Listening to the reaction to the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules to limit carbon dioxide pollution at power plants, one might think it’s the end of civilization as we know it: Jobs disappearing, utility bills skyrocketing, old people shivering in the dark.
A quick review of recent history, however, finds such predictions of doom and gloom over EPA regulations never come to pass, and our nation and our economy are all the better for them.
In 1990, the EPA installed a cap-and-trade program to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain. Critics at the time predicted spikes in electrical rates and economic fallout. Instead, economic growth remained steady, and the cost of electricity declined through the late 1990s. We also stopped poisoning our lakes and killing fish.
Similar pushback came in the 1980s with steps to reduce chlorofluorocarbons in aerosols that were eating up the earth’s protective ozone layer. Again, no economic disaster occurred, and we prevented millions of cancer deaths.
The current hand-wringing over the EPA’s carbon rules is similarly misplaced, especially in Georgia. For starters, the EPA has set the bar relatively low by choosing 2005 as the benchmark year for measuring reductions, since emissions have already fallen 15 percent since then. On top of that, Georgia Power’s recently announced commitment to solar and wind energy, along with nuclear power scheduled to come online, will make it fairly effortless to comply with the standards.
When we reduce CO2 pollution, we also reduce other pollutants that cause health problems. The EPA estimates the proposed rules will annually prevent up to 6,000 deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks by 2030.
The only industries likely to see a negative impact under the new rules are those that extract and sell coal. News flash: There are no coal mines in Georgia.
What may have critics crying “foul” is that the EPA rules represent an expansion of government. Given the urgent need, however, to reduce the risk posed by global warming, critics cannot demand cancellation of EPA rules without proposing an alternative solution.
The approach favored by a wide array of conservative economists — most recently former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson — is a carbon tax.
As with carbon regulations, prophecies of economic disaster surround the pricing of carbon: It’s a job killer!
A new study from Regional Economic Models Inc., however, turns that specious assumption on its head. The study looked at a steadily increasing tax on carbon — $10 per ton of CO2, rising $10 a ton each year. By returning all of the revenue from that tax to households in equal shares, it provided an economic stimulus that added 2.1 million jobs in the first 10 years.
Given that the EPA is currently batting 1.000 in the Supreme Court, efforts to block the new carbon rules are destined to fail.
Want to avoid more regulation? Embrace the market-based approach of a carbon tax that gives revenue back to households.
Steve Valk is communications director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
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Credit: Jess Rapfogel/AP