A Los Angeles Times article on efforts to reduce the use of coal by California power plants highlights the overarching problem with the state’s program to cut carbon emissions—California’s jurisdiction stops at its borders. In their piece Despite California climate law, carbon emissions may be a shell game, authors Evan Halper and Ralph Vartabedian write:

“To meet the requirement that it cut carbon emissions, for example, Southern California Edison recently sold its stake in one of the West’s largest coal-fired power plants, located hundreds of miles out of state. But the Four Corners Generating Station in New Mexico still burns coal — only the power that Edison once delivered to California now goes to a different utility’s customers in Arizona. Similar swaps are taking place at coal plants throughout the West, and they underscore the limitations California faces as it tries to confront climate change in the absence of a coherent federal plan.”

Regardless of what California dictates, coal that can’t be used by the state’s utilities will inevitably be used to generate power elsewhere and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) will be just as high despite California’s GHG program. Why?

Because GHG emissions are not local, state or nation-based, they are global and the solution must be global. In the meantime, California is hurting its own economy and Californians are paying a lot of money to suppress emissions that are in fact simply displaced rather than reduced. 

California’s policy is much like the Keystone Pipeline. NGOs may hate oil sands and push to prevent use by U.S. refineries, but make no mistake, Canada will send the crude to China or other nations. Similarly, there will be no reduction in GHGs and in fact, emissions may increase due to the need to transport the crude to distant places.

While the most stringent by far, California is not alone in its misguided attempt to impact emissions. The Obama administration has proposed a nationwide policy on power plant emissions. But it won’t hold other states to the strict standard California imposes on itself. However, it will be a stricter standard than that observed by the vast majority of countries. Unless nations play by the same rules, the United States will face a loss of jobs and tax revenue and find itself at a disadvantage in the global market. By then President Obama will be gone from the White House leaving his successor to contend with a damaged economy.

David Friedman

Posted by David Friedman

David Friedman is the Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for AFPM. To learn more about AFPM, visit AFPM.org.