Quantcast

Why Energy Companies' Predictions on Carbon Limits Shouldn't Be Trusted

Energy

The Center for American Progress (CAP) has about 40 years worth of evidence to prove why coal and utility companies' predictions on carbon limits should be taken with a grain of salt.

To analysts there, energy companies and their advocates have engaged in their own version of Groundhog's Day for decades.

The Center for American Progress' latest study shows why you can't always trust the predictions of energy companies when it comes to carbon emission safeguards.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

It began in 1970, when industry types were debating the merits of the Clean Air Act. Carl G. Beard II, then-director of the West Virginia Air Pollution Control Commission, testified before the Senate Public Works Committee that complying with the Clean Air Act of 1970 would lead to “consumers of power [paying] for these costly errors for the next 25 to 30 years."

Sure, rates went up, but not because of a desire for cleaner air. About a decade later, the Congressional Quarterly Almanac 1981 reflected on how wrong Beard and others who shared his prediction were:

Improved air quality had brought benefits worth from $4.6 billion to $51.2 billion per year, while costs of … pollution control equipment were estimated to have been $16.6 billion in 1978. … The act had not been an important obstacle to energy development ... The law had not significantly inhibited economic growth.

CAP's report, Groundhog Days: Utilities Wrong Again About Pollution Safeguard Costsis full of similar stories that exemplify a recurring sense of paranoia when it comes to carbon limit proposals and energy companies' response to them. Now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to propose carbon emissions limits for existing power plants this summer, CAP analysts see the same thing happening again.

"The bloated predictions about the cost of EPA proposals to finally control carbon pollution from power plants is simply a rehash of past hysteria,” Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategies at CAP, said in a statement. “These new safeguards are essential for Americans’ health and economy. Officials should ignore industry’s phony forecasts and instead focus on the huge costs of climate inaction: more smog, more asthma attacks, more ferocious storms, more droughts and more wildfires.”

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI),  lobbying arm for investor-owned utilities, tried instilling fear in 1989 in a campaign against acid-rain-pollution reductions from power plants. The EEI believed that power rates in 48 states would significantly rise. Two decades later, CAP shows that the EEI’s overall rate prediction was 16 percent too high.

EEI wrong predicted large rate increases in the 10 biggest coal electricity states (all rates in 2009 dollars). Graphic credit: Center for American Progress

In reality, a 2011 National Science and Technology Council report showed that cid-rain-reduction provisions in the Clean Air Act of 1990 led to a roughly 66-percent cut in acid-rain ingredients, achieving pollution reductions that went above and beyond those required by law, according to CAP's report. The EPA estimated the compliance cost would be about $3 billion per year or less than half of the initial estimates, while human health benefits of reduced acid rain were “$170 billion to $430 billion in 2010 alone,” according to the EPA.

CAP concluded the study with words from Robert J. Rauch, an economist with Jack Faucett Associates, during that 1972 Clean Air Act hearing that ring just as true 42 years later. As the organization puts it, they represent a decades-long "Groundhog's Day."

"[It's] really quite simple. An industry confronted with environmental regulations commissions an “expert” study to show that the costs of complying with the regulations would be prohibitive," Rauch said. "These cost estimates are then highly publicized and used to generate public demand that the standards be relaxed.

"Once publicized, these cost estimates take on a life of their own—mere repetition assures their acceptance."

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic. 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Aerial view of Ruropolis, Para state, northen Brazil, on Sept. 6, 2019. Tthe world's biggest rainforest is under threat from wildfires and rampant deforestation. JOHANNES MYBURGH / AFP via Getty Images

By Kate Martyr

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest last month jumped to the highest level since records began in 2015, according to government data.

A total of 563 square kilometers (217.38 square miles) of the world's largest rainforest was destroyed in November, 103% more than in the same month last year, according to Brazil's space research agency.

From January to November this year an area almost the size of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico was destroyed — an 83% overall increase in destruction when compared with the same period last year.

The figures were released on Friday by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and collected through the DETER database, which uses satellite images to monitor forest fires, forest destruction and other developments affecting the rainforest.

What's Behind the Rise?

Overall, deforestation in 2019 has jumped 30% compared to last year — 9,762 square kilometers (approximately 3769 square miles) have been destroyed, despite deforestation usually slowing during November and December.

Environmental groups, researchers and activists blamed the policies of Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro for the increase.

They say that Bolosonaro's calls for the Amazon to be developed and his weakening support for Ibama, the government's environmental agency, have led to loggers and ranchers feeling safer and braver in destroying the expansive rainforest.

His government hit back at these claims, pointing out that previous governments also cut budgets to environment agencies such as Ibama.

The report comes as Brazil came to loggerheads with the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) over climate goals during the UN climate conference in Madrid.

AOSIS blasted Brazil, among other nations, for "a lack of ambition that also undermines ours."

Last month, a group of Brazilian lawyers called for Bolsonaro to be investigated by the International Criminal Court over his environmental policies.

Reposted with permission from DW.

The Carolina parakeet went extinct in 1918. James St. John / CC BY 2.0

The Carolina parakeet, the only parrot species native to the U.S., went extinct in 1918 when the last bird died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Now, a little more than 100 years later, researchers have determined that humans were entirely to blame.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
An elephant in Botswana. Mario Micklisch / CC BY 2.0

Two hunters who shot and killed a research elephant in Botswana and then destroyed its collar to hide the evidence have been banned from further hunting in the country.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Brianna Elliott, RD

Vitamin C is a very important nutrient that's abundant in many fruits and vegetables.

Read More Show Less
BLM drill seeders work to restore native grasses after wildfire on the Bowden Hills Wilderness Study Area in southeast Oregon, Dec. 14, 2018. Marcus Johnson / BLM / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

In 2017 the Thomas fire raged through 281,893 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, California, leaving in its wake a blackened expanse of land, burned vegetation, and more than 1,000 destroyed buildings.

Read More Show Less