It sounds innocuous enough. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued new guidelines Thursday requiring state and local authorities that issue pollution permits based on federal standards to use the "Best Available Control Technology," or BACT. The stated goal is to achieve a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. Most of the facilities affected by the new guidelines will likely be power plants, refineries and cement production operations. What the BACT guidelines simply mean, according to the agency, is this: "After taking into account technical feasibility, cost and other economic, environmental and energy considerations, permitting authorities should narrow the options and select the best one. EPA anticipates that, in most cases, this process will show that the most cost effective way for industry to reduce GHG emissions will be through energy efficiency."
Others don't share EPA's sunny outlook about the consequences of imposing this new standard, which lowers permissible greenhouse gases from the current level of 75 million parts per billion to 60 million parts per billion. Achieving that level of reduction in greenhouse gases won't be easy or cheap. This immense new burden on the private sector comes at precisely the wrong time for an economy still struggling to create new jobs and reduce near double-digit unemployment. One of the skeptics is University of Mississippi professor William Shughart II, whose op-ed elsewhere in Friday's Examiner notes that many jurisdictions across the country can't meet the present greenhouse gas standard, much less reach the lower threshold anytime soon. "If a county or city is not in compliance, its economy won't be able to grow, so the EPA's proposal would spell economic stagnation for many communities," Shughart contends.
Without the proper pollution permits, existing facilities and new construction projects across the country either will grind to a halt or never get started. The cost estimates are indeed staggering, according to an econometric study by the Manufacturers Alliance that projects more than 7.3 million lost jobs by 2020. The hardest-hit states include Texas, which would lose 1.7 million jobs, and Louisiana, with 938,000 positions lost. Others include California (846,000), Illinois (396,000) and Pennsylvania (351,000). Total losses would reduce the nation's gross domestic product by $1.7 trillion, according to the Manufacturers Alliance. Asked about such estimates, EPA's Gina McCarthy rejected them, claiming, "This is pretty much business as usual" for EPA. No wonder critics claim EPA really stands for Employment Prevention Agency