The Unfortunate Certainty of Climate Regulations

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Despite concerns that they lack the proper authority, the Obama Administration is set to unveil new regulations for carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants next Monday.  While we won’t know the details of the regulations, there are a few things we do know.
First, the President’s carbon regulations will have no real impact on global climate change. Last year, the Administration announced new carbon regulations for newly constructed power plants. These rules set standards so high that they effectively ban the construction of new coal-fueled power plants in the United States.
It’s clear that the EPA has coal in its crosshairs, and it’s likely the new rule will again target coal usage. But even if our nation’s entire coal fleet was shutdown, global emissions of greenhouse gases would be reduced by just 3 percent. Increases in average global temperature would be reduced by just .03 degrees Centigrade, while increases in sea levels would be reduced by less than the thickness of a penny by the year 2050.
Because the United States cannot and should not divest itself from coal, the impact of the Administration’s regulations will actually be even less significant. Perhaps this is why EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told Congress that it is “unlikely that any specific one step is going to be seen as having a visible impact” on global climate change.
Second, we know these new regulations are not establishing global leadership on climate change. The Administration claims that the United States is leading on this issue, but the fact is that no one is following.
The International Energy Agency predicts global coal consumption will increase an average of 2.3 percent per year over the next five years, with China accounting for nearly 60 percent of that growth.   In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, Japan is shutting down nuclear power stations and is expected to become more dependent on coal.
In Europe, coal is more affordable than natural gas leading many countries to develop new coal-fueled power plants. Recent tension with Russia, a source of much of the continent’s natural gas supplies, will likely lead to even greater dependence on coal.
Some may give the Administration a pat on the back for setting an example on carbon regulations, but other nations are ignoring that example. Not only does this reduce the environmental impacts of the regulations, but it puts America at a competitive disadvantage.
Third, we know the new carbon regulations could do serious and long-lasting harm to our nation’s electricity grid. Environmentalists are fond of attacking those who question climate change, saying these people are ignoring the experts. When it comes to the risk of energy shortages and price spikes however, it is the EPA who is ignoring the experts.
Previous EPA regulations have forced utilities to announce that 330 coal-based power plants will be shutting down or converting to natural gas. Last winter, as the polar vortex brought record cold temperatures, utilities struggled to keep up with the demand. To avoid catastrophe, they relied on coal plants that are scheduled for closure next year.   
American Electric Power had to run 89 percent of its retiring plants to help keep the lights on , while Southern Company was utilizing 75 percent of its plants scheduled for shutdowns . Now, the EPA is poised to impose even greater restrictions that will lead to more coal plants being shutdown. During the next heat wave or cold spell, utilities will have nowhere to turn.
Last month Philip Moeller, a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), testified before Congress that he was concerned EPA regulations were being implemented without sufficient analysis of how they would impact our nation’s electrical grid. Moeller said that the events of last winter showed him that our power system is in a “more precarious situation” than he thought.  Yet the EPA’s response to these concerns seems to be centered on finding ways to shut down even more of America’s power plants.
From what we already know about the President’s carbon regulations, it’s not a stretch to say they are a failure even before they are announced. The Administration may believe they will cement the president’s legacy, but it will be a legacy of failed leadership on both environmental and energy

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