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An Extraordinary Job


By Luke Popovich

“We’re doing an extraordinary job making this the best, cooperative proposal EPA [the Environmental Protection Agency] has ever put out.” — EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, March 31, on the Clean Power Plan.

Before you dismiss this whopper as almost laughably disingenuous, consider two caveats. First, it’s from Washington’s premier regulatory bureaucrat. And by that low standard, this assertion about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) is no more deceitful than other “I’ll-love-you-in-the-morning” utterances that routinely pass the laugh test in this town.

Second, the CPP is the best proposal the EPA has ever put out. There’s some fine print for you. Depending on your view, this caveat could lower the standard of truth even further, down into the realm of “truthiness” that passes for the real thing here. The EPA, ever faithful to Jack Nicholson’s famous line, knows that “you can’t handle the truth.”

For the real truth is scary. The EPA is testing — some legal experts say violating — the limits of the law to force onto states a plan devised by environmental activists that is purposefully designed to deny households and industries across the country access to their most abundant, dependable fuel for generating electricity. It is a plan imposed on states by ideologues who are unanswerable to voters and indifferent to costs, a plan based on calculations and assumptions few energy experts accept, achieves no measurable environmental benefit, and is sold in a campaign so brazenly bogus it would make a used car salesman blush.

This administration has been responsible for more big-ticket regulations in six years than any previous administration hatched in eight years. And that was true even before the EPA’s proposal to tighten the current ozone standard and begins to slow economic growth, and before the full impacts of the CPP raise power prices. Could this legacy be one reason why capital investment, productivity gains and high-wage job growth are all slowing? That’s the truth the EPA can’t handle.

Last month, Senate oversight committees asked the National Mining Association (NMA) and other industrial associations to identify regulations that are redundant and duplicative or stupid and unnecessary. In baseball, that question is a slider hanging over the middle of the plate. NMA offered several examples, but two should interest Coal Age readers.

The first regulatory example is the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, or MATS. The air toxics regulation that the EPA loaded in at the 12th hour will be responsible for the retirement of up to 60,000 MW of coal generation, even though the EPA itself determined air toxics pose no danger to public health. But achieving no health benefits has proven to be very expensive. The agency itself acknowledged costs of $10 billion each year in return for benefits of only $4-$6 million. The rule was sold with the same cavalier dismissal of real world impacts that the agency now uses to sell the CPP to the states.

For variety’s sake, we went outside of the EPA to identify a second dumb, costly rule, this one from the Office of Surface Mining. The agency’s Stream Protection Rule (SPR) achieves the trifecta rarely achieved even in this administration.

First, the SPR is unnecessary; the agency says new science justifies the rule but refuses to disclose what breakthroughs in molecular biology make the rule essential. In fact, state agencies charged with implementing the SPR saw no need for it, while OSM’s own oversight found diminishing impacts from surface coal mining operations.

Second, the SPR will be expensive; that is, it will be costly to do nothing worthwhile. OSM’s own contractors said 7,000 coal miners could lose their jobs and an independent analysis concluded the nationwide job toll could be between 55,000 to 79,000. Finally, the rule is duplicative; the EPA is already doing under the Clean Water Act what OSM wants to do.

Needless, costly, duplicative — normally, three strikes and you’re out. But not in this regulatory game. The president’s executive order told his regulators to review and eliminate unnecessary rules. Does anyone listen to this man?


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