Today’s EPA rule portends an ominous future for manufacturers

The EPA defends this rule by claiming a limited direct impact on the economy. Construction of new coal plants is indeed on hold due to a number of factors, including EPA regulations already in place. Low natural gas prices also play a role—but energy markets are global in nature and affected by technological advancements, consumer behavior, political unrest and government policies. The energy world five years ago looked a lot different than it does today, and five years from now, the world will be different as well. Can the United States really afford to unilaterally disarm itself when it comes to the use of such a vital, reliable and heretofore source of energy supply?

An “all-of-the-above” energy strategy is key for manufacturing competitiveness. Manufacturers, after all, consume one-third of the energy used in the United States, so they rely on secure and affordable energy sources—an objective advanced by the widest variety of source options possible.

President Obama, however, does not believe in such a strategy. His Climate Action Plan cleared up any confusion about that. The energy policies embraced by the administration would wean the United States off fossil fuels, with the eventual goal of eliminating them from our energy mix.

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Today’s rule sets the country on this misguided path. The EPA’s next move will be to regulate not just new, but also existing power plants. Then it will move on to other industries. Eventually, it will regulate the entire economy—an outcome the authors of the Clean Air Act clearly never intended. Meanwhile, China, the world’s biggest emitter, has been adding the equivalent of the entire U.S. electricity-generating fleet to its annual emissions about every five years.

Under the proposed rule, manufacturers face stark consequences. The EPA’s overreach threatens the gains manufacturers have made since the end of the recession as well as future investment. They are reinvesting in America because of our nascent energy boom. For the first time in generations, energy is a bright spot in our economy.

A recent study conducted by the global research firm IHS projects that the development of shale oil and gas will boost employment by almost four million jobs by 2025. Manufacturing output is slated to grow by $328 billion in just 12 years. In short, the energy revolution is a catalyst for a manufacturing renaissance.

Yet manufacturers—and the American economy—may never have the chance to enjoy the benefits of such a renaissance. If the EPA has its way and continues down the course set by this rule, manufacturers will face a permanent competitive disadvantage with other countries. Thanks to an unelected bureaucracy, we’ll cede our mantle of economic leadership.

Timmons is president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.