This spring, as coal companies, their employees and suppliers are hammered by a weak market, the Obama administration is proposing a new carbon rule to finish them off. While the coal industry is most exposed to the coming damage from EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the pain is coming for others too. A nation snoozing through an endless presidential campaign, comforted by low gas prices, is about to be rudely awakened to the prospect of higher utility bills.
Later this summer our president’s central planners will unveil the centerpiece of his pledge to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. EPA’s plan sets a carbon reduction target for each state that promises to reduce total U.S. emissions by 30 percent by 2030. A mid-term progress requirement means states have to hop to it. If they don’t, EPA is threatening to impose a federal plan.
But hop to what? The agency is asking states to adopt four “building blocks” to meet their emissions goal. And yet, energy and legal experts are telling EPA that each block – fuel switching, improved energy efficiency, better plant performance, more renewable energy infrastructure – is implausible and unrealistic. Some legal scholars, including the president’s former law professor, say the plan is even unconstitutional.
And of all of this pain for what? While U.S. carbon emissions may fall, at tremendous cost to U.S. consumers, global emissions will not. Whatever gains the U.S. makes will be quickly overwhelmed by voracious energy appetites in developing nations where electrification, rightfully, takes precedence.
It’s as if the Clean Power Plan carries a warranty that in fine print reads: This plan won’t work at a cost your state can afford, achieves no meaningful environmental benefit and may be unlawful.
EPA waves off these criticisms but governors shouldn’t. By accepting the plan’s onerous conditions, states become victims in EPA’s version of “The Hunger Games.” No combination of building blocks will allow a state to survive higher electricity prices, weakened grid reliability and constant harassment by activists and EPA lawyers eager to enforce state plans in court.
Luckily, governors have a better choice. They need to call the agency’s bluff — decline the state plan and let EPA try to impose those costly conditions through a federal plan. The Clean Air Act gives EPA far less authority to push states around with a federal plan than it has through a state plan it wants governors to accept. Taking the federal plan, households and businesses will pay only for improving power plant efficiency, not the far higher price tag for upending the state’s entire power grid that comes with a state plan.
EPA’s legal and technical competence is too weak to take over the state’s grid, so it relies on cunning. Think of the state plan as EPA’s version of the Greeks’ Trojan horse, a “gift” to states – full of “options” and “flexibility,” says the agency. But a state that adopts it also brings inside its borders costly, federally-enforceable strictures – strictures EPA can’t legally impose from without.
We know what happened in The Iliad when Troy failed to “beware Greeks bearing gifts” and pulled the horse inside the city’s walls. Any state that accepts EPA’s gift will suffer a similar fate.