Here’s a business story in a pub with many readers who hardly want to believe a word of it:
- Bloomberg/Businessweek – Paul M. Barrett: The Phony War on Obama’s Plan to Curtail Coal-Fired Power ;
Barrett, an ass’t managing editor at the outlet, takes stock of the wide rejection in the mainstream US business community of the rationale and supposed benefits to the nation if the Obama administrations big new set of EPA regulations to curtail power plant greenhouse emissions, mainly by using less coal, goes through to completion. The caterwauling and worries about a “war on coal” (that’s Senator Mitch McConnell’s take) don’t stack up, Barrett writes. “Don’t believe it,” he says, “The coming corporate/conservative counter-offensive against the gradual Obama plan will rely on similar unsubstantiated hype.”
His argument seems pretty convincing to me. This is good journalistic opinion writing, marshalling enough facts and general arguments to back up his conclusion: “The Obama plan amounts to a modest demonstration that the U.S. is (finally) willing to lead on global warming.” Yesterday, in rounding up the scene-setters and first news stories on hte plan, my post said Big Coal is staring death in the face. After reading Barrett’s arguments I suspect I overdid it. Even at its strictest, he writes, the EPA’s new rules will cause a significant but still modest drop in coal consumption from their present levels. Six years from now, he reports, the US will be burning a little over 600 million tons of coal for electricity each year compared to the 800+ million tons without the new rules. And in 2030, when the new rules are to have been fully enforced, coal will still be generating about 30 percent of US electricity compared to the 39 percent last year. That’s just an industry that the White House wants to slap around a little but not killed. Not that fast anyway. Coal will still be dirty but between use of more efficient furnaces and such, along with offsets through cap and trade deals, it will abundantly still be with us.
A look at the comments reveals that a lot of his readers don’t buy it. But this is the sort of story that can reduce the impact of the histrionics that many coal and other fossil-fuel industries will marshall to stop Obama’s plan.
Last night a TV news and opinion program ran another well-researched piece of journalism, via historic clips of industry reactions to a wide set of federal regulations dating back to the 60s and that ordered businesses to do things in new ways:
- MSNBC – The Rachel Maddow Show: VINTAGE WHINE: New pollution rules bring chicken littles; This is a 15-minute segment and reveals 1) The Maddow and her show often take an awful long time to get to the point and 2) The show does phenomenal short-deadline research making that point emphatically. Watchers are treated to a parade of regulatory waves from decades ago – smog, acid rain, ozone depletion, exhaust controls on cars, seat belts on cars etc. were all greeted with wails form business that the economy would go south, businesses would fold, and free enterprise but get swallowed up in an enviro-socialist debacle of waste.
I saw the show last night and said wow that’s great, how useful and original. But a few minutes after I thought that, show host Maddow presented a clip of EPA boss Gina McCarthy introducing the new regulations earlier in the day. McCarthy herself alluded to same history of business hysteria in the face of looming new government regulations. OK, the TV show’s angle was not entirely original. But it was terrifically enterprising to dig up a bunch of historic clips of biz-friendly talking heads blathering on about the ruin sure to follow should XX new regs be enacted. Maddow also recognizes that Obama’s plan has a hurdle that previous such episodes lacked. The new EPA rules are executive department regulations, not laws. Previous presidents were able to get their big environmental changes through Congress. So the political calculus is harder for this round. That means media are guaranteed to have a lot of fireworks to cover. One hopes the scientific underpinnings of the issues are not lost entirely as politics gets louds.
Other deep thoughts, cheap shots, and bon mots* on the new powerplant regs and related matters:
- Christian Science Monitor – Pete Spotts: EPA proposes big emissions cuts: Would the climate even notice? (+video) ; While the health payoff from less mercury, aerosol, and other unpleasant constituents of coal plant smoke stack plumes are real, Spotts dwells on the practical impact on global warming by these proposed restrictions on US emissions. Which is, not much – unless American diplomatic efforts to get other nations to get with the program bear fruit during IPCC and similar negotiations toward international global climate action.
- The Guardian- Adam Vaughan, Tania Branigan: China to limit carbon emissions for first time / Absolute cap to come into effect, climate adviser says on the day after US announced ambitious carbon plan ; Quite a lot of media have this news. This piece sums it up, and underscores the point Spotts at CSM makes in his piece, see previous bullet. Note that the story references a Reuters account that had it first but apparently initially, before amendment, overstated the degree to which this policy has top approval.
- AP – John Hanna: Brownback says EPA’s new rule for curbing carbon emissions is ‘war against middle America.”
- Time Magazine – Michael Grunwald: New Carbon Rules the Next Step in Obama’s War on Coal; Grunwald feels that these regs are a major salvo in a (righteous) war waged by Obama and like minds people to kill coal off eventually.
- MarketWatch – Tim Mullaney: The war on coal is already over, Mr. President /Insight: The energy industry has boosted natural gas and nuclear power ; With or without the EPA regs, he writes, coal is done.
- The New Yorker – John Cassidy: Obama’s ‘War On coal” Is Worth Fighting;
- The New Yorker – Elizabeth Kolbert: Has Obama Fulfilled His Promise on Carbon Emissions?; Kolbert, as one might expects, puts the proposed regulations neatly into the larger context of global warming science and the targets for emission reductions that it would take to keep temperature rise in relatively safe territory. The Obama proposal. it says here, may be bold politically but that does not mean it is enough.
- Washington Examiner – Paul Bedard: GOP: Obama war on coal a ‘dagger in the heart’ of Americans.
- NYTimes – Clifford Krauss, Diane Cardwell: Hopes for Impact of Carbon Rules in US Are Modest ; Yikes, these Times guys say the hullabaloo over these new rules is about …. nothing!
*UPDATE (June 4)
- Washington Post Fact Checker blog – Glenn Kessler: GOP lawmakers rush to cite study to discredit new EPA rule, but study assumed EPA rule would be tougher ; Other than a long, awkward hed, a decent examination of some of the arguments that the new rules are expensive, costly job killers as asserted in a report from the US Chamber of Commerce.
* Tip of hat for wordsmithery to SF Chron’s Scott Ostler, who serves wry regularly under this running subhed.