The nation’s media went predictably ballistic Tuesday when President Trump formally canceled President Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan.” News programs rolled out various talking heads to announce a climate armageddon—now that the president has halted the EPA’s quest to clamp down on carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants.
Completely missing from the prevailing analysis, however, was any sense of the huge economic weight being lifted off the backs of working families. It wasn’t just any burden; it was a $64 billion IOU for the construction of new power plants and transmission lines needed to meet the Obama administration’s vision of a “renewable” future.
But the costs wouldn’t have stopped there, either. The CPP would also have forced Americans to pay $214 billion in higher energy costs by 2030, according to a study by Energy Ventures Analysis. Household electricity bills in 2020 would have risen by more than a third higher than 2012 levels—for an average annual increase of $680. And 45 states would have faced double-digit increases in the cost of electricity.
Trump’s critics don’t mention this huge economic cost when carping about the cancellation of the Clean Power Plan. Nor do they cite the punishing impact it would have had on coal communities. Based on the government’s own estimates of the coal power plants that would be closed by the CPP, the potential job losses throughout the supply chain (from the mines and power plants to the railroads and ports) could have exceeded 127,000.
Critics are also silent on what environmental benefits the country would have bought for such a steep cost. Ironically, the CPP was only projected to yield a theoretical 0.018 degrees Celsius reduction in global temperatures by 2100, along with a less than 1 percent reduction in industrial CO2 emissions. For all the vast expense, the plan was never going to make any real-world difference in global climate anyway.
Whatever the true threat from climate change may be, it’s clear that the plan’s overall impact on global warming would be scarcely perceptible, even as it radically transformed America’s power grid—and at an exorbitant cost.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has estimated that the CPP’s proposed switchover to an entirely new power grid would have cost $51 billion in annual GDP, along with 224,000 lost jobs each year. Overall, the CPP would have meant a rapid phase-out of coal, even though coal currently generates 32 percent of the nation’s power supply. Much of the nation depends on exactly this sort of low-cost electricity production, however. And utility companies have invested many billions of dollars over the past decade to adopt advanced emission-scrubbing technologies, making new coal plants 90 percent cleaner than those built 30 years ago.
There are valid reasons to keep coal in the national mix. Nuclear power is important for keeping our lights on, but it’s not growing. Renewable fuels are growing rapidly, but wind and solar power have yet to prove as reliable as coal in terms of scalability for electricity generation. These sources are intermittent — the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow — and they will still require backup generation from coal and gas plants for many years to come.
Overall, Trump was right to cancel the Clean Power Plan. As the recent election demonstrated, voters are understandably worried about the plight of Main Street America. Canceling the CPP was simply a prudent move for a beleaguered electorate and a bold move to restore good jobs that Americans want.
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