Congress, Energy, Environment

Point-counterpoint: Capito issues paper on Biden’s regulatory ‘Road to Ruin,’ Sierra Club responds

MORGANTOWN – Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, in her role as ranking member of the Environment & Public Works Committee, has released a report highly critical of the Biden Administration’s environmental agenda.

The report is bluntly titled “Biden’s 2024 Environmental Agenda and its Road to Ruin.” The cover illustration shows a lighted warning sign that spans some interstate highway locations; this one says in bright letters, “Bad Regulations Ahead: Prepare to Pay and Unprecedented Toll.”

We’ll take a look at some of the report’s major points here; and in a sort of point-counterpoint, offer some responses from the Sierra Club’s West Virginia Chapter.

Capito announced the report saying, “Despite clear warnings from American consumers and job creators, and loss after loss in the courts, President Biden is moving full-steam ahead with his crippling, unrealistic environmental agenda in 2024. Americans do not want and cannot afford what this administration intends to accomplish through executive overreach and deference to climate activists.”

And she prefaced the report saying, “President Biden has clearly and unapologetically put the American people last. And unfortunately, the worst of these harmful, unrealistic policies are due up in 2024.”

Jim Kotcon, Sierra Club chapter chair, prefaced his responses with this: “A key problem with that report is that it utterly fails to even mention climate change, and has only a couple references to greenhouse gases without discussing why we need to reduce those.”

But the EPW Republicans, he said, have no alternative means to addressing climate change: “… the ostrich approach of sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring the overwhelming evidence of current and impending climate impacts, all for the sake of appeasing their coal baron bosses, means the whole world will remain at risk.”

The report has five sections and we’ll look at each.

Secton One

First is what Capito terms Biden’s regulatory War on American Energy. It cites the EPA strategy aimed at the power sector and electric generating units, intended to rapidly phase out fossil-fuel baseload power by increasing the operating costs. It cites six rules tailored to that purpose, including Clean Power Plan 2.0 and the Good Neighbor Air Rule.

It quotes Biden’s EPA Administrator Michael Regan commenting on those high costs: “If some of these facilities decide that it’s not worth investing in [control technologies] and you get expedited retirements, that’s the best tool for reducing greenhouse gases.”

The EPA is betting on its strategy of issuing one regulation at a time so that the public fails to understand the cumulative effects, it says. It quotes a member of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, “How do you have this orderly path when you have so many threats coming from so many different ways?”

Kotcon responded, “The assertion that the Biden administration has a war on energy ignores the massive investments in renewables, energy efficiency, and alternative energy sources. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, that Senator Capito voted for, includes billions for hydrogen, carbon capture, plugging orphaned gas wells, and cleaning up abandoned mine lands, with a lot of that money coming to West Virginia!”

The rules to regulate air pollution that Capito now criticizes, he said, would benefit West Virginians that are downwind or downstream of the most polluting power plants. “These rules certainly will cost money for the industry, but they save money for citizens in the form of lower health care costs.”

Section Two

The second section talks about those cumulative effects – chiefly on power grid reliability. “At the same time the administration seeks to force the closure of power plants, Biden is trying to mandate a recklessly fast transition to electric vehicles that will cause power demand to rise.”

Capito quotes FERC Commissioner Mark Christie, “The United States is heading for a reliability crisis. I do not use the term ‘crisis’ for melodrama, but because it is an accurate description of what we are facing … dispatchable resources are retiring far too quickly and in quantities that threaten our ability to keep our lights on.”

Kotcon responded, “Efforts to increase use of electric vehicles will keep West Virginia’s energy dollars in the state. Money spent for gasoline goes to oil companies in Texas and Oklahoma. Money spent on charging electric cars stays in West Virginia for West Virginia utilities.”

Section Three

The third section addresses the “Enormous Financial Toll” of Biden’s regulations. She cites Biden’s and California’s own analyses of the costs.

Six examples: The EV mandate for 2027-32, more than $500 billion; waiver for California’s 100% EV/hydrogen mandate by 2035, $210 billion; Biden truck EV mandate for 2027-32, $24 billion; Clean Power Plan 2.0, $14 billion; Biden particulate matter rule (PM 2.5), $7 billion; natural gas tax rule, $390 million, increasing energy costs for consumer and deterring investment in climate solutions.

Kotcon responded that this “ignores the fact that the transition actually creates more jobs, and benefits consumers more, than continued reliance on fossil fuels. Recent studies have shown that building new renewable electricity generation is cheaper than continuing to operate existing coal-fired power plants.

“Efforts to keep these older plants running will cost consumers more than closing them down,” he said. “West Virginians see this in the rate increases that keep coming, year after year, including one just approved for Mon Power customers. Investments in renewables also creates more jobs than the same amount invested in fossil fuels.”

Section Four

Capito calls this the “Republican Reality Check” on Bidens false claims. Here are four.

One, new National Environmental Policy Act rules are not improving the federal environmental review process, as Biden claims; in fact, they will slow it down, as illustrated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers focus on greenhouse gas emissions and the “special cost of carbon” calculations.

Two, low-greenhouse gas hydrogen and carbon capture and storage are not adequately demonstrated; in fact, they will not be ready for widespread deployment anytime soon.

Three, it’s not true that only bad actors will pay the natural gas tax; the tax has nothing to do with compliance, and EPA is rewriting the rules, raising the concern that it will overestimate methane emissions and force the tax on good actors.

Four, Americans do not support a rush to EVs; in fact, 100% EVs would take away affordable, reliable transportation options.

Kotcon responded that Low-GHG hydrogen and CCUS technologies have been available for years. “Their cost is currently higher than the high-polluting sources, but that cost is still much lower than the cost of continuing to emit toxic pollution and greenhouse gases. The major barrier to adoption is the lack of a regulatory requirement that they be used. Without a regulatory requirement, polluters would have a competitive advantage over clean energy sources, even though we all pay the cost of that pollution in our health care bills.”

Section Five

Here, Capito quotes job creators so the whole issue isn’t coming from GOP politicians. Here are three.

The National Association of Manufacturers and 70 other trade associations on PM 2.5: It threatens nearly $200 billion in economic activity and puts nearly 1 million jobs at risk.

The American Trucking Association on the EV truck transition: The technology and infrastructure aren’t ready; “any regulation that fails to account for the operational realities of trucking will set the industry and America’s supply chain up for failure.”

National Automobile Dealers Association on California’s gas-powered vehicle ban under EPA consideration: It’s “not aligned with a reasonable expectation of the growth of consumer demand. … EVs are still significantly more expensive … and most U.S. families are unable to purchase a new vehicle, much less an EV.”

Kotcon responded, “Many of the claims about exorbitant costs and job losses merely repeat the same fear-mongering that selfish industry lobbyists have always touted. And time after time, the costs turn out to be substantially lower, and the benefits greater, than the prior claims from polluters. I urge Sen. Capito to listen to more credible sources before repeating this misinformation.

“West Virginians have been among the most vulnerable to climate change-induced floods, fires, drought and storms. We are pleading with Sen. Capito, if she wants to be taken seriously, please propose a realistic alternative to the Biden administration approach, one with solid science and a more cost-effective approach.”