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We Don’t Need EPA Regulations

We Don’t Need EPA Regulations

Wait… did I read that right? Are we better off without any emissions regulations from the EPA? Do we even need a cap and trade approach? According to Dick Morris of the Creators syndicate, the United States “probably has already complied with the Kyoto/Copenhagen goals for reduced emissions… without taxes, without regulations and without government intervention.”

Seriously? Lyman is talking about the $46 million Obama just gave to the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and reporting requirements, even as he cut hundreds of millions to other EPA programs. Cutting emissions is clearly a priority for the President, who has pushed for the U.S. to cut our emissions to 5.0 billion metric tons of carbon by 2015.

But where does Morris get off saying that we are better off without the EPA setting regulations?

He begins by noting the total carbon emissions in the past three years:

In 2007: 6.12 billion metric tons of carbon
In 2008:  5.92 billion
In 2009: 5.5 billion

He then predicts that when we finish calculating the 2010 measurements, we’ll likely be at Obama’s goal. Without any EPA regulations or a cap and trade structure.

He also cites figures showing changes in the share of our energy production coming from different sources between 1996 and 2009 (via U.S. Energy Information Administration):

Coal: 52 percent in 1996, down to 45 percent in 2009.

Natural gas: 13 percent up to 23 percent.

Nuclear: Steady at 20 percent in 1996 and 20 percent in 2009.

Renewable: 2 percent in 1996, 4 percent in 2009.

Based on his numbers, it’s exciting news. If we’ve actually reduced the share of our our total electricity that is produced by coal, that means we’ve done the easy work of fixing the low-hanging fruit. EPA regulations will be a great next step to making deeper, systemic changes that any new machinery or plants will need to be constructed in accordance with. At the same time, adding government regulation to the amount of emissions will spur further innovation on how to make manufacturing more efficient, which will help the U.S. economy be competitive in the coming decades.

The key element in these numbers that I see is not that coal use is down 7 percent, but that renewable energy is up only 2 percent. Shifting from coal to natural gas, while a useful short-term solution, is not a long-term energy solution. It’s like buying time rather than addressing the issue. A band aid that looks pretty much like the wound already did.

Morris ends his column by saying we don’t need cap and trade or carbon regulation to lower emissions in the U.S., claiming instead that the whole thing is about greater government control. He credits the drop in emissions to the free market and free enterprise system responding to persuasion and incentives, smugly asserting this as the true inconvenient truth.

I am not going to dispute Morris’ numbers, nor am I going to dispute that persuasion and incentives both play powerful roles in changing the behavior of business. What I will dispute is his assertion that we’ve done enough and don’t need to do any more.

Image Credit: freefotouk via Flickr

Related:
The Hidden Costs of Coal
Visualizing a Lifetime of Human Energy Consumption
The Death of Our Green Congress

Read more: Conscious Consumer, Do Good, Green, Health, , , , , , ,

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Scott James

Scott James is a new media storyteller living and working in San Francisco. He writes, edits and manages projects in the green and social media spaces. In his free time you'll find him hunting down good coffee, camping along the coast, and spending time with his wife and their dog. You can read more of what he's thinking about on his blog.

65 comments

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11:41AM PDT on Mar 22, 2012

Incredible and irresponsible

10:38AM PDT on Jul 20, 2011

Wellll DUHHHH!

Energy use (and hence fossil fuel usage and CO2 emissions) always goes down during recessions!

The change in the mix of energy sources is indeed good news, BUT if people like Morris had their way in eliminating EPA regulations, coal would quickly dominate again. (Especially since they would never consider eliminating fossil fuel subsidies)

Anyway you look at it, most efficient, effective, and economically sound way of reducing CO2 emissions (and other pollutants) would be to replace taxes on good things (like social security payroll taxes), with taxes on bad things (like carbon, mercury, and sulfur content of fuels).

12:44PM PST on Mar 4, 2011

Thanks!

6:07PM PST on Feb 25, 2011

Kathleen...I too am waiting for the return of common sense...and decency...and honesty, but I think it will be a loooooong wait.

5:41PM PST on Feb 25, 2011

Sad to say, we probably have all these regulations on the books, just don't have compliance. Another idiot wanting to help big business make more money without consequence.

4:25AM PST on Feb 25, 2011

Thanks for the article.

9:05PM PST on Feb 24, 2011

Response for Ann K, Feb 24. My comment Feb 23 was a response to Rachel R. Feb23 who said "Why not have everything working towards reduction. People, governments, business....." If this idea is taken to its literal conclusion, the result of continual reduction of people (population), governments (no laws), no businesses is not good for everyone. Does this make my response clearer?

5:39PM PST on Feb 24, 2011

I don't believe this article. Dismantling the EPA would only encourage companies to pollute more.

12:40PM PST on Feb 24, 2011

yeah who needs those pesky things like clean air and water anyway...all they do is keep people healthy

9:56PM PST on Feb 23, 2011

Hello Rachel R, responding to your comment. If your suggestion were followed literally to its natural conclusion everything would be reduced to zero. Is that desirable for the common good?

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