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It is becoming clearer that President Biden’s draconian decarbonization targets and deadlines – a 50% cut by 2030 and “net zero” by 2050 – have been based on overly pessimistic climate scenarios.
This comes at a time when the Biden administration is pushing its most senseless proposal yet: the EPA’s “tailpipe emissions rule” designed to abolish the internal combustion engine within a few years by mandating that Americans buy electric vehicles.
Climate activists like to present a stark choice – accept radical decarbonization now or face a catastrophic future of melting ice caps, world on fire, etc. That is a false dichotomy, even on climate idealists’ own terms.
Projections of climate catastrophe are almost uniformly based on a warming scenario developed by the U.N.’s International Panel on Climate Change called RCP-8.5, which projected a temperature rise of 5-6°C by 2100. But RCP-8.5 was offered more than a decade ago as just a possible “high end” outcome, not a probable one. And it is looking less probable by the day.
The latest assessment of the International Energy Agency projects we are on course – even without President Biden’s net-zero by 2050 plan – to a median warming of around only 2.4°C by 2100. Things are less dire than previously portrayed.
Despite this more positive outlook, the Biden administration has doubled down on doomsday rhetoric and extreme policies.
Instead of addressing the worse emitters – the 1,800 or so coal-fired electricity plants operating around the globe – the Biden administration remains obsessed with ending American energy dominance by abandoning our abundant and affordable oil and gas resources, while forcing deployment of less-reliable, heavily subsidized, and Chinese-built solar and wind power – no matter how economically or geopolitically devastating that might be.
Not that this would make any difference to global temperatures. The current U.S. and EU policy of shouldering the deepest emissions cuts only ensures that China, which will be responsible for the lion’s share of future emissions, will continue to expand its use of cheap, dirtier coal. With China’s weaker standards and cheaper energy, the West’s manufacturing is drawn into China, where it generates far higher emissions than if done in lower-emission Western plants.
The result of this lunacy: Germany’s economy is collapsing; Europe’s isn’t far behind; and the U.S. – under Biden’s policies – is headed down the same ruinous path.
Now is the time to bring more balance to energy and climate policy. We require an energy policy aimed not just at stabilizing atmospheric carbon at acceptable levels, but also at ensuring that we have the abundant, affordable, reliable and secure sources of energy that we need to power and grow our modern economy and preserve American world leadership.
We can achieve all of this, but only if we pursue sensible policies based on reality, not hysteria and uninformed dogmatism.
A good place to start is by rejecting EPA’s “tailpipe emissions” rule proposed this past July. This rule would impose a mandate on automakers requiring 60% of new vehicle sales be fully battery-powered electric by 2030, and 67% by 2032, compared to 6% now.
The premise is that artificially increasing EV market share by forcing Americans to buy EVs will reduce carbon emissions. But the reductions are negligible (0.02°C by 2100!) and come at a staggering cost.
The EPA has no authority to impose this mandate. EPA’s power to set emission standards for carbon-emitting cars does not give it power to compel carmakers to build new types of cars that don’t emit carbon dioxide.
EPA tried this ploy under President Obama when it claimed its power to regulate emissions from fossil-fuel plants allowed it to force utilities to shift to new plants using different technology.
Last year, the Supreme Court categorically rejected this sleight-of-hand in West Virginia v. EPA, ruling that an agency claiming authority to compel such a major change in an industry must point to “something more than a merely plausible textual basis,” but rather “point to ‘clear congressional authorization’ for the power it claims.” As in that case EPA can show no such authorization.
Besides that, EPA’s mandates are infeasible. EV adoption rates are already outstripping the capacity of our charging infrastructure. Even if enough new charging stations could be built, the nation’s electricity grids – already strained – could not currently supply them with sufficient, reliable power.
Moreover, the ability of U.S. car makers to meet the mandated pace of EV production at affordable prices depends on creating our own domestic battery industry and securing an adequate supply of the rare earth minerals needed to make batteries. Until then, forcing Americans to buy cars they can’t afford and don’t presently meet their needs is oppressive. And, because China dominates the supply chain for EV batteries, it will make our automotive sector dangerously dependent on China.
Anyway, the faster EV adoption targeted by EPA would have no appreciable impact on global emissions. EVs simply shifts emissions from car tailpipes further upstream to electric power-plants used to charge the batteries, and still further upstream to the massive emissions needed to produce the batteries, including those from mining and processing the required rare earth minerals.
Because of these huge upfront emissions, an EV doesn’t start yielding emission reductions until it has been driven for tens of thousands of miles and, even then, net reductions are modest. A Manhattan Institute report concluded that, even assuming broad EV adoption, the resulting reductions would be roughly half of 1% of total forecast energy-related U.S. carbon dioxide emissions through 2050.
The American Free Enterprise Chamber of Commerce (AmFree), which we both are helping to build, represents many thousands of American businesses and is committed to fighting destructive regulatory overreach. AmFree has assembled a broad Liquid Fuels Coalition – including independent ethanol and bio-diesel producers; agricultural commodity associations; and other agricultural and business entities – that is joining a wide array of other industries in an effort to defeat EPA’s rule.
EPA’s proposal kills consumer choice; imposes substantial burdens on individual consumers; and makes the U.S. weaker and China stronger – without appreciable environmental benefit.
Terry Branstad served as U.S. ambassador to China (2017-2020) and was elected to six terms as governor of Iowa – the longest serving governor in U.S. history (1983-1999 and 2011-2017).