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EPA’s Gift Horse — Governors Have a Better Choice


This spring, as coal companies, their employees and suppliers are wondering if the bear market will finish them off, the Obama administration is proposing a new carbon rule to finish off any survivors. Our industry is most exposed to the coming damage from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, but soon enough others will feel our pain, too. A nation snoozing through an endless presidential campaign, comforted by low gas prices, is about to be rudely awakened to the prospect of higher utility bills.

Later this summer our president’s central planners will unveil the centerpiece of his pledge to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. EPA’s plan sets a carbon reduction target for each state that promises to reduce total US emissions by 30% by 2030. A mid-term progress requirement means states have to hop to it. If they don’t, EPA is threatening to impose a federal plan.

But hop to what? The agency is asking states to adopt four “building blocks” to meet their emissions goal. It won’t shock Coal Age readers to learn that energy and legal experts are telling EPA that each block — fuel switching, improved energy efficiency, better plant performance, more renewable energy infrastructure — is implausible or unrealistic. Some legal scholars, including the president’s former law professor, say the plan is even unconstitutional.

It’s as if the Clean Power Plan carries a warranty that in fine print reads: This plan won’t work at a cost your state can afford, achieves no meaningful environmental benefit and may be unlawful.

EPA waves off these criticisms but governors shouldn’t. By accepting the plan’s onerous conditions, states become victims in EPA’s version of “The Hunger Games.” No combination of building blocks will allow a state to avoid higher electricity prices, weakened grid reliability and constant harassment by activists and EPA lawyers eager to enforce state plans in court. That’s because governors buying this plan also face legal obligations to fulfill it. So not only would they impose costly conditions on their citizens, they willingly become hostages to Michael Bloomberg’s activists and EPA attorneys who will sue states for any perceived failure to comply.

Luckily, governors have a better choice. NMA is advising them to call the agency’s bluff — decline the state plan and let EPA try to impose those costly conditions through a federal plan. Our reading of the Clean Air Act gives EPA far less authority to push states around with a federal plan than it has through a state plan it wants governor to accept. By taking the federal plan, households and businesses will pay only for improving power plant efficiency, not the far higher price tag for upending the state’s entire power grid that comes with a state plan.

EPA knows its legal and technical competence is too weak to take over the state’s grid, so it relies on cunning. Think of the state plan as EPA’s version of the Athenians’ Trojan horse, a “gift” to states — full of “options” and “flexibility,” says the agency. But a state that adopts it also brings inside its borders costly, federally-enforceable strictures — strictures EPA can’t legally impose from without. “Accepting EPA’s state plan opens the gates for EPA to wrest control of the state’s energy policy when the state is unable to deliver the reductions EPA demands, now or in the future,” warns NMA’s CEO Hal Quinn.

We know what happened in The Iliad when Troy failed to “beware Greeks bearing gifts” and pulled the Trojan horse inside the city’s walls. Any state that accepts EPA’s gift will suffer a similar fate.


Luke Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.