Conservative media outlets are at it again. They are painting the EPA’s recent decision about coal fired power plants as more proof that President Obama and the EPA are hell-bent on ruining this country. Unfortunately their data is about as accurate as a Rick Santorum speech when it comes to providing all of the facts.
The president and nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that climate change is real and the EPA is acting to lower the harmful emissions that coal fired power plants produce. According to reports, the new regulations would essentially end the production of traditional new coal fired power plants. That doesn’t mean that coal will no longer be used to produce electricity, because existing coal fired power plants will not be subject to these standards. Also the technology is available to produce new coal fired power plants that meet the new EPA standards but the energy sector, of course, complains that these technologies are too expensive.
The same was true when President Gerald Ford signed the CAFE standards in to law and when President Ronald Reagan signed the Montreal Protocol. The industries affected started their sky-is-falling campaign, suggesting it would ruin their companies. Of course their doomsday predictions never came true because as the greatest country in the world, Americans rose to the challenge and not only met the new standards but even started embracing them as necessary.
So while this new EPA ruling may change the future plans for energy companies, it is not the end of the world.
The right also claims this will lead to higher energy prices. Given that energy prices have been steadily outpacing inflation for the past five years and are at record highs, the odds are that energy prices will continue to go higher. For example, after building a new coal fired power plant in the Upper Peninsula, residents saw their energy bills spike by as much as 30%. Building new energy plants costs money regardless of what source the plant uses to generate that power.
The real question we should ask is whether these new regulations will have any affect above and beyond the increases that we are already seeing. It is a distortion of the facts to ignore the costs associated with new coal facilities while including the costs of new natural gas or wind facilities.
It should also be noted that as of 2008, before Barack Obama was even elected, more natural gas plants were being built than coal fired plants. Plans to build new coal fired plants were being canceled because of market forces, not EPA regulations. According to a Duke Energy representative, “as one of the largest utilities and largest users of coal in the country (we have) no plans to build a new coal plant for two decades, so the regulations are not relevant.” He also stated that “natural gas (was becoming) the crack cocaine of the power industry,” because “it was cheap to build the plants.”
Oddly enough this new EPA regulation is actually also catching heat from environmentalists as well. The reason being that it does nothing to affect existing coal fired plants. In a perverse way this actually leads to more air pollution, given that energy companies have no incentive to build new cleaner coal facilities and instead will rely on the old plants that have been grandfathered in. At this point China is actually ahead of the U.S. in clean coal plants because we have chosen pricing and politics over our long-standing history of being the world’s innovators.
If Obama and the EPA really wanted to reduce emissions, they should support the retirement of old coal fired plants and push natural gas while also gradually increasing the requirements for all coal fired power plants.
Clearly there are flaws in these standards but the flaws have little to do with the standard corporate talking points that always get thrown around when the good of the people is put ahead of corporate profits.