The Obama administration’s proposed carbon dioxide restrictions will impose their highest costs on states with key U.S. Senate races this November. The restrictions, which do not apply uniformly throughout the nation, threaten to doom the chances of Democratic Senate candidates arguing their party identification gives them extra leverage with the Obama administration.
Under the proposed restrictions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assigns each state a different emissions reduction requirement. The state of Washington, for example, will have to reduce its power plant carbon dioxide intensity by 72% even though North Dakota will only have to reduce its emissions by 11%.
The rationale behind the differences makes little sense. For example, Washington is required to make the largest cut in carbon dioxide emissions even though it currently produces more than 70 percent of its electricity from emissions-free sources. North Dakota will be allowed to emit 1,783 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity generated while Washington will only be allowed to emit 215 pounds per MWh.
In Senate battleground states, the Obama administration’s emissions reduction requirements are particularly stringent. Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia will all have to reduce their emissions by more than the 30% national reduction.
Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) is being put in a particularly difficult political vice. Landrieu claims her position as chairwoman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee gives her greater influence on federal energy and environment policy than her Republican opponent Bill Cassidy would wield. While Landrieu says her role as committee chair gives her greater say in what emerges from the Senate committee, her vote for Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader has empowered Reid to block a vote on legislation that would invalidate the costly new power plant restrictions. Landrieu would presumably vote for Reid as Senate Majority Leader again, thereby perpetuating Reid’s authority to cement the onerous national and Louisiana-specific emissions restrictions.
In bad news for Landrieu, Louisianans are being hit especially hard by the proposed restrictions. While the nation as a whole will be required to reduce emissions by 30%, Louisiana is singled out for a 40% emissions cut. The Pelican State will have a particularly difficult time meeting the mandate, as Louisiana already produces more than 75% of its electricity from emissions-free nuclear power or low-emissions natural gas.
Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (D) similarly failed to leverage his Senate influence into a fair deal for his state. Arkansas will have to reduce its emissions by 45%, versus the 30% national requirement.
Incumbent Democratic Sens. Al Franken (MN-41% reduction), Kay Hagan (NC-40% reduction), Jeanne Shaheen (NH-46% reduction), and Mark Udall (CO-35% reduction) also face tough reelection contests this year and have failed to safeguard their states from power plant restrictions that will be tougher than the national average.
In two open seats that are also closely contested, Georgia (44%) and Michigan (32%), the Democratic candidates will similarly have to justify their party imposing emission reductions on their states that will be tougher than the national average.
Many states will be forced to shut down perfectly good coal-fired power plants to meet their emissions requirements. Shutting down fully functional power plants merely to force the expensive construction of replacement power plants will cause electricity prices to “necessarily skyrocket.” And even in the limited circumstances where new power plants would be necessary anyway, coal is the least expensive widely available source of electricity. Choosing natural gas, nuclear, wind, or solar for expanding electricity production will all be substantially more expensive than choosing coal.
Empirically, states that have already started down this route by imposing renewable power mandates are experiencing electricity prices rising much more rapidly than the national average. The Obama administration proposal will accelerate such electricity price inflation while additionally forcing such price inflation on those states that have wisely chosen not to carve out guaranteed market share for the renewable power lobby.
These are the stark realities of the Obama carbon dioxide restrictions, and the stark realities faced by Democratic candidates in key U.S. Senate races. They must defend the expensive Obama proposal at the national level while simultaneously defending the disproportionate impacts in their particular states. Good luck with that.