Concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency’s scrapping the Clean Power Plan? Don’t be. Unless you like the idea of paying higher energy bills for virtually no climate benefit, we’re better off without it.
If the Trump administration is intent on achieving 3 percent economic growth and rescinding costly regulations that carry negligible environmental gains — and if it wants to preserve our energy grid — the Clean Power Plan must go.
The plan, proposed two years ago by the Obama administration, has a noble-sounding goal, and a name that surely message-tested well: to reduce carbon dioxide from existing power plants.
But the Clean Power Plan had nothing to do with eradicating hazardous pollutants from power generation. The United States already has laws on the books to protect Americans’ health from emissions that have adverse environmental impacts.
Instead, the Clean Power Plan regulated carbon dioxide, a colorless, odorless, non-toxic gas, because of its alleged contribution to climate change. And from Day One, Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan was fraught with problems — economically, environmentally, and legally.
For starters, families and businesses would have been hit with more expensive energy bills.
How so? After all, the plan set specific limits on greenhouse gas emissions for each state based on its electricity mix and offered “flexible” options for how states could meet the targets.
But no matter how states would have developed their plans, the economic damages still would have been felt through higher energy costs, fewer job opportunities, and fewer energy choices for consumers.
The EPA’s idea of flexibility would not have softened the economic blow. It merely meant that Americans would have incurred higher costs through different mechanisms.
Environmentally, the climate impact of the plan would have been pointless. According to climatologist Paul Knappenberger: “Even if we implement the Clean Power Plan to perfection, the amount of climate change averted over the course of this century amounts to about 0.02 centigrade. This is so small as to be scientifically undetectable and environmentally insignificant.”
Legally, the plan was on shaky ground, to say the least. The regulation grossly exceeded the statutory authority of the EPA, violated the principles of cooperative federalism, and double-regulated existing power plants, which the Clean Air Act prohibits.
Take it from Laurence Tribe, Harvard University professor of constitutional law and a “liberal legal icon” who served in Obama’s Justice Department.
Tribe stated in testimony before Congress that the “EPA is attempting an unconstitutional trifecta: usurping the prerogatives of the states, Congress, and the federal courts — all at once. Burning the Constitution should not become part of our national energy policy.”
It’s no surprise that more than half the states in the country petitioned the Supreme Court to pause implementation of the regulation, and judges obliged, issuing a stay in 2016.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who led the charge against a rogue EPA as attorney general in Oklahoma, will respect the limits of the EPA as head of the agency. The EPA will now go through the formal rule-making and public comment period in order to repeal the Clean Power Plan.
What comes after that remains to be seen. State attorneys general in New York and Massachusetts, as well as environmental activist groups, are lining up to sue. The EPA could offer a far less stringent replacement regulation, which some industry groups are pushing for to buttress against lawsuits.
If members of Congress are fed up that policy continues to be made through the executive branch with a phone and a pen, they should step to the plate and legislate.
In this case, the solution is clear. The Clean Air Act was never intended to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Congress should pass legislation prohibiting the EPA and other agencies from implementing harmful regulations that stunt economic growth and produce futile climate benefits.
Nicolas Loris is the Herbert and Joyce Morgan research fellow in energy and environmental policy at the Heritage Foundation.