Zealotry Once Again Trumps Pragmatism

Presidents normally try to use their 5th and 6th years to accomplish their agenda by working with Congress and finding common ground.  Articles have been written that President Obama is not following that course but instead has adopted a “take no prisoners” philosophy.  That conclusion was reinforced in his choice of a new EPA Administrator.

He had a choice between Gina McCarthy, whom he chose, and Bob Perciasepe, the Deputy Administrator of the EPA.  Perciasepe has not only extensive experience on environmental matters, but also during his current and past tours at the EPA, demonstrated an understanding for trade-offs and balance.

In choosing Ms. McCarthy, the President signaled that the course of excessive regulation set by Lisa Jackson would continue.  During the Jackson regime, some of the most extreme air quality regulations ever issued came from Ms. McCarthy’s office.  These were based on two very faulty premises; the first being that there is an air quality crisis in the country and the second is that clamping down on fossil energy use will have an effect on climate.  However, there is not any real evidence to support either of these claims.

In each of the past 40 years, air quality has improved and emissions of the “criteria pollutants” have declined.  Steve Hayward, now of the Pacific Research Institute, published the Almanac of Environmental Trends for 15 years.  It documents the steady improvement in environmental quality, especially air quality.  In it, Hayward observes that “EPA’s regulatory structure systematically overstates the number of Americans exposed to unhealthy air.” And, in doing so, exaggerates the health effects of exposure to existing ambient air quality.  In addition, it systematically understates the cost of further improvements.  Most of the air quality problems that remain are geographic-specific and best addressed at the state and local level, not through the one-size-fits-all regulatory approach used by EPA that continues to be championed by EPA’s leadership.

During the past four years, Ms. McCarthy issued a number of regulations to suppress CO2 emissions as a way of addressing alleged climate change problems.  These range from very aggressive CAFE standards to stationary source emissions that have the effect of mandating a shift to natural gas and prematurely shuttering coal fired units.  The effect of these regulations will be higher car prices, perhaps less safe vehicles, and higher electricity prices.  In the latter case, higher electricity prices will be an unwelcome tax on those who can least afford it—low income and fixed income citizens.

The irony of these regulations is that they will have zero effect on global emissions or global temperatures.  U.S. emissions have already declined to the 1995 level and are not projected to return to the 2005 level until 2035.  Further, emissions growth is coming from China, India, and other developing economies.  U.S. regulatory actions impose costs but achieve no real benefits.  From this perspective, it is apparent that the agenda EPA has pursued over the past four years, and which is likely to continue, represents hostility towards fossil energy.  European countries that have pursued a similar agenda have achieved little good and now experience much regret.

For over a century our economy has been decarbonizing as a result of technology advances.  That trend is continuing with the natural gas boom that is currently taking place.  A wise government policy would be one that seeks to stimulate technology and innovation and learns the lessons of history. But, wise government policy may be an oxymoron!