A national carbon tax masked as an “emissions marketplace” is one of the few pieces of anti-free market legislation Barack Obama has failed to pass during his first four-and-a-half years in office. Clearly this defeat has irked Obama, who is now attempting to bypass Congress and use his rogue Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose sweeping new regulations on America’s energy industry.
Rather than taxing utilities into submission legislatively, Obama now plans on regulating them to death administratively. To that end, by 2015 Obama’s EPA will unveil strict new limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal- and gas-fired facilities under his so-called “Climate Action Plan.” These “Flexible Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants” will be promulgated as state regulations under the auspices of the Clean Air Act.
“You shall ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that you develop approaches that allow the use of market-based instruments, performance standards and other regulatory flexibilities,” Obama’s plan states.
This level of environmental regulatory overreach is unprecedented.
Under the administration of former president George H.W. Bush, the EPA was granted authority to oversee sulphur dioxide emissions trading. However the creation of this “marketplace” was explicitly authorized via amendments to the Clean Air Act — amendments approved by overwhelming majorities of both the U.S. House and Senate.
Meanwhile prior efforts to force the EPA to arbitrarily impose such government-run “marketplaces” — absent congressional approval — have been struck down as unconstitutional.
Obama will never receive congressional support for his carbon dioxide emissions scheme — and he knows it. In fact several members of his own party are already blasting these anti-competitive measures.
“Overzealous regulations are harmful to our economy,” U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) said in response to Obama’s proposals.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) referred to Obama’s plan as the declaration of a “war on coal.”
Manchin isn’t exactly right. Obama actually declared his “war on coal” five years ago as a candidate for president, when he told a liberal editorial board “if someone wants to build a coal-powered plant they can — it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”
Unable to convince a Democratic-controlled Congress to go along with this radical scheme, Obama is now trying to impose it arbitrarily — a plan which will raise energy costs on consumers, kill hundreds of thousands of jobs and deprive the American economy of nearly $1.5 trillion worth of income, according to one estimate.
Then there’s the dirty little secret of “pricing coal” when it comes to domestic emissions — namely its utter failure to make a dent in the global atmospheric situation. According to the latest data from the International Energy Agency, America led the world in reducing carbon emissions a year ago — lowering our output by a total of 200 megatons. However carbon emissions soared globally by more than 400 megatons in spite of these efforts — reaching a new all-time high.
Also, it’s worth noting government “green initiatives” did not create America’s declining emissions levels: Good old-fashioned free market economics did that. Attacking coal on the other hand will have unmistakably adverse market affects — most notably increased natural gas prices for consumers.
“The primary reason for the U.S. emissions decline is the result of new technologies from the fossil fuel industry that are leading to cheap coal being displaced by even cheaper natural gas for the generation of electricity,” writes Paul C. Kanppenberger of the Cato Institute.
In other words Obama is circumventing Congress to advance economically crippling new regulations that won’t even accomplish his stated objectives. And even if Obama’s scheme were constitutional — or the fuzzy science of climate change valid — America’s economy cannot afford the incredibly steep price he is asking us to pay.
Bill Wilson is a member of the board of directors of Americans for Limited Government.