The Supreme Court handed a victory to Americans concerned with unelected bureaucrats driving up energy costs by overturning a costly regulation that lacks any meaningful environmental benefit. With more regulations with similar high costs and meaningless direct benefits, now Congress and the states must step up to reject overzealous regulators—not rely on the courts.
The issue the high court considered was the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard that regulates emissions from coal and oil-fired power plants.
The Clean Air Act directs the EPA to reduce air pollutants if the agency deems the regulation “appropriate and necessary.” The court ruled that the agency failed to consider costs in their latest determination.
And those costs are substantial. Per the EPA’s own calculation, the compliance costs are $9.6 billion annually. Industry projections are much higher and likely more accurate as the EPA grossly underestimated the number of power plants adversely affected.
Also per the EPA’s calculation, the direct benefits of reducing hazardous air pollutants are miniscule—at most $6 million each year.
To put that in perspective, it’s the cost-benefit equivalent of renting $1,600 in scuba gear to collect four quarters at the bottom of the lake. Every year.
The difference between heavy-handed regulations and the scuba diver is that the affected industries will pass the costs on to families and businesses. Americans feel the pain of higher energy prices directly, but also indirectly through almost all of the goods and services they buy, because energy is a necessary component of production and service. The cumulative result is fewer jobs and a weaker economy—all for naught.
Is the Supreme Court ruling too little, too late? After all, dozens of coal-fired power plants have closed their doors permanently (laying people off in the process) and others have installed costly technology because the EPA finalized the regulation in 2012.
Even so, the decision is important for a number of reasons. Typically, the courts defer to the judgment and interpretation of the regulatory agency but this time, the courts provided an important check on unelected bureaucrats’ power. When the costs are so high and the benefits are so low, those considerations shouldn’t be dismissed so readily by a regulator.
Furthermore, depending on how the EPA and Washington, D.C., Circuit Court address the regulation, the decision could save the tens of thousands of megawatts of affordable, reliable energy sources that asked the EPA for an extension to comply with the regulation.
If there’s a lesson to be learned for the states and Congress it’s that it’s time to step up. In the instance of the mercury regulation, the court reined in an overzealous EPA. However, our elected officials and state governments should not wait on court decisions.
By the end of the summer, the Obama administration will likely finalize climate change regulations on new and existing power plants that will have devastating economic effects by driving up energy prices … all for a change in the earth’s temperature that is almost too small to measure.
These climate change regulations have garnered bipartisan concern at all levels of government due to the threats the Clean Power Plan poses to the economy, quality of life, reliability of the national power grid and constitutional separation of powers. They will inevitably face legal challenges.
When EPA finalizes the Clean Power Plan, the agency will charge the states to develop their own implementation plan to meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets. No matter what path the state chooses, the plan will be costly. Why should the states go down a path similar to the mercury rule—of implementing costly climate plans that destroy jobs and curb economic growth for no direct environmental benefit—only to have a court decision tell the EPA to back off?
Congress should prohibit any agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and the states need to step forward and reject these regulations entirely, not succumb to the executive branch’s coercion. And both need to reassert their power before it’s too late.
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