U.S. emissions rules ignore global trends


If implemented, a federal plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants could have a perverse effect on the Colorado coal industry. Mines likely would produce far less coal to fuel power plants in this state and elsewhere in the United States. But there could be opportunities for mines to export more coal to other countries, where demand has increased dramatically along with coal-fired electrical production.

That scenario reflects the biggest single problem with proposed emissions reductions. Even as potentially costly regulations further burden the U.S. economy, other countries — China in particular — gain competitive advantages in burning more coal to generate cheap electricity. But if reductions in U.S. emissions are more than offset in increases in emissions elsewhere, where’s the net benefit to the environment and efforts to combat climate change?

An analysis conducted for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for 21st Century Energy puts numbers to this situation.

The analysis is based on a proposed 42 percent decrease in carbon emissions below 2005 levels by 2030 — not the 30 percent reduction proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The estimates are striking nonetheless. 

For starters, the analysis concluded the potential effects of regulations reducing so-called greenhouse gas emissions to include an annual $51 billion decline in gross domestic production, the broad measure of goods and services produced in the country. That would lead to an average of 224,000 fewer U.S. jobs every year through 2030.

But even as U.S. power emissions decrease, non-U.S. global emissions are expected to increase more than six times the U.S. reduction.

There’s a point to be made that U.S. leadership on reducing carbon emissions could encourage other countries to undertake similar measures. But absent some sort of binding international agreement, there’s no guarantee.

While the pros and cons of reduced power plant emissions can be debated, it’s difficult to argue the net environmental benefits of cutting U.S. emissions when global emissions continue to increase.