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Policy Update: The EPA's Disingenuous Clean Power Plan

By now, you have likely heard of the finalization of what the Obama Administration has dubbed the “Clean Power Plan” to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants. Given the drastic effects this plan will have on the state of Arkansas, in this week’s newsletter (which you can sign up to receive here), I needed to offer my perspective on what I like to call an all-of-the-above energy plan and what Congress has done to address overreach by this Administration in the energy sector.

Just over one year ago, on June 2, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, proposed a plan to regulate carbon emissions from power plants across the nation, claiming newfound authority under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. Upon the release of this proposal, the Administration cited the ability of this plan to “maintain an affordable, reliable energy system, while cutting pollution and protecting our health and environment now and for future generations.” This past month, the Clean Power Plan was finalized. While all of us can agree that a brighter, healthier future for generations to come is a noble and desired cause, what we disagree on is the route to get there, the effects that certain actions might actually have on the environment and the average American family, and where the authority ultimately lies to address such causes.

As I said before, I won’t argue against providing a healthier landscape for future generations. However, that’s not what the Clean Power Plan does, and the EPA’s own data makes that apparent. When touting the goodwill of this plan, the EPA regularly cites atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, global temperature, and sea level rise. But using even the most conservative measures, again based around EPA’s own data, it is predicted that by 2050, the Clean Power Plan will result in a reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of just 0.2 percent, a cut to global temperature of only 0.01 degrees Fahrenheit or 1/100th of a degree, and a reduction in the rise of the sea level by only 0.2 millimeters. That’s the equivalent of one or two human hairs.

Aside from environmental factors, we’ve got to ask: how will this affect people like us, our state, our resources, and our power bills? Well, again, conservative estimates have shown that the average power bill cost increase in 2025 could be around 10 percent. In the state of Arkansas alone, our reduction target for emissions is a massive 36 percent, and that is after an adjustment in the finalized plan from our original 44 percent projection. Fortunately, this adjustment also lowers Arkansas from being the 7th-most affected state to the 20th. But fortunately isn’t good enough because this rule will still come at the cost of thousands of jobs and will require countless dollars and hours to be spent on compliance for the sake of an unrelenting government agency its desired environmental legacy.

But what may be most concerning when it comes to this Administration’s never-ending regulatory overreach is the lack of authority to prescribe these policies.

I’m a Constitutional conservative, and the Constitution clearly states that legislative powers are vested in Congress. The Clean Power Plan is a clear attempt to take policy-making out of our hands. This is unacceptable, especially after the Supreme Court just came down with what was a very unexpected, yet refreshing, decision regarding another recent EPA rule (Mercury and Air Toxics Standards or MATS) and noted EPA’s disregard for any associated cost incursions. Cost aside, Arkansas’s own Attorney General has argued and continues to argue that the EPA does not possess the authority to regulate power plants under section 111(d) due to the language of the law – more-specifically, section 112 of the Clean Air Act which the EPA already uses to regulate such plants. Plain and simple, section 112 bars the EPA from invoking 111(d) authority where the “source category… is regulated under section [112].” Ms. Rutledge has thus joined a growing number of Attorneys General in asking for a stay of this rule until after the courts can have the opportunity to weigh in – something Congress has fought for as well.

This June, I joined 66 of my colleagues in not only voting for, but also cosponsoring, the Ratepayer Protection Act (H.R. 2042), introduced by Representative Ed Whitfield. This bill, which ultimately passed the House by a vote of 247-180, would give this misguided power back to both our courts and our states. By allowing compliance to first rely on judicial review and ensuring that states can protect their ratepayers from unintended consequences and significant adverse effects, we Arkansans would determine much of our own fate – something we are quite good at in the Natural state.

I have long said that as a father and grandfather, I believe it is important to leave our children both a better America and a better world. At the same time, we must carefully consider the proposals offered to combat the problems facing our country and be mindful of their pitfalls. The United States has a real opportunity in the energy sector; it can drive our economic growth. However, we will severely restrict the potential of this industry if we place additional burdens on it. And the Clean Power Plan goes far beyond that. 

I am not opposed to any and all regulation. In fact, I recognize the need for safeguards to protect the American people. Moreover, I agree that we must explore green energy alternatives. But this must be in addition to tapping into all American energy sources (oil, gas, coal, nuclear, and renewables) rather than picking winners and losers. I have serious concerns with the impact that the Clean Power Plan could have on the economy of our nation as a whole and the budgets of our fellow Arkansans. I will continue to push for its fate to reside within the Congress and the courts and for my goal of an all-of-the-above energy policy, rather than a policy of all-but-one.