Obama plan to reduce emissions allows coal-heavy states to increase emissions

Well, that cat’s out of the bag, or out of the coal mine.

Remember when we first considered what could go wrong with a cap-and-trade “encouragement” system? I listed seven ways a cap-and-trade system could be gamed — designed to accomplish the opposite of its stated goal.

One of those ways was this:

Second, the allocation method can favor some emitters — for example, those with the highest cost to reduce emissions. Let’s create an extreme case. Say you were implementing a cap-and-trade system that included just Kentucky (a coal-burning high-emissions state) and Oregon (a non-coal low-emissions state). Then you gave 95% of the permits to Kentucky, enough to force only small changes there for the next 10 years, and put most of the burden (but not all) of reduction on Oregon.

You’d get the opposite of the result you wanted — if your goal was to eliminate emissions from coal plants. On the other hand, you’d get exactly the result you wanted — if you wanted to appear to reduce emissions from coal plants while making sure that coal profits weren’t terribly impacted. (In the latter case, you want to be careful to force some changes on Kentucky; otherwise, you couldn’t point to them later and claim credit.)

Here comes The Guardian to prove us right (my emphasis and paragraphing throughout):

Obama plan to reduce pollution will allow some states to increase emissions

Coal-heavy states like West Virginia will be allowed to increase emissions while still meeting overall target of 30% cut nationally

Barack Obama’s new power plant rules will still allow some states to increase their share of the carbon pollution [CO2 emissions] that causes climate change, officials admitted for the first time on Wednesday.

A coal mine in Wyoming, United States. The United States has the world's largest coal reserves.

A coal mine in Wyoming, United States. The United States has the world’s largest coal reserves.

Obama and supporters cast the new rules for power plants as an historic step to fighting climate change and protecting public health. But some of the dirtiest and most coal-heavy states – such as West Virginia and Kentucky – will be allowed to maintain or even increase their emissions under the plan, according to analysts.

It also hasn’t stopped leaders from those same states, West Virginia and Kentucky, from trying to block the rules in Congress or through the courts.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which produced the 645-page regulation, said it was possible individual states could increase their emissions while still meeting the overall target of the plan for a 30% cut in national emissions from 2005 levels by 2030. But the official said the EPA expected states to adopt energy-efficiency programmes which would help reduce demand for electricity. “So, theoretically, a state could increase emissions, but nationally the carbon intensity and emissions both decrease,” the official said in an email.

The new rules would require only modest effort from heavy coal states such as Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky while requiring big cuts from Texas, Louisiana, and New York, according to an analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance research company. … “The bottom line is pretty clear. There are some major differences between what states are being asked to do in terms of being asked to reduce their total CO2 emissions on a volume basis,” said Ethan Zindler, head of policy analysis for BNEF. …

Read the article for the stark differences between what “winner” states — Kentucky, West Virginia — and “loser” states — Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana  — are being asked to do.

My belief is that this is a heavily lobbied — and heavily watered down — draft; that the lobbyists were allowed to get at it even before the “120-day comment period” allowed to the public. Think it’s going to come out of that public comment period stronger? Me neither.

And yet we’re still marinating in this:

Obama and supporters cast the new rules for power plants as an historic step to fighting climate change and protecting public health.

Nope; won’t do either. Certainly not as currently designed.

Obama’s new rules are slanted toward methane

I don’t want to expand this too much yet, so I’ll tack it here. One of the other ways we noted that cap-and-trade could be slanted was by picking the wrong “measurable,” a yardstick slanted to create the wrong outcome:

Fourth, the scheme could fail by regulating the wrong “measurable.” In the case of carbon emissions from electricity plants, the measureable could be either “carbon dioxide” or “all hydrocarbon emissions.” Using the former would prevent you from counting leakage from methane-burning (natural gas) plants. You could also measure either “total emissions” or “emissions per megawatt-hour generated.” Measuring the latter also favors methane-burning plants, since methane plants already generate more power per unit of emission.

From the same Guardian article:

The regulations unveiled on Monday would allow states to come up with their own plans for achieving their target emissions rate – the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for every megawatt hour of electricity generated.

Voilà — it’s a methane plan.

We’ll have more on methane-burning plants at another time. But for now — airborne carbon is airborne carbon, and methane is one of the worst of them. Yes, it burns to the “tamer” CO2 (which the plan is trying to reduce, right? But it also leaks, some say heavily, as methane.

If I were a suspicious man, I’d say someone had made a deal with the kind-hearted billionaire owners of “America’s clean natural gas” — like Exxon:

Exxon Mobil Corp., the largest U.S. natural gas producer since last year’s purchase of XTO Energy Inc., is evaluating more acquisitions with an eye toward expanding its gas holdings.

Is the fix in? Does the moon circle the earth?

Spread the word, folks. A solution that doesn’t work is worse than none. It inspires apathy when the opposite is needed.


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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