THE Obama administration touts climate change as a “legacy” issue. On Tuesday the president unveiled several measures to supposedly combat it. The most significant involves stricter carbon-pollution standards for new and existing power plants — imposed without congressional approval.
Doing an end run around public accountability and governmental checks-and-balances is troubling, but that's hardly the only flaw in Obama's scheme.
If his plans are implemented, Obama's “legacy” will include higher consumer costs, lower quality of life and zero impact on climate change. None.
The problem for Obama is that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have already been declining for years, but foreign production is increasing. Thanks largely to increased natural gas production — which occurred despite Obama — market forces are causing U.S. power production to naturally shift from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas. U.S. carbon emissions are down almost 13 percent since 2008.
But at the same time, foreign coal use is surging. As The Oklahoman's Adam Wilmoth noted recently, China and India together are averaging four new coal power plants every week. In 2011, China added more coal plants than there are in Texas and Ohio combined. China now accounts for half of global coal consumption.
U.S. coal exports reached a record 13.6 million short tons in March. More than 100 million short tons may be exported this year. Just because we won't burn the coal here doesn't mean it won't be burned. Obama's efforts to further reduce U.S. emissions are meaningless. Writing at National Review online, Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, noted, “Over the past decade, global carbon dioxide emissions would have risen by 2.6 billion tons even if U.S. emissions had gone to zero.”
Furthermore, it remains debatable that mankind is causing climate change. The globe hasn't warmed as predicted for more than a decade now, even with emissions increasing.
What's not in doubt is that Obama's policies will hurt consumers by arbitrarily forcing abrupt elimination of viable coal-fired power generation via government edict, not market forces. Public Service Co. of Oklahoma previewed that reality after federal regulators effectively forced the company to phase out its coal plants by 2026. This process will cost more than $350 million and increase customer rates by at least 11 percent starting in 2016. Tom Schroedter, Oklahoma executive director of Industrial Energy Consumers, warned the plan could “result in the largest single rate increase, to my knowledge, ever for PSO's customers in the company's 100-year history.”
The Obama plan would supersize that impact nationally. Higher prices for all; benefit for none.
Obama's focus on this issue is puzzling, and not simply because it won't impact global warming. Polling shows voters rank many issues ahead of global warming and environmental concerns. An April poll by Rasmussen Reports found that likely U.S. voters ranked the environment behind the economy, health care, job creation, government ethics, government spending, taxes, Social Security, education, small business, gun control, immigration, national security and energy.
So Obama is trying to “solve” a low-priority voter issue in a way that could negatively impact voters' actual top issue, the economy. Obama's plan isn't simply a solution in search of a problem. It's worse. This is an expensive nonsolution to a problem that may not even exist, implemented in a way that will create genuine economic harm.