Image credit: Reto Stöckli, NASA Earth Observatory
By Drew Johnson
The Environmental Protection Agency recently finalized yet another regulation aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The new rule, which deals specifically with gases known as hydrochloroflourocarbons or HFCs, is just the latest in the Obama Administration’s misguided efforts to slow climate change through government regulations.
But while carbon dioxide and other emissions regulations continue to pile up, the basis for such policies is looking weaker each day. In the last few years, a number of scientific studies have suggested that the climate is less sensitive to carbon pollution than previously believed. What is beyond dispute, however, is that that sweeping emissions rules cost our economy jobs, drive up the price of energy, and hold back promising domestic industries like oil and gas.
Before they inflict any more harm on our economy, environmental regulators should make sure their greenhouse gas rules reflect the most up-to-date science. That’s not currently the case.
After rising for decades, the Earth's average surface temperature has effectively leveled off since 1998, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This so-called "pause" in global warming has revealed the inadequacies of climate models that forecasted a steady rise in temperature for years to come. As recently as 2007, the IPCC was predicting that the planet's temperature would rise by an average of .2 degrees Celsius over the next two decades.
The unexpected pause also calls into question the relationship between carbon emissions and climate change. After all, since 1998, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have risen by more than 27 percent, with little noticeable effect on the climate.
A host of recent research has cast doubt on prevailing views about the climate's sensitivity to carbon emissions. In a study published in September’s edition of the scientific journal Climate Dynamics, for instance, scientists Judith Curry and Nicholas Lewis show that the change in temperature that results from a doubling of atmospheric carbon is considerably lower than many current climate simulations suggest.
Other studies published in journals like Nature Geoscience and Earth System Dynamics reach similar conclusions.
None of these scientific findings, however, seem to have fazed EPA regulators. Earlier this year, the agency proposed a historic rule that would cut emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent by 2030. The new restrictions on HFCs are yet more proof that the EPA stands firm in its belief that cutting emissions is the best way to address climate change, even though science says otherwise.
It's bad enough that a group of regulators that pride themselves on their commitment to science is so willing to ignore straightforward evidence. What's worse is that, by continuing to issue such strict greenhouse gas rules, the EPA is exacting an enormous cost on average Americans.
For example, the proposed power plant rule is expected to raise electricity prices by as much as 20 percent in some states by 2031, according to the consulting firm NERA.
Carbon restrictions also threaten the wider economy, particularly the nation's thriving energy sector. Recent advances in extracting oil and gas from shale rock formations have sparked an unprecedented domestic energy boom.
In 2012 alone, the shale revolution supported 2.1 million jobs and contributed $283 billion to the national economy, according to the consulting firm IHS. By the end of the decade, this sector is expected to create an additional 3.3 million American jobs, while adding $2,700 to the average household's disposable income.
Heavy-handed greenhouse gas regulations, however, could easily disrupt this segment of our economy by making it far more expensive to take advantage of our country's energy resources.
In order to comply with the 30 percent emissions cut proposed in the EPA's power-plant rule, for example, natural-gas plants will need to install carbon capture and sequestration systems. According to IHS, such technologies increase the cost of constructing natural-gas power plants by 60 percent. In effect, such restrictions transform an affordable energy source into an expensive one.
All told, the emissions rule for power plants will cost our economy an estimated $51 billion dollars and 224,000 jobs a year for well over the next decade. This would be an enormous price to pay even if carbon emissions were as hazardous to the environment as many in the green movement believe them to be.
But it's far from clear just how sensitive the Earth's climate is to atmospheric CO2. And until the relationship between global warming and carbon emissions is better established, the EPA owes it to Americans to proceed cautiously.
Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to a smaller, more responsible government.