How much does the 'war on coal' really cost?

As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepares to levy new carbon pollution regulations on power plants, a battle is heating up between Republicans and public interest groups over exactly how much the rules will cost industry.

Republicans complain that the EPA's "war on coal" will cost industry billions of dollars and lead to higher electricity prices for everyday Americans. But the Center for American Progress (CAP) and other health and environmental groups say Republicans are exaggerating the costs of these much-needed public protections. 

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"Officials should ignore industry's phony forecasts, and instead focus on the huge costs of climate inaction," said Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow at CAP. "More smog, more asthma attacks, more ferocious storms, more droughts, and more wildfires."

The Center for American Progress released a study that week that shows examples of Republicans and industry groups over the last few decades warning that past rules would raise electricity prices, only to see prices stabilize, or even go down in some cases. They say the latest example is with the EPA's carbon pollution regulations for new and existing power plants.

Last September, the EPA issued regulations for new power plants that Republicans and industry groups have complained will prevent new coal plants from being constructed.

More recently, the focus has turned to regulations for existing power plants that the EPA is working on, which it plans to release in June. These rules have the coal industry fretting about its demise and accusing the EPA of a "war on coal."

In an email to House Republicans on Friday, Majority Leader Eric Cantor addressed these concerns. He pointed out that the heating bill for the average American family has increased 4.8 percent so far this year, and warned that prices will continue to rise with rules like this from the Obama administration.

"If the administration succeeds in its war on coal, next year's bills could be even higher," Cantor wrote.

Cantor called for Republicans to support a bill that will hit the House floor next week and would protect the coal industry from "excessive and unnecessary federal regulation." 

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) introduced the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act last year and is hoping it will put an end to the war on coal.

But public interest and environmental groups say the Republicans are overestimating the costs of the EPA's carbon pollution rules and the impact they would have on electricity prices.

"These guesses about the cost of cutting carbon pollution are very similar to claims made by their utility industry predecessors — and they are just as likely to be wrong," Weiss wrote in his report.

Weiss pointed to an acid rain pollution rule on power plants that was pushed by former President George H.W. Bush's administration back in 1989 as an example. The Edison Electric Institute predicted the rule would raise electricity prices across the country. But two decades later, the CAP found that the industry overestimated the costs by 16 percent. In fact, 36 states had lower electricity rates as of 2009, when the CAP conducted the study.

"Recently, these industries have again predicted that government pollution limits would result in skyrocketing electricity prices," Weiss wrote. "However, their record as prognosticators is quite poor. Their past predictions of doom were wrong, and so are their current claims that the (EPA's) first carbon pollution cuts for power plants would be disastrous."