Senator John ThuneDuring my many conversations at town hall meetings and coffee shops in recent months, I have heard concerns from South Dakotans about the potential costs of Congress creating a host of new government programs, including the creation of a cap and trade program for the regulation of greenhouse gases. The House of Representatives passed a controversial cap and trade bill earlier this year that would have a particularly negative impact on rural states like South Dakota, and a very similar bill was recently introduced by Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA). Even though Congress has not been able to reach agreement on the regulation of greenhouse gases, it appears the Obama administration is prepared to go around elected representatives to regulate many industries. Amazingly, if the EPA is successful with the approach they are taking, there wouldn't even be a vote in Congress.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed a draft rule that would regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act for all sources emitting over 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The EPA would issue permits, and any entity producing more carbon dioxide than the limit would be required to pay a new tax. This would amount to a tax on over 14,000 facilities nationwide, including dozens of power plants, ethanol plants, and other facilities in South Dakota.
While the EPA's draft rule puts the target at 25,000 tons, the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate pollutants emitted at a much lower 100 ton threshold. If the EPA is forced to regulate carbon dioxide at the Clean Air Act's lower standard, over six million entities nationwide would face expensive fines and new taxes. Such entities include many commercial buildings, schools, churches, dry cleaners, and restaurants in addition to manufacturing facilities, power plants, and ethanol refiners.
South Dakotans would feel a direct, negative impact as a result of these new taxes which would be passed directly along to consumers. The cost of generating electricity would go up significantly, as would gasoline and diesel which would result in higher rates for consumers. Fertilizer costs would also rise for agricultural producers, given the energy intensive manufacturing process.
Sensing the public's hesitation with the controversial cap and trade law passed by the House of Representatives, the Obama administration is instead going around Congress to use the Clean Air Act, which was written in the 1970's to combat industrial chemical pollution, to also regulate greenhouse gasses - including carbon dioxide. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases across from developing countries are certainly a problem, but these far reaching proposals are not the solution.
The debate over greenhouse gas regulation is an important one, and South Dakotans deserve to witness this debate in Congress, not behind closed doors with decisions made by EPA bureaucrats. Recently, I introduced amendments that would put the brakes on the action being taken by EPA to ensure that Congress has the ability to decide definitively how and to what extent greenhouse gases are regulated. Although the recent action by the EPA was a surprise to many individuals, I will continue working to protect South Dakota's economy and consumers.
Rather than punishing consumers through a cap-and-trade scheme or EPA regulations that result in an energy tax, Congress should incentivize the production of renewable energy to make it more affordable in the short-term. Additionally, Congress should make targeted investments in research and development to improve the efficiency of wind, solar, and geothermal energy so clean renewable energy can better compete with traditional forms of energy in the long-term.