Right Wing Groups Play the Energy Reliability Card to Oppose EPA MACT Rule

Four right-wing and right-leaning anti-big government groups contend the EPA is “abusing” air-quality laws because the agency’s MACT (maximum achievable control technology) utility rules will force coal-fired electrical plants to shut down, thus jeopardizing the security and reliability of the U.S. power supply.

A petition last week by the Institute for Liberty, Americans for Prosperity, Center for Rule of Law, and the Freedom Through Justice Foundation is asking EPA to “look at the facts on electric reliability and its Utility MACT rule, which the agency is rushing to finalize in November.”

The coalition’s petition contends the EPA is rushing to judgment and questions the EPA’s assumptions on electric reliability. “EPA has never taken reliability seriously,” it says.

“The message of this petition is simple: slow down, do the job right, and do not put reliable electric service at risk.”

It sounds reasonable on the surface. But it’s a cleverly-veiled attack on all things EPA by the Republican Party. (The public relations firm that provided 3p with the information about the coalition’s petition includes the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and he National Republican Senatorial Committee in its client base.)

It’s also part of a larger campaign in Congress to box up and derail the EPA. The House of Representatives recently passed the TRAIN Act, which calls for establishing a committee to analyze the economic impact of recent EPA regulations. The bill includes an amendment to delay EPA’s Utility MACT and new transport rules that set more stringent emissions standards on large institutions. It would delay EPA action on the rules until six months after completion of the TRAIN Act analysis.

In other words it would choke off any action on air quality for years.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune had this to say about House passage of the TRAIN Act on September 23:

“The U.S. House Leadership’s continued, all-out assault on essential clean air protections demonstrates a complete and reckless disregard for Americans’ well-being and the things we care most about – our health, our families’ health and air that’s safe to breathe.

“House Leadership claims that the costs of basic pollution protections, protections that Americans have relied on for 40 years, are too high. But their passage today of the so-called TRAIN Act will cost 34,000 lives. That’s 34,000 people – fathers, mothers, neighbors, friends and children – who could be saved by protections against dangerous pollution and who the majority of the U.S. House has identified as collateral damage for their pro-polluter agenda. In addition to these initial, unnecessary deaths, the TRAIN Act will result in 25,000 more lives lost each year that it delays critical protections against pollution.

“Sacrificing tens of thousands of American lives will not create more jobs. Allowing corporations to dump toxic pollution into the air our children and our families breathe will not help the economy recover. Burdening the American people with billions of dollars in health bills will not lead to economic growth.”

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman recently weighed-in on this topic from an economic perspective, writing in his blog about an American Economic Association paper, “Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy,” by Nicholas Z. Muller, Robert Mendelsohn and William Nordhaus. The paper estimates the cost imposed on society by air pollution and allocates it across industries. The costs do not include the long-term threats imposed by climate change.

“Even with this restricted vision of costs,” Krugman writes, “they find that the costs of air pollution are big, and heavily concentrated in a few industries.

“In fact, there are a number of industries that inflict more damage in the form of air pollution than the value-added by these industries at market prices.

“It’s important to be clear about what this means. It does not necessarily say that we should end the use of coal-generated electricity. What it says, instead, is that consumers are paying much too low a price for coal-generated electricity, because the price they pay does not take account of the very large external costs associated with generation. If consumers did have to pay the full cost, they would use much less electricity from coal — maybe none, but that would depend on the alternatives.”

So what spin is more reasonable: the right’s agenda? Or clean air? It should be an easy call.

 [Image Credit: coal-fired plant, Flickr Creative Commons]

writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by

5 responses

  1. We need to recognize that environmental standards can actually make us more competitive, not less. If we reduce or eliminate environmental standards, then the only basis for competition in markets for fuels and products is price. That gives the country with the least sophisticated, lowest cost labor a distinct competitive advantage. The US cannot will never be competitive under those circumstances. Enforcing high environmental standards actually gives the US a competitive advantage by placing a premium of innovation.

    John Howley

  2. As a libertarian I do not agree with a national EPA that abridges the 10th amendment. I believe each state should have their own environmental controls (like California) and that for multi-state debates on issues that there be a multi-state committee that citizens, experts, and state representatives go to and discuss issues and even have individual states who didnt have one law agree to pass their own versions of discussed environmental laws.

    1. Matt, the problem with a 10th amendment argument on pollution is that more often than not, pollution and other environmental externalities cross state lines. They also cross international lines, for that matter.

      I like the committee idea in theory, but if one state just says, screw it, we’re pumping out tons of unregulated coal power that causes acid rain and god knows what else downstream, who can stop ’em?

  3. The issue from an outsider is the EPA appears to have been politicized when it should be truly independent. The fact that the EPA is being used to impose CO2 restrictions against the congress wishes should be proof itself. The EPA should simply lay down rules on pollution output (a pollutant must be demonstrably bad for health at the levels it would exist ie CO2 is not a pollutant but sulfur is). If the output levels can be met through technology etc who cares what is used to produce the power.

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