The Obama administration has just finished announcing the details of its Clean Power Plan and already there is fierce opposition to it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken the lead in the fight against the Clean Power Plan, even though his home state of Kentucky can easily comply with all of the plan’s provisions.
Why are McConnell and others getting his knickers in a bunch over this? Let’s look at some of the reasons, as enumerated by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
Fear And Loathing In The Utility Business
While some utility companies can look outside the windows of their posh corporate offices and see change on the horizon, many are petrified of doing so. They have been the beneficiaries of a protected monopoly for nearly 100 years and they don’t see any reason they should have to change.
Let the seas rise, the heavens fall, and billions of people suffer. Just don’t interfere with the utility companies’ God given right to get a guaranteed 6% return on their investment come hell or high water. Actually, it’s the high water part that we should all be concerned about.
According to the Edison Electric Institute, a utility industry trade group, the industry has almost $2 trillion dollars invested in long distance transmission lines, generating plants, substations, utility poles, wiring and transformers. Naturally, it wants to retire the debt on that equipment at some point.
Industry critics point out that much of that infrastructure is already paid for and that adding distributed renewables to the grid will greatly reduce the amount of money the industry will have to spend on such fixed assets in the future.
According to the EDF, “They would apparently rather spend money on lobbyists than on planning to thrive in a clean energy future. So they are pressuring Congress to block the rules, and sowing fear among their economically vulnerable constituents.”
The biggest component of their fear mongering is the cry that the Clean Power Plan will send utility bills through the roof. They make that claim knowing it to be false, according to the latest EPA study that says the Clean Power Plan will actual reduce the bills of utility customers.
Ideology Trumps Reason
Ideology is now the engine that drives American politics. Much of the opposition to the Clean Power Plan comes from career Washington pols like McConnell who are simply opposed to anything and everything the Obama administration proposes.
Republicans and Tea Party advocates have proven time and again they are in favor of nothing and opposed to everything. Wealthy interests fund think tanks that crank out research papers whose findings are pre-ordained. Intelligent debate is impossible in a world where Fox News is viewed by many as a credible news source.
The hue and cry in Washington is that all government regulation is bad — bad for jobs, bad for business, and bad for the economy. Although, as Forbes points out in a recent essay,
“Critics claim that the Plan is inherently unfair, punishes taxpayers and will destroy our economy, similar to what was claimed for the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and a host of other environmental changes that have kept our country reasonably cleaner and safer than most other nations in the world.
“Fair to say none of that ever happened. And none of that will happen if this Plan gets enacted. What would happen is the United States would get much cleaner and healthier air, regardless of what you think about climate change.”
Leveling The Playing Field
It is common to hear critics of government regulation complain that they are “just trying to level the playing field.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What those critics want are regulations that favor their vested interests as much as possible.
No industry can reasonably expect that it can pour the effluent and detritus from its operations into the environment and shift the cost of cleanup onto the shoulders of the taxpayers. That’s not leveling the playing field; that’s a form of looting the pubic treasury for private gain.
What Are The Benefits?
Under the Clean Power Plan, emissions of sulfur dioxide from power plants will be 90% lower in 2030 than2005 levels. Emissions of nitrogen oxides will be 72% lower and air-borne coal particulates will drop dramatically.
Such low levels will mean avoiding thousands of premature deaths and thousands fewer asthma attacks and hospitalizations in the future. Since coal kills about a million people worldwide each year, this public health aspect is the real strength of this Plan, even as climate change is used as the political driver.
By 2030, most of the coal powered plants now in use will be obsolete. Really all the electric utilities need to do to comply with the Clean Power Plan is take steps to replace those coal plants with renewables or natural gas.
Is that asking so much?