President Barack Obama has a new plan to fight global warming, and science is on his side, isn't it? No, not exactly. But wait, calculations show the economy will benefit, don't they? No, not even close - consumers will take a bath. Well, finally, the Constitution backs up the effort's legality, does it not? It does not.
These are some questions and answers provoked by the president's official announcement the other day that the ever-more powerful Environmental Protection Agency will require power plants to cut carbon emissions over the next 16 years by 32 percent from levels being emitted in 2005.
The anti-scientific, anti-prosperity, anti-democratic plan does not add up. Even if every iota of the massive move is accomplished, there is no reason to think it would do much of anything positive. At best, it would reduce global warming by an unnoticeable fraction of a fraction of a fraction by century's end, and meanwhile, the nation contributing the most to carbon emissions, namely China, appears to some experts to be playing games about actually doing much of anything.
Testifying to a House committee back in April, the balanced Judith Curry, an award-winning climatologist, said it's not even clear humans are the main cause of warming. New information, she said, indicates carbon dioxide's impact on the climate is than once supposed, and meanwhile, she added, warming has slowed down over the past 16 years.
She concedes humans play a role in warming and that catastrophe is a possibility. But temperature predictions based on the old assumptions aren't coming true, she also said, noting the endless variables. She added that arriving at dangerous tipping points is "extremely unlikely" this century.
The costs? The EPA says they will be about $8.4 billion a year by 2030 with savings from such factors as health benefits as high as $54 billion. The actual annual costs are more likely to be $41 billion a year, according to a private firm of experts on such things. As for benefits from reduced carbon, the technique used to figure such things out is highly suspect, says an engineer writing in the National Review. If you used it to look at all the good carbon does in the industrial economy, you would find that substantial carbon reductions would have horrific consequences.
Finally, there is just no way this plan is constitutional because no law allows it. The plan calls for refashioning the energy regimes of state governments, and nothing in the Clean Air Act, or any other act, comes close to allowing that. The EPA has authority to address emission issues, but nothing so sweeping as what this plan has in mind. Laurence Tribe, a liberal constitutional expert and someone who wants to tackle climate change, says flatly that the EPA "is constitutionally forbidden to exercise powers Congress never delegated to it in the first place." There are all kinds of anti-plan lawsuits already in the works as states try to protect their citizens and their rights, and some are predicting the courts will scotch the plan because the legal realities are so obvious. If they don't, the next president could delete it more easily than Obama implemented it.
If one of those two possibilities happens, those concerned most about warming should not worry too much, at least not about what this country is doing. They should understand the United States has been making enormous progress in reducing carbon emissions through more use of natural gas with less and less reliance on coal. That's an answer for many other nations, too - fracking.
Do renewables really make economic and energy sense as the way of the future? Supposing the answer is yes, watch the free market do its job. Scientists are meanwhile devising all kinds of ingenious plans that could turn things around dramatically, if necessary, even without the help of China.
There is wisdom outside of Washington.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.