Environmental activists and energy industry groups are sharpening their proverbial swords for what’s likely to be a major battle over carbon emissions from coal plants. Peter Altman, climate director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called it “The Super Bowl of climate politics,” according to The Washington Post. The game? A new rule being put forward by the Environmental Protection Agency that would reduce emissions from coal plants by 30 percent from 2005 to 2030. There are certainly voices in favor of the rule; environmental groups first and foremost, who have, until recently, been critical that President Barack Obama’s policy wasn’t going far enough. Environmentalists had been critical of the extent the administration had been focusing on reducing foreign oil dependence. They claimed he failed to cut pollution to the extent it was needed in favor of such efforts.
“With record high atmospheric carbon concentrations and the rising threat of extreme heat, drought, wildfires and super storms, America’s energy policies must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, not simply reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” read a letter sent from eighteen public interest groups, including EarthJustice. This latest plan from the EPA is likely to boost Obama in environmental eyes and help counter some of these claims.
It’s also likely to please health officials. A joint study from Harvard School of Public Health and Syracuse University Center emphasized health defects from air pollutants, listing their role premature deaths, non-fatal heart attacks, asthma problems, lost work, and school absences. On top of health concerns, the report stated that “elevated ozone can cause crop and forest damage,” and listing food, wildlife, and fish contamination from rain and watershed as concerns. The report was intended to back up the positive effects of the Clean Air Act, which reached the Supreme Court in April of this year. SCOTUS ruled that the Act could not be overturned — a nice legal pat on the back for Obama, and a door left ajar for further EPA efforts such as this one.
Discussing the regulation in his weekly address, the president praised the economic, health, and environmental motivations for pursuing this large of a cut in emissions. “As President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” said Obama. He spoke on the 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks caused by pollution, and pointed to the 1,000 mayors who “signed agreements to cut their cities’ carbon pollution” as a sign that at local and state levels change is desired. He also made a fairly accurate prediction — because it’s an often repeated exchange at this point — of what opponents in Congress and in various businesses would say. Though he didn’t say it, he admitted what is certainly the case; many in energy industries, business groups, and in Congress, hate the EPA’s latest plan.
“Now, special interests and their allies in Congress will claim that these guidelines will kill jobs and crush the economy. Let’s face it, that’s what they always say,” said Obama. It may be an old argument, but it isn’t a tired one yet. “I urge you to consider the impact that your administration’s existing coal plant rule will have on the people of my state of West Virginia who want to go to work, provide for their families, and produce affordable energy that powers our economy. I urge you to think of the impact that higher electricity prices will have on senior citizens and others on fixed incomes … Washington should not pick winners and losers in the energy economy,” wrote Representative Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) to Obama. Congress members representing coal state electorates just prior to the midterms — on both sides of the aisle — are understandably hesitant to anger business interests, especially businesses that employ so many of their voters.
The argument on costs to Americans is one that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce backs up. At the end of last month it released its own set of data on what the ultimate costs, economically speaking, the regulations would have. It projected a possible loss of up to 442,000 jobs by 2022, losing 224,000 jobs on average every year. This is a similar argument to what The National Association of Manufacturers makes, reminding the Administration that the U.S. economy hasn’t fully recovered from the downturn. “At a time when the U.S. and global economies are under extreme pressure, policymakers should look very cautiously at new government programs to expand environmental rules or impose entirely new regulatory regimes … The EPA’s actions will add new burdens and restrictions, increase costs, destroy jobs and undermine U.S. manufacturers’ ability to compete in the global marketplace,” said the organization’s release on the subject.
Voters across the U.S., not just in coal industry states, would likely find the Chamber of Commerce’s report concerning as well. It predicted a $586 billion decrease in disposable household income by 2022, and an increase in electricity expenses totally over $289 billion. Overall, the nation stands to lose $51 billion in its Gross Domestic Product every year, according to the report.
“Americans deserve to have an accurate picture of the costs and benefits associated with the administration’s plans to reduce carbon emissions through unprecedented and aggressive EPA regulations,” said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Energy Institute, who provided the USCC report.
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