Originally published in The Virginian-Pilot:
Fixing Obama’s power plan
By: Delegate Israel O’Quinn & Delegate Scott Taylor
President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency finalized an expensive and far-reaching regulatory directive known as the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to cut carbon emissions by applying burdensome regulations to existing power plants.
For Virginians, the impact will be severe. Energy prices will go up, disproportionately hurting senior citizens and the poor, and it will deal another blow to our already-struggling economy.
Virginia has one year to develop a strategy to comply with these regulations, and in our view, the commonwealth’s residents should have a say in that plan. The people, through their elected representatives, should decide whether or not Virginia moves forward.
Instead, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is working to develop a plan without input from hard-working Virginians. This is why we will introduce legislation to require General Assembly approval and oversight.
During Obama’s 2008 campaign, he said that under his energy plan electricity rates would “necessarily skyrocket.” Fortunately for Virginia, Congress killed his cap and trade plan. Unfortunately for Virginia, however, the president is now stretching his executive authority — undoubtedly with his presidential legacy in mind — to implement these arbitrary carbon caps through the regulatory process.
Not surprisingly, the regulations set forth in the 1,560-page Clean Power Plan are dense and complicated. However, the nonpartisan and independent State Corporation Commission — which regulates power companies — boiled it down. This plan is like the federal government making Virginia residents and businesses build a house and take out a mortgage, at which point the government demands the house be torn down because it does not meet new standards.
SCC staff estimates the cost of complying with these regulations, (the mortgage in the analogy) could mean $6 billion in higher electric bills for Virginia families and businesses.
For Virginians making less than $30,000 per year, energy costs already consume one-fourth of their income. Higher energy costs also disproportionately hurt senior citizens trying to heat or cool their homes on a fixed income.
The regulations could also be devastating for Virginia’s anemic economy. Analysts predict that two power plants could be closed earlier than anticipated, which would cause a ripple effect through the entire state. Fewer coal-fired power plants equates to fewer jobs in Southwest Virginia’s mines and a drop in the over 40,000 jobs supported by coal mining.
Less coal coming out of Southwest Virginia means fewer railroad jobs everywhere. Earlier this year, Norfolk Southern laid off 500 employees as part of a corporate restructuring, and recently reported a 23 percent profit drop in the second quarter, largely due to “coal headwinds.”
Fewer railcars of coal mean fewer shipments traveling through the ports in Hampton Roads. Roughly three quarters of the total weight of exports shipped out of Norfolk is from coal, but that number will decline under these rules.
Fewer power plants also means more stress on the power grid, with more expensive, less reliable energy that translates to higher energy prices. This will especially hurt manufacturing in Central Virginia and large technology companies in Northern Virginia, all of which require significant energy consumption.
These regulations couldn’t come at a worse time for Virginia, with another round of sequestration looming ahead, 0 percent economic growth last year, and a recent tumble to 12th on CNBC’s list of Best States for Business.
Our proposed legislation would require General Assembly approval and oversight before Virginia complies with the EPA’s new regulations. McAuliffe must send his plan to the legislature for review, and the House and Senate will then take a vote on behalf of the Virginians they represent. If the plan fails to pass, McAuliffe tries again. He cannot implement the plan without approval of the General Assembly — and, by extension, the residents of Virginia. It is that simple.
An issue this important, with such extensive economic consequences, deserves full consideration by the millions of Virginians who will be impacted by its implementation.
Del. Israel O’Quinn represents Virginia’s 5th House district. Del. Scott Taylor represents the 85th.