Nicolas Loris /
Rather quietly, the Obama administration is putting together a climate action plan that it intends to implement without legislative approval. It’s a creative approach to governing. But the plan will drive up energy prices for American families and businesses without making a dent in global temperatures.
When Congress refused to pass cap-and-trade legislation, intended to slash greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, President Obama announced there was more than one way to skin the cat. Through climate plans, executive orders, and regulatory action, he directed his agencies to find ways to curb the country’s carbon dioxide output and commit to reducing GHG emissions.
Leading the charge, unsurprisingly, is the Environmental Protection Agency. The forthcoming regulations on new and existing power plants are simply a bureaucratic alternative to cap-and-trade. They will effectively bar construction of new coal-fired power plants and force existing plants to retire sooner than they otherwise would. Removing coal — an affordable, reliable energy source — will stick Americans with higher energy bills and higher prices for a wide variety of goods and services. This will slow the general economy, hitting our manufacturing base especially hard. Heritage economists modeled the effects of a 20-year phaseout of coal generation and found annual household-income losses of $1,200 per year and annual job losses of nearly 600,000 as early as 2023.
Efficiency regulations are another tool the administration favors for curtailing GHGs. The EPA, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Energy have all gotten into this act. Vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, now jacked up to 54.5 miles per gallon for 2025, will increase sticker prices $3,000, by the government’s own account. And, as my colleague David Kreutzer writes, new efficiency standards for microwave ovens on standby mode will save you an estimated $1.20 per year — although you’ll have to replace the ovens far more frequently.
Sold under the pretense of saving consumers money and fighting climate change at the same time, these regulations produce higher upfront costs for products, overstate energy savings, and create poorer product quality. The most glaring problem is the paternalistic role of the federal government in all this. That is, when the government forces efficiency measures on people, it takes away choices or overrides them. In telling the American people what makes them better off, the feds in their hubris ignore that families and business owners make energy-saving investments when it makes sense for them to do so.
Further, through the Department of Defense, the so-called greening of our military has been costly and ineffective at improving mission capability. Biofuels for the Navy and the Air Force have provided no benefit, but considerable cost. It might be worth it if these programs somehow improved military preparedness and proficiency. But they don’t.
Then, of course, there’s the State Department. It will decide whether to approve or reject the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — and President Obama has emphasized that GHG emissions will be the determining factor. Here’s a project that would bring nearly a million barrels of oil per day to Gulf Coast refineries that employ American workers — without significantly increasing greenhouse-gas emissions. And yet it still doesn’t have the green light.
Even America’s foreign policy can’t escape the reach of the administration’s climate agenda. Secretary of State John Kerry, a cap-and-trade co-sponsor in his Senate days, has been pushing to build an international agreement on global warming. The problem is that the basic approach is unworkable. International negotiations have centered on placing the economic burden of addressing climate change on a handful of developed countries while asking nothing from more than 100 developing countries, where greenhouse-gas emissions are soaring.
Developing countries, primarily India and China, have made it clear that they have no appetite for slow economic growth or for curbing use of conventional fuels. China can wax poetic about implementing its own cap-and-trade plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but rather than suffer the attendant economic pain, it will doubtless resort to fudging numbers or simply not reporting its annual emissions.
The president is quietly collecting a list of his “achievements” on climate change. Doubtless, there will be no full accounting of the results: higher energy bills, fewer jobs, lost economic opportunity, wasted taxpayer dollars, and zero environmental benefit. In fact, by shrinking our disposable resources, his efforts diminish our ability to address real environmental problems.
Action is necessary on climate change, but not to halt carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions. Congress should prevent the EPA and all other federal agencies from regulating those emissions or funding projects that have a specific aim to reduce them.
— Nicolas Loris is the Heritage Foundation’s Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow, specializing in energy and environmental issues.