The economy has been limping for more than six years now. A new international crisis seems to pop up every week, especially in the world's biggest energy producing regions. With those realities in mind, it seems like a no-brainer that Washington should be focused on policies that strengthen the economy and improve energy security. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is planning to move forward with a program that will do just the opposite.
The plan announced by the Environmental Protection Agency for limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will send electricity prices soaring -- as much as 17 percent in the first year -- force power plants to close and jeopardize the reliability of the electric grid. As if that isn't bad enough, the EPA has set emissions targets for each state that hit some states much harder than others.
One of the states hardest hit by the plan? South Carolina.
While the overall goal of the proposed plan is to reduce the carbon "intensity" of America's electric power generators by 30 percent by 2030, the EPA says South Carolina will have to make a cut of more than 51 percent by 2013. That's the third-largest reduction target in the nation, even though South Carolina ranks 26th in total carbon emissions.
The increasingly stringent environmental rules are already coming home to roost. Several coal-fired power plants have already been shut down, and the state's biggest power producer, South Carolina Electric & Gas, says it will shut down six more in the next five years. These include the McKeekin Power Station near Columbia, which has been praised as one of America's most efficient, cleanest-burning coal power plants.
Targeting coal, the source of 41 percent of the nation's power and our most affordable source of power, with draconian regulations is a terrible mistake. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said of the plan, "EPA regulation of carbon is the worst possible scenario. It is a disaster for businesses and consumers."
When the curtains are pulled back, the EPA's plan amounts to a carbon tax that isn't going be paid by utilities. The cost of meeting this mandate will fall directly on consumers. South Carolinians will pay more than most even though the state has the highest electric rates in the South. The average South Carolinian pays more than $100 a year more for electricity than the average Georgian or North Carolinian.
Seniors and low-income folks on fixed incomes will be hit disproportionately hard by rising electricity costs. In fact, researchers at Stanford University recently concluded that carbon regulations are regressive. Households in the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution will pay roughly three times what the richest 10 percent pay as a percentage of their income. For all of the president's talk of income inequality, his carbon plan will only exacerbate the problem.
The new rules the EPA is proposing are badly timed and unfairly applied. If carbon limits are truly necessary, Washington needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that doesn't do more damage to the economy and doesn't make South Carolinians -- or any other Americans -- pay more than their fair share.
Jim Martin is chairman of the 60 Plus Association that promotes solutions to seniors' issues grounded in free markets, less government and less taxes. It represents more than 57,000 seniors in South Carolina.