Big Power to GOP: Let the EPA regulate greenhouse gases 

It's an easy and obvious narrative for the Left and the credulous media: Republicans are doing Big Business's bidding by trying to curb the EPA's power to regulate greenhouse gases.

It's also a bogus story.

Chris Horner, blogging at the American Spectator, cites a Politico Pro article on Big Power's lobbying on the issue. The bottom line: big utilities are itching for greenhouse-gas constraints, either through the legislative process or through EPA regulation.

From Politico:

Top power company CEOs rained on the Republican parade Tuesday as Congress eyes legislation forcing an outright halt to EPA climate change rules.

The leaders - from American Electric Power, NextEra Energy, Southern Co. and Dominion Resources - said to varying degrees that they support allowing the EPA to proceed on a "reasonable" time frame on greenhouse gas rules for power plants, petroleum refiners and other major stationary sources.

They also didn't sound so thrilled with the draft bill pre-empting the EPA that House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) plans to start moving later this spring.

"I think that's probably a bit strong," said Michael Morris, president and CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based AEP, in an interview at an energy industry conference in Washington. "Congressman Upton is a dear friend and a very strong leader and a visionary elected official, but I think even he knows that that probably isn't going to happen."

"I don't support complete preemption," Lewis Hay, chairman and CEO of NextEra Energy, a Juno Beach, Fla.-based power company, told POLITICO. "When I look at what EPA has done so far and the position they've taken on greenhouse gases, I think it's actually been pretty moderate."

Now the context:

Horner writes, "NextEra is the biggest windmill rent-seeker among utilities, I believe. They've got 'em, are stuck with 'em, and need you to pay them off with a guaranteed ROI."

AEP has an even more interesting story. AEP, one of the two biggest consumers of coal in America, heartily supported the Waxman-Markey climate bill in 2009. One of the arguments the company officials gave: if Congress doesn't do it, EPA will. Now, as we see above, they don't want EPA regulation off the table.

It seems AEP simply wants federal caps on GHG emissions. My column from 2009 explains why:

because much of AEP's business is as a regulated utility -- meaning it effectively faces no competition, and the state government sets its rates -- some of its costs can be passed onto consumers.

Morris told Forbes that Waxman-Markey would benefit the company. Morris said, "I'll have both enough allowances and I will have created or bought enough offsets to handle" the smaller emissions reductions the bill would mandate. He added: "I'll probably be putting capital to work on carbon-capture and storage technology ... because the current climate bill includes substantial incentives for early carbon capture."

Morris predicted rate increases of between 30 and 50 percent in the long run, which the company couldn't impose without the clean-energy or carbon-capture investments that Waxman-Markey would subsidize. "So for my business it's good as long as my customers don't leave," which he doesn't expect to happen.

Also recall that Entergy filed a Amicus back in 2007, telling the Supreme Court to order the EPA to regulate GHGs. When the Court ruled in favor of more regulation, Entergy's stock hit an all time high.
Consider all of the above, and then look at the media coverage of EPA regulation and recent Republican efforts to block it.
  • Back in 2009, Kevin Drum at Mother Jones laid out the blanket statement that "Big Business is not happy" with the prospect of EPA regulation.
  • Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Tex., wrote last month of Rep. John Carter's effort to block EPA regulation of GHGs: "why is Carter pushing for an effort to undo these important air protections that would slash the air pollution that we Texans and other Americans breathe? It’s because he’s standing in line with dirty polluters who put big business and profits ahead of American people."
  • The heads of the "Safe Climate Campaign" call curbing the EPA a "Republican campaign promise to big business."
There's Big Business on both sides of the fight. But for those who rely on ad hominem to advance energy constraints, this is a pretty inconvenient truth.

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Timothy P. Carney

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