First Do No Harm

A key principle of the health care field is “Primum non nocere.” Latin for "First, do no harm." Sometimes, it may be better not to do something — or even to do nothing — than to risk causing more harm than good. Lawmakers should keep this principle in mind, too. 

A new regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power sector would end up harming our society’s poor and middle class. The so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP) — effectively under suspension after the United States Supreme Court granted a “stay” last winter — caps CO2 emissions for existing and new power plants regardless of the increased cost to households and small businesses. A follow-up case will be heard September 27, 2016 in the DC Court of Appeals. And many legal observers feel that the Supreme Court’s decision signals that many on the court believes that the EPA rule has significant flaws.

Defenders of the rule, who believe that increased levels of CO2 are warming the planet or otherwise damaging the climate — often ignoring the natural climate cycle — insist on efforts to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. That’s the aim of the CPP. The problem is that it will accomplish little — a reduction of 0.018 degrees C by 2100 — and impose enormous costs to taxpayers and consumers.

The impact of the EPA rule is the subject of a new report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) titled “The EPA’s Clean Power Plan Will Hurt the Poor and Middle Class the Most.” The report details the results of various studies on the impact of the CPP. For example, according to NERA Economic Consulting, the plan will increase average nationwide average electricity prices by 11-14 percent per year. Electricity prices are projected to increase for every state subjected to the CPP. 41 one of these states face peak year retail electricity price increases of 10 percent or more.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas estimates the CPP could increase the retail price of power by up to 16 percent by 2030 — not including the impact of new transmission projects or other spending that could be needed in order to make compliance possible.

These costs are significant to families and businesses.

A 2011 survey of low-income households for the National Energy Assistance Directors Association revealed an array of adverse health and welfare impacts of high energy costs. Low-income households reported these responses to high energy bills:

•           24 percent went without food for at least one day.

•           37 percent went without medical or dental care.

•           34 percent did not fill a prescription or took less than the full dose.

•           19 percent had someone become sick because their home was too cold.

And poor minority households are disproportionally impacted by the CPP, as the EPA, itself, admits. During a presentation at Resources for the Future, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy conceded, “We know that low-income minority communities would be hardest hit.”

Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, called the CPP “a slap in the face to poor and minority families.” According to a study commissioned by Alford’s organization, the CPP will more than double the cost of natural gas and electricity for consumers, adding more than $1 trillion to family and business energy bills by 2035. The study also predicts that the CPP will cause job losses for more than 7 million African Americans and 12 million Latino and Hispanic Americans, as businesses are unable to compete in the face of higher energy costs. Finally, the study estimates the resulting decline in jobs and wages will cause the poverty rate in the African American community to rise by 23 percent.

These and other studies reviewed in the paper show that the proposed “solution” to the perceived CO2 “problem” are just not worth the cost. The bottom-line? Under the Clean Power Plan more people will suffer — and for no benefit to our climate.

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