August 4, 2015
Arizona Republic
Doug MacEachern

Five things we learned from President Obama's roll out of his "Clean Power Plan" on Monday:

1. THERE IS NO CARBON 'MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.'

It appears Arizona will not face a carbon dioxide Mission Impossible. Only a Mission Incredibly Expensive and Highly Unlikely.

In the "Clean Power Plan" first proposed last year by the Environmental Protection Agency, Arizona's energy companies would have been required to reduce their CO2 output by 52 percent, and they would have had until 2020 -- 60 months in the future -- to meet that goal. It was insane.

The version rolled out on Monday -- supposedly the "final" version -- gives all states, including Arizona, an additional 24 months to reach a slightly higher reduction of CO2 than the agency at first demanded. And it appears that Arizona will not be "punished" for having a more diverse variety of energy sources than most states. In the proposed CPP rule, Arizona was required to reduce CO2 output by 52 percent on the theory that the profusion of privately owned gas-fired plants in western and northern Arizona could be commandeered to replace the state's coal-fired power.

The new rule still is designed to mothball the nation's coal-fired energy production, and for Arizona that will mean shuttering most if not all coal-fired energy plants, which provide over 35 percent of the state's electricity.

2. OBAMA DOESN'T CARE ABOUT COST.

We know the administration is indifferent to what the EPA mandates will cost.

President Obama and EPA officials cited, repeatedly, incredible cost savings resulting from the CPP. From the White House statement released Monday: The plan "creates jobs and saves money for families and businesses." The administration and the EPA base their estimates of cost savings on what it calls the "social cost of carbon" (which the EPA defines as the economic damage that one ton of CO2 emitted today will cause over the next 300 years), an infinitely flexible standard.

Closer to the present, closing down power plants, refitting infrastructure and building new gas-fired and renewable facilities will cost in the hundreds of millions -- just for Arizona. Heritage economist Nicolas Loris converted anticipated costs into an energy tax and calculates a $2.5 trillion loss in aggregate gross domestic product by 2030. That is a lot of money for an anticipated 0.02 Celcius reduction in global warming.

3. WHAT'S CARBON DIOXIDE? DEPENDS

The EPA, Obama and this plan's supporters are actively (and successfully) altering the meaning of carbon dioxide.

President Obama spoke Monday of going for a run in smoggy Los Angeles and running out of breath (couldn't have had anything to do with those cigarettes, of course). He mentioned the 1969 fire on Cleveland's Cuyahoga River and the acid rain in the northeastern U.S. All of those conditions were the result of real chemical pollutants that the EPA and local agencies worked effectively to clean up. Carbon dioxide is not one of those pollutants, no matter what the EPA now says.

An over-abundance of CO2 may be climatically problematic. It indeed may be inducing global warming even now. But it is also a naturally produced product of life on Earth that is vital to that life -- a fact that ardent advocates of the president's plan seem to be missing.

4. GAS IS NO BETTER OFF THAN COAL.

If you think the EPA suddenly is a friend of gas-fired energy production, you would be wrong.

The EPA dramatically increased the percentage of alternative/renewable energy sources that it will require states to include in their energy mix by 2030, precisely because states are turning rapidly to cleaner, less-expensive (and, now, just as abundant) natural gas as an alternative to coal. The EPA is hostile to natural gas as a coal alternative and can be expected to find ways in its 2,000-page Clean Power Plan to clamp down on gas-fired energy when the time is right.

5. NUCLEAR WINS AND LOSES IN THIS PLAN.

Nuclear power is both a winner and a loser in the EPA final plan.

Many analysts believe that the future of CO2-free nuclear power just got a big boost through the Clean Power Plan. The terms of the CPP seem to give states more credit than expected for building new reactors. But it does nothing to alleviate the enormous regulatory hurdles facing new nuke plants, which has caused the construction of nuclear-power plants to dwindle to nearly none in the U.S. in the last several decades. So this nuke-enthusiasm may be premature.

On the other hand, the CPP gives states very little credit for already having an expensive nuke plant providing a big portion of their power. Arizona is one of those.

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