Gas prices fell to an average of $1.86 per gallon last week in South Carolina according to AAA, providing us with a little extra cash in our pockets. That’s great news indeed…but we had better not get used to it. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the process of implementing three rules that a new study by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University and Palmetto Promise Institute says will substantially drive up the cost of energy in South Carolina.
We love our state—as the old South Carolina history textbook said—“from the mountains to the sea.” So, of course we all want a clean Palmetto State environment. We are also mostly appreciate the EPA’s intentions. That said, it’s clear that with the exception of a radical fringe, few are complaining about the quality of our air in South Carolina and clamoring for new federal regulations that threaten the state’s economy.
We are content for good reason. By any measure, South Carolina’s environment is in great shape. AirNow, an EPA air quality site, reports an Air Quality Index (AQI) for South Carolina. On the day of this writing, AirNow rates all five regions of South Carolina for which there is data “Good.” Talk to anyone over 50 years old and he or she will tell you first-hand about the environmental progress that the state’s made.
Apparently that progress hasn’t been good enough for this EPA administration. Recently, it dictated three major rules on emissions – one on mercury and two on carbon dioxide – that will increase the price of electricity in South Carolina by 22 percent by 2030, according to the economists who conducted our study.
That’s bad news for small businesses in South Carolina, many of which operate on razor thin profit margins and can’t stay in business with such a significant jump in electricity prices. In fact, annual electricity bills for commercial ratepayers are expected to rise by $1,575 because of these rules. Residents won’t be spared either, facing $417 annual increases, according to the study’s economists.
The rules especially target South Carolina’s coal plants, which produce 29 percent of the state’s electricity, and the bulk of base load electricity to the nation’s electric grids. The rule mandates existing coal plants reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by at least 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
To comply with this mandate, the state’s coal plants will be forced to adopt expensive and unproven new carbon capture technology to comply. This will obviously have a devastating impact on the state’s jobs in the energy industry.
And the study’s economists highlight how the employment impact will spread far beyond mining. They forecast that 14,650 jobs across all industries will be lost by 2030, a number that includes those from other sectors which service the coal industry. Picture the truck driver who gets the coal to the furnace and the barbecue restaurant who serves him lunch.
Even the EPA estimates that these new regulations will cost over $50 billion nationally. But it justifies this cost by the claiming that the regulations will provide tens of billions of dollars in benefits that will more than offset these costs. The vast majority of these benefits come in the form of improved health.
Quantifying tens of billions of dollars in health improvements is a difficult task at best and a fool’s errand at worst. The EPA has drawn widespread criticism for its use of secret science and stretched assumptions to come up with such a forecast. For example, the Beacon Hill study criticizes the benefit assessments for incorporating the reduction of particulate matter, which is already regulated under different EPA rules.
Clean air is a worthy goal, something which South Carolinians have worked hard to attain. But as our study indicates, there is no reason to wring the last few pollution particles out of the atmosphere at so steep a cost for South Carolinians.