EPA's carbon plan isn't environmental policy, but pain and politics

I just spent a day in Washington last month, testifying before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recently released Clean Power Plan, specifically the EPA's 111(d) rule. I was honored to be asked to testify and came away simply amazed at the misdirected political rhetoric around climate change that dominated the hearing. What was often offered as insightful and concerned inputs about "jobs" and "our environment" was completely disconnected from what this proposed policy would achieve and absent any connection to fact.

This Clean Carbon Plan does not — let me repeat — this plan does not impact CO2 levels or climate change in any relevant or impactful way. Discussion about implementation and policy and economic impact abounds, but the fundamental truth is that this rule-making does not reduce CO2 or greenhouse gas to affect the climate. So how disingenuous is it to talk about climate change, jobs, our future, implementation, etc.? We're acting as if it is meaningful discussion for our citizens, and it masks the facts.

These are the facts for EPA 111(d), if fully implemented:

  • A 0.18 percent reduction in global CO2 output for the period up until 2030.
  • A resulting 0.01 degree Celsius impact to global temperature.
  • A resulting impact of the lessening of global sea rise by an amount equal to one-third the thickness of a dime.

Can we be serious that this is meaningful, relevant and impactful? EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has already answered that question in testimony to the House of Representatives in 2013. That answer was and is today: "No." McCarthy admitted this fact, but added that the U.S. needed to take this action to gain "political leverage" with the world and show "climate change leadership." What?

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The rest of the world must be both amused and dumbfounded by the arrogance and naivete of that point of view. First, the arrogance of the U.S. leveraging compliance with the rest of the world, but dumbfounded that such a policy would be considered by the U.S. that will so obviously damage the U.S. economy and global competitiveness.

While the rule-making does nothing for the climate, it imposes a mandated installation of wind and solar and imposes this with no regard to public utility commissions across the country that are in place to serve the people in their states to ensure reliability, security and affordability of the energy supply. The proposed legislation does not impact the entire country equally, but imposes a federal mandate directly aimed at a few states that carry the burden of energy production for our country. It punishes the makers and allows the takers to take. In the states that make energy, the legislation drives the cost of power up to expensive and unaffordable levels that hobble citizens in those states.

We should all be troubled by the lack of study and information on reliability and affordability. Forty percent of the burden of this legislation will fall on the six states that generate the bulk of the U.S. electric energy supply. Coal plants will be closed, gas plants run at utilization rates unrealistically prescribed at 70 percent (it is less than 50 percent today due to local dispatch affordability and system reliability), and there will be a forced deployment of windmills and solar panels. Reliability and affordability are set aside. And did I mention that there is no climate change benefit?

So have we lost our minds? Has this administration convinced itself that it can fly over the public utility commissions and mandate something that is fundamentally useless? Does the EPA think the American public and global community are not capable of seeing the illusion for what it is?

We will all pay for this — and pay dearly. Reliability will be impacted, and there have been no interagency collaborative studies to support infrastructure requirements or system performance capability. Affordability will be impacted. On average, the American consumer will pay two times more for power, and in those six states previously mentioned — three times or four times more.

I propose that we must consider this a disaster cloaked by the EPA as a significant win for EPA rule-making and climate change progress in America. It has become an agency that appears incapable of a real strategy for real results. We are declaring victory and delivering nothing but pain to American citizens for zero gain.

So, what should we do? We need to invest in clean coal technology and clean natural gas facilities. We need to capture CO2 and use it for benefit in enhanced oil recovery where we can provide a technology platform through which the rest of the world can benefit from our transformative ingenuity. We need to deploy conservation and a true "all of the above" approach with the best we have to offer ourselves and the rest of the world in the form of clean advanced technologies.

Let's stop over-subsidizing and over-investing in wind and solar and put our best effort forward for transformative technology solutions and energy sustainability. The rhetoric that fossil fuels are also subsidized is simply noise to dampen the incredibly disproportionate subsidies of wind and solar. Invest in technology for all supplies of energy and honestly include clean advanced technology for fossil fuels. Environmentally responsible, secure, reliable and affordable energy is what the world needs and fossil fuels are what the world will use overwhelmingly for the next 50 to 100 years. We don't need hollow rules that deliver political rhetoric. We need advanced technologies so that it's just not all pain and no gain.

McConnell is executive director of the Energy and Environment Initiative at Rice University and a former assistant secretary of energy at the Department of Energy from 2011 to 2013.

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