Unfounded alarmism surrounds the Trump administration EPA’s clean energy rule


Attacks on the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy plan — in particular, the claim it will cause as many as 1,400 deaths per year by 2030 — are based on an exercise in comparing the Trump plan to an Obama administration plan that was never implemented. It also is based on double counting, claiming for the Obama plan reductions in pollution that were put in place by previous regulations.

The key criticism of the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy Plan is that it does not attack CO2 emissions as strongly as the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan did. In fact, reports indicate it would allow almost 12 times more CO2 to be released. But the critics lack a few important facts.

{mosads}For example, they gloss over the fact that the Obama-era plan never came into effect. It was stayed, in a groundbreaking move by the Supreme Court, for exceeding the legal authority of the EPA to directly regulate the number and type of electric generating plants in each state. Certainly, some states and cities have promised to achieve the reductions mandated by the Obama plan, but in a March 2017 letter to the governor of Kentucky, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made it clear those efforts were only self-imposed.

“States and other interested parties have neither been required nor expected to work towards meeting the compliance dates set in the CPP,” he wrote. “It is the policy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that States have no obligation to spend resources to comply with a Rule that has been stayed by the Supreme Court of the United States.”

The courts stopped the Obama plan, and it is not currently being enforced. So, to promote the notion that it is saving lives today is to engage in fantasy. One might just as easily make the claim that by promoting access to affordable, reliable energy, better-paying jobs, and — as a result — improved diet and health care, the Trump energy rule could save far more lives. In fact, past research has made that very claim. A 2003 study, authored by energy consultant Ralph Keeney and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business professor Daniel Klein, actually claimed that heavy regulations, resulting in the loss of low-cost electricity generation, would lead to 14,000 to 25,000 premature deaths per year. The study also claimed those heavy regulations would have the decidedly unprogressive effect of concentrating the death toll in low-income communities.

In reality, the 1,400 deaths number really has nothing to do with CO2 emissions, which is what the Clean Power Plan and Affordable Clean Energy Plan both address. That number has to do with the claimed health-related co-benefits, or multiple benefits, of doubled-counted reductions in particulate matter, the microscopic particles that are emitted from burning coal and associated with asthma and heart conditions. The term “double-counted” refers to the EPA’s habit of saying that a new regulation will reduce a given pollutant in the air, even though a different regulation, already on the books, has done so.

Regulations that justify their existence by claiming to eliminate an already-eliminated ton of emissions, do no real-world good, and acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler clearly gets it. While discussing critiques of the proposed energy plan, he noted, “All of those, particulate matter, NOx, SO2, those are all regulated under other regulations. We are not touching any of those regulations.”

No one seriously discounts the desire to have cleaner air and more efficient ways to produce energy. But much of the concern over the proposed Affordable Clean Energy plan fails because it is based in counterfactual speculation about the benefits of a rule that was stayed by the Supreme Court and is not being enforced today.

Piled on top of that fact is the reality that the claimed health benefits of the stayed rule are actually based on reductions of different pollutants that have already been accounted for by other regulations — which, it should be noted, are still in effect. In short, critics have not given us a good reason to abandon the proposed rule that, even critics recognize, will result in cleaner air and more efficient energy sources.

Jason Hayes is director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and education institute in Midland, Michigan.

Tags Energy Environment EPA Jason Hayes Scott Pruitt
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