Commentary – Like Higher Utility Bills? Thank Obama’s EPA

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Plenty of people in this part of Virginia are upset about the proposed rate increases by Appalachian Power, and with good reason.  As the economy continues to struggle, particularly in our part of the Commonwealth, personal incomes are suffering and family budgets are getting tighter each day.  No one wants to pay higher electricity bills, but the public anger is misplaced by blaming the power company.  The people’s ire should be directed at the Obama Administration and its Environmental Protection Agency.

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama infamously said, “they can build coal plants, but it will bankrupt them.”  If there were ever a more clear declaration of war on the coal industry, and therefore electricity generation, it has not been reported yet.

Appalachian Power generates 95-percent of its electricity from coal-fired plants.  The coal industry also supports an estimated three jobs for every job directly associated with coal mining.  The economic impact on the health of coal, Appalachian Power, and the people of Virginia should be obvious to most intelligent observers.  That, sadly, apparently does not include President Obama’s EPA.

The EPA is staffed by a staggering amount of unelected bureaucrats who do the bidding of the administration.  And, as you would expect, these paper pushers have figured out how to really work the system.  They create regulations like the EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rules, adopted in 2005, but make them so they don’t go into effect until years later.  Much like the signature ObamaCare legislation, the harmful effects will not be felt until years later, when there will be no opportunity for voters to react to the miscreants who enacted the law.

Appalachian Power has been forced to spend billions of dollars to comply with regulations arbitrarily designed by the EPA – regulations not subject to approval of Congress – and must then find some way to offset the enormous costs.  There are two significant options: raise prices to consumers of its electricity, and have layoffs in the workforce.  At this point, politicians are tempted to grandstand and shake their fists at the “big bad power company” in the hopes of striking a populist chord with voters.  In reality, it is the politicians who created the EPA monster and its resulting effects.

Bad policy has real world consequences.  In this case, an out-of-control EPA is trying to make coal so unattractive no one will use it.  And the result is higher costs of utility bills to people like you and me.  And if they succeed, in the words of President Obama to force coal companies to “go bankrupt,” what will these wise men tell the tens of thousands of Virginians who owe their livelihoods to the industry?  What will they tell people when they experience rolling blackouts as has happened in California and elsewhere because the coal-fired electricity plants are under siege?

Who will the politicians blame then?

Coal is abundant, affordable and reliable – and it is responsible for keeping electricity rates relatively low to this point.  Federal environmental regulations are responsible for driving them up.  Case in point: from 1983 until 2005 Appalachian Power’s rates remained relatively unchanged for 22 years.  When the EPA passed their 2005 Clean Air Rules, power companies were forced to spend billions on environmental compliance, and as a consequence, rates rose as well.  And that was just phase one of the EPA rules.  Phase two doesn’t go into effect until 2015.  In fact, every major rate increase since 2005 has been driven primarily by federal environmental mandates.

This is just another example of the all-out war on energy undertaken by this administration and its Environmental Protection Agency.  This is Barack Obama’s world view: coal is bad, oil is bad, nuclear power is bad.  Windmills are desirable.

There is a fictional character named Don Quixote who might agree with him.  Most Virginians probably would not.

– Trixie Averill is the Virginia Director of Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit organization that promotes economic freedom and the free market.