With the election of Scott Brown and Senator Byron Dorgan’s recent comment that “it is unlikely that the Senate will turn next to a very complicated and very controversial subject of cap-and-trade, climate legislation,” the prospects for CO2 legislation are looking quite grim. But before American energy consumers can break out the champagne glasses, there are still economically threatening policies coming from the administration and Congress.
Just because carbon dioxide reductions won’t be passed by elected officials doesn’t mean unelected ones can’t do it. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving forward with its own set of global warming regulations. The EPA’s endangerment finding, which took effect last week, gives the EPA authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs).
The endangerment finding itself does not put into place any new regulations but does commence a long regulatory process beginning with finalizing plans to enforce greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for light-duty vehicles in March. The EPA could then move forward with regulating carbon emissions from stationary entities that would affect thousands of businesses and could eventually hit schools, restaurants, apartment complexes and churches. Congress could amend the CAA so that greenhouse gases like CO2, water vapor, etc., cannot be regulated under the act. But Congress could instead turn their attention to bad energy policy (See 2007 and 2005 for past examples).
Sen. Dorgan told reporters that it’s time to turn the Senate’s attention to an energy bill rather as opposed to a climate bill. In truth, the likely proposed ideas in an energy bill will be backdoor global warming measures that only raise the cost of energy and do little, if anything to improve the environment. The probable policies included would focus on 1.) Stricter energy efficiency standards for vehicles and appliances 2.) A national renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires a certain percentage of our electricity be met through non-hydro renewable sources, and 3.) An “expanded financing for low-emissions energy projects.”
Translation: Mandates, mandates and subsidies.
Forcing companies to make more energy efficient products may sounds like a good idea since it will save the consumer electricity, but often times the trade off is a more expensive product that may not work as well. How much energy are you saving if you have to wash your clothes twice instead of once?
When it comes RPS or RES (renewable electricity standards), Ben Lieberman writes that the only reason why a federally mandated RPS is needed in the first place is that that these alternatives are far too expensive to compete otherwise. In effect, Washington is forcing costlier energy options on the public. This is particularly true of certain states, especially those in the Southeast and parts of the Midwest, where the conditions are not conducive to wind power. And because renewable sources produce power in remote locations and the power must be brought to suburban and urban areas, there could be an additional $80 billion in costs for new transmission lines — not to mention the private property battles that will ensue.
The subsidy-first mentality has taken over energy policy – not just with handouts and tax credits for renewable energy but also for sources like nuclear energy. Instead of implementing market-oriented policies that can create an economically viable nuclear industry, Congress is focusing on loan guarantees, worker tax credits and other handouts. The short-term ideas may build a few new reactors but will do more harm than good for nuclear energy’s sustainability.
Although the chances of President Obama signing a cap and trade bill into law appear slim, there’s plenty of bad energy policy to worry about.