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EPA favors intervention where none is needed

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Chip Knappenberger Chip Knappenberger
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Chip Knappenberger is the assistant director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute and coordinates the scientific and outreach activities for the Center.

Falling back on tired scare tactics, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Sept. 20 announced carbon dioxide emissions limits for new power plants as part of the President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan.

From McCarthy: "The overwhelming judgment of science tells us that climate change is real, human activities are fueling that change, and we must take action to avoid the most devastating consequences. We know this is not just about melting glaciers. Climate change — caused by carbon pollution — is one of the most significant public health threats of our time. That's why EPA has been called to action. And that's why today's action is so important for us to talk about."

I humbly disagree both as to the "public health threat" of carbon dioxide emissions from human activities, as well as with the idea that the EPA can do anything to alleviate whatever climate change may result.

What the new emissions limits do is to basically force the administration's preference for natural gas over coal as the fossil fuel source for our nation's electricity production going forward, perpetuating the administration's seeming "War on Coal." It does this by setting the carbon dioxide emissions limits for new power plants such that they are impossible to meet by burning coal, but can be met readily by burning natural gas. The reason for this is simple chemistry: the act of burning coal releases nearly twice the amount of carbon dioxide as does burning natural gas per unit of energy released.

The funny thing is, the market was already moving in that direction. Cheap natural gas is displacing coal for generating electricity, which in turn is reducing our national carbon dioxide emissions.

So there was no need for the administration to get involved. Government intervention in the markets does not have a particularly positive track record, so there is no reason to have optimism that this government meddling in the energy market will have a positive outcome — especially when the science does not support the need for action in the first place. I have detailed all of this before.

Last week's announcement from the EPA is not a welcomed one for free markets, and undoubtedly it will be vigorously challenged.

What I wrote previously about this sort of action is worth repeating:

"Taken together, declining U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and declining estimates of climate change should have been enough to convince the president that things were already on the proper track — no government intervention necessary."

But this administration is characterized by intervening where it is not necessary. The president's Climate Action Plan is more of the same.