The Obama Administration set records on expansive and expensive new environmental regulations. In one example, compare the 56 federal implementation plans forced on states during the Obama years to the 5 total imposed by the combined Clinton and Bush presidencies. Unfortunately, the Obama years also yielded the slowest regulation driven environmental gains in decades, 2% in seven years compared to 2% a year from 1980 to 2009.
The primary force for a better environment turned out to be innovations in natural gas production, a development the administration and environmental groups fought, that was carried out by private industry on private lands. Natural gas prices dropped 80% as producers figured out how to use horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to release tightly held gas from shale formations. Falling natural gas prices dragged down the price of coal and oil that shows up in lower electricity, gasoline, and heating costs, and is saving families over $1500 a year in lower energy prices! Fuel switching from coal to cleaner burning natural gas at power plants added almost another 5% improvement in air quality.
Obama era regulations targeted three primary substances; ground level ozone and fine particles the Environmental Protection Agency claimed posed a health hazard, and carbon dioxide the EPA linked to rising global temperatures. Ozone levels improved by 1% a year up to 2009, but only improved 1% in seven years under Obama. Fine particles improved 3% a year up to 2009, but only improved 3% over seven years under Obama. The Obama regulatory effort reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an amount that will lower global temperatures by 0.01°C by 2100, essentially zero impact! Carbon dioxide reductions from power plants can be attributed 70% to fuel switching for lower prices, and 30% to new regulations.
EPA cost benefit analysis showed new regulations would cost tens of billions of dollars a year to implement. Free market sources, such as, the US Chamber of Commerce, estimated the cost to more likely be hundreds of billions of dollars. Either way, a lot of money for marginal air pollution improvements.
The problems don’t end with air pollution regulations. Voluntary multistate programs to improve water quality in areas such as the Chesapeake Bay brought Water Quality Index improvements of 25-percent from 1986 to 2010. That improvement ended after the voluntary agreement became a regulation in 2010 requiring states to institute mandatory steps, such as, storm water management regulations. No water quality improvement, but those regulations have managed to increase new home prices by $10,000 each in the Chesapeake watershed.
Aggressive requirements in motor vehicle miles per gallon standards were also mandated. The latest information shows average MPG for the nations motor vehicle fleet actually dropped from 17.6 MPG in 2009 to 17.5 MPG in 2014. The mandated MPG standards were unreachable and will likely be scaled back to a more practical level by the Trump Administration.
The Obama Administration, often through procedural short cuts and with support from questionable science, relied on ineffective regulations to “improve” the environment. Predictably, results were poor. We look forward to the Trump Administration rolling back bad regulations, and following the rule of law. We expect a focus on actual improvements to the environment. This could include increasing infrastructure spending on securing drinkable water (remember Flint?), improving sewer systems, and reclaiming brownfields and Superfund sites. Under the new administration, infrastructure spending could double without increasing the budget by using sources such as multi-billion dollar fines from the Volkswagen settlement for fudging tail pipe emissions, and other large settlements instead of handing them over to the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, favored interest groups of the Obama EPA administration.
For more details on air quality improvements see our study “Sorting Root Causes of Air Quality Improvements 2009 to 2015” at https://criblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/sorting-root-causes-of-air-quality-improvements-2009-to-2015/ .