Last week, the Enviromental Protection Agency announced the “Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule,” which is the proposed replacement to the so-called “Clean Power Plan” (CPP). After 8 long years of the prior administration’s misuse of environmental regulations to promote an anti-fossil fuel ideology, pick winners and losers, and illegally shift power from the states to the federal government, this proposal is another example of the current administration efforts to keep EPA in its lane as a regulator – bound to the rule of law and in partnership with states, not in control of them. This American approach to environmental regulation has served as a model to the world because it focuses on technology, not ideology. It is through the development and deployment of pollution control technology, once commercially demonstrated, that the United States has achieved the cleanest air in the world, despite repeated false claims to the contrary by anti-fossil fuel advocates (http://maps.who.int/airpollution/).
While the CPP’s abuses were shrouded in complexity and an unprecedented public relations blitz by the prior administration claiming “market forces” and “flexibility,” it was easily the high-water mark of federal government overreach in the energy policy arena. See our full commentary for an explanation of how the ACE Rule puts EPA back on course and how it still needs to take additional steps to ensure that all source categories (not just power plants) are protected by statutory text of the Clean Air Act, which requires EPA to factor in a common-sense assessment of the relatively minor U.S. contribution to an ever-evolving global issue. We also explain how the ACE Rule is a step in the right direction by making common-sense improvements to the New Source Review (NSR) program that currently deters facilities from enhancing their efficiency, which is the most cost-effective way to improve environmental performance.
The opponents of the ACE Rule can’t seem to make up their minds – on the one hand they claim climate and public health catastrophe will ensue and, on the other, many claim that the market is already doing what the CPP was going to do. Which is it? Actually, it is neither.
As already noted, even the World Health Organization acknowledges that the ambient air in the United States is safe. Driving all fossil energy out of the mix might make renewable energy advocates feel good, but toxicologists will tell you that eliminating all fossil fuels does not deliver measurable human health benefits when we are already achieving health-based ambient air quality standards.
Climate catastrophe claims also fail without even debating the very questionable claim linking every weather event to fossil fuels. Using the methodology deployed by the Obama EPA in assessing the global benefit of U.S. carbon reductions, eliminating U.S. power plant carbon emissions would effect a 0.4% reduction in global CO2 concentration (2.06 PPM of the 500 PPM projected 2050 global concentration of CO2). This corresponds to a reduction in global temperature of 0.021 degree Fahrenheit, which would mitigate sea level rise by less than 1/50th of an inch. Not exactly moving the needle. And, remember, this is even before you debate whether global climate science is “settled.”
As for those press reports claiming that the markets are doing what the CPP would have done, once again, don’t believe everything you read. American electricity markets have become so distorted with direct and indirect energy subsidies, that nobody can expect those markets to tell us anything about what is or is not “competitive.” What we do know is that the CPP would have forced the premature retirement of hundreds of simple-cycle coal and natural gas plants, which would have stranded assets, inflicted devastating economic impacts on energy states and ratepayers across the country, and done very little to impact the environment. It really was “all pain, no gain.”
Hats off to the current Administration’s efforts in the ACE Rule to return our nation’s largest environmental agency back to its statutory role – protecting the environment, not directing energy policy.
Mike Nasi is an environmental and energy attorney with Jackson Walker LLP, where he has been practicing before state and federal environmental and energy agencies and appellate courts for 24 years. He is director of the Life:Powered project.