The U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency has declared a war on America’s primary sources of energy — particularly
coal. The foot soldiers in this war are a bevy of proposed EPA regulations that
will drive up the cost of the conventional fuel sources that Americans use to
power their factories and heat their homes. Worse, these changes will threaten
the reliability of the U.S. power grid, which is essential to our modern way of
The EPA’s proposed rulemaking is no
longer an interpretation of existing law, but instead has morphed into
lawmaking. The previous Congress declined to pass cap-and-trade legislation
that would limit total greenhouse gas emissions, probably because they
recognized that a de facto energy tax on American consumers and businesses
would seriously damage an already anemic economic recovery. Undeterred,
President Barack Obama is making good on his threat to use EPA regulations to
limit energy production and use.
EPA’s proposed rulemaking is no longer an interpretation of existing law, but instead has morphed into lawmaking.
EPA’s war on energy is a
coordinated attack on several fronts:
- Regulation of CO2 under the Clean
Air Act. The EPA is proposing to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from
factories and commercial establishments across the nation. The agency has
issued a “tailoring rule” — government-speak for making up the law as you go —
that would add CO2 to the list of criteria air pollutants. The rule also sets
an arbitrary threshold of 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions
per year, even though the Clean Air Act sets the threshold of 100 to
250 tons per year. The agency wanted to avoid having to monitor hundreds
of thousands of additional sources, so it made up this new threshold. Still, it
is estimated that thousands of new sources will for the first time be required
to obtain time consuming and costly Clean Air Act permits.
Classifying coal fly ash as a
hazardous waste. Coal fly ash is a byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity.
Coal fly ash is regulated by state environmental agencies as a nonhazardous
waste and is recycled into many products, including asphalt. Requiring coal fly
ash to be treated as a hazardous waste would make many coal-burning utilities
uneconomical and result in their closure.
New stricter standards for ozone. The EPA is
proposing to lower ozone (smog) standards to levels between 60 and 70 parts per
billion — the third time the standard has been lowered during the past 15
years. A standard of 60 parts per billion would be so strict that it would
approach background levels in many urban areas and result in much of the
country being out of compliance. This would be a costly and gratuitous outcome.
New industrial boiler rule. This rule will
subject thousands of industrial, commercial and institutional boilers to much
stricter air quality standards. The rule is structured to have the most impact on coal and biomass
boilers. Operators will be faced with very expensive pollution control upgrades
or, more likely, a switch to natural gas boilers which emit fewer greenhouse
gases but are more expensive to operate.
Any one of these proposed EPA
rulemakings would have a significant impact on the cost of energy in the United
States. Taken together, they represent an all-out assault on energy production
and use. A common thread that runs through the proposed EPA rules is to make it
prohibitively expensive to use coal to produce electricity and power
Coal still powers much of the
electric grid in the country. Wind and solar energy are not reliable enough
(the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine) to replace
coal without seriously jeopardizing electric reliability.
It is critical that the new
Congress stop the EPA’s attempts to dictate energy policy by administrative
fiat. State governors should prepare to rebuff the EPA’s abuse of power by
instructing state environmental officials not to implement the new regulations
if they are promulgated. This “regulation without representation” is an
arrogant abuse of power and is a clear attempt by EPA officials to thwart the
will of Congress — and of the American people.
Harding is senior environmental analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public
Policy, a research and educational
institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the
Center are properly cited.