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EPA power grab looks like Obamacare redux

by Peter Roff     •     Washington Examiner

epa-logoEveryone remembers former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ill-advised comment that the Affordable Care Act would have to pass so that the American people could find out what was in it. Unfortunately, what should have been a cautionary tale has instead been an object lesson in rulemaking for President Obama’s bureaucracy.

Take, for example, the pending Clean Power Plan, an initiative of the Environmental Protection Agency. If fully implemented, it could lead to the mass shuttering of existing power generation facilities, rolling brownouts, blackouts and a significant increase in electrical rates.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., opposes the initiative because, like Obamacare, it represents an effective federal takeover of a major sector of America’s economy.

“EPA’s proposed new regulations for existing power plants cap off a comprehensive federal regulatory agenda aimed at electricity generation and use,” Upton said in a hearing last year. “But this is not the first Obama administration takeover of a major sector of the economy. That distinction goes to the Affordable Care Act, and we are only beginning to see what a disaster that is turning out to be.”

Upton had watched original plans for Obamacare pass through his committee when Democrats controlled it. On its way to Obama’s desk, it was shaped and reshaped by backdoor deal making, input from influence peddlers and special interests, and academics who had designed the original framework in secret lest anyone misunderstand (or figure out) what they were doing. Almost everyone had a voice in what the final proposal would look like except the people who would ultimately have to live under it, facing higher costs, higher upfront deductibles and expensive mandates.

The parallels between the process that produced Obamacare and the one being used to develop the Clean Power Plan are strong — with one significant exception. The new healthcare law was at least the product of Congress, making those who wrote it and voted for it accountable to the people who put them in office. EPA, on the other hand, is acting behind closed doors, in possible contravention of existing laws and regulations, and without oversight or accountability.

This alone is enough to rattle the chains of some legislators. “With this proposed rule, EPA — an agency with no energy policy authority or expertise and under questionable statutory interpretation — has now placed itself above state governments and public utility commissions on electric generation issues, not to mention the DOE, FERC, and other federal agencies,” Upton said at the same 2014 hearing.

Again, this sounds a lot like Obamacare — where ivory tower health policy experts and economists like MIT’s Jonathan Gruber were allowed to let their judgment supersede that of people who knew how doctors and hospitals function, and why health care costs were really so high.

EPA is using the phantom issue of global climate change to establish hegemony over the way electricity is produced. There is no law on the books that allows them to do this — electricity regulation historically being a matter for the individual states to handle. But the agency and the bureaucrats who work there have an agenda: stop the production of electricity through conventional sources in order to reduce carbon emissions, in the naïve belief that our competitors in the global economy will all do likewise in the best interests of humanity. The practical meaning of this is as lost on EPA as the impact of Obamacare was on those responsible for bringing the health exchange website to life.

The EPA is no better positioned to deal with power generation issues than my dog is to pitch for the New York Mets. Fortunately, there’s still time to stop another major mistake from being made. Congress can prevent EPA from moving forward by cutting off funds for the Clean Power Plan effort. Meanwhile, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has suggested, states should “just say no” to this regulatory onslaught. If they don’t, and the EPA succeeds in its objectives, we’ll all be sitting in the dark, wondering what happened.