Obama’s Climate Plan: It’s for the Kidz

by Iain Murray

Yes, the official subtitle of “President Obama’s Plan to Cut Carbon Pollution” is “Taking Action for Our Kids.” That should give you plenty of clues about the policies proposed therein. 

The policy centers around three areas of executive action: killing coal-fired power plants, setting tough efficiency standards for homes and appliances, and generating more renewable energy on federal lands. Oh, and he’s also going to stop any aid to the developing world that would be used to build coal power plants.

Taking these in order, killing coal-fired power plants is the culmination of the president’s War on Coal. Coal provides more electricity than any other single power source in the U.S. however, and it does so at half the price of its nearest competitor, natural gas. Killing coal without making it far easier to extract natural gas (by, for example, lifting regualtory restrictions on fracking) will massively increase the nation’s energy costs as well as putting thousands of coal miners out of work in some of the nation’s poorest areas. The war on coal is a war on jobs. A sillier policiy is hard to imagine.

It is all the more silly because reducing “carbon pollution” in the U.S. will have essentially no effect on global warming, even if you take the CO2-warming link as a given. As my colleague Marlo Lewis summarizes:

Using IPCC assumptions, Cato Institute climatologist Chip Knappenberger calculates that even if the U.S. stops emitting CO2 immediately, “the ultimate impact on projected global temperature rise would be a reduction, or a ‘savings,’ of approximately 0.08°C by the year 2050 and 0.17°C by the year 2100 – amounts that are, for all intents and purposes, negligible.” The “carbon pollution” rule and associated guidelines would do even less. They are an exercise in futility.

As for “efficiency” standards, we know what they have given us: washing machines that don’t clean clothes, low-flow toilets that took a decade or more to fix, inefficient and hazardous light bulbs, and a host of other products that aren’t fit for their purposes. And energy efficiency does not reduce aggregate energy demand, as the environmentalist scholars at the Breakthrough Institute recognize: “There is a large expert consensus and strong evidence that below-cost energy efficiency measures drive a rebound in energy consumption that erodes much and in some cases all of the expected energy savings.”

What about more renewable energy on federal lands? While killing coal raises the price of energy, renewable energy raises it further still. As I noted recently in USA Today, the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts (to take one example) is vastly more expensive than conventional power:

The contracted cost of the wind farm’s energy will be 23 cents a kilowatt hour (excluding tax credits, which are unlikely to last the length of the project), which is more than 50% higher than current average electricity prices in Massachusetts. The Bay State is already the 4th most expensive state for electricity in the nation. Even if the tax credits are preserved, $940 million of the $1.6 billion contract represents costs above projections for the likely market price of conventional power. Moreover, these costs are just the initial costs, and like in Germany, they are scheduled to rise by 3.5 percent annually for 15 years.

As I note in the article, renewable energy pioneers like Germany and Spain have realized that the cost of large-scale renewables is just too much for their economies to bear. Indeed, Angela Merkel herself has reached the obvious conclusion.

Germany urgently needs to scale back its financial support for the development of renewable energy to contain the spiralling costs of its move to a low-carbon economy, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday [June 12].

Addressing an energy conference in Berlin, Ms. Merkel called for reducing government spending on energy like wind and solar power to keep Germany economically competitive.

She said this should take priority over reforming the European Union’s trading scheme for industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, a cornerstone of the bloc’s effort to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The scheme has floundered amid low carbon prices.

Part of the reason for Chancellor Merkel’s action is because European firms are deserting Europe for the U.S. where energy costs are lower. The president’s plan will kill that competitive advantage stone dead.

What a legacy to leave our children! For more on the inanity of the president’s plans, see my colleague Marlo Lewis’ comprehensive treatment at GlobalWarming.org. But remember, it’s for the kids.