Obama admits his climate plan could raise electricity prices

They call it the “Grey Lady,” an ode to its place in American journalism, but for all things The New York Times represents, one thing it isn’t, is unfavorable to President Obama’s carbon emission reduction proposals. That’s why one should take notice when the opening paragraph of a recent Times article on an address the president gave to the League of Conservation Voter’s opened like this: “President Obama acknowledged Wednesday that his efforts to combat climate change — in particular, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations to slash carbon pollution from cars and coal-fired power plants — could raise fuel and electricity prices.”

The Times piece, isn’t the first where we’ve seen the president make such a concession, but should speak volumes in terms of both its form and impact.  While running for president in 2008 – and needing to tack to the left of then Sen. Hillary Clinton, then Sen. Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle, "Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Thankfully, a federal cap and trade plan ended up dying once the president was in office – despite having a clear Democrat majority in the House and Senate. The president’s newest proposal, a federal mandate to force 49 states (Vermont and the District of Columbia are exempt because they don’t have any fossil fuel burning plants) to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants is a means for the president to do by regulatory fiat, what he could not achieve legislatively. Another “regulate rather than legislate” plan to impose costly rules on new stationary sources is still under review as are costly new rules on Ozone quality standards. 

Sure, the president will say the greenhouse gas proposals offer flexibility (states can come up with their own plans or enter into a regional pact) but if a state doesn’t submit or meet EPA’s criteria, the agency will move to regulate the state’s power sector – hardly flexible.

So what’s changed now?

Well, not a whole lot. The economy is still flat, as numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed the economy contracted 2.9 percent in the first quarter of 2014. June unemployment figures by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that still far too many are out of work.  Just under 10 million Americans have no job, countless more are underemployed or in low-wage jobs, and millions of others have exited the workforce altogether. Moreover, a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed 35 percent of registered voters still place the economy and jobs as their chief concern. Long story, the outlook continues to be grim.

Even if the president’s intentions are good, his policies are misplaced and ineffective.  From the White House to the EPA, absent in any recent proposals has been any acknowledgment that any of them would lead to any concrete means to impact climate change or lead to significant temperature reductions; ostensibly the goal of said policies. Instead, many have claimed they are necessary to show global leadership.  Yet, in the process they also could easily give up one of our nation’s most effective global economic advantages – access to affordable and abundant energy.

One glimmer of domestic economic opportunity that has been evident of late is that of gains in domestic manufacturing.  From business expansions here at home to producers relocating or “insourcing” manufacturing to the U.S., technological gains in domestic energy production have been a key strategic reason behind such investment decisions.  Mandating costly new regulations that will drive up the price of energy is a sure fire way to keep a true manufacturing renaissance – and the millions of jobs that come with it – further at bay. 

The White House and EPA might be saying the proposal isn’t final, and that it could still change, but with power consumption ready to hit peak this summer, and jobs and capital investments on the line, now is just the right time for everyone, including the New York Times, to realize the plan is a fool’s errand.

Powaleny is a director at The Herald Group, LLC, based in Washington, D.C. He works on media affairs for the firm and handles energy, healthcare, and manufacturing issues. Previously he worked for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and CRAFT Media/Digital in addition to numerous political campaigns. He can be found on twitter at @AndrewPowaleny.