On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled the first draft of regulations requiring coal-fired power plants to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions, the most ambitious move yet by the Obama Administration to combat one of the main drivers behind climate change.
They were so unhappy, in fact, that they took to the internet to voice their grievances about the rule. But instead of finding ways to substantively debate the issues, many politicians used their voices to obscure the new regulations — misleading readers about what they do, using inflammatory rhetoric, and exaggerating about how the rules will be felt by normal Americans.
Here are the worst examples of how political figures reacted in the hours after the regulations were released.
Greenhouse Gases Don’t Harm Anybody
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is perhaps the Senate’s most infamous climate denier, who has said the United Nations invented the “global warming thing” as a power grab. He once built an igloo on the National Mall and called it “Al Gore’s New Home.”
So it’s not particularly surprising that Inhofe’s reaction to the EPA’s new rule was to call it “a green agenda that has been dreamed up by the environmentalist community for decades” because the EPA has admitted that greenhouse gases “do not cause direct adverse health effects.”
However, the direct health effects of greenhouse gases were never the problem. The problem is the indirect effects — they’re the primary driver of climate change, which leads to hotter, longer heat waves, threatening the health of the sick, poor and elderly. Greenhouse gas emissions also lead to increases in ground-level ozone pollution, which is linked to asthma and other illnesses.
The EPA Is A Terrorist Militia
A full-page ad running in Politico today details the “radical” organization that is the EPA, implying an “anarchist,” “militia,” “terrorist” organization whose regulations “threaten to shut down 25 percent of the electric grid.”
The ad, which manages to be both offensive and wildly untrue, comes from “EPAFacts.com,” a site run by right-wing PR flack Rick Berman. Berman’s site is dedicated to exposing the EPA’s “agenda-driven science,” implies that mercury pollution and smog are not harmful to one’s health, and says sunlight hitting wind turbines can cause seizures.
Berman has long history of making hyperbolic claims paid for by moneyed interests, including websites claiming that trans fats fight cancer, that high-sugar soft drinks improve athletic performance, and that sugar is not bad for your teeth. According to a Huffington Post report, Berman has also previously attacked organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and campaigned against minimum-wage increases and unionization.
Climate Regulations Will Stab You In The Heart
For a party that has used the term “scare-tactics” to describe climate scientists’ predictions about what will happen to the world if carbon emissions aren’t reduced, Republican leaders seem to be using a lot of violence-related language when it comes to the new climate rules.
“Today’s announcement is a dagger in the heart of the American middle class,” said Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a press release this morning. “This rule is all pain, no gain,” Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) said in a statement. “It’s a sucker punch for families everywhere,” wrote Boehner.
Of course, Obama’s new climate regulations won’t stab you in the heart or punch you without warning. Politicians and the public have known these regulations were coming since 2009, when the EPA designated carbon dioxide as an air pollutant. This happened two years after the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had the authority and responsibility under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases if they were a threat to human health and welfare.
What’s more, the EPA estimates the regulations will actually prevent deaths — up to 6,600 premature deaths avoided from pollution reduction, and 150,000 avoided asthma attacks in children.
Obama Himself Promised Rates Would ‘Skyrocket’
Obama, according to House Speaker John Boehner and a number of others, has personally promised that these new regulations will make electricity rates “skyrocket,” — and they can prove it with this 2008 video.
“Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket,” then-Senator Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle in the 30-second clip, part of a larger interview on coal.
While it is undoubtedly true that Obama said this, there are a couple of problems with using it to attack the new climate regulations. The first is that Obama is talking in the video about his plan for a nationwide cap-and-trade program, which is not a part of the new carbon regulations for coal plants. Under the new regulations, states can establish cap-and-trade systems if they want — but they don’t have to. In fact, the whole centerpiece of the proposed rule is that states are supposed to figure out their own ways to meet their emissions goals — whether it be switching to more clean energy, or lowering electricity demand through efficiency projects.
The second is that, even if Obama were talking about these regulations, his administration’s current position is different. In fact, because of aggressive use of energy efficiency that is expected once states are complying with the rules, the EPA predicts that there will be an average decrease of about 8 percent on electricity bills nationally by the time the program is fully implemented in 2030, because people will be using less energy.
Congress Had No Say In This
“President Obama just stepped up his war on coal,” former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the climate denier who infamously launched a losing witch hunt against leading climatologist Michael Mann, wrote on his Facebook today. “The President is sidestepping Congress with a 645-page EPA rule that will destroy jobs and devastate our struggling Southwest Virginia economy.”
That the President “sidestepped Congress” is a reaction that’s been used time and again to argue against the new climate regulations, despite the fact that the regulations are mandated under a law that was passed by Congress in 1970and amended in 1990.
This Obsolete Report Says It Will Cost Too Much
After the rules were released Monday morning, many — including former Mitt Romney adviser and current Virginia U.S. Senate candidate Edward W. Gillespie — began tweeting out a report released last week by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which projected that the regulations would cost American industry $28.1 billion annually, that as many as 224,000 jobs would be lost between now and 2030, that the economy would average $50.2 billion lower a year.
That report, however, was released before the regulations were actually unveiled, and were based off a much higher emissions reduction standard. The Chamber’s report was based off the assumption that the new regulations would require states to cut carbon emissions 42 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, while the actual regulations only require a 30 percent cut from those levels.
Even if the regulations were as aggressive as the Chamber’s report estimated they would be, though, it still wouldn’t be that much of a burden on the American people. As Jonathan Chait notes, if the Chamber’s report were true, it would only increase the cost of the average American’s electric bill by $100 per year.