Congress should block the EPA from implementing its CO2 regulations

Lance Brown Contributor
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With a packed lame-duck schedule, it appears that environmentalists’ hopes for a federal renewable energy standard have been dashed once again — and, likely, for good. Although the demise of plans for a federal renewable energy standard is good news for consumers and affordable energy advocates, Congress has some important action to take during the lame-duck session in order to ease consumers’ fears (and protect their wallets).

By requiring states to obtain a set percentage of energy from federally mandated renewable sources, regardless of the state’s access to those sources, a federal RES was misguided policy that would have raised energy costs across the board. With a federal RES seemingly off the table, Congress can now focus on the impending regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency that will have an equally — or even greater — detrimental impact on energy prices, jobs, and the economy as a whole.

The federal renewable energy standard measure — which was “once considered a shoo-in as part of a Senate climate bill this year,” according to Environment and Energy Daily — did not garner the needed 60 votes to pass prior to the lame-duck session. The measure’s sponsors, including Governor-elect Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), hoped to pass a stand-alone renewable energy standard during the lame-duck session. They thought their colleagues would be more willing to vote for a measure that would raise energy prices some 36 percent for households and 60 percent for industry after the elections had passed.

Now, however, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has a lot of measures to take care of in the next few weeks and, according to Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), “energy does not top the to-do list” in the lame duck.

There is one energy measure, however, that Congress can and should focus on before the new session begins: Senator Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) measure to halt the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing its planned climate regulations for two years.

Beginning January 2, 2011, the EPA will implement a number of regulations on power plants, petroleum refiners, important components of industrial and rural economies, and other “stationary sources” that the EPA considers “polluters.” In an effort to stop the dissemination of what the EPA arbitrarily considers “hazardous particles,” the regulations will effectively halt current production of our most affordable and commonly used sources of electricity, halt construction and upgrades of new power plants and other industrial facilities, and regulate everything from “coal ash,” which is used in construction materials, to the man-made lakes that cool the power plants, to even sustainable energy sources like biomass energy production.

According to a recent study by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the EPA’s regulations will reduce our electricity generating capacity by 46 to 76 gigawatts, which equals over 7 percent of our nation’s total electricity generation. The vast majority of the capacity will be lost from one of our most affordable and widely available sources of energy, as coal plants are forced to shut down in the likely event they cannot afford to comply with the regulations. (The NERC study was also wisely cited by my colleague in the quest for affordable clean energy, Dr. Charles Steele of Working People for Fair Energy, in a recent column here. If we lose this much capacity, we’ll only see energy prices rise and more jobs lost in the aftermath.

For obvious reasons, bipartisan elected officials want to see the EPA stopped, or at least stalled. Although Senator Reid had already promised Senator Rockefeller that he would bring his measure to stop the EPA for two years to a vote during the lame-duck session, it now appears that the schedule will still be “too busy” to bring it up. As Senator Reid told The Hill on Tuesday, “It is real hard just to say ‘yeah, we can do this,’ because we have limited time to go through all the procedural motions. But if there is a way we can do it, I will be happy to work with him.”

There is a real urgency to passing Senator Rockefeller’s measure to stop the EPA, because the EPA regulations will take hold in just a few short weeks and wreak havoc on energy prices and the economy as a whole.

Congress has done a good thing by not passing a renewable energy standard. Let’s hope they do a great thing and stop the EPA before it’s too late.

Lance Brown is the Executive Director of PACE.