Rarely does the mainstream media adroitly describe the current condition of American energy policy, but that’s exactly what the Wall Street Journal did today. In an editorial aptly titled “EPA’s War on Jobs,” the WSJ takes the agency to task for over-zealous regulation of mercury and other air pollutants. The rule is often referred to as Utility MACT, after the “maximum achievable control technology” requirement that hits coal-fired generation particularly hard.
Among other criticism,the WSJ points out that “even by the EPA’s lowball estimates, it is the most expensive rule in the agency’s history.” And they’re correct. Some estimates range as high as $300 billion by 2015, much higher than EPA’s admitted $11 billion price tag. And just what does that price tag buy us?
The WSJ writes, “According to the EPA’s own numbers, every dollar in direct benefits costs $1,847. The reason is that electric generation – yes, even demon coal – results in negligible quantities of air pollutants like mercury. And mercury is on the decline: In 2005, the entire U.S. coal fleet emitted 26% less than the EPA predicted.”
But here’s the most important truth from the WSJ: “The real goal of the EPA’s rule is to shut down fossil fuel electric power in the name of climate change. The consensus estimate in the private sector is that the utility rule and eight others on the EPA docket will force the retirement of 60 out of the country’s current 340 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity. Reliability downgrades will hit the South and Midwest where coal energy is concentrated. American Electric Power recently announced that the rules will force it to shut down five plants in West Virginia and Ohio, a quarter of its coal fleet.” Nail, meet hammer.
The debate over American energy policy and our nation’s regulatory climate is entering a new era, one that transitions from rhetoric into tough reality. Power producers are making plans to shut down coal-fired plants. Jobs are on the line. So are power prices. Unless lawmakers act soon, it will be time to brace for impact.
“The least Congress can do is force the EPA to delay the final utility rule to allow for more public debate, though a better option would be to junk it,” the WSJ says. We agree.