This commentary originally appeared in Real Clear Policy on September 23, 2015
The U.S. House of Representatives held hearings earlier this month to learn from states their assessments of the likely effectiveness, cost, and legality of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, a federal rule that would require a 32 percent reduction in power-plant carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels. The targets would be phased in between 2022 and 2030. Before the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment, Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, offered some chilling testimony on the likely consequences of the plan.
Shaw warned the committee that the EPA has failed to provide the states sufficient time to submit their State Implementation Plans, which are due in September 2016. States that require additional time are allowed to craft a preliminary filing and to ask for an extension of no more than two years. But this extension, said Shaw, isn't enough. For example, the Texas legislature meets biennially, with its next session starting in January 2017. Even with an extension, that will be too late for the legislature to give state agencies sufficient guidelines for implementing a plan.
Worse, according to Shaw, is that many of the economic benefits EPA says the plan will have are merely "co-benefits from reductions of non-[greenhouse gas] pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, and even these benefits are suspect." It is "irrational" on EPA's part, he said, to "claim a health benefit from reduction in a pollutant in areas where the EPA has already determined that the current concentration of the pollutant is adequate to protect human health."
Worst of all, even the EPA's claimed environmental benefits don't come from an actual impact on climate change or sea levels, but instead are based on the administration's estimate of the "social cost of carbon," as well as a claim that the plan will give the U.S. a stronger bargaining position at the climate summit in December. The agency's analysis indicates that the Clean Power Plan will lower global temperatures by just 0.018 degrees Celsius, will reduce the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide by less than one-half of 1 percent, and will reduce rising sea levels by one hundredth of an inch. These effects are not promised to take place until the year 2100.
What will it cost American taxpayers to produce these outcomes? According to a study issued by National Economic Research Associates, the Clean Power Plan will cause "double-digit electricity rate increases" in 43 states, with a total national cost that could reach $479 billion over 15 years. Our country's poorest and most vulnerable members will be least able to afford the higher bills. Critics of the Clean Power Plan point to Europe, which is already experiencing energy poverty, forcing low-income families and senior citizens on fixed incomes to choose either food or heating.
While the Clean Power Plan will require a massive tax increase and regressive consumer rate hikes, it simultaneously will reduce the number of those employed and thus able to shoulder the new tax burden. The plan is estimated to cause "an average loss of 47,000-49,000 jobs nationally per year from 2017 to 2030." The damage will be especially concentrated in states, like Shaw's Texas, where coal mining and coal-fired power plants have a strong presence.
Shaw's testimony bookends that of Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe. Shaw demonstrates the impracticality and expense of the Clean Power Plan, while Tribe, testifying in March before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, went so far as to charge that the Clean Power Plan "impermissibly trenches on state authority over intrastate energy regulation … and raises serious questions under the Tenth Amendment and long-settled principles of federalism."
The legal, political, and administrative challenges to the Clean Power Plan appear to be gathering steam. At present, six governors have indicated that they will refuse to submit a State Implementation Plan and intend in no other way to comply with the Clean Power Plan. Recently, Governor John Kasich (R-Ohio) released his letter to the president asking him to "suspend implementation" of the plan until all legal appeals are resolved.
The number of states that have announced that they will file lawsuits against the plan has now reached 17, with Colorado becoming the latest. The Colorado Attorney General's office indicated that the state would join the lawsuit once the final rule is published in the Federal Register, which is expected in late October.
Thomas K. Lindsay directs the Centers for Tenth Amendment Action and Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and is editor of SeeThruEdu.com. He was deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities under George W. Bush.