America is poised to become the "no pee" section of the global swimming pool and the useless actions will cost us a bundle — raising energy costs, adding new taxes, and further crippling the economy. Yet, for President Obama, it's all about legacy.
On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its new rules for CO2 emissions from existing electricity generating plants — which the New York Times states: "could eventually shut down hundreds of coal-fueled power plants across the country."
Supporters seem gleeful. USA Today cites the Center for American Progress' Daniel J. Weiss as saying: "No president has ever proposed a climate pollution clean up this big." In the Washington Post, advocacy group Clean Air Watch's director, Frank O'Donnell is quoted as saying: "This is a magic moment for the president — a chance to write his name in the record books." The Times claims the plans: "the strongest action ever taken by an American president to tackle climate change," could: "become one of the defining elements of Mr. Obama's legacy."
When the plan was released, there were two key aberrations. Much can be gleaned from what didn't happen.
It was widely believed that President Obama would make the announcement himself. Just two weeks ago, regarding Monday's rule release, EPA's Gina McCarthy said: "The president has indicated his intent to announce himself." The Hill reported: "McCarthy called the move by Obama to announce the proposal 'a strong indication of how important he sees this.'" But when it came right down to it, McCarthy made the announcement while Obama, according to the Times, played "a supporting role by making a telephone call to the American Lung Association."
The White House's own website, in November 2009, announced Obama's plans: "In light of the President's goal to reduce emissions 83 percent by 2050, the expected pathway set forth in this pending legislation would entail a 30 percent reduction below 2005 levels in 2025 and a 42 percent reduction below 2005 in 2030." Many media outlets, including the left-leaning Daily Beast, have indicated: "The EPA rules issued Monday are largely modeled on a March 2013 blueprint from the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)." The Council plan projects 35-40 percent cuts in CO2 emissions over 2012 levels by 2025. As a result it was reasonable to expect reductions in the 40 percent range.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce did an extensive analysis of the impacts of carbon cuts of 42 percent — and the results aren't pretty. But when the draft regulations came out, the goal was 30 percent, not 42, or even 35-40.
The EPA attempted to debunk the Chamber's claims. Tom Reynolds, the EPA's associate administrator for external affairs, called the report: "Nothing more than irresponsible speculation based on guesses of what our draft proposal will be." Reynolds continued: "Just to be clear — it's not out yet. I strongly suggest that folks read the proposal before they cry the sky is falling."
Obviously Reynolds knew what the rest of us didn't.
Bloomberg calls the new rule "politically painful" for Democrats from coal-producing regions "as it forces power-plant closures and threatens to increase electricity rates for consumers."
It is clear that the administration has received pushback over the reported economic impacts of the regulations — which tells us why Obama didn't make the announcement himself and why the required reduction was lower than expected. (It is important to note that within the proposed rule is an acknowledgement that the final number could be much higher — likely, closer to the expected 40 to 42 percent range.)
The Chamber reported that global emissions are expected to rise by 31 percent between 2011 and 2030, yet, all the pain — economic and political — the new regulations, based on the reductions in the 40 percent range, would inflict "would only reduce overall emissions levels by just 1.8 percentage points." Now, with the 30 percent reduction number, the global impact will be much smaller.
Defending the Natural Resources Defense Council plan, David Hawkins, director of climate programs, is quoted in Grist: "Power plants don't operate in a vacuum. The energy they produce is fungible." The same is true for the emissions. The United States can adopt these draconian regulations, but the United States doesn't operate in a vacuum. The emissions are fungible.
Bloomberg states: "The administration and its Democratic allies are bracing for a political fight over the rule, which is critical to Obama's legacy on climate and his efforts to coax other nations to agree."
Australia has already walked away from its previous administration's stringent climate policies due to economic pain and public backlash. Germany is becoming more dependent on coal-fueled electricity. Wood is the number one renewable fuel in Europe. China and India have repeatedly refused to stop their economic growth by cutting back on their fossil fuel-based energy usage.
All the regulations the administration may impose will not "coax" the rest of the world to follow. Just because we declare that we won't pee in the pool, won't stop the others. And, just like the water in the pool, CO2 emissions are fungible.
We'll be stuck in our little no-pee section with a crippled economy while the rest of the world will be frolicking in unfettered growth. As chlorine, filters and other processes make public pools safe for swimming, scrubbers and other pollution controls have already dramatically cleaned up the air in America. But Obama needs his legacy — and that will be hurting our economy and killing American jobs.