The EPA’s Clean Power Plan Won’t Save The World, But It Will Cause Human Suffering


Chuck DeVore Chuck DeVore is a vice president at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He served in the California State Assembly from 2004 to 2010, was an aerospace executive, worked as a Reagan White House appointee in the Pentagon, and is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Retired Reserve.
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Americans are largely ambivalent about global warming. A Gallup poll in March after last winter’s epic run found 55 percent of Americans thought that increases in the Earth’s temperature were mostly due to human activities while only 37 percent thought that global warming would pose a serious threat to them personally or their way of life.  

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP) aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions among America’s electrical power industry by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 for a total of 871 million tons per year. To what end? The EPA’s own calculations estimate a reduction in the global temperature of eighteen one-thousandths of a degree by 2100.

Revisiting Gallup’s poll, had respondents known that concerns over global warming and what to do about it would double, triple, or quadruple their electric bills to achieve an imperceptible temperature reduction, a solid majority might have expressed pessimism about their future living standards.

American’s ongoing reluctance to fully embrace the centralization of another industry essential to their daily lives—all in the name of the greater good—is likely due to an instinctively practical outlook. Applying some logical rigor to the issue, three questions must be answered in the affirmative before embarking on a full scale quest to dismantle our reliable and efficient electrical infrastructure: Does human activity contribute significantly to climate change? If so, then: Is the amount of human-caused climate change on balance provably negative (for instance, on the positive side of the leger, more people die from the cold of winter than from heat waves while crops benefit from a longer growing season and more CO2)? If so, then: Can something be done about it with government action or technology that doesn’t, on balance, increase human suffering?

The EPA’s plan to nationalize the U.S. electric grid assumes that the answers to the first two questions are a “yes” then proposes action that does nothing while substantially increasing human suffering, especially among the working poor.

According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) in an October 16 news release, the Clean Power Plan would necessitate the retirement of 4,000 megawatts (MW) of coal-fired power plants in Texas alone beginning as soon as seven years from now with EPA mandates requiring another 2,200 MW of coal power retirements by 2030. Retail electric prices would increase by 16 percent, not including the substantial costs for new transmission lines from remote wind or solar power projects as well as billions for needed redundant backup power systems for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining with the reliability of the grid itself put at risk. (Anyone for rolling blackouts on a hot, humid Texas summer day?) Additional costs would pile on as the CPP’s emissions targets ratchet down.

Anticipating pushback on the CPP for proposing a lot of pain for no gain, the EPA has taken to claiming that a forced reduction in CO2, a natural atmospheric gas that has no health implications for humans—we breathe out about 2.3 pounds of the stuff every day—will have “co-benefits.” In other words, reducing CO2 itself won’t do a darn thing to improve human health, but, in the process of de-fossil fueling America, there will be ancillary health benefits—trust us!

Dr. Bryan W. Shaw, Ph.D., P.E., the Chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said as much in a letter to Congress on Oct. 16 where he noted that the EPA itself has concluded that, “Greenhouse gases, at both current and projected atmospheric concentrations, are not expected to pose exposure risks on human respiratory systems…” Further, Chairman Shaw noted that EPA chief Gina McCarthy herself testified to Congress that the “CPP will not have any meaningful direct impact on respiratory health, atmospheric temperatures, or sea level rise.” Which begs the question: why are we doing this? To which Administrator McCarthy responds: it can “…actually trigger global action…”

But wait, it gets even better! Even the expected “co-benefits” from a reduction in CO2 aren’t, in fact, beneficial. The EPA claims that a reduction in CO2 will reduce PM2.5 particulates which will be a benefit to human health, but, in Texas’ case, not a single of its 254 counties are out of compliance for PM2.5 particulates today with the EPA itself concluding that the particulate levels don’t need to be reduced. The U.S. Supreme Court took a dim view of claiming “co-benefits” in its Mercury and Air Toxics Standard ruling, with Chief Justice Roberts noting that a claim of “co-benefits” to justify a rule could be “an illegitimate way” for the EPA to avoid legal limitations. (Perish the thought, a government agency grasping for power not its own to wield!)

By the EPA’s own admission, the Clean Power Plan is nothing more than a global PR scheme—expect to see it take center stage at the international climate talks in Paris this December. In the meantime, average Americans will see higher electric bills and no benefit for the lower standard of living.