PRACTICALLY EVERY day on the campaign trail, Republican presidential hopefuls blast President Obama’s “job-killing regulations.” Atop their list are rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, one of which the EPA will finalize this week.
The would-be presidents aren’t alone. Since the Republicans took control of Congress, GOP lawmakers have repeatedly attempted to derail rules on the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, as well as new restrictions on conventional air pollutants that the EPA has regulated for decades — gases and particulates that contribute to asthma, heart attacks and other health problems. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have announced that they will introduce a bill in August designed to roll back pending regulations on toxic air pollutants from utilities and industrial boilers.
Yet predictions of EPA-induced disaster are wildly overblown, at best.
Bloomberg Government released a study on greenhouse gas regulation last month, finding that the first phase of the EPA’s efforts will cost little and produce little in terms of emissions reductions, since power plants are becoming more efficient and therefore producing fewer emissions anyway. Bloomberg found that forthcoming greenhouse gas rules might be tougher, but that, among other things, utilities will respond by simply burning more cheap natural gas instead of coal.
Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress pointed out that many coal power plants — the sort of facilities that an EPA crackdown on toxic air pollutants such as mercury would affect — already have relevant pollution control technologies installed or in construction. And dozens of those that don’t are old, inefficient, rarely used and, in many cases, slated for closure. Last year a Credit Suisse study found that EPA anti-air-
pollution rules might encourage some additional coal plants to shut down — but that the closures would actually help utilities in oversupplied power markets, not to mention improving ambient air quality.
There will, of course, be costs. But there will also be benefits. The EPA asserts that for every dollar spent on measures to cut particulate and ozone pollution, there will be $30 in economic benefits to public health — fewer sick days taken, fewer chronic illnesses, fewer early deaths. On greenhouse gases, a fair reading of the EPA’s new air pollution rules suggests that, if anything, they won’t do nearly enough to address the risks associated with climate change, perhaps cutting emissions a few percentage points relative to business as usual. And since the EPA is using an old statute to tackle carbon emissions, which it hasn’t done before, its effort to do even that will be subject to years of legal challenges.
Instead of blasting the EPA, Congress could craft climate policy that is both more efficient and more effective — upping energy research budgets and putting a price on carbon. But, judging from the rhetoric on the campaign trail and in the House, we aren’t optimistic that will happen anytime soon.