Regulatory Reform

Regulation without Representation: How the EPA has become a Political Tool

In the January 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama called for the United States to produce 80 percent of its electricity from “clean” energy by 2035. The introduction of a Clean Energy Standard bill in Congress would further this goal by essentially forcing Americans to purchase politically preferred sources of renewable energy.

The Clean Energy Standard and discussions of a cap-and-trade program are political non-starters in Congress however, but what cannot be achieved with legislation can apparently be done outside of the democratic process through regulation. The EPA, through a recently proposed carbon dioxide regulation will now be forcing Americans to purchase renewable energy whether you like it or not.

On March 27, the EPA proposed a carbon dioxide standard for new power plants. This proposal requires that all new fossil-fuel fired power plants that exceed 25 megawatts in capacity (nearly all significant power plants) be able to meet an emission rate standard of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. The EPA notes that the standards would have to be met with either by natural gas combined cycle generation or coal-fired generation using carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – the commercially unproven process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide.

The carbon dioxide standard is a perfect example of how politically favored policies can be advanced under the guise of providing real health benefits. The Agency incessantly uses the words “pollutant” and “pollution” in reference to carbon dioxide, although as you learn in middle school science, carbon dioxide plays a vital role in the environment and has no direct negative human health effects. Ironically the EPA did not attempt to calculate health benefits of reducing carbon dioxide as an alleged “pollutant” because that’s not what this regulation is about as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says this regulation is to “move us into a new era of American energy.”

In order to justify a regulation, the EPA releases a regulatory impact analysis (RIA). In the carbon dioxide RIA, the EPA shows the true colors of its agenda, stating: “This proposed rule is consistent with the President’s goal to ensure that ‘by 2035 we will generate 80 percent of our electricity from a diverse set of clean energy sources.’

A product of decades and decades of an expanding and over-reaching federal government, the EPA is a living illustration of the erosion of constitutionally limited government in the United States. It is an unelected body of regulators who retain the power to mandate Obama’s wish list of energy production, regardless of the will of the people or those elected to represent the people

Another case in point is the EPA’s mandate to use carbon capture and sequestration. Despite Obama’s retreat from mentioning coal in his recent “all of the above” energy policy approach, the EPA will allow “clean coal” to meet the new standard. To the Agency, “clean coal” doesn’t mean new technologies to reduce real pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide or mercury; it means the use of CCS to capture a benign gas with no direct human health effects.

Not surprising since the EPA has been known to mandate technology that doesn’t exist, CCS is not yet available on a commercial scale. The Agency readily admits that CCS is not viable without a massive infusion of taxpayer dollars stating:“ New coal-fired power plants with CCS are being permitted and built today, albeit usually with considerable financial assistance from the federal government.”

The true purpose of the carbon dioxide standard is to force coal off of the electricity grid and allow for the achievement of Obama’s “clean” energy agenda. It is smooth politics over sound policies—policies approved by precisely zero elected officials, nonetheless.

Currently the proposed standards only affect the construction of new power plants, but the EPA has indicated the regulation of existing power plants and oil refineries in the future. Welcome to the era of regulation without representation.

In Depth: Regulatory Reform

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said that “the sum of good government” was one “which shall restrain men from injuring one another” and “shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry.” Sadly, governments – both federal and state – have ignored this axiom and…

+ Regulatory Reform In Depth