Kelly McParland: Barack Obama’s New Rule On Coal Is A Big Political Risk

  • Date: 02/06/14
  • Kelly McParland, National Post

Obama is taking a big risk. Not for himself, but for Democrats facing tough contests in this year’s mid-term elections.

The Obama administration rolled out a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30% by 2030, setting in motion one of the most significant actions on global warming in U.S. history.

But exactly how state will meet customized targets likely will be pushed to the next administration. States could have until 2017 to submit a plan to cut power plant pollution, and 2018 if they join with other states to tackle the problem, according to the EPA’s proposal. An executive order issued last summer had set a June 2016 deadline for state plans.

The 645-page rule, expected to be final next year, is a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s plans to reduce the pollution linked to global warming, a step that the administration hopes will get other countries to act when negotiations on a new international treaty resume next year.

It’s a big deal, even though the White House is making little noise about it because it’s likely to upset a lot of people, Democrats and Republicans alike. The New York Times, in a weekend article, heralded it as possibly “[Obama’s] last, most sweeping effort to remake America,” and “a chance to transform the nation’s energy sector and, at the same time, his own presidency.”

It may be good news for Canada, in a backhanded kind of way. With no plan of its own, Washington has spent a good deal of time complaining that Canada lacks an adequate strategy to address the emissions issue. Coal is by far the dirtiest way to produce electricity, and Canada uses far less of it than the U.S. – and is farther ahead in reducing its usage – yet Washington keeps citing Canadian emissions policies as a significant reason Mr. Obama hasn’t been able to bring himself to make a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Now that the U.S. has an actual plan on the table, maybe it will quit beefing about Canada and focus on whether its own efforts are adequate.

The prospects on that front aren’t promising. The key to the Obama plan will be strict restrictions on emissions levels, forcing power plants to find ways to lower their output. The White House wants producers to adopt alternative means of generating electricity, such as solar and wind power, or greater use of natural gas. It acknowledges consumers may face higher electricity prices, but downplays the impact: one administration official suggested consumers might even save money thanks to efficiency gains.

That sounds an awful lot like the perfect world described by Ontario’s former premier, Dalton McGuinty, when his Liberals introduced their Green Energy Act in 2009. The program was supposed to jump-start a world-beating alternative energy industry through heavy subsidies to wind and solar producers, but has been an overwhelming failure, leaving Ontario with the highest rates in North America while forcing the province to subsidize household bills to avoid an angry backlash. To avoid admitting its mistake the province continues to subsidize costly alternative sources while routinely exporting surplus power to the U.S. and Quebec at discounted prices. The Liberals are currently campaigning for re-election, but you don’t hear them talking much about their Green energy record.

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