Why the EPA’s new power plant rules are a diversion from serious cl...

Jonathan Adler says that while Obama's proposed EPA regulations are a step in the right direction, their impact will be so very far from what's necessary that the sturm und drang is actually a distraction. While I agree with the need to make technological innovation our primary focus, and to implement policies such as a revenue-neutral carbon tax, I think Adler ignores our need to break the political death lock the fossil fuel industry has on the global economy. This initiative is a baby step in winning over public opinion in that regard.

Today the Environmental Protection Agency will unveil proposed regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.  According to newsreports, the proposed regulations will require a emission reductions of 30 percent by 2030...

Requiring existing coal-fired power plants to reduced their emissions by 30 percent (technically, 30 percent from 2005 levels) is significant, but it’s a tiny fraction of the emission reductions necessary to achieve atmospheric stabilization, and could actually make achieving this ultimate goal more difficult.

The Obama administration’s stated policy goal is to achieve 80 percent reductions by the year 2050.

Why is meeting the 80 by 50 target so difficult?  Reducing emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels requires reducing emissions to their lowest point in a century.  This is an “exercise in unreality.” Specifically, it means reducing emissions to the approximate level of 1910, when the nation’s population was only 92 million people and per capita income was below $6,200. By 2050, however, the population of the United States is expected to exceed 400 million, meaning that per capita emissions will need to be more than 75 percent below their 1910 level—somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.4 tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent per year—or to levels not seen since the end of Reconstruction. Even nations that derive much of their electricity from carbon-free sources, such as nuclear power, come nowhere close to this level. 2.4 tons per year is close to the per capita GHG emissions of nations such as Grenada and Botswana.  Such emission reductions require nothing short of a technological revolution — the sort of revolution today’s regulations will do little if anything to help bring about.

Yet as difficult as it is to meet the 80 by 50 goal, much more is required to stabilize atmospheric concentrations and stem global warming. We cannot lose sight of the fact that global climate change is a “global” problem.

Addressing emissions worldwide is essential to atmospheric stabilization, and this requires developing technologies that will enable people around the world to have access to affordable electricity without increasing GHG emissions. This is a tall order. The stark reality is that the world will not come close embarking on a course toward stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of GHGs until it is cheap and easy to do so.  And this, even more than meeting the 80 by 50 target, requires a technological revolution in energy production or carbon mitigation. Such transformations are possible — consider how fiber optics and then satellite and wireless replaced traditional copper wire for telecommunications — but they are rarely driven by regulatory mandates.  And although tradeable emission credit schemes are supposed to incentivize innovation, there’s little empirical evidence that such programs have actually achieved this goal.

If policymakers are serious about meeting the climate challenge — and  are more interested in atmospheric stabilization than expanding EPA control over energy use — they should focus their efforts on policies that will encourage the development and deployment of clean energy technologies.

..., as a supplement to or substitute for traditional R&D funding, policies that remove regulatory and other barriers to technology deployment (such as those that have plagued Cape Wind), and a revenue-neutral carbon tax.  Such policies would be just a start, but what they have in common is that they would increase the economic incentive to develop and deploy clean energy technologies.

The bottom line is that if we want to achieve atmospheric stabilization, we have to make it possible — and it will only be possible with dramatic technological innovation. Thus encouraging and accelerating such innovation must be the dominant focus of any serious climate policy.  Today, however, innovation is nothing more than an afterthought. [emphasis mine]

image source (with slight modification)

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Replies to This Discussion

Obama is not the president needed at this time in our nation's history. His strength lie in community development, which requires skills of negotiation and compromise. With global warming there is no room for negotiation or compromise. The reality is our population has grown exponentially, the use of fossil fuels has grown exponentially, Citizens eat higher on the food chain, thus taking agriculture out of grains for people into grains for livestock. He is faced with absurdly strong opposition from the opposing party who seem to put their fail in the myths of scripture instead of the fact confronting us. The massive Eisenhauer effort at building a national highway system at a time of economic turmoil required a strong personality and powerful leadership skills. We need a massive project to get off all fossil fuels and support the research and development for natural energy sources. 

There is a fellow in Sagle, Idaho, just a few miles from us, who is raising money to develop a prototype of a new highway paving system. Sandpoint innovators’ solar road panels remove snow, generate power. He started a campaign to raise money on the internet to do the necessary research and has raised a million and a half dollars. That is kind of like putting on bake sales to buy school books and equipment for students. 

George Takei takes notice of North Idaho solar road enterprise.

Idaho solar road startup passes fundraising goal,

Company gets $750,000 for solar parking lot.

Innovations cost a lot of money and the risks are very high. Many ideas fail leaving someone holding the bag. Government's role is to take on these big projects that individuals can't support. No private enterprise took on building the national highway system, even as a lot of businesses made fortunes on building them. Government needs to fund research and development for the massive project of getting off fuel. 

I try to imagine a POTUS leading our nation to get off fossil fuel, and get jobs to everyone who wants to work, and raise the minimum wage to a living wage, and get control over population explosions. I would like to hear a program where people were given incentive to not have more than two children, and disincentives for couples who have more than two. I know, it will never happen, but what the heck, what does the Earth need to stay healthy and supporter of life, including Homo sapiens. 


Obama’s climate change regulations are less ambitious than what Rep...

John McCain proposed emissions limits in 2008 on transportation, commercial business, manufacturing and power plants. That was before the Republican party lost all of its marbles.

In May 2008, Sen. John McCain traveled to Portland, Oregon, and delivered a speech that no Republican presidential candidate would consider giving today.

It doesn't matter "whether we call it 'climate change' or 'global warming,'" McCain warned. "Among environmental dangers it is surely the most serious of all." McCain went on to propose a cap-and-trade plan far more aggressive than the power-plant rules the Obama administration is announcing today.

McCain's plan would have limited emissions not just from power plants, but also from transportation, manufacturing, and commercial businesses.




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