Stand Up, Governors

COMMENTARY Environment

Stand Up, Governors

Jul 22nd, 2014 4 min read

Former Vice President for the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity

Derrick Morgan is no longer a staff member at The Heritage Foundation.

In Washington, the executive branch is overreaching as never before, and Congress seems disinclined to do much to stop the Leviathan. For those who believe in limited government, the last, best hope for resistance appears to be the nation’s governors. They could form a firm line of defense against the administration’s most recent attempted power grab: the Environmental Protection Agency’s all-pain, no-gain, back-door cap-and-trade scheme.

Governors and states have stood up to the administration’s excesses before. Twenty-seven refused to set up their own machinery to implement Obamacare exchanges, and 24 still refuse to accept more federal Medicaid money under the law, understanding that they would be on the hook for funding the unaffordable expansion later.

Governors and legislators across the country should use the same playbook and resist the EPA’s attempt to coerce them into setting up their own regulatory regime to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Whatever the variation adopted — be it cap-and-trade, carbon tax, or some other regulatory scheme — the result would inevitably be the same: the destruction of manufacturing jobs, soaring electricity bills, and an imperceptible effect on the environment.

There’s a reason cap-and-trade died on the floor of the Senate without a vote in 2010. The Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority, but senators on both sides of the aisle recognized it for what it was: an unpopular program that targeted the poor, drivers, and all utility rate-payers, with giveaways to big businesses that were willing to play ball. It was a prime example of agenda-driven cronyism.

It was also an attempt by the federal government to force its policy preferences on every state, despite the fact that, for example, Vermont’s energy and industrial policy is not a good fit for Ohio. A full 72 percent of the yea votes for cap-and-trade in the House came from New England, New York, New Jersey, and the Pacific Coast. The rest of the nation’s representatives — at a time when Democrats had a huge majority in the House — voted 182 against and only 119 for. That kind of regional imbalance could not fly in the Senate. It should not in the states, either.

Four years later, the administration is still trying to do what Congress would not. Certainly circumstances are no more favorable for gaining public acceptance. Millions of Americans are looking for work, and money is tight as ever. Moreover, the International Energy Agency just confirmed that the United States is now the world’s biggest producer of oil and natural gas, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia. We also have more than a 500-year supply of coal.

The situation is clear: Conventional energy sources are plentiful, and they are ready to be used to create jobs and keep prices down. Time could not be better for governors to push back on the EPA.

Throughout the debate on cap-and-trade, President Obama threatened to unleash the EPA if Congress would not act. He’s now doing it, but with a twist. Instead of the draconian reductions he threatened, the EPA’s proposal takes the proverbial “boiling frog” approach: It will inflict economic pain incrementally over time.

This is not to say the EPA would start gently. Even the first regulations on existing generating plants would impose a harsh 30 to 40 percent reduction in power-plant emissions nationwide. Some states are being told to reduce emissions even more. Because these plants will not be able to use plentiful fuel sources and will have to switch to more expensive ones, energy prices will rise and jobs will be lost, especially in manufacturing that relies on cheap energy. But that’s just the beginning. Careful observers know that the radical environmentalists’ recipe calls for at least an 80 percent reduction of all emissions by 2050.

For this proposal to fly, the EPA needs to get states to buy into the framework: that industrial and energy policy should be decided by unelected bureaucrats in Washington, with “cooperation” from the states. The more governors who cooperate with the EPA, the more reasonable the EPA seems. It is straightforward political math.

The EPA plans to gain state compliance through coaxing and coercion. The agency will make states an offer they can’t refuse: “Either set up your own system (subject to our approval), or we’ll propose one for you — one that you may not like.” (Sound familiar? It’s the same choice Washington gave states on Obamacare exchanges.)

The EPA’s pitch will be only slightly more subtle than that of one of its former regional administrators, Al Armendariz. Speaking of enforcement in general, he said that he wanted to emulate the Romans and find a few businesses to “crucify” as examples so others would comply more easily.

While some states may receive that treatment, the EPA will entice others. This is Washington again favoring the well-connected and friends. And for those who cooperate, the temperature may be slightly more comfortable — for a while.

Ultimately, just like the unpopular cap-and-trade legislation, these regulations will ruin hard-working people in manufacturing, transportation, mining, and electricity generation, and increase costs for everyone else. All that pain would be exchanged for nothing. The nascent science of global warming has produced certainty on one point, at least: It instructs us that even draconian reductions of America’s carbon emissions will do virtually nothing to lower global emissions, much less temperatures.

Everyone wants to help the environment. But the answer cannot be higher gasoline and electricity prices and fewer jobs without any environmental benefits.

Unlike cap-and-trade legislation, Obamacare managed to win passage (barely). The ongoing implementation has been grim, and conservatives have stood steadfast against it, insisting that Obamacare be repealed.

All those opposed to the pernicious effects of cap-and-trade or carbon-tax schemes should follow that example, uniting to fight the EPA’s plan with all their strength and thereby setting the stage for repeal of its harmful regulations. Now is the time for governors across the country to show leadership and lead us into a prosperous future of abundant energy, high-paying jobs for people with all levels of education, and lower electricity and gasoline bills.

 - Derrick Morgan is vice president for the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation.

Originally appeared in the National Review Online