For some time now, I and others have been documenting the relentless assault on economic growth by the EPA under President Barack Obama. I feel like a broken record at times trying to beat this drum and get people to realize that while Obama doesn't keep all of his campaign promises, destroying the coal industry is one that he has done everything he can to stay true to.
For anyone that paid attention during the 2008 presidential cycle, Obama made it clear that it was his intention to bankrupt the coal industry through regulation and legislation. Think it's hyperbole? Listen to it from the horse's mouth.
Obama's dreams of green jobs have run into some snags lately. The bankruptcy of solar panel company Solyndra, which received half a billion dollars in loan guarantees, is not good for the goal of greenifying our lives. Objectively speaking, there is one simple reason that companies like Solyndra just couldn't make ends meet: the prices that they need to charge for their products are simply too high to create true market demand.
However, market demand can also be altered by a lack of choice. For instance, if there was a cheaper form of liquid that could fuel my car, I'd most certainly gravitate towards it as opposed to the $3.50 per gallon price I'm currently paying for gasoline.
Unfortunately for me, no alternative liquid exists that is as cost effective as plain old gasoline, and unfortunately for the green industry, gasoline exists.
In the world of energy and power plants, the big kids on the block are coal and fossil fuels. They currently power the overwhelming vast majority of the country and despite rumors to the contrary, there's still plenty of it to go around. This poses a problem for Obama's green agenda and unfortunately for him, his Cap & Trade initiative fell flat in the Senate and in this political climate, no one dares bring it up again.
So since that kills his ability to approach this from a legislative standpoint, President Obama has moved to his old standby: Regulatory.
For instance, the EPA's Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule (MACT) requires all coal-fired plants to reduce emissions of specific toxic air pollutants like mercury emissions. The problem with this is that it would "require coal-fired power plants to install equipment that in some cases is too expensive to afford and in other cases does not currently exist commercially."
So essentially, borrowing a phrase from President Obama, "If someone wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can, it's just that it will bankrupt them." This is not some reading between the lines to figure this out, as noted above, this is the actual words spoken by candidate Obama and the MACT rule is the perfect example of it in action. The requirements aren't just onerous, they're in some cases impossible to meet which of course results in massive fees levied against the company.
So what is the result of this?
Well this one rule could force enough coal-fired power plant shutdowns to equal about 30-70 gigawatts of electricity across the country. That means that businesses and families will need to move towards more expensive alternatives for energy to keep the lights on. This explains why the administration was so intent on investing in solar energy to the point of ignoring due diligence in favor of "hurrying up." This standard will lead to double-digit increases in rates in keeping with another famous quote from President Obama where he acknowledged that under his plan "power bills would necessarily skyrocket." For families that will mean tightening their belts in an economy which they can ill afford to do so. For businesses, it will also mean tightening belts which means cutting corners and yes, cutting jobs.
But MACT isn't the only rule with alarming implications. The EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) will also target coal-fired power plants. This time it's to prevent polluted air from crossing state lines. As is the case with MACT, it doesn't accomplish this in a sensible way that allows the companies managing the plants to stay in business and continue providing power while implementing the changes. Again, it's overly stringent with unrealistic timelines that are designed to be virtually impossible to comply with.
Brian Shaw of the Washington Examiner notes:
This rule will impose onerous new costs on coal-fired power plants, causing many to shut down, and threaten electrical generation reserve capacity all over the country. These reserve margins are needed to avoid power disruption during times of peak demand. Even temporary loss of reserve capacity risks dangerous blackouts.
In terms of job losses, CSAPR is ahead of the game causing job losses even prior to its actual implementation. Luminant, a Texas energy company, announced a wave of shutdowns and layoffs as the rule's compliance deadline moves closer.
CEO David Campbell said:
[M]eeting this unrealistic deadline also forces us to take steps that will idle facilities and result in the loss of jobs.
According to Ken Blackwell of the Cincinnati Ohio News, "various outside analysts seem to agree that, at minimum, the 10 major rules that the EPA issued in 2010 could cost the economy at least $23 billion and nearly one million jobs."
These regulations are onerous and unneeded. The EPA has studies which have made clear that air pollutants they are trying to regulate pose no risk.
The health benefits claimed by the EPA for these proposed regulations are actually for pollutants that are already controlled through other existing regulations.
Even more galling, the industry was in fact doing quite well at dealing with pollutants in a way that didn't simultaneously cause blackouts, job losses and billion of dollars:
By 2015, the coal-fired power generation industry will have invested $125 billion in coal utilization technologies that burn coal cleaner and with more efficiency.
Power plant emissions are already down nearly 80 percent since 1970. A coal-fired power facility built today is, on average, 90 percent cleaner than the one it replaces, according to the National Energy Technology Laboratory. Ironically, the ability to build those new plants is next to impossible due to even more stringent EPA regulations.
Both CSAPR and MACT made Eric Cantor's list of the top 10 job-killing regulations in the U.S. I know he's just a partisan right? How can his word be trusted on this?
Well, he's not alone in this conclusion. Both rules were included in a list of regulations that are projected to cost over $1 billion dollars annually (that's each, not together). Where's this list come from? None other than President Obama himself.
This article is being debated at PolicyMic.com.