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Fact vs. Fiction: EPA’s Proposed Carbon Pollution Limits for Existing Power Plants

05 Jun 2014  |   Andrew Seifter

Tags: Clean Air

Monday June 2nd marked a pivotal moment in the fight against climate change when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its Clean Power Plan, the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.  The plan sets state targets that collectively add up to a 30% reduction in carbon pollution by 2030, and provides a flexible framework that allows states to craft the solutions that work best for them.

Not surprisingly, corporate polluters and their Washington allies — desperate to protect industry profits and hold onto outdated, dirty, and dangerous sources of energy — are once again resorting to making false claims to try and scare the American people. It’s a tired playbook we’ve seen before whenever steps are taken to cut pollution and protect public health.  

Here is a reality check on some of the biggest industry-fueled myths about the EPA’s proposed carbon pollution limits for existing power plants. 

Myth #1: The EPA standards will carry a huge price tag and deliver a massive blow to the economy.

Fact: Throughout our history, when America has taken steps to cut pollution and protect public health, corporate polluters and their allies have made dire predictions about the costs of these safeguards to the economy – and throughout our history they’ve been wrong. This time will be no different.

Before the EPA even announced the proposal, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out with a report alleging that the carbon pollution standards would cost over $50 billion per year. But the Chamber’s “study” was based on assumptions about an imagined proposal that was nothing like what EPA actually proposed, and independent fact checkers have rated it “false” and “four Pinocchios” to cite the Chamber’s report. The Chamber producing a flawed report attacking the EPA’s safeguards shouldn’t be surprising, given that many of the Chamber’s largest donors are fossil fuel companies that profit from carbon pollution.  

The EPA’s own estimates of the actual proposal paint a very different picture. The EPA found that once it is fully implemented, the cost of complying with the rule will be $7.3-8.8 billion, and that once you account for the money we’ll save by addressing climate change and improving public health, these safeguards will provide a net benefit to the economy of $48-82 billion.

As the Pew Environment Group has documented, industry officials have been dramatically overstating the economic costs of environmental and public health safeguards for decades. For example, in 1990, when we took steps to stop acid rain, they claimed the lights would go out and businesses around the country would suffer. In reality, those safeguards ended up only costing consumers about a fifth of what industry predicted, and the costs were a tiny fraction of the savings achieved by the safeguards through reduced health and environmental expenses. In fact, according to an EPA report, the benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments have outweighed the costs by a ratio of more than 30:1.

We also have real life examples to show that tackling carbon pollution in particular boosts the economy. States already taking action against carbon pollution through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have injected more than $1.6 billion into the regional economy and saved consumers $1.1 billion on their electric bills in just the first three years alone. 

Myth #2: The EPA standards will result in higher electricity bills for consumers.

Fact: The EPA plan to cut carbon pollution will help eliminate waste and save families money on their electric bills. 

The National Mining Association, which represents dozens of polluting companies, has already started spreading the myth that the EPA's common-sense proposal for new power plants will cause Americans' electric bills to "nearly double." An independent fact check found this claim to be based on "bogus, hyped" information that "does not pass the laugh test." The similarly discredited Chamber of Commerce study adopted this false line of attack on the EPA plan for existing power plants.

The EPA estimates that under the Clean Power Plan we can cut electric bills by roughly 9 percent in 2030 by cleaning up the electric power system and making our homes and business more efficient. 

Myth #3: The EPA standards will kill hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Fact: The new EPA standards will create tens of thousands of jobs in both the electricity and energy efficiency sectors.

The debunked Chamber of Commerce study also included the claim that the EPA proposal would cost the U.S. 224,000 jobs, on average, through 2030. But as media fact checkers have noted, this false analysis was based on assumptions about the EPA plan that even the Chamber now admits are not accurate.

By contrast, the EPA’s detailed analysis of their own plan found that it would create 25,900-29,800 job-years in the electricity, coal, and natural gas sectors by 2020, and 57,000-78,800 jobs in the energy efficiency industry by that date.

Myth #4: The EPA standards threaten the reliability of Americans’ electricity.

Fact: The EPA plan provides states and utilities with the flexibility they need to ensure these safeguards will not impact electricity system reliability.

In addition to running a false ad about the impact of the carbon pollution standards on consumers’ electricity bills, National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn recently penned an op-ed stoking fears that the EPA safeguards will “endanger the reliability of the electric grid.”  Corporate polluters like Quinn are the people who are profiting the most off the current system, and their catastrophic predictions can’t be trusted because they are desperately holding on to outdated, dirty and dangerous sources of energy.

By contrast, a May 2014 study by the independent Analysis Group concluded that “reliability concerns are misplaced,” and that the EPA standards “will not jeopardize electric system reliability.” As the Analysis Group explained, while “[i]ndustry participants have often raised concerns about potential electric system reliability impacts from major new EPA regulations affecting power plants … [t]o date, implementation of new environmental rules has not produced reliability problems.” The Analysis Group further noted that the EPA’s regulatory framework “provides for much more compliance flexibility and creativity than was possible” for past EPA rules, which is “core to understanding why EPA’s regulation of [greenhouse gas] emissions from existing power plants will not jeopardize electric system reliability.”

Myth #5: Climate change isn’t happening and if it is, humans aren’t causing it.

Fact: NASA and 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, are the driving force behind climate change.

Many of the fiercest critics of the EPA’s proposal are politicians who deny the proven scientific evidence that climate change is occurring and is primarily caused by human activities. If the Koch brothers, the coal industry, and these congressional climate change deniers have their way, polluters will continue to have free rein to dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air.

The science on climate change is settled. As NASA has noted, “ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.”

In May, the National Climate Assessment was released, detailing how each region is and will continue to be affected by climate change, including through worse air quality and extreme weather events like record-breaking heat waves, longer droughts, more intense wildfires, stronger storms, increased flooding and rising sea levels. This kind of climate disruption is putting our health, economy and agriculture at risk, and the time to act is now. 

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