Back in late July, in a rare moment of lucidity when it came to the political realities of the pending mid-term elections, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted that a vote on cap-and-trade legislation would be a possibility during a lame duck session of Congress. Cap-and-trade, of course, passed the U.S. House of Representatives in early 2009 but was stymied in the Senate and, to this day, remains an open-ended issue.
At this time last year, however, the Environmental Protection Industry took the first step toward regulating carbon output outside of the scope of legislative authority. On December 8, 2009, the EPA issued a ruling declaring carbon dioxide a health hazard, thus paving the way for the agency to enact new regulations on emissions from industry and power plants alike whether or not Congress passes cap-and-trade or a legislative equivalent granting the agency authority to do so.
Carbon dioxide, of course, is what we exhale. So, according to the EPA, breathing out is a health hazard. Industry groups stopped holding their breath long enough to explain that such regulation would drive up energy costs and lead to further job losses in an already down economy. From USAToday:
If nothing changes, the EPA, sometime next year, could require big carbon emitters – such as power plants, steel mills, cement makers and others – to put the best available equipment on new and modified plants to curb emissions.
Industry groups say EPA regulation would eventually drive up energy costs, lead to lost jobs and delays in project permits and construction. More immediately, “This adds more uncertainty and could impact how companies make decisions,” says Keith McCoy, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers.
Of course, from what the president said on the campaign trail in 2008, the War on Success and Prosperity requires energy costs to necessarily skyrocket.
In that interview, the president also explained that that downhill consequences of his energy policy, enacted through sweeping cap-and-trade legislation, could eventually mean the bankruptcy of the coal industry in America.
It was in mid 2009 that I did an extended interview with Mr. William Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. The topic at that time was cap-and-trade, and Raney spoke about how the Obama administrations intended path could mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in his state alone, and could lead this nation into a situation in which it was actually importing coal.
Thankfully, passage of cap-and-trade through the Senate looks more and more politically improbable, but like it did with the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, the EPA is now looking to enact Barack Obama’s energy policy with regard to coal outside of the scope of legislation. Following a spill of wet coal ash in Tennessee, however, the agency took it upon itself to reconsider whether or not to classify coal ash as “hazardous waste,” thus bringing it into the purview of the agency for regulation, much as carbon dioxide fell under agency authority after the agency deemed it a pollutant.
Currently, regulation of coal ash is up to the individual states. Here in South Carolina, that means that regulation of the coal plant byproducts is up to the Department of Health and Environmental Control. The EPA asked state agencies for input on the issue and, this week, DHEC sent the EPA a letter asking it to reconsider its decision to usurp state regulatory authority. In the letter, DHEC stated that the EPA’s decision would halt environmentally beneficial recycling programs which find use for coal ash in cement and other materials, and that “federal regulation would create unnecessary duplication, confusion and barriers that would not result in any greater environmental or public health protection.” DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick issued the following statement:
We feel like any additional regulation by the EPA really is unnecessary. We’ve got a program in place here in the state. We feel like it adequately handles it and we feel like the regulation needs to stay here at the state level.
Robert Yanity, spokesman for South Carolina Electric & Gas, noted that any interruption of the recycling program could place unnecessary stress on the limited number of hazardous waste sites across the country, and cause “all kinds of additional costs” for energy providers. For example, he said, “there’s actually currently not a hazardous waste site that … we could truck it to here in South Carolina,” and noted that the closest site is in Alabama.
What we have here is an ideological decision by the EPA, not an environmental one. In deciding to bring coal ash under the purview of the agency by deeming it “hazardous waste” just as the agency did with carbon dioxide, we have another example of the federal government finding an extra-legislative method of obtaining more power and control for itself.
About a month ago, this nation sent a loud and clear message to Washington that we want decision-making power as close as possible to the people. The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives needs to take a stand against those who support a clandestine approach to enacting the regulatory equivalent of cap-and-trade legislation.