Back when Barack Obama was first rolling out his new Clean Power Plan in 2012 there were immediate questions about it. While it was still in the development phase, it was recognized by most conservatives for what it truly was: a backdoor energy tax. The details were onerous enough to raise concerns that many plants would simply need to shut down rather than managing to keep going until they could afford to transition to natural gas.
Those concerns are off the table as of these week… at least for the immediate future. The EPA is announcing that the Clean Power Plan is being withdrawn after concluding that it was an expensive overreach by the federal government delivering little in the way of returns on investment. Fox News has the details.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Monday that the Trump administration is moving to scrap the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature regulatory program to curb emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Pruitt made the announcement at an event in Hazard, Ky. He said that on Tuesday, he will sign a proposed rule to formally withdraw from the plan.
The decision comes after President Trump in late March ordered a review of the controversial program, which was put on hold more than a year ago by the Supreme Court amid legal challenges from, among others, Pruitt himself.
This may come as a relief to certain elements of the energy industry, but nobody should be celebrating too loudly. Some coal miners may go back to work and the court challenges against the plan will likely go on the back burner, but this is by no means a permanent solution.
This is what happens when rules with the force of law are put in place by executive action and cabinet level regulation rather than having Congress pass them. You lose the review process of the legislature and, if you lose an election, the next guy can come along and simply erase them with a stroke of the pen. What Barack Obama did, Donald Trump was able to undo. But one more turn of the electoral wheel and we could be right back where we were last December.
Also, coal usage in this country severely retracted during the Obama years, but only party due to crippling regulations. Much of the rest of the change was driven by market forces and innovations in the energy sector. In January of 2009, coal still accounted for 49% of the electricity generated in the United States. By 2012 that figure had dropped below 40% for the first time since 1978.
Much of the shift was driven by our expanded ability to produce natural gas through improved energy exploration techniques. That drove the price of the cleaner fuel down below that of coal. And while the conversion process entailed some complications, over the past five years we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of coal fired plants which have begun the process of converting to burning natural gas. That’s a massive investment to make, and having accomplished the deed, those plants aren’t going to be converting back to burning coal.
In other words, we’ll still have a steady supply for the remaining coal fired plants and perhaps some stability in the already pared down coal industry employment scene. But a surge back to pre-2005 levels is unlikely. All the President can really do at this point is stop the bleeding. Necessity is the mother of invention and the energy industry has moved past coal in a number of areas. That may be tough medicine to hear, but it’s also the nature of a competitive capitalist system working as intended.