Mostly pain for no gain

Staff Columnist

A month’s sabbatical has allowed time for serious reflection on important issues of the day. Frankly, a dispassionate, thoughtful review of current events must inevitably leads to the question, “what the hell is going on here?” Let’s face it, we are currently beset by inexplicable events that don’t, at least on the surface, make much sense.

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) leads the parade of nonsensical programs. The Environmental Protection Agency released the final regulations  for the CPP in early August. The stated purpose of the program is to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 871 million tons per year below what was emitted in 2005. Interestingly enough, neither the president nor EPA made any effort to give us an estimate of just how much they think the world’s temperature might be affected. Given the rather daunting costs associated with the CPP, it would seem that climate or temperature effects might be central to the discussion.

It is likely that any discussion of just how much warming might be averted by the president’s plan was omitted because the answer is the CPP’s impact on temperature is almost zero. Using EPA’s own methodology to evaluate the president’s climate action plan, which envisions a 17 percent reduction in United States‘ greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2020, the temperature reduction in the year 2100 would be fifteen one-thousandths of a degree. There you have it, an effect too small to even be measured.

One the other side of the coin it can be said with some assurance that the economic effect of the president’s plan would not be too small to be measured. Efforts to meet the president’s goal will likely not only double costs of generating electricity to the levels found in California, but could quadruple to the levels paid in some European countries like Denmark and Germany.

High prices for electricity will impact everything we manufacture, grow, ship, and eat. The conservative Heritage Foundation estimates that, “In 2025 for example, the average family of four will lose nearly $2,000 in income because of the increased cost of electricity.”  Increasing government regulation over the past decade has already caused a sizable increase in the cost of residential electricity in the United States. The cost in 2014 was already 32 percent above its 2005 level, compared with a 22 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index during this same period. Even worse, the Energy Information Administration projects continued escalation of residential electricity prices due to the costs of compliance with environmental regulations and other factors.

The National Economic Research Associates believe the costs to comply with EPA’s plan could total as high as $366 billion. The Heritage Foundation says there will be an additional $2.5 trillion loss to gross domestic product due to higher energy costs, increased job losses and lower economic activity.

The increased costs play directly against those least able to afford them. Fixed-income seniors are a growing population and are among the least able to afford increased prices due to their relatively low incomes and high per capita energy use. The medium income of households with one aged 65 or older was 31 percent below the national medium income. The administration can trumpet their concern for the poor and the middle class to their hearts content but the stubborn fact is that many of their policies impose an undue burden on the poor and lower middle classes.

There are other, even more serious problems. According to the website for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, “May 15, 2015, the five sitting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) commissioners sent a joint letter to Janet G. McCabe, acting assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), regarding the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) proposal. With the final CPP proposal from the EPA expected this summer, FERC and other industry participants have expressed a concern about how the new rules to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants may affect the reliability of the electric grid.” Actually, the FERC commissioners have informed EPA that the CPP threatens electric grid stability if it results in the anticipated increase in the use of wind and solar generation..

Even if we succeed in reducing emissions by 2030, and even if you believe, against all the evidence, it will result in a measurable drop in temperature, you have to take into account the global emissions. China currently consumes more coal than any country in the world, and its global emissions will outstrip the combined emissions of the United States and the European Union. India and Brazil will continue to expand the use of fossil fuels in generating much needed energy for their emerging economies. And it is not just the emerging nations. Poland continues to rely on coal for 90 percent of its electricity and Germany is replacing lost nuclear capacity with coal burning facilities.

One purpose of the CPP is to encourage the use of wind and solar but green energy is not going to replace fossil fuels in the foreseeable future. Robert J. Samuelson, writing in the Washington Post, sums it up nicely: “Eliminating fossil fuel emissions from coal, oil and natural gas would presumably stabilize most human impact on global warming. But if done now, it would also destroy modern economies because fossil fuels provide four-fifths of the world’s primary energy. There’s no quick way of finding substitutes for all fossil fuels. A single-mined focus on global warming would plunge the world into depression.”

Mr. Obama’s CPP initiative promises much but delivers almost nothing. Its impact on temperature is so small it cannot be measured but its economic cost is close to prohibitive. In short, lots of pain for no gain.

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