So the EPA is already telling us that it makes sense to pay tens of billions of dollars to save hundreds of thousands of dollars. But it’s even worse than that. The estimated cost of the regulation is almost certainly an understatement. (For example, a study released last year found that the cost of a particular 1998 regulation known as the Cluster Rule was 34% higher than the EPA’s original estimates.) And the estimated benefits may be even smaller: mercury emissions circulate globally, and according to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, U.S. power plants emit less than 48 tons of mercury per year, compared to 400 tons per year from Chinese power plants (and if you want to include Mother Nature in the mix, we can also mention the 9,000 tons per year that come from volcanoes, subsea vents and other natural sources).
Although the Utility MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) rule is not set to take effect until 2015, we have already observed several negative developments in response to these new regulations. First of all, power companies confirm that the Utility MACT makes it impossible for new coal plants to be built in the United States. Current coal plants are facing closures and are already generating less power, which means higher energy costs for everyone and thousands of lost jobs. The National Economic Research Associates estimate that the EPA’s Utility MACT will cost 180,000 to 215,000 jobs over the next two and half years. Including manufacturing jobs affected by coal regulations, job losses could top 1.4 million! Although the EPA touts a few hundred jobs created by this rule, most of those jobs would be temporary manufacturing jobs, and the total number would not come close to compensating for jobs lost. In an already struggling economy, the regulation seems almost suicidal.
As I have written for years, hikes in energy prices disproportionately hurt the poor and working class. It may irritate the wealthy to pay extra to keep their summer homes cool and their winter homes warm, but it will devastate those who already pay between 20%-35% of the income just to keep the lights on. The EPA’s latest assault on coal-fired power plants and coal-fueled manufacturing merely illustrates that they are happy to force poor Americans into a Stone Age lifestyle for the possibility of a miniscule improvement in air quality. The only thing standing between us and this astronomical spike in energy costs is our legislators.
We can have both clean air AND affordable energy, but only if the EPA is willing to face the realities about the limits and costs of regulations. It’s time that we call a truce in the energy war on the poor!
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.