With the decision by the Supreme Court to consider and probably reverse a lower court’s ruling that the EPA exceeded its authority in issuing a “cross-state” pollution rule last year, environmentalists were delighted. The lower court’s decision was “confusing”, according to Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of the American Lung Association, adding that “we are very pleased that they [the court] may clarify this.”
The rule would require a decrease in sulfur dioxide emissions by coal-fired power plants by 73 percent from 2005 levels along with a 54 percent decrease in nitrogen oxides. This rule ignores the fact that those levels have already decreased by 71 percent since 1980 and overall emissions have been cut in half in that period. But it appears that the EPA really doesn’t care. It has based its rule-making authority on the so-called “six-cities study” and the American Cancer Society (ACS) study, the validity of which have been brought repeatedly into question. Richard Gordon, writing for the Cato Institute, said:
The EPA has used these studies to rationalize [its] rule-makings since at least 1997:
the small size of most of the municipalities used in the six-city study … are too few to … produce meaningful estimates of impacts…
The ACS study involved respondents selected and interviewed by ACS volunteers [and were] not randomly selected…
Other criticisms of these studies included the fact that people spend 89 percent of their time indoors and consequently exterior pollution levels “tell little about the level and composition of actual human exposure, “according to Gordon. In addition, Gordon notes that “reliance on a limited number of fixed-location pollution monitors to measure actual population exposure ignores the spatial variation of pollution within a region.”
Perhaps the fatal flaw is the underlying assumption by the EPA that “reductions in exposure are always assumed to have positive health effects [and] so further pollution reduction is always required…”, as Gordon puts it.
What the EPA is doing is exercising power granted to it by Congress with its passage of the Clean Air Act in 1963. Amendments in 1967, 1970, 1977 and especially in 1990 have given it power to “protect the public” from airborne contaminants which include acid rain, ozone depletion and toxic air pollution and at the same time set up a permitting program for power plants along with increased enforcement powers. To say that this is the “Obama agenda” to impoverish America misplaces the blame.
Once, however, the Supreme Court turns back the lower court ruling, the impact on America will be the same. First, forced implementation of the rules will shut down at least 200 coal-fired power plants as implementation will simply be too costly. And it will force new plants to rely less on coal and more on the vagaries of natural gas pricing, wind, solar and geothermal power to provide the needed energy. All of this will increase the cost of energy to end-users, impacting lower-income citizens the most, along with goods-producers who will find their costs rising, making them less competitive in world markets. Such implementation will further reduce tax revenues at the federal, state and local levels, exacerbating concerns over the continually rising deficits.
To make things worse, and to confirm conspiratorialists’ views that all this is a deliberate attempt to impoverish America, the EPA is giving those coal-fired plants just six months to comply with the about-to-be-approved rule. As Ed Hiserodt noted in The New American magazine,
In a nutshell, the EPA passed new emission regulations that had to be complied with by utility companies within six months. In the past, utilities were given years to comment on the workability of the rules, plan the implementation of new rules, and adjust their budgets for the adoption of the regulations, because adding air scrubbers or other major implements to a coal-fired power plant is not as easy as adding a new deck to one’s house.
Obviously, the new regulations were designed to lead to the closure of certain utilities, mainly coal-fired power plants.
The American Legislative Exchange Council estimated that installing mandated cooling towers would affect 1,200 coal-fired plants with costs estimated to be in excess of $64 billion. By designating coal ash as a “hazardous waste” which would have to be stored according to EPA rules, this would add $20 billion annually to operating costs. And when other pollutants such as mercury and acid-producing gases are included, the costs go up astronomically: approaching a third of a trillion dollars for those plants to get into compliance.
When the Supreme Courts rules against the lower court’s position and allows the EPA to enforce its Congressionally approved “mandates,” the costs will be borne by every living soul in the country who uses electricity. That’s the cost of “going green.”