The President vs. The Beltway

March 2, 2017

“We have undertaken a historic effort to massively reduce job crushing regulations, creating a deregulation task force inside of every Government agency; imposing a new rule which mandates that for every 1 new regulation, 2 old regulations must be eliminated; and stopping a regulation that threatens the future and livelihoods of our great coal miners.” –– President Donald J. Trump Address to a Joint Session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017.

The president’s support for the country’s coal miners this week, together with the stream rule CRA signed last week and the executive order beginning the withdrawal of the waters of the U.S. rule, will give the vapors to his detractors who fret about his provocative opposition to regulation. But the president’s actions are both welcome and reassuring in two ways often overlooked inside the Beltway.

First, they fulfill his campaign pledge to, in his words, “make full use of our energy sources, including traditional and renewable energy sources.” A new president who dutifully fulfills a promise to voters usually deserves applause, at least by those who voted for him. Why not this one?
Second, there is nothing provocative about his “all of the above” energy policy. Until the Obama administration opposed it, this had been the U.S. approach ever since we became an industrial society.  And for good reason. The future is unknowable. So it’s better to entrust decisions carrying unforgiving consequences to the marketplace rather than to federal agencies, especially when they habitually understate the impact of their policies on the economy, employment and generating capacity.

A typical Beltway view came from The Washington Post on Sunday. The subject: the Clean Power Plan. The lead editorial urged Congress to replace the CPP with alternate approaches for arresting global warming. But the editorial overstated both the ease and the reason for doing so.

U.S. CO2 emissions have already fallen, no thanks to our former president. It was a dynamic energy market that revolutionized how we generate electricity. The Post accepts EPA’s estimate for the cost of transforming the nation’s energy grid – and of course finds the costs are modest. Would you ask a six-year-old if her candy costs too much? The Supreme Court rejected EPA’s cost consideration; so should The Post.

Equally naïve is The Post’s belief that the torrent of revenue from a carbon tax would be rebated directly to us in a spirit of Jeffersonian equality. If you believe that, you’ll believe the tax will be reduced when emissions decline.

The Post is right that the CPP is “quite vulnerable to on-going legal challenges and to attacks from the new administrations.” But that vulnerability is rooted in its questionable legal authority, attempt to circumvent Congress and lack of meaningful environmental benefits. This is the legacy of the past president, not the fault of this one.