Guest opinion: Chamber's numbers don't make a case against EPA rule

2014-06-17T00:00:00Z 2014-06-17T15:39:14Z Guest opinion: Chamber's numbers don't make a case against EPA ruleBy DICK BARRETT The Billings Gazette
June 17, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Glenn Oppel’s attack on the new EPA carbon standards for existing power plants in the June 10 Gazette does a serious disservice both to the facts and to intelligent public discussion of this important initiative to combat climate change.

With respect to the facts: Oppel cites a several negative impacts of the standards – on GDP, employment, electricity costs and so forth – without telling us that the numbers apparently come from a study commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And here’s the thing: Whether or not you think the study is valid, it is important to know that it was an attempt to assess the impacts of a much larger reduction in emissions than actually called for in the EPA standards. So the facts and numbers which Oppel liberally cites are totally inapplicable to the standards we are actually dealing with, and Oppel should know that.

With respect to intelligent discussion: Oppel gives us a lot of big, scary numbers to worry about, but no way of judging their significance. So, for example, he tells us that implementing the standards will reduce US GDP by $51 billion every year through 2030. That sounds pretty bad, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that average value of GDP over the same period to be about $20 trillion. So the cost of the standards (well not the real standards, but the stiffer ones Oppel is apparently talking about) are about one quarter of 1 percent of GDP. That’s really pretty cheap.

Oppel asks us to weigh the cost of implementing the standards against a reduction in global emissions of 1.8 percent, as though it were self-evident that this is obviously a bad deal. But if we are going to measure the costs in dollars, we ought as well to measure the benefits in dollars. What we want to know is not that global emissions are going down by 1.8 percent, but the dollar value of the reduced damages we will experience as a result of that emissions reduction. Oppel is silent on that score, but the EPA is not; it finds that the economic benefits from reducing emissions substantially outweigh the costs.

Finally, Oppel argues that the “regulations represent a de facto ban on developing clean coal technology in the United States.” This is nonsense. In fact, the regulations allow the states wide latitude in meeting emission standards. If states want to deploy clean coal technology and can do so at a cost they find bearable, they are free to do so. The only threat to clean coal technology in these regulations is that they require it to go head to head against all the other low-cost and proven emission reduction technologies – including enhanced efficiency and renewables – currently available. That’s putting market competition to work, and you’d think Oppel would embrace it.

Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, serves in the Montana Senate. He is a retired economics professor.

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