Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Going Rogue, Part VII: the EPA has just doomed an entire industry

Commentary by James H. Shott

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was pursuing the presidency, he said, “If someone wants to build a new coal-fired power plant they can, but it will bankrupt them because they will be charged a huge sum for all the greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.” That was then; this is now, and one campaign promise Mr. Obama made is coming true.

“Power developers have scrapped plans for more than 100 coal-fired electricity plants over the past decade,” according to Reuters, “due to difficulty obtaining construction and pollution permits or because they were simply too expensive,” thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies, even though new plants are much more efficient and produce far less pollution than older plants. And last week’s unveiling of the EPA’s proposed emission rules for new coal-fired electric generation plants reveal standards so strict that they are impossible to meet using present technology.

The new standard for carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity is a little more than half of the previous threshold, guaranteeing no new coal plants will ever be built, as confirmed by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which reports that the most recent regulations announced by the EPA will likely increase the number of closures of existing plants in 19 states.

This prediction comes despite the assurances of Gina McCarthy, the EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation, that the impossibly stringent new requirements are only for new plants. She told the House Energy and Commerce Committee the agency has “no plans” to curb greenhouse gas emissions for existing plants. But no one familiar with the EPA’s history of over-zealous regulation believes that.

There is an option, however, as the EPA allows coal-burners to continue using America’s most dependable fuel. All they have to do is employ the new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. But the EPA knows full well that CCS at this stage is just theory; it has not been proven to work. And – surprise, surprise, surprise – it is prohibitively expensive.

Once again Americans, including our elected representatives, have sat on their hands and allowed the unelected, unaccountable, ideologically obsessed regulators at the EPA to punish them. The EPA has sounded the death knell for an industry that has been the backbone of U.S. power production for decades, and which is a substantial part of the economy of several states, providing tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in annual tax revenue. The EPA has not yet won its war on this dependable and important American industry that today accounts for 40 percent of electricity production. But victory is in sight.

In West Virginia, where coal is a major economic engine, the coal industry pays approximately $70 million in property taxes annually, and the industry payroll is nearly $2 billion per year paid to thousands of employees. Coal is responsible for more than $3.5 billion annually in the gross state product, and all 55 West Virginia counties, even the non-coal producing counties, receive Coal Severance Tax funds, according to data furnished by the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training. And coal is a major economic component in states where it is not necessarily the primary economic factor, like Virginia, Wyoming, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Coal is mined in 26 states, and 36 states produce at least some of their power with coal.

The EPA successfully developed a brilliant three-prong strategy to impose on the country during a pitifully weak economic recovery: a) put thousands more Americans out of work, b) damage the economies of a dozen states, and c) make continuing to use the most abundant fuel impossibly expensive, all at the same time!

English philosopher John Locke is regarded as one of the most influential figures in The Enlightenment. His contributions to social contract theory had a great impact upon the American revolutionaries, like Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and particularly Thomas Jefferson, so great an influence that his ideas are reflected in the Declaration of Independence. He believed that legitimate government existed only with the consent of the governed.

Presented with a situation like the out-of-control, unelected bureaucrats of the EPA who issue rules and regulations with the force of law, Mr. Locke might respond thusly: “When anyone, or more, shall take upon them to make laws, who the people have not appointed so to do, they make laws without authority, which the people are not therefore bound to obey,” because such actions return the people once again to being subjects of their government.

Some will argue that EPA bureaucrats are “indirectly” appointed by the people through elected representative, and while that may be technically correct, I’m betting John Locke would rise up in protest of many of the current actions of the federal government.

Recent administrations and – more curiously – Congresses seem unconcerned that the servants of the people working in federal agencies have co-opted Congress’ authority as the sole maker of law in our government. One wonders just how much longer the American people will accept being made government subjects by unelected bureaucrats before they follow Locke’s advice to not obey these illegal edicts.

Cross-posted from Observations


  1. Just wait. In a year or two, under Obama's EPA we will experience rolling blackouts and other wonderful signs of being a Third World Nation.

    That should help business overcome this recession.

  2. Looks like that three-prong EPA plan is working quite well: poverty here and now!