The President's Misplaced Energy Priorities | Commentary

By Rep. Edward Whitfield

Earlier this month, the White House doubled down on President Barack Obama’s pronouncement that climate change is a bigger threat to Americans than terrorism. The comments reveal a startling disconnect and come at a time when we have witnessed an unsettling uptick in terror attacks. These recent statements also underscore just how out of touch the White House is from the daily priorities of Americans. Despite growing strife around the world and a sluggish economic recovery at home, this president’s No. 1 priority continues to be climate change. Moreover, White House officials do not shy away from the desire to make climate the president’s legacy, regardless of the cost and consequences to Americans.

While the president has been delivering expensive climate regulations since 2009, he did not formally unveil his climate action plan until the summer of 2013 in a televised speech. As the touchstone of this plan, the president announced that he had instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to finalize regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s new and existing power plants.

The first blow of this one-two punch to affordable energy came shortly after the president’s climate speech. The EPA announced its proposal for new power plants in September 2013. The proposal is so stringent it would amount to a de facto ban on the construction of any new coal-fired power plants. The rule requires new coal plants to be built using expensive carbon capture and sequestration technologies which have not yet been demonstrated at any full-scale power plant in the United States, and have not been proven to be commercially viable. In sum, even highly-efficient, state-of-the-art coal plants being constructed in Europe, Japan and elsewhere in the world could not be built in America.

The second blow came last June, when the EPA unveiled its proposed rule for the nation’s existing power plants — something the administration calls the Clean Power Plan. This top-down plan requires states to submit for approval plans to meet federal emissions targets for their electricity system. The EPA is asserting unprecedented new authority over states’ energy decision-making, and is seeking to dictate to states how they can generate and use electricity. This includes effectively forcing states to shut down many existing coal plants, redesign their electricity sector and consider adopting cap-and-trade programs. For states such as Kentucky, which currently relies on coal to meet more than 90 percent of its electricity needs, this rule threatens to have devastating economic impacts.

There is significant controversy about whether the EPA even has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, much less force states to redesign their electricity systems. The EPA bases its proposal for existing plants on a rarely used section of the Clean Air Act — section 111(d). This section of the Clean Air Act applies only in very limited circumstances, but the EPA is using it to assert unprecedented authority over state energy markets. Laurence Tribe, Obama’s former law professor, recently penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling the president’s Clean Power Plan “unconstitutional.”

Taken together, the EPA’s power plant rules will lead to higher electricity prices, reduced grid reliability and thousands of job losses not only in the coal sector as more coal plants and mines are shuttered, but economy wide as we lose our global competitive edge in manufacturing and other energy intensive sectors.

On top of these rules, the EPA’s recently proposed ozone rule stands to be the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American economy, and the agency’s methane rule expected to be announced this summer threatens our nation’s energy boom. We are witnessing a regulatory gauntlet.

Many of us in Congress agree the climate is changing. However, we do not agree it is the most urgent issue facing our country. The president’s extreme views will have extreme consequences for consumers and our economy. His climate-driven regulations are certain to drive up energy costs and destroy jobs, but they will do little if anything to change the climate.

America’s new Congress has its priorities straight — we know Americans are worried about their next paycheck and the safety and security of their families. We will continue our efforts to create jobs, keep energy affordable, bolster our security and we will also work to hold the president accountable for his extreme actions. While the president puts a premium on his personal climate legacy, we will fight these destructive rules and continue working to improve the quality of life for all Americans. America is currently doing more to prevent climate change than any other country in the world, so why should we be following this president’s extreme policies?

Rep. Edward Whitfield, R-Ky., is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

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