The Sky Did Not Fall Yesterday
Yesterday, January 2, 2011, was a momentous day for peace, justice and the biosphere. It was the first day that the United States has ever put legally binding limits on emissions of carbon dioxide, the most abundant and long-lasting greenhouse gas. After January second, new cars and trucks must get more miles to the gallon and emit less carbon dioxide. The biggest stationary sources, like power plants and refineries, will also be required to be more efficient, reducing both their carbon footprint and their energy bills. Of course, yesterday was a Sunday, so things really start to happen today.
Certainly, yesterday was a red letter day, a cause for celebration. We have finally begun steering our country toward a future that does not depend on fossil fuels. But critics of the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) have been predicting dire economic consequences if the Agency regulates greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. They claim such regulations will stop all construction, kill jobs and send the economy into a tail spin. The last time I checked (11:00am January 3, 2011) the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 117 points. Apparently, most investors don’t think the sky fell yesterday.
Most businesses outside the Beltway are not very concerned about the new limits on greenhouse gasses. Why? The world has been talking about climate change for so long that most businesses assume that they will to have to control their carbon dioxide emissions someday, someway. Besides, the best way to control carbon emissions is to use less energy, which saves money. For example, Hyperion Refining, which is planning to build an oil refinery in South Dakota, is not concerned. They designed their new facility on the assumption that some time in its long useful life they will have to control carbon emissions, and it makes business sense to build a very efficient plant rather than waiting and trying to fix the problem later. Many more businesses are planning to make good money in the new greener economy. That is why trade associations representing 60,000 businesses recently wrote Congress to oppose any effort to stop EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations.
If businesses are not worried about the regulations and some see business opportunities in a greener economy, who is complaining? Coal interests and elected officials posturing for the benefit of the Tea Party. The most prominent champion of the stop EPA cause is Senator Jay Rockefeller a Democrat from West Virginia. His motives are fairly obvious. Another champion of the cause is Representative Fred Upton a Republican from Michigan. In a recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, he made the usual dire predictions about the effect of EPA’s regulations. He seems to be motivated by a desire to prove to that he is even more hostile to environmental regulations than his voting record would indicate. The League of Conservation Voters gives him a 36% score for his generally unfavorable record, but that record almost prevented him from becoming chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives. His opponents accused him of not being tough enough on EPA. So Mr. Upton feels a need to prove that he is supportive of the Tea Party’s vision of the environment.
I just checked the Dow again, and while I was writing the previous two paragraphs the Dow went up another twelve points. Someone really should tell those good folks on Wall Street that the sky fell yesterday. Obviously, they have not noticed.