A new study says that the EPA horribly underestimated the impact its new regulations might have on power plants across the nation. The Institute for Energy Research (IER) is a Washington-based think tank that has studied energy policies and their effect on the economy for over 20 years. Its report now joins dozens of other studies in concluding that despite EPA’s intent, the regulations designed to stop the production and use of coal will have virtually no impact on the global warming.A fairly heated debate has ensued, some of it about the report’s conclusions, but mostly about the organization that issued it. No surprise there. It has become not just common, but routine, for the EPA and its supporters in the environmental industry to attack anyone that questions the wisdom of its policies.
In this case, angry environmental bloggers are on the attack about which foundations and donors fund the IER, and who once sat on the board of a similar institute 30 years ago (Charles Koch), and other such complaints intended to make readers completely ignore the study. Of course, none of these bloggers have really questioned the study’s essential conclusions, or the facts it outlines, or the methodology used. Opponents would rather shoot the messenger than debate the message, which is unfortunately also routine in today’s politics, but it raises some perplexing questions.
Can we really solve environmental problems by arguing about who is arguing, rather than discussing the merits of various proposals? Is actually solving such environmental problems even the real goal? Unfortunately, much of today’s debate about the environment is a false debate, not really about the environment at all. In fact, some of today’s environmental agenda is actually bad for the environment, and much of it is bad for the people.
This new study highlights a very real example. IER analyzed the economic impact of EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (commonly called MATS or MACT), the proposed Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), and the proposed regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. Even the EPA recognized that such rules were nearly impossible for coal-fired power plants to meet, and that many power plants would simply close. EPA was OK with that. The agency originally calculated that about 9.5 gigawatts of electric generating capacity would be shut down because of its MACT and CSAPR rules. That’s enough electricity to power 6.5 million homes – more than the entire populations of Colorado and Wyoming. But before the regulations on existing power plants even begin, it has become clear that the actual number of closed power plants will in fact be higher – much higher.
The analysts essentially took all of the government’s own information on power plants EPA said could not meet the new standards, and compared that data against public announcements from utility companies about various power plants. What it found was astonishing. In fact, the rules will probably result in closing 168 power plants with over 72 gigawatts of generating capacity, enough to power almost 45 million homes, virtually the entire western United States (excluding Texas and California). Four such plants are in Colorado. We already saw the shutdown of the 66 megawatt power plant at Cameo and a similar plant at Canon City. Closures more than ten times that size are announced and well underway at two massive power plants in Denver.
Supporters want to wean America from coal, by far our largest source of electricity, and switch all power to natural gas or renewables. They could argue that at least some of the lost capacity will be replaced by more modern plants (that’s partly true with one of the two Denver plants, for instance). That may be right, but it still ignores three stubborn facts. First, no government can ever repeal the law of supply and demand – and producing less power from fewer plants means utility bills will go up for everyone, hurting the poor the most. Second, government meddling in the economy hinders progress and prolongs the recession by costing thousands of jobs in both coal mining and power production. Third, nothing about the regulations or the economic displacement they cause will make one iota of difference to the Earth’s climate, especially while China and India industrialize at an unprecedented rate.
Don’t shoot the messenger. I don’t even know the people who wrote this new study. But I know their data and its conclusions are worthy of more serious discussion than they are getting so far.