Last week the Environmental Protection Agency issued new standards for carbon dioxide requiring that fewer than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide be released per megawatt-hour of electricity. Plants running on natural gas already average below 850 pounds. Coal-fired plants, which emit on average 1,768 pounds per megawatt-hour, cannot achieve this without prohibitively expensive carbon capture and storage, or CCS.
The mandate came in response to a 2007 Supreme Court case instructing the EPA to determine whether carbon dioxide threatens public health and thus merits regulation under the Clean Air Act. The agency dutifully did, bowing to environmental zealots in late 2009 with its "endangerment finding."
Coal presently provides almost half our electricity. Given the enormous advantages of affordable energy, it is odd how adamantly certain parties disparage fossil fuels. Few of modern life's comforts and conveniences would remain feasible without combustible energy. Cheap energy extends and improves life. Forcing families to purchase not just electricity, but costly CCS contraptions too, propels prices higher.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson trumpets the agency's efforts assisting working-class Americans, who, she states, are disproportionately imperiled by global warming. Politically correct posturing aside, soaring energy costs also disproportionately harm lower-income families, for whom fuel constitutes a larger share of their budgets.
Amid mounting evidence that man-made global warming is vastly exaggerated, this mandate appears merely a fulfillment of then-candidate Barack Obama's boast, "So, if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant they can, it's just that [my policies] will bankrupt them."
The EPA's onerous, piecemeal emissions standards are now seeping out in reaction to the stalling of carbon cap and trade in the U.S. Senate. This barrage of bureaucratic diktats -- including last year's cross-state air pollution standards and recent mercury rulings clearly designed to discourage coal -- has resulted in numerous power plants already being needlessly shuttered.
EPA bureaucrats are not impartial defenders of public welfare. Particularly now, they are fervent environmentalists pursuing a radical agenda. Many of the same activists who originally sued the EPA in order to force the regulation of carbon later joined the agency, and now they hide behind the same Supreme Court victory they obtained at its expense. This includes Lisa Heinzerling, of whom Jackson gloated, "The lead author of Massachusetts vs. EPA came to work at the agency she once sued -- to see through the work she sued to do."
This latest assault on coal only applies to new plants, and the market's pendulum has swung temporarily toward natural gas anyway. Still, the Left's argument that this ruling therefore will not raise energy prices falls flat. If this does nothing, then why bother?
The new limits may not instantly catapult energy costs higher, but the suppression of coal could have long-term consequences. Had past decades' overbearing restrictions on drilling and oil refineries never occurred, gasoline would cost far less today. The EPA's fossil fuel vendetta will likely deliver similar costly future blows to working Americans' budgets.
Sure, there's "green" energy, but such sideshows will remain perpetually affixed to Washington's subsidy incubator so long as combustible energy persists. Alternative fuels become viable only when government deliberately makes traditional sources unviable. And such policies doubly whack taxpayers. Their electricity costs more, and their tax dollars are diverted to politically correct absurdities.
It will not suffice for a new administration to install more reasonable leadership next January. The EPA's corridors are staffed by hordes of fervent environmentalists. A new director may slow the advance of economic mayhem, but the bureaucracy is too entrenched, the zealots too focused.
As this charade revealing the farce of environmentalism highlights, Congress should dismantle the EPA. It no longer seeks America's best interests and it is redundant anyway, given that all fifty states have similar agencies. Let free markets direct energy policy, for everyone's benefit.
Bill Flax, a banker living in Cincinnati, is a contributor for Forbes and a contributing writer for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.