I Would Do Anything to Save Money, But I Won’t Do That

Back in 1970, Joni Mitchell, the classic folk artist, wrote her famous ode to environmental protection and lost love, “Big Yellow Taxi”, which includes the following lyrics:

They took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum
And then they charged the people a dollar-and-a-half just to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Hey farmer, farmer, put away the DDT now
Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees, please!
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

There's a lot of things I'd do to save money, but one thing I don't want to skimp on is environmental protection. We need to protect our planet!

I’m Not a Political Pundit
(I just play one in my living room)

And I am by no means a “saint” either. In fact, I am positive that there are lots of things that someone could point to that are things I’ve done which are questionable or borderline stepping on the toes of somebody else’s principles and ethics (not many, but some).

I have even tossed a few plastic bottles in the trash rather than in the recyclable bin in my time. In fact, the first 20 years or so of my life, I probably thought only of “me, myself and I” more than anything or any person on the planet. But as I aged (and probably for almost everyone it’s true), things change.

That’s actually one reason I started to write this blog as I turned 65. I did it to share some good ideas and life experiences with others so they could benefit from them and avoid some serious mistakes that I have made. That’s especially cool since it doesn’t cost me a penny (OK it costs a small number of pennies), but just a few hours of my abundant free time in my retirement.

But then you do also have to realize this: there is a price to pay for things in life no matter what decisions you make. It’s either pay now or pay later, but there is no free ride. There’s no way that your decisions won’t eventually come back and cost you something, and could eventually bite you in the a$$ on some of the most serious issues that we all face. Like…

The Environment

Environmental policy is one of those areas in which many people have expressed dismay, not only with the political agenda but with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) itself. The approach to environmental protection—or, as many will tell you more accurately, the lack thereof—is becoming increasingly alarming.

The EPA has just proposed a replacement plan to gut a controversial Obama-era planned regulation on carbon pollution. The new plan for power plants will deal a death blow to the carbon reduction plan that was designed to be the backbone of the United States’ strategy to stave off the climate change catastrophe.

The new regulation, which Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed on August 20, 2018, is called the Affordable Clean Energy Rule. It gives the states the leeway to set their own, drastically lower greenhouse gas emissions targets and cancels restrictions on what states must do to force coal plants to improve their efficiency.

The rule marks one of the most significant rollbacks yet to Obama’s climate legacy. Despite the Trump administration’s oft-repeated calls for “regulatory certainty”, this is expected to ignite years’ long chaos and uncertain legal battles.

Pay Now or Pay Later?

“We’re ending intrusive EPA regulations that kill jobs…that raise the price of energy so quickly and so substantially,” President Donald Trump said in a statement this past Tuesday morning. It will save consumers money and some jobs in the short term. But, what about the cost in the long term?

Consumers won’t save money if wind and solar power costs continue to decline rapidly, and even if they would save money, is that worth your health or your life?

The increased carbon dioxide released under the new rules could lead to up to 1,400 premature deaths each year by 2030, according to the EPA’s own experts.

The Obama administration calculated that the climate and health benefits of the proposed 2016 Clean Power Plan would include preventing 140,000-150,000 fewer asthma attacks and 2,700-6,600 fewer premature deaths per year which would save lives and a total $55-93 billion per year in benefits. Even when considering the cost of complying with those new rules, the net benefits ranged from $48-84 billion. Postponing them and now preventing the Obama policy argues that it violates the rights of coal-producing states and it just costs too much.

The Real Cost of “Clean Air”

At the heart of the debate is something called the social cost of carbon, a calculation of the damages to property, human health, economic growth, and agriculture. By rejecting the science behind global warming, the administration now says its repeal of the Clean Power Plan would save the U.S. $33 billion in “avoided costs” by 2030. To reach that number, the Trump administration narrowed the scope of the calculation to include only domestic costs of carbon and tripled the discount rate for how the cost would decrease in the future ― accounting tweaks that amounts to “cooking the books,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The EPA can’t just scrap the old policy outright because of a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that the EPA must establish control over carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Carbon dioxide makes the planet warm and causes grave health implications. That ruling is a huge part of the legal justification for the Obama Clean Power Plan and also served as the basis for the 2015 Paris climate agreement which we pulled out of earlier in the year.

Et Tu, Auto Regulations?

The EPA is also fighting to roll back auto-emissions standards that had been put into place by the previous administration. The catch is that, if the federal government weakens its auto-emissions levels, states can fill it in their place. California, in particular, has very strict auto-emission standards, and car companies don’t want to have to build two different kinds of engines for different states. The government is trying to challenge California’s ability to set its own standards and thus pleasing the auto industry and upsetting not only Californians, but all who are concerned about the environment.

Ironically, Republicans, staunch states rights advocates who argue that the states should control the administration of coal regulations and climate, are very aggressive about dictating to the states and displacing their authority about auto regulations. They are letting it be known that they don’t trust the states. California is trying to protect its citizens in a way it sees fit and the idea that the federal administration is supporting states’ rights to do their own thing is being abandoned.

Fed Up?

Energy Secretary Rick Perry once wrote an entire book (called Fed Up!, published in 2010) explaining his belief that the vast majority of the federal government rules violate the Constitution. In the new policy to support coal, Perry told a House panel he is “looking very closely” at the plan, urged on by the coal industry, to use the 1950 Defense Production Act, designed to prevent wartime shortages of steel, to permanently prop up coal. Secretary Perry, do you breathe the same air I do?

For all the rhetoric about the so-called “War on Coal,” the largest single threat to coal’s viability is simply market forces. Natural gas is cheaper almost everywhere, and both solar and wind power are dropping in price so quickly that they’re undercutting coal in many parts of the country. It begs the question: Does any reasonable person think that coal is the future of energy? To compete, coal requires artificial subsidies from big government.

This Isn’t Our First Warped Rodeo, Will It Be Our Last?

Whether it was the “hush hush” of cancer-causing agents in cigarettes to help save that industry, or the lead found in the Flint, MI water supply to promote savings for the utility, there seems to be almost no limit to the distortions that business and government will create to justify their end game.

Compared to today’s standards, the era of the creation of the EPA and the Clean Air Act (which dates back to the Nixon era) was extremely stringent in its regulations. Today’s light-handed environmental policy approach has created a serious conservative economist fear that markets have put a price tag on pollution and are downplaying the dangers of it and its future costs to all of us.

Accordingly, denying the theory of global warming and its consensus findings of climate change gives real cover to what the price tag on it actually will be. Over time, that notion that our environment needs no help and it bears no monetary cost for future generations to worry about is being proven wrong time and time again. The cost to repair it may eventually become totally meaningless if and when we reach a point where it just simply can’t be fixed. Not exactly a good way to save some money, is it?

Final Thoughts

It was the rocker Meatloaf who sang the iconic song “I Will Do Anything for Love, But I Won’t Do That” and so I tweaked it slightly by telling you this, “I will do anything to save some money, but I won’t do that!”

What won’t I do? Allow government and/or business to get away with literal murder in the name of corporate profits and to force us to breathe polluted air, drink polluted water, and make us believe it’s all worth it in the end. The end doesn’t justify the means, and even if we don’t care, do we have the right to decide for those who are yet even unborn?

So what do you think? What can you do about it and what will you do? Do politics and saving money make strange bedfellows? And what won’t you do to save some money?