Seven hundred million dollars.
That's how much of your money that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is willing to throw away for nothing.
This is no joke. At issue is a recent decision by the EPA to reject Utah's visibility improvement plan and impose a federal plan in its stead. By the EPA's own admission, its plan would cost $700 million more than the state's plan.
And for what?
The EPA uses a metric known as a "deciview" to measure visibility improvement. A deciview value of 0 represents pristine air unaffected by haze. As the deciview number increases, visibility becomes progressively poorer. According to the EPA, one deciview is the minimum possible change in visibility that is perceptible to human beings. With this in mind, consider that the EPA projects that its preferred plan will improve the view over Utah's plan at most by a measly .78 deciviews, which is well short of what the agency claims is perceptible. As such, the federal plan would result in a visibility "improvement" that is literally invisible.
While the "benefits" of the EPA's visibility plan are illusory, the costs are tangible and will hurt the poorest the most. The federal plan targets four power plants that generate electricity for much of Utah. Therefore, ratepayers will shoulder the $700 million cost of the federal plan. Unfortunately, this regulatory burden is regressive, because energy costs comprise a disproportionate part of poor peoples' income. It follows that the needy would be disproportionately harmed by rising electricity bills due to the EPA's pointless regulation.
In sum, the EPA imposed a $700 million regulation, in order to achieve an invisible improvement in visibility. You might be asking yourself: Why would the agency do something so irrational? The answer, alas, is that the agency is prosecuting a war on coal.
Upon assuming the Oval Office, President Obama filled the ranks of political appointees at the EPA with anti-fossil fuel zealots from litigious green groups. For these political appointees, as with the modern environmentalist movement as a whole, coal is an evil abstraction that must be stopped at all costs. Since 2009, these fanatics have had the run of the mill at the EPA, and, in this capacity, they've executed a strategy to impose on coal-fired power plants the most expensive controls, regardless whether or not these regulations make any sense. The EPA's galvanizing logic is to push utilities into retiring coal-fired power plants rather than spend hundreds of millions of dollars on nonsensical rules.
In 2012, for example, the EPA promulgated the ridiculous Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. By the agency's own estimate, the mercury rule imposes $10 billion in annual compliance costs on the coal power sector. The EPA's absurd justification for this ultra-expensive regulation is to protect a putative population of pregnant subsistence fisherwomen, who consume during their pregnancies more than 200 pounds of self-caught fish, from exclusively the most polluted bodies of inland fresh water. Notably, the agency never identified a single member of this supposed population; instead, they were modeled to exist. Despite its flimsy foundations, the mercury rule will retire 17 percent of all coal-fired power plants in the U.S.
The EPA's visibility rules are similarly expensive and baseless. In addition to Utah, the agency has imposed federal visibility "improvement" plans on 14 other states. All told, these federal plans would cost at least $5 billion more than the state plans. In spite of these significant costs, not one of these plans would achieve a perceptible improvement in visibility.
Enough is enough. Utah should fight this nonsense by challenging the EPA's all pain, no gain visibility rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
Originally posted to The Salt Lake Tribune.