LAHN: EPA’s message to MT: Sacrifice economy for environmental symbolism

September 03, 2014

Editor’s note:  The following guest editorial by Zach Lahn, AFP-Montana’s State Director, appeared in several newspapers including The Missoulian, the Daily Inter Lake and the Lewiston News Argus

The Environmental Protection Agency delivered a blunt message to Montanans this summer: We’re willing to sacrifice your economy for symbolic, and misleading, environmental policies.

That’s the effect of two new sweeping regulations from the Washington bureaucracy. The first caps Montana’s carbon dioxide emissions, while the second expands the Clean Water Act to give the EPA more control over private ranches and farms.

The EPA assured us these regulations would be environmentally beneficial and economically painless, but Montanans are starting to find out that they’re actually all pain and no gain. No wonder our state is increasingly opposed to them.

Just look at the carbon dioxide regulation. In a recent survey of registered Montana voters by the American Energy Alliance, participants were asked at the outset whether they supported the regulation: 57 percent were for it, compared to 38 percent opposed. But when then presented with the consequences of this new regulation – more Washington control of our economy, lost jobs and no recognizable environmental benefits – that majority support flipped to majority opposition.

They saw that Montana has a lot to lose. Rather than enforcing equal cuts across the board, the Obama administration has the authority to assign different target reduction levels to each state. Montana’s target is 21 percent, while our neighbors Wyoming and North Dakota only have to cut theirs by 19 and 11 percent, respectively.

These cuts will deeply hurt our state, which gets half its electricity from coal – the target of the regulation. A recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce analyzed a similar regulation and found that it could cost Montana and the rest of the Mountain Region roughly $5 billion per year until it’s fully implemented in 2030, potentially costing 450,000 jobs over the same time period. That’s the last thing our economy needs.

The damage would be so severe because Montana’s state economy depends on coal. We’re the eighth largest coal-producing state in the country, selling over half a billion dollars’ worth in 2013 alone. Cumulative payrolls across Montana’s six mining operations totaled $115 million last year, making these jobs some of the best in the state.

It’s reasonable to assume that the EPA’s actions will at least improve the environment. Yet that isn’t even the case.

According to the EPA’s own climate model – tellingly, its acronym is “MAGICC“ – this new regulation will only reduce global temperatures by an infinitesimal 0.043 degrees Fahrenheit – less than one half of one tenth of one degree – over the next 86 years.

No wonder Montanans turned against the EPA mandate: It will do next to nothing for the environment while disproportionately harming our state’s economy.

The EPA’s redefinition of the Clean Water Act is little different. Issued within days of the carbon dioxide mandate, this rule radically alters the meaning of “navigable waters” to include any lands – private or public – where water could conceivably flow.

Armed with its new expansive definition, the EPA will have the authority to require permits and other restrictions on such “navigable waters” as long-since-dry creek beds and manmade drainage ditches. Washington might even be able to regulate every square inch of our state – rain, after all, creates temporary water flows.

The costs will be immense. Not only will this add regulatory burdens for our state’s 28,000-plus farms and ranches, it will also reduce property values by restricting future development. This is particularly worrisome since agriculture is our state’s leading industry, adding over $4 billion to the economy per year.

Together, both of these regulations will only harm our economy and eliminate many of our jobs. Yet the EPA has made it clear: That’s an acceptable price to pay for the false appearance of environmental progress.

Zach Lahn is the Montana state director for Americans for Prosperity. He can be reached at zlahn@afphq.org.

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