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EPA’s far-reaching regulatory authority undermines democracy

By Slade Blackwell

Last week the Alabama Power Company announced that federal “environmental mandates are forcing (the company) to close two coal-fired generating units…and reduce or eliminate the ability to use coal (at two other plants) by 2016.”

Those mandates are a direct product of President Barack Obama’s agenda executed by the EPA: End coal-fueled electricity generation in the United States.

Unfortunately for the president, he simply does not have enough votes in Congress to eliminate coal generation through legislation. Many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle recognize the negative economic impacts of taking lower-cost coal power out of the energy generation mix.

So how does the president push through policies that impact us in Alabama without having to go through Congress?

The answer is both complicated and problematic. The EPA garners its regulatory authority based on the Clean Air Act that was enacted in 1970 and last amended in 1990. The Clean Air Act has a particularly vague definition of air pollution that the U.S. Supreme Court has since interpreted to include carbon dioxide.

In short, the president is crafting laws that have an immediate impact on Alabamians by manipulating a 44-year-old piece of legislation passed by Congress. Most of the current representatives in the House and Senate never voted to give the EPA such expansive authority, but have little ability to do anything about it.

The only options they have to end the EPA’s overreach are to either limit its rule-making authority by enacting a law to that effect or using the Congressional Review Act to strike down the specific regulation. Both paths require agreement of the House and Senate and either the signature of the president or enough votes to override his veto. Neither scenario seems likely.

American democracy hinges on the representatives of the people being accountable for the laws they enact. When Congress delegated its authority to regulate air pollution to the EPA decades ago, it undermined that basic understanding.

Now the president is able to unilaterally make laws as he sees fit. We might call them regulations, but the bottom line is that they directly impact jobs and power bills in Alabama.

As Matt Bowden, Alabama Power’s vice president for environmental affairs, put it, “Federal environmental mandates….are putting new restrictions on our ability to provide our customers with the energy they need in a cost-effective manner.”

The EPA’s new rule will force the cost of unanticipated new generation on Alabama’s consumers and negatively impact job creation in Alabama, both in terms of the loss of coal-related employment and higher energy costs.

To make matters worse, because President Obama is circumventing Congress, he is only able to impose regulatory mandates. He does not have the legal authority to create tax and fee reductions to offset the harmful impacts of the government-imposed cost hikes for consumers.

The bottom line is that the politicians that represent Alabamians should have a say in the laws forced on their constituents. Congress must take back its authority soon or risk a new form of government where the Executive Branch both writes the laws and enforces them.

Slade Blackwell is serving his first term in the Alabama State Senate representing Jefferson and Shelby counties in District 15. For more information about Slade, visit www.sladeblackwell.com or follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @sladeblackwell. To reach him by phone, call 334-242-7851.

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