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In our opinion: In seeking carbon reductions, Obama administration barrels ahead without compromise

Published: Wednesday, June 4 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

The sweeping new regulations take aim at energy produced from burning coal, which creates more carbon pollution than other sources such as natural gas. Different states were assigned different target reductions. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) The sweeping new regulations take aim at energy produced from burning coal, which creates more carbon pollution than other sources such as natural gas. Different states were assigned different target reductions. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency on Monday issued new rules for existing power plants that are designed to cut carbon emissions in 2030 by 30 percent from 2005 levels.

The sweeping new regulations take aim at energy produced from burning coal, which creates more carbon pollution than other sources such as natural gas. Different states were assigned different target reductions. Utilities in Washington, for example, must reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they emit per unit of electricity produced by 72 percent. In Arizona, power plants would have to cut emissions 52 percent. Utah’s target under the plan is 27 percent.

While the Obama administration said that utilities would likely spend $8.8 billion to comply with the new rules, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce projected a cost to the economy of $50 billion.

Already, the political fallout has begun for many Democrats facing difficult campaigns in this year’s midterm election season. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said that the plan would be a net plus for his party. “Republicans are on the wrong side of history here,” Schatz told the Los Angeles Times. “That's going to become clear not just over the long run but over the next couple of elections.”

That doesn’t seem to be giving any comfort to political candidates facing actual elections in five months.

Democrats in several coal-producing states are doing everything they can to distance themselves from the president’s rules. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., wrote a letter last month to the EPA director seeking that the regulations be delayed. West Virginia’s Democratic Senate candidate Natalie E. Tennant went one step further, announcing that she will “fight President Obama, the EPA, the Senate and anyone else who tries to undermine our coal jobs.”

There are some positive impacts to the rule. The EPA chose to use 2005 as the baseline year, allowing utilities the ability to take credit for strong gains in reducing pollution over the last decade. Also, each state will retain the flexibility to determine how it will meet the EPA’s emissions-reduction targets.

We are troubled, however, by the approach that is increasingly emblematic of the way the Obama administration approaches controversial subjects: avoid Congress and charge full stream ahead.

On page 125 of the 645-page rule, the EPA cites its authority to act as follows: “The EPA has the authority to regulate, under [the Clean Air Act], CO2 emissions … under the Agency’s construction of the ambiguous provisions in CAA section 111(d)(1)(A)(i)…. The ambiguities stem from apparent drafting errors that occurred during enactment of the 1990 CAA Amendments….”

It is ill-considered to impose a multi-billion dollar mandate on the U.S. economy on the basis of “drafting errors.”

Once again, drastic decisions are being taken without commensurate efforts to achieve a workable consensus in Congress on carbon reductions. Instead of the complexities of working through multiple stakeholders and crafting a compromise, this administration dismisses his opposition as illegitimate and barrels ahead anyway.

The American system was designed to avoid concentrations of power and compel even chief executives to sit down and talk to those with whom they disagree. But the administration seems to be looking for every possible way to dodge that process.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company