The argument industrial polluters and their friends in Congress are making against the new Environmental Protection Agency plan to curb power plant carbon emissions should sound familiar. After all, it's the same scare tactic they trot out every time the government proposes stricter emission controls: exaggerate the cost, overstate job losses, and completely ignore the benefits.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue commissioned economic research firm IHS to produce another fact-challenged, anti-environmental study.
The debate that roiled Washington 24 years ago during the George H.W. Bush administration is a good example. That's when Congress, after a decade-long stalemate, passed legislation to reduce acid rain, urban smog and toxic chemicals in the air. Industry groups predicted the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments would cost anywhere from $46 billion to $104 billion a year, which, accounting for inflation, amounted to $71 billion to $160 billion in 2006, the base year the EPA used in a 2011 report to calculate the law's cost. The agency determined that, in 2010, the law cost $53 billion — at least 25 percent less than industry predicted — and, more important, generated $1.2 trillion in public health and environmental benefits.
The proposal the EPA announced earlier this month would reduce power plant carbon pollution 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, which would likely close dozens of dirty, outdated coal-fired power plants. Most of the 600 or so coal-fired power plants operating across the country, which are responsible for 38 percent of the nation's total carbon emissions, were built before 1980, when Pac-Man was cutting edge.
Just days before the EPA announced the draft rule, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country's largest business federation, released a report warning it would cost the economy $50 billion a year for the next 16 years, eliminate more than 200,000 jobs annually, and increase electricity costs by $289 billion by 2030.
There was no mention of the benefits of cutting carbon, but that's no surprise. The Chamber has a history of disputing climate science, and five years ago a number of corporations, including energy companies Exelon and Pacific Gas & Electric, cancelled their memberships over the Chamber's campaign against climate legislation. Although the Chamber refuses to identify its members, at least one major oil company, Chevron Texaco, and the oil and gas industry's main trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, have reportedly given the association substantial donations in recent years.
As expected, the Chamber report provided ammunition for coal state legislators who've been railing about the Obama administration's "war on coal" for some time.
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) waxed hyperbolic. The EPA rule, he said, "is a dagger in the heart of the American middle class, and to representative democracy itself." Echoing the Chamber report, McConnell maintained the rule would lead to "higher costs, fewer jobs, and a less-reliable energy grid."
The response from Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia was more measured, but essentially the same. The proposed rule "appears to be more about desirability rather than reliability or feasibility," he said, "with little regard for rising consumer prices, the effects on jobs, and the impact on the reliability of our electric grid."
Another Misleading Industry-Funded Report from IHS
For its part, the Chamber says it is merely providing a public service. "Americans deserve to have an accurate picture of the costs and benefits associated with the administration's plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through unprecedented and aggressive EPA regulations," Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, said in a press release.
Accurate picture? If you're looking in a funhouse mirror.
As it turns out, the Chamber report was produced by IHS, the same economic research firm I criticized last fall for its study that grossly inflated the number of jobs created by fracking and ignored oil and gas' impact on public health, the environment and the climate. The Chamber — along with the American Petroleum Institute, America's Natural Gas Alliance and other industry trade groups — financed that study.
IHS took the opposite tack this time around to reach its preordained, funder-friendly conclusion. Instead of tweaking its analysis to pump up job numbers, as it did in its fracking study, it used flawed assumptions to magnify the carbon rule's cost and exaggerate job losses. And where IHS left out the substantial cost of fracking in last fall's report, its most recent Chamber report doesn't factor in the carbon rule's considerable benefits, despite Harbert's promise to provide the deserving public with that information.