Energy policy used to be focused on providing affordable, reliable energy. But President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency have swapped that focus for one on reducing carbon emissions. As many Americans still struggle to recover from the Great Recession, that focus couldn’t be more off the mark.
The EPA’s new, proposed plan aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 30 percent by 2030 isn’t going to be cheap. Retooling the energy grid and turning our back on our most affordable source of electricity, coal, is an expensive proposition. It’s consumers who are going to be forced to pay the price. Unfortunately, consumers with low and fixed incomes are going to have to carry the heaviest burden. Even a small bump in energy prices disproportionately cuts into their income.
Seniors suffered greatly from our economic downturn. The average retiree’s net worth fell by over 10 percent and, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in seven seniors now lives in poverty. For many seniors, higher electricity bills might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Floridians already pay 40 percent more than average U.S. consumer for electricity – about $1,900 a year for each household. Even without EPA’s new carbon rules, prices have already been rising. The cost of electricity in the Sunshine state rose 5 percent in the last year alone.
Most of Florida’s utilities say that achieving the plan’s targets will be extremely difficult. They may have to shut down some power plants, including, incredibly, some that were recently expanded and upgraded under the federal government’s “clean coal” program. In their place, they will have to build new plants paid for by with bumps in each utility bill.
Florida’s power producers will also have fewer options when it comes to generating electricity, leaving consumers more vulnerable to volatile energy markets. Florida already relies on natural gas for almost two-thirds of its electricity generation. The EPA’s plan would push that reliance even higher by making it difficult or even impossible for utilities to produce power using alternatives like coal. If natural gas prices jump, there won’t be anywhere for generators to turn to limit the impact on the price of electricity. Once again, consumers will be left to foot the bill.
Despite these difficulties, and despite the fact that electricity bills are already so large, the EPA wants to impose especially stringent targets on Florida for emissions reductions. Just 10 states are being asked to do more.
Even if the U.S. cuts its emissions, at great cost to consumers, global emissions will continue to rise. Other nations, like China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, have no interest in sacrificing economic growth to tackle rising carbon emissions. Global problems require global solutions. The EPA’s plan will be a costly mistake.
Too many Americans, including a growing number of seniors, are already struggling to make ends meet. It’s indefensible to put seniors in a position where they have to cut back on their groceries or skip medication to pay their electric bill.
Jim Martin is chairman of the 60 Plus Association, a seniors advocacy group. Entertainer Pat Boone is their national spokesman.
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- On November 25, 2014