Guest opinion: New EPA rules would hurt coal-producing states

2014-06-10T12:44:00Z 2014-06-10T19:34:04Z Guest opinion: New EPA rules would hurt coal-producing statesBy JOHN BARRASSO and HEIDI HEITKAMP The Billings Gazette
June 10, 2014 12:44 pm  • 

The Obama administration unveiled new regulations on June 2 to restrict the amount of carbon dioxide produced by existing power plants. While we agree that America needs to balance energy needs with environmental concerns, the timing of this effort could hardly be worse for the struggling U.S. economy.

We learned just two weeks ago that the economy is shrinking for the first time since 2011. America’s labor-force participation remains low. Millions of Americans continue to have difficulty finding good jobs. These excessive new regulations will likely force power plants to close, putting Americans out of work.

The administration repeatedly promised to deliver regulatory certainty and give states “flexibility” if they meet the tough new standards. The fact is that states have to present their plans to the Environmental Protection Agency for final approval. If the EPA doesn’t approve the state plan, the agency could impose its requirements on the state.

The 645-page rule would give states a few options to reduce emissions. Those options are still very restrictive and will take away good jobs, increase energy costs and hurt the economy.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that the agency’s regulations will decrease energy costs by 8 percent by 2030. We remain skeptical and believe that consumers will see higher rates. Businesses, large and small, and manufacturers will have to pay much more for their electricity; these increased prices will be absorbed or passed on and will further hurt the economy.

In states that already require higher portions of renewable fuels, electricity costs are on average 30 percent higher than in other states.

Pain will be felt locally

Coal-fired power plants will be especially hard hit, disproportionately hurting coal-producing states like Wyoming, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Montana.

When excessive Washington red tape closes a power plant or a coal mine in a small community, those jobs aren’t the only ones to go. The lost revenue base hurts public schools, police and busing services for seniors who can’t drive. Teachers, laborers and doctors move away, looking for a better chance somewhere else. Small businesses don’t have enough customers, so they shut down — the town withers away.

The pain is felt locally, but America’s environmental policies must reflect the fact that carbon dioxide is produced globally. The U.S. share of carbon-dioxide emissions has been dropping for more than a decade. Meanwhile, emissions in developing countries have soared. China’s have increased by 173 percent from 1998 to 2011.

These new EPA policies will produce minimal environmental benefits unless other countries also aggressively reduce emissions, to the detriment of their economies. That is unlikely in the near term.

While working together in the Senate, we have consistently supported policies that will help the nation develop energy as clean as it can, as fast as it can. As representatives of energy-producing states, we have also seen firsthand that the country and the economy cannot function without coal and other fossil fuels.

The American people must be allowed to be part of this discussion. We have heard overwhelmingly from people in Wyoming and North Dakota that they don’t support extreme and expensive regulations.

During the president’s first term, Congress rejected, on a bipartisan basis, a national energy tax. These new regulations will in effect impose a national energy tax—but without the input of Americans or their representatives.

Visit Wyoming, N.D.

We would invite President Barack Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to come out to Wyoming and back to North Dakota to see the real-world effects these policies have on jobs, families and communities. We want them to meet the people and go to the communities that will be hurt by these regulations. We also want them to see how states like ours are balancing the pristine beauty of their environment with the need for a vibrant economy.

The president has challenged the world and every American to spend more and regulate more to combat climate change. We think that it’s a debate worth engaging in and that the president should bring his proposal to Congress. Our constituents, at a minimum, deserve this consideration.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso is a Wyoming Republican. U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is a North Dakota Democrat.

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