As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I sit at the intersection of energy and health-care policy. From that vantage point, I’ve come to see some of the unfortunate parallels between the Obama administration’s past claims about the Affordable Care Act and the similar claims it now makes about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
What I’ve noticed is that, in both cases, a majority of Americans end up paying more and getting less.
Let’s look first at who pays more. Under Obamacare, the cost of “reform” was passed along, in the form of bigger deductibles and higher copays, to the majority of Americans who had insurance policies they liked and could afford. Likewise, it’s the majority of Americans who now power their homes with affordable and reliable electricity from coal who will pay the price of the EPA’s impossible carbon standards.
In part, that’s because the Clean Power Plan’s carbon emission targets assume the widespread adoption of carbon capture and sequestration technology by existing coal-fired power plants. Even with generous government support, however, CCS remains too costly to be commercially viable. The Department of Energy admitted this fact just last week when it abandoned FutureGen — a public-private partnership designed to demonstrate CCS in central Illinois. Amazingly, years of bipartisan support and the promise of a billion dollars in stimulus money couldn’t make this project in the president’s home state “shovel ready.”
With no coal-fired power plant in the country able to operate under the EPA’s carbon threshold, electric utilities would have to turn to other, more costly energy sources. But not only will the majority of Americans pay more for electricity under the Clean Power Plan, just as they pay more for health care under the ACA, they’ll also get less.
Let’s look at who gets less. Under the health-care law, the majority of Americans have found their coverage networks shrink, offering less of a choice among doctors and hospitals. Under the Clean Power Plan, the majority of Americans could get less reliable electricity and not just less, but no credit at all for existing, zero-emission sources.
Grid operators have warned the Clean Power Plan’s forced closure of coal-fired power plants could compromise reliability and even lead to blackouts. While new natural gas plants could replace some of the baseload capacity generated by retired coal-burning facilities, our existing energy infrastructure is incapable of piping enough natural gas to meet current demand in some parts of the country. Given this administration’s record on pipeline approvals, it’s hard to imagine utilities investing in new natural gas power plants without the certainty of adequate and reliable fuel supplies.
It’s not just coal that suffers under the Clean Power Plan though. Energy consumers in states such as Illinois will get no credit toward meeting the EPA’s standards from existing carbon-free nuclear power.
For those fixated on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but honest enough to admit the threat drastic cuts pose to baseload capacity, nuclear is a no-brainer. Here again, however, the president’s energy policies are at odds with the majority of America’s elected representatives. By kowtowing to Sen. Harry Reid’s, (D-Nev.) fear-mongering opposition to a permanent geologic repository for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, the administration denies nuclear power suppliers the certainty they need to continue producing emission-free, baseload electricity.
Despite all the president’s rhetoric about middle-class economics, the reality is that the majority of middle-class families pay more and get less as a result of his policies. Republicans warned this would be the case under Obamacare. Will the president listen as we warn the same will be true of his environmental crusade?
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.