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Jul 10, 2014

The Flawed Logic Behind EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Rule


Senior Director, Communications, U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy

Bloomberg_EPA_Headquarters_800px.jpg

Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, DC. Photographer: Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.
Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, DC. Photographer: Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.
Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, DC. Photographer: Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.


One of the biggest shortcomings of the public discussion surrounding EPA's proposed power plant rules is the complete lack of context given to the topic.   The arguments in favor of the rule are often centered around addressing the impacts of climate change, even though EPA's proposed rules will have virtually no impact on the issue

So let's put aside all of the other issues and spend a minute examining the actual effectiveness of what EPA is proposing.  EPA estimates that as a result of its rule on existing power plants, carbon emissions in 2030 would be reduced by 555 million metric tons below current projections.  Sounds like a lot, and indeed it represents about 10 percent of U.S. emissions.

The problem is that the climate is a global issue, not just a U.S. one.   The U.S. currently accounts for about 18% of global emissions, while non-U.S. global emissions have jumped about 22% and are projected to increase an additional by 41% by 2030.

So what does that mean?  It means that the reduction in emissions from EPA's rule would actually only decrease global emissions by 1.3%.  Based on projections from the U.S. Department of Energy, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that will be reduced from EPA's power plant rule is equivalent to just 13.5 days of Chinese emissions in 2030!

Perhaps that's why EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admitted in a hearing last year that regulations are designed instead to "prompt and leverage international discussions and action."

In other words--on their own, EPA's incredibly complex, far-reaching and expensive regulations will have no impact on their actual underlying purpose.  The sentiment has also been acknowledged by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said:

[T]he United States cannot solve this problem or foot the bill alone....if we eliminated all of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions - guess what? That still wouldn't be enough to counter the carbon pollution coming from the rest of the world. Because today, if even one or two economies neglects to respond to this threat, it can counter, erase all of the good work that the rest of the world has done. When I say we need a global solution, I mean we need a global solution.

The problem with that approach is that EPA's proposed regulations, which will raise electricity rates and cost the economy billions--are not predicated upon any sort of international agreement or commitment to reduce emissions. The Obama Administration is set on implementing the rules regardless of the outcome of international negotiations.  And to date, China, India and other major emitters have shown no interest in reducing their emissions appreciably--even after "leadership" shown by Western nations, which have made strides.

That kind of strategy may allow the Administration to claim that its "doing something" about climate change, but it accomplishes nothing else except harm to the U.S. economy.

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About the Author

Senior Director, Communications, U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy

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