Alexander Post on the Energy Collective Blog: Why I voted Against the EPA on Climate Control

Posted on June 16, 2010

Last week, 41 Republican senators and six Democratic Senators voted to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from unilaterally regulating carbon dioxide emissions on up to six million businesses around the country. I was among the 47 votes, because I believe Congress, not an administrative agency, should be writing the laws that govern our response to climate change.

Allowing the EPA to move ahead with this highly speculative effort is a prime example of how NOT to do things in Washington. These regulations will only make it harder for our economy to recover.  By using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases, the EPA would be required to impose regulations on six million emissions sources that emit more than 250 tons of carbon a year. That would mean one-fifth of all our restaurants, one-fourth of all our schools, two-thirds of our hospitals and doctor’s offices, 10 percent of our churches, and millions of small businesses. In effect, such a broad rule would run millions of jobs overseas looking for cheap energy.

The vote was not about the science of climate change. It was not about whether Congress should or should not create policies to limit carbon emissions. It was not about protecting oil companies or about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This vote was about protecting the American people from government-imposed increases in energy costs that small businesses cannot afford. This vote was about whether the American people, through their elected representatives, should have a say in our nation's energy policy, or if they should be bound by the whims of the unelected bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency. I believe that is our job in Congress, because we will put at the front of our consideration taking action in a way that will help create more jobs, not send them overseas.  All the EPA’s regulation will do is inflate the bureaucracy, increase energy costs, and cost American jobs while accomplishing little or nothing in terms of reducing carbon emissions. A few weeks ago, a pair of British scholars published a paper arguing that environmental crusades can no longer be based on making people feel guilty about their lifestyle. Instead, we have to start talking about how environmental efforts can create more widespread affluence. I think that’s a very good place to start. We can’t just go on punishing ourselves by hobbling productive enterprises. If we’re going to cut down on our carbon emissions, we have to think in terms of increasing economic opportunity, lifting people out of poverty, and making ourselves more productive. The best way to lift people out of poverty is large amounts of cheap, reliable electricity and one of the strongest contributors to the remarkable American standard of living is low-cost energy. High-cost energy from a bureaucratic climate control scheme is the wrong way to get there.  

I’ve proposed we start building 100 new nuclear reactors over the next 20 years, just as we did from 1970 to 1990. Have we tied ourselves in such legal and regulatory knots that we can’t duplicate a feat we accomplished only a few decades ago? That is why I introduced a bill with Senator Jim Webb to help create the environment for us to revitalize the commercial nuclear industry in America for reliable, low-cost, and cheap electricity.    Then we should begin a long-term effort to convert half our cars and trucks to electrical vehicles. That is an ambitious goal and will require a great deal of technical innovation. It’s not enough just to build these cars -- we have to create the infrastructure to support them as well. That is why Senators Jeff Merkley, Byron Dorgan and I have introduced a bill that would help jump start this effort.

These are positive things that can be initiated without spending much federal money. The EPA effort, on the other hand, will only create a massive bureaucracy attempting to monitor millions of individual carbon emitters – even schools, churches, and hospitals – while producing little impact except making electricity more expensive and putting many smaller operations out of business. People who criticized Senator Murkowski’s initiative said the sponsors don’t care about global warming.  Or else we were somehow benefiting the oil industry – an obvious attempt to turn the question of emissions into a referendum on the Gulf oil leak.  Neither of these is true. The concern of those who supported Senator Murkowski’s effort was to avoid a huge expansion of the bureaucracy and prevent yet another Washington takeover of a large portion of the economy that will result in nothing more than bureaucratic paper-shuffling, endless lawsuits, and the flight of U.S. jobs overseas in search of cheap energy. 

We can’t solve problems just by bringing them to Washington and expanding the government. That strategy runs the risk of simply creating a whole host of new economic problems in our unsuccessful attempt to solve an environmental one.