Editor’s note: This column was co-authored by Roger Bezdek.
The Obama Environmental Protection Agency and environmental activists frequently claim that climate change will disproportionately affect poor and minority communities. In their view, this justifies unprecedented environmental regulations, like EPA's pending “Clean Power Plan” (CPP) to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from coal and gas-fueled power plants 30% by 2030.
But what effect will the regulation itself have on poor and minority communities?
The plan will result in higher electricity costs for businesses and families, lost jobs, lower incomes, higher poverty rates, reduced living standards, and diminished health and welfare, our exhaustive recent study found. This damage will be inflicted at the national level and in all 50 states. The CPP will impact all low-income groups, but hit America’s 128 million Blacks and Hispanics especially hard.
The EPA rules will: 1) more than double the cost of natural gas and electricity, adding over $1 trillion to family and business energy bills; 2) require average families to pay $1,225 more in inflation-adjusted dollars for power and gas in 2030 than in 2012; 3) destroy millions of jobs in companies and industries that can no longer compete, here or internationally; and 4) significantly reduce U.S. economic growth every year for the next two decades, causing more than $2.3 trillion in total lost gross domestic product.
Compared to whites, blacks and Hispanics already spend 50% and 10% more of their incomes on utilities, respectively, 20% and 90% more on food, and 10% and 5% more on housing. The EPA regulations will significantly increase the minority family “energy burden” – the percentage of annual household incomes they must pay for residential energy bills – and thus the number of families driven into energy poverty. Inability to pay energy bills is second only to inability to pay rent as the leading cause of homelessness, so increasing numbers of poor and minority families will become homeless.
Black and Hispanic household incomes will decline by increasing amounts every year, while their food and healthcare costs will climb significantly, since those business sectors will also have to pay much more for energy. The poverty rate will increase by more than 23% for blacks and more than 26% for Hispanics.
EPA’s rule will force poor and minority families to choose between buying food, putting gas in the car, going to the doctor, buying medicines, giving to their church, saving for retirement, or making mortgage, rent and car payments. Small businesses will have to find thousands more just to keep the heat, lights and air conditioning on, without laying people off or closing their doors. Factories, malls, school districts, hospitals and cities will have to pay millions more for energy.
By 2035, cumulative job losses resulting from the rule will total 7 million for blacks and 12 million for Hispanics. Most of these losses will occur in localities where blacks and Hispanics are most heavily concentrated. The rule will especially harm residents of seven states with the highest concentrations of blacks and Hispanics: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York and Texas.
Entire communities could sink into poverty. Bread winners lucky enough to find work will be forced to take multiple jobs, commute longer distances, and suffer severe sleep deprivation. Families will have to cope with more stress, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, spousal and child abuse. Nutrition and medical care will suffer. More people will have strokes and heart attacks.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) bluntly summed up the effects of EPA’s “clean power” rules. “A lot of people on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum are going to die,” he said.
Ironically, these are the very people that Obama and EPA claim to care about the most. As African-American author and news analyst Deneen Borelli observes, President Obama “is rewarding his overwhelming support by black voters with an energy policy that will significantly reduce their disposable income.” Indeed, she says, climate change is “the green movement’s new Jim Crow law.”
National Black Chamber of Commerce President Harry Alford accurately called EPA’s carbon dioxide regulation “a slap in the face to poor and minority families.”
Blacks and Hispanics work hard to provide better futures for their children. The EPA regulations will push the American dream even further out of reach for them. Their incomes will be less, their unemployment rates will increase substantially, and it will take those who are out of work longer to find another job. Blacks and Hispanics are often the “last hired and the first fired.”
These are real impacts. However, EPA refuses to consider them, much less tabulate them and compare them to supposed regulatory benefits. It won’t even acknowledge that the health and climate risks that its costly regulations will allegedly prevent are in fact speculative, exaggerated and even fabricated.
For almost 20 years, average planetary temperatures have barely budged, even as carbon dioxide levels “soared” from 0.03% all the way to 0.04% of Earth’s atmosphere. No category 3-5 hurricane has hit the United States for a record 9-1/2 years. Tornadoes, floods, droughts, polar bears, polar ice, sea levels and wildfires are all in line with, or better than, historic patterns and trends. Meanwhile, the Sahel is green again, thanks to that extra plant-fertilizing carbon dioxide, without which life on Earth would end.
Moreover, even if CO2 does drive climate change, slashing US greenhouse gas emissions would bring no benefits, since China, India and other developing nations will not be reducing their enormous emissions.
Other EPA rules are equally suspect. Its mercury regs are based on an imaginary group of US women who catch and eat 300 pounds of fish annually – and whose children would supposedly improve their IQs by an un-measurable 0.00209 points if coal-fired power plants are shut down. As to soot, EPA’s illegal experiments on 296 people found that even “dangerous” or “lethal” exposures harmed no one.
Our air is clean. We don’t need these job-killing, health-impairing EPA regulations. But our governing elites will not give up their power or perks – or their propensity for playing with people’s livelihoods, living standards, health and well-being, for virtually no climate stability, air quality or other benefits.
The good news is that all of this is not inevitable. A recent Supreme Court decision held that EPA should have considered these and other enormous costs from its “mercury and air toxics” regulations, before imposing the rules. The decision should give governors and federal and state lawmakers every incentive to resist EPA’s harmful and dictatorial actions, and not wait for the CPP regulation to go into effect.
A dozen states have already sued EPA over its Clean Power Plan, which is opposed by experts on both sides of the aisle – and even noted liberal constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe. Other states should join the suit, demand a full accounting of regulatory costs, and simply refuse to implement the plan.
As currently written, the regulation calls on unelected state environmental agencies to draft their own state plans and submit them directly to EPA for review and approval. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has signed an executive order blocking her state's environmental agency from submitting a plan. Other states have introduced legislation to the same effect. More should follow them into battle.
The grim reality is that the EPA wants states to do their dirty work for them. By submitting a plan, states will become complicit in the agency's plan to shut down affordable, reliable power generation, destroy jobs and livelihoods, and plunge minority families deeper into poverty, hardship and ill health.
For the sake of their constituents, elected officials in Washington and state capitals have an obligation to fight this federal takeover of state authority. They should act soon. EPA is scheduled to release its final regulation in August, initiating a one-year period before states will be forced to comply.
As this deadline approaches, our elected officials should determine how best to confront – and resist – EPA’s latest power grab. They should remember that the jobs, economic well-being, health and very lives of millions of minority and blue-collar families hang in the balance.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and coauthor of Cracking Big Green: Saving the world from the Save-the-Earth money machine. Dr. Roger Bezdek is an internationally recognized energy analyst and president of Management Information Services, Inc., in Washington, DC (www.MISI-net.com).