also other types of energy producers, as well as other vital aspects of industry in the United States. In addition to regulating greenhouse gases and other “particles” produced in energy production, the EPA will regulate coal ash, which is often used in production of cement and other building materials, as well as the water used to cool power plants. The recently finalized Tailoring Rule — which was meant to hit only the largest polluters — will even include regulations on renewable biomass, requiring producers of one of our most reliable forms of carbon-neutral energy to purchase the same pollution permits as coal-fired plants.

It’s clear that the American people have spoken. They’ve said no to expensive and unwieldy cap-and-trade mandates, no to an arbitrary federal renewable energy standard, and no to government overreach and regulations that will kill jobs and reliable energy sources. Let’s hope the administration and members of Congress from both parties listen to the people and stop any legislation or regulation that would have such a detrimental impact on energy, jobs, and the economy — if only for the sake of saving themselves from further losses in 2012.

Lance Brown is the executive director of PACE.