Government CO2 Emissions Regulations: There Is a Much Better Approach in the USAlan Carlin | April 15, 2016
As explained in much more detail in my book, Environmentalism Gone Mad, one of the many curious characteristics of the US Climate-Industrial Complex (or CIC, as defined in my book) is that it is doing everything it can do to avoid the easiest and most effective way to reduce CO2 emissions, which it claims is its principal objective despite its dubious utility. As discussed in my book and in earlier posts, there is no objective reason to reduce CO2 emissions, but the CIC wants to do so anyway.
Two of the main problems with its Federal Government regulatory approach to reducing CO2 is that it in effect requires rewriting the US Clean Air Act to do something that it was clearly never intended to do and will triple or quadruple electricity rates. Its efforts will now be delayed by several years while the legality of its highly dubious regulatory approach is fought out all the way to the US Supreme Court.
There is, however, a very simple and better alternative to reducing CO2 emissions that the US CIC has actively opposed and would actually also save money. That is to leave the choice of fuels to generate electricity in the US to the markets rather than trying to get government to regulate and subsidize its preferred solution.
The reason that this approach has proved very effective is that the cost of natural gas has declined very rapidly in recent years in the US due to the increased use of fracking and related technology so that power companies find it advantageous to substitute natural gas for coal. Ideally this alternative would include active government support for changes that would result in even lower cost natural gas, such as encouraging rather than discouraging fracking. Such support might ideally include encouraging such development on environmentally less sensitive Federal lands and issuing Federal fracking standards no more (or less) strict than actually necessary and economically justified or leaving regulation to each individual state.
Why a Market Solution Would Be So Much More Effective and Less Expensive
The reason why this market-based approach would be more effective in terms of reducing CO2 emissions (as well as conventional pollutants) is that no change in the law or bitter political and legal fight would be necessary and the cost to ratepayers and taxpayers would be much lower than the current CIC approach, which would make it much more politically palatable. Power companies would be allowed to exercise their own judgment (subject to the normal regulatory oversight by individual states) as to whether electricity from natural gas would be more cost-effective than coal or wind or solar.
In recent years power companies have tended to choose natural gas when allowed to do so as the price has fallen. Burning natural gas to generate electricity results in only half the CO2 emissions per unit of electricity generated and generates much lower conventional pollutants as well. As a result US emissions of CO2 (and probably”conventional” pollutants) have fallen more rapidly than anywhere else in the world, including the European Union, which has the world’s strictest regulations requiring CO2 emissions reductions.
The choice is between leaving CO2 emissions to the markets with every expectation of large and rapid decreases in CO2 emissions or pursuing a government regulatory and subsidy approach that is unlikely to achieve anything except a bitter political and legal fight, rapidly increasing electricity rates, and rapidly declining electricity reliability. The CIC’s choice of the regulatory approach suggests that its real interest is not in reducing CO2 emissions quickly and efficiently but rather in prolonging its continuing and so far fruitless battle in the US to force government to impose changes that will cost everyone very dearly and accomplish very little.
This Is Not Some Wild Theory; Recent Experience Shows that a Market Solution Would Be More Effective
This is not some wild theory; it is what has actually happened in the US in comparison with Western Europe. Electric rates in Western European nations that have pursued a CO2 regulatory approach most vigorously have increased to a level three times those in the US, CO2 emissions have changed very little, and electricity is always on the verge of being insufficient to meet demand as fossil fuel plants are shut down as a result of government actions, especially when the wind dies and the sun does not shine. US emissions, on the other hand, have decreased rapidly in recent years and there have been only small increases in electricity rates.
So what is standing in the way of substantial decreases in CO2 emissions in the US is the CIC’s insistence on using government regulation rather than allowing market forces to reduce CO2 emissions. Despite the fact that Western European experience shows just how ineffective and expensive the government regulatory approach is, the CIC is now trying to bring it to the US through the so-called EPA “Clean Power Plan” and over regulation of conventional pollutants that have the effect of reducing coal use.
Of course the CIC might have to admit that its ill-founded opposition to fracking is slowing down its desired reductions in CO2 emissions and that its government regulatory approach to reducing human-caused CO2 emissions is both hopeless and extremely expensive.