EPA's greenhouse gas rules should be delayed

Bernard Weinstein, associate director of SMU's Maguire Energy Institute, writes about delaying the EPA's greenhouse gas rules.

By Bernard L. Weinstein
Special to The Star-Telegram

Just recently, a nonprofit organization known as the National Bureau of Economic Research proclaimed that the Great Recession -- the most serious economic downturn since the 1930s -- officially ended in June of 2009.

Unfortunately, that declaration will offer scant consolation to the 15 million Americans who are unemployed and seeking work.

It also flies in the face of the 9.6 percent unemployment rate, virtually unchanged over the past year, and the reality that job growth has been negative for the past three months.

Many other financial vicissitudes, such as falling home prices, rising foreclosures and personal bankruptcies, and tight consumer and business credit continue to dampen the prospects for a quick economic recovery.

Against this backdrop of a struggling economy, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and large industrial facilities next January, basing its authority to do so on last year's "finding" that greenhouse gases, as a supposed cause of global warming, endanger public health and welfare.

Ironically, it was never the intention of Congress to regulate carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. What's more, the EPA's decision to move ahead with regulations on greenhouse gases is unsupported by either clinical studies or toxicological data normally relied upon by the agency to determine actual threats to human health.

But leaving the scientific debate aside, does it make sense to push ahead with greenhouse gas regulations when the economic patient is still in the recovery room?

Without question, complying with greenhouse gas reduction mandates at this time will impose additional costs on America's factories and public utilities. These higher costs will either be passed forward to consumers and businesses in the form of higher prices or they will be offset by measures to reduce operating expenses, particularly labor.

Lower profit margins, in turn, will suppress new investment in plant and equipment along with the attendant job creation that accompanies capital spending.

At a time when the administration is paying lip-service to revitalizing America's manufacturing base and increasing exports, the EPA mandates will do just the opposite by driving up costs and damaging our international competitiveness while making a minimal contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas concentrations.

A better plan would be for Congress to delay implementation of the new EPA regulations for up to two years, as has been proposed by Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska.

This would give Congress and the administration an opportunity to address climate change issues legislatively while at the same time giving researchers and industries an opportunity to come up with new technologies and efficiencies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And it would also give our besieged economy more time to get back on its feet.

The EPA plan to curb greenhouse gases has become a contentious campaign issue, especially in some swing congressional districts. But if America's nascent economic recovery is derailed, which could well happen should these regulations go into effect in January, neither party will be well served.

For the sake of America's workers and businesses, Congress and the White House should put partisan politics aside and approve a two-year delay in implementing the EPA climate change regulations from stationary sources.

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