DRESDEN, Tenn., May 22, 2015– The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is at it again. Its new Clean Power Plan isn’t just an unprecedented attempt by a federal agency to tell states how to generate electricity, it’s also an outrageous overreach. What the EPA is attempting is far beyond its legal authority. Worse, it’s trying to make the states party to this unconstitutional effort, requiring each to draft its own State Implementation Plan.
The Clean Power Plan is an effort by the EPA to dictate how to keep the lights on, and it favors more expensive, less reliable sources of power like wind and solar over cheaper, traditional sources such as coal, in the name of reducing carbon emissions.
Unfortunately, any environmental benefits from this rule will be so small as to be effectively meaningless, while consumers and businesses will be confronted with significantly higher electric bills. Here in Tennessee, for example, where we get roughly 40 percent of our electricity from coal and the EPA is demanding a 39 percent reduction in carbon emissions, one study found the average family can look forward to paying as much $116 more per year to keep the lights on.
EPA officials understand how radical and unpopular this will be, which is why they’re doing their best to make states complicit through the state implementation plans. But why should any state spend taxpayer resources and state employees’ time drafting a plan to comply with something that is going to face strenuous legal challenges and will likely be rejected by the courts? After all, this is the proposal that Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe — President Barack Obama’s own professor of constitutional law — described as “burning the Constitution.” And if a state refuses to file an implementation plan, the worst that the EPA can do is force a “model plan,” which many have argued will be less economically damaging than states trying to meet their own individual targets.
A little-known tool called the anti-commandeering doctrine has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court for more than 180 years. It allows states to opt out of enforcement of any and all federal laws and regulations, regardless of constitutionality. Tennesseans cannot afford this, and our taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to have their own tax dollars working against them to increase their monthly expenses. We can opt out, and we should.
That’s why U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested earlier this month that states’ wisest course of action may be to do exactly that: nothing. Indeed, some states have indicated that they will refuse to go along with the Clean Power Plan and will refuse to file an implementation plan, but until now Tennessee has not been among them. I hope that will change.
Recently 19 of my fellow legislators and I sent a letter urging Gov. Bill Haslam not to develop or file a state implementation plan. We believe this is the best option for our state. Not only will it prevent the use of taxpayer resources for something that will, with any luck, never actually be called for, but also because we believe that the alternative — a federal “model plan” — would be less economically harmful to Tennessee.
If Tennessee complies with the diktats of the Clean Power Plan, it won’t be just the consumers paying more. Also at risk will be the 8,000 Tennesseans holding jobs in industries that will be directly affected, as well as any industrial worker, as their employers will be confronted by electricity bills costing them $116,000 more per year to stay in operation.
Common sense, and Tennessee’s jobs and economic health, agree: Haslam should inform the EPA that he will not be filing a state implementation plan. We encourage him to do so, and we’ll be the first to applaud when he does.