This article was published by the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, June 21, 2019:
When the founders were trying to build a government that recognized the dangers inherent in any government – the inevitable tendency for power to grow and freedom to shrink, as Jefferson noted – it limited the federal government to a few enumerated powers with the others reserved to the states or to the people.
This didn’t satisfy the anti-federalists, who insisted that the powers of the federal government be even further restricted. They demanded additional limitations or they would withhold ratification. Thus was birthed the Bill of Rights. Included is the Tenth Amendment, which captures the essence of the Constitution and Americanism itself: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
President Obama couldn’t have cared less. Back in 2015 he was driven to use the threat of climate change to require the states to implement restrictions on carbon emissions or else his EPA would come in and do it for them.
He called it his “Clean Power Plan.” He based it on two assumptions: 1) the states had neither the right nor the power to do what he wanted; and 2) the threat of climate change was so great that he had to use the power of the federal government to do what he knew the states wouldn’t or couldn’t do on their own.
While running for office, Donald Trump called Obama’s plan his “war on coal” because it specifically mandated certain standards and targets that would be enforced against the coal industry if the states didn’t acquiesce to the federal government’s mandates. Trump promised that, if elected, he would end that “war on coal.”
On Wednesday, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did just that. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler finalized his agency’s plans to replace Obama’s “Clean Power Plan” with Trump’s “Affordable Clean Energy” plan.
Wheeler referred obliquely to Obama’s “war on coal” by likening it to the Green New Deal: “The contrast between our approach and the Green New Deal, or plans like it [i.e., Obama’s Clean Power Plan], couldn’t be clearer. Rather than Washington telling Americans what type of energy they can use, or how they can travel, or even what they eat, we are working cooperatively with the states to prove affordable, dependable, and diverse supplies of energy that continue to get cleaner and more efficient.”
President Trump added: “I’m getting rid of some of these ridiculous rules and regulations, which are killing our companies, our states, and our jobs. Just today we announced our new affordable clean energy proposal that will help coal-fired plants and save consumers – you, me, everybody – billions and billions of dollars.”
The essence of Trump’s new plan is this: it gives back to the states the power to make energy regulations without federal oversight or mandates.
His new plan is likely to have little impact on the coal industry, or on clean air, but the sea change in the newly-restricted and constitutionally proper role of the federal government in mandating energy rules for the states cannot be overstated.
The coal industry hasn’t built a new coal-fired plant in decades and has closed more than a quarter of the country’s existing plants in favor of the vastly more efficient, lower-emissions-emitting natural gas fired plants. In some areas, new plants are being supplemented with wind power, thanks to federal tax credits that make the investment in them viable.
The power industry is, thanks to market forces that include the declining cost of natural gas (thanks to another relatively free energy sector: fracking), closing coal-fired plants in favor of gas-fired plants. In 2018, U.S. coal consumption reached a 39-year low of 687 million tons. It’s expected to drop further this year to 600 million tons, and to 567 million tons in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Scientific American admitted that “coal’s decline, coupled with a significant injection of new wind and solar, means [that] America is already on track to meet the carbon [emissions] cuts originally envisioned by [Obama’s] Clean Power Plan: a 32 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030.” The EPA projects that the Clean Power Plan will reduce CO2 emissions by a third by 2030, if not sooner.
EPA chief Wheeler noted that, from 2006 to 2017, the U.S. reduced its energy-related CO2 emissions by 14 percent.
Imagine that: the country’s energy generation industry was already on track to accomplish what President Obama’s plan’s mandates were going to force the states to do.
The New York Times complained that Trump’s new plan “largely gives states [back] the authority to decide how far to scale back emissions, or not to do it at all, [and] significantly reduces the federal government’s role in setting standards.” Added the Times:
The new rule, which is expected to come into effect within 30 days, assumes that the forces of the market will guide the country to a future of cleaner energy by naturally phasing out coal over time. It imposes only modest requirements on coal plants.
The Times quoted Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard (and former legal counsel in the Obama administration), who called Trump’s new plan a “retrenchment” rather than a victory for limited government:
No matter how you slice it, this is a dramatic retrenchment. It’s not that they’re [the Trump administration] doing very small, modest steps to reduce emissions. It’s that they’re not creating momentum to substitute renewables and substitute natural gas for coal.
In its commentary, the Times reveals its agenda: more government. Any shrinkage in the federal government is cause for lamenting and sorrow. Any growth in government is to be celebrated as a victory.
That’s what the “war on coal” was all about. Obama couldn’t have cared less about the coal industry – or the energy industry, for that matter. What he cared about was growing government to the point where states would just be lines drawn on a map, subservient in every regard to the national government.
The setback in that goal is the victory being celebrated on Wednesday with Wheeler’s announcement that keeps Trump’s promise.
Fox News: EPA Rolls back Obama’s Coal Crackdown
New York Times: E.P.A. Finalizes Its Plan to Replace Obama-Era Climate Rules
The Wall Street Journal: EPA Overturns Obama-Era Clean Air Rules for Power Plants
One America News: President Trump Set To Rollback Obama-Era Environmental Rules
Scientific American: Trump’s “Affordable Clean Energy” Plan Won’t Save Coal