Here we go again.
Yesterday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Scott Pruitt, the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), again gushed fossil-fuel-industry spin while ignoring the facts – including his own agency’s analysis. One issue Pruitt raised in the fact-free zone was electricity costs for consumers. He repeated the misleading industry argument that consumer electricity “rates” rise as a result of policies that fight climate change, like the EPA Clean Power Plan. This talking point is an attempt to hide fossil-fuel giveaways behind a claim of protecting consumers, plain and simple.
The best and least expensive way to reduce carbon emissions is to improve energy efficiency, which means using less power to fuel the same or more activity. Efficiency measures quickly pay for themselves by reducing the amount of energy we use. Even if electricity “rates” rise, people pay lower bills because they are using less power. Here is the sleight-of-hand that the industry and Pruitt are using: They want us to focus on the price of electricity per kilowatt hour rather than what consumers actually pay. That’s because energy efficiency benefits consumers by lowering bills and hurts fossil fuel barons by cutting back sales of oil, coal, and methane.
Policies like the Clean Power Plan work in part by pushing states and utilities to adopt more aggressive efficiency measures. As a result, they save consumers money. The EPA estimated that the Clean Power Plan would lower electricity bills by 7.0 to 7.7 percent nationwide by 2030. We used data from the EPA and the U.S. Energy Information Administration to conduct a state-by-state analysis, and we found that the rule should lower bills not only nationwide, but in every individual state by 2030, and in nearly every state by 2025.
More broadly, climate policy needs to push our economy toward 100 percent renewable energy as rapidly as possible. That transition will be wildly beneficial to consumers. Unlike renewable energy, which is free and clean, fossil fuels must be perpetually extracted, refined, and burned at steep cost to our finances, health, and environment. A world of 100 percent renewable energy is one in which Americans save the $875 billion they currently spend each year on fossil fuels – we might as well be burning that money – as well as hundreds of billions more in harm to human health from burning dirty energy.
All of this is without even mentioning the 800-pound gorilla in the room: climate change. We are on course for climate change to devastate American families, with low-income households hit first and hardest. Runaway climate change is already raising the price of food and water while lowering their quality (soon, possibly in the second half of this century, we will see outright shortages). It is also leading to more illness and disease from heat and pests. It is causing more extreme weather, which damages property and infrastructure, forcing governments and businesses to raise taxes and the prices of nearly everything. Even conservative estimates project that by the end of this century rising seas will put hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American real estate under water, likely wrecking the economy and creating a flood of climate refuges in the U.S.
We and others have debunked the “electricity rates” claim so. many. times. that. Pruitt. must. know. he’s. wrong. But he and the industry are keeping this zombie argument alive because they need something, anything, to say while lining industry pockets at the expense of American families. An EPA administrator who cares about consumers would lead the fight to make our economy more energy efficient, transition rapidly to renewable energy, and prevent catastrophic climate change.