EPA Raked Over the Coals

Consumers and businesses won big on Monday, when the Supreme Court struck down an Environmental Protection Agency regulation on coal plant emissions because the EPA failed to consider whether the costs outweighed the benefits. Not the cost to government, mind you. The cost to us, as consumers and business owners, to comply. The Court’s 5-4 decision in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency is a setback for the Obama administration but an important protection for the rest of us.


Federal overregulation — of everything from automobiles to fast food and power plants — makes it more expensive for employers to hire and more expensive for consumers to buy everyday products. Amazingly, 29 percent of what the average household spends is due to regulations jacking up prices. We could afford a lot more if there were fewer regulations.

Some are needed to protect our health and safety, but Washington, D.C., overdoes it. And has for decades. The Obama administration is the all-time worst offender, and its EPA imposes the most regulatory burdens of any agency.

Monday’s ruling is a red flag to regulators to measure the costs and benefits to society before deciding to pile on another regulation. But the Court cannot be counted on to protect us from overregulation, especially considering the slim victory on Monday. Every presidential candidate should be asked for a plan to tame the regulatory beast and get government off our backs.

The lawsuit against the EPA was brought by the coal industry and 21 states reliant on coal plants. Though the regulation, limiting emissions of mercury and other metals, only went into effect this April, dozens of coal plants already had closed to avoid the cost of complying, estimated at a whopping $10 billion nationwide. The Court’s ruling will not undo those plant closings. They are casualties in Obama’s war on coal.

In Monday’s ruling, Scalia raked the EPA over the coals, saying it “refused to consider whether the costs of its decision outweighed the benefits. The Agency gave cost no thought at all, because it considered cost irrelevant to its initial decision to regulate.”

Congress opposes the president’s crusade against coal, so the EPA found a provision in a law already on the books — the Clean Air Act of 1970 — to justify regulating metallic emissions from coal plants where “appropriate and necessary.” Scalia raged that it’s not ” even rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health and environmental benefits.”

Requiring cost-benefit analysis originated with Ronald Reagan in 1981, but it’s only part of the remedy. Regulators will play fast and loose with the numbers to justify their regulations.

The problem, explained Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion, is that Congress gives agencies too much leeway to decide when to regulate. It’s inevitable they’ll overdo it — regulation is their business. The undemocratic result is regulation without representation.

The Obama administration is regulation on steroids. Regulations imposing more than $100 million in yearly compliance costs are up 41 percent over what the George W. Bush administration imposed, though the Bush administration also over-regulated.

These proliferating Obama regulations take money out of your pocket, adding $44 to the cost of a dishwasher, $83 to the price of a refrigerator and $1,357 to a new car (which will soar to $3,157 in 2017) according to economists at the American Action Forum.

And there’s the cost to our democracy. Obama’s EPA is also rolling out another scheme — the Clean Power Plan — against the will of Congress. It will force states to close coal plants and change the energy mix in their state. Harvard constitutional lawyer Lawrence Tribe is urging his old student, Barack Obama, to obey the law. “Frustration with congressional inaction cannot justify throwing the Constitution overboard.”

Twelve states are now suing the EPA to halt this scheme as well. Obama’s EPA lost in the Supreme Court on Monday. But the president, ruling with a pen and phone and without Congress, bullies on.

Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of “Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution.”

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