Thursday, June 26, 2014

Figures Don't Lie, But...

As I pointed out in my last post, while a recent US Chamber of Commerce report on the economic impacts of cutting carbon emissions is open to wildly conflicting interpretations, one thing about it is clear: it doesn’t tell us anything very useful about the carbon standards the EPA wants to apply to existing power plants. That’s because the Chamber analyzed the impacts of a substantially bigger cut in emissions than the EPA is actually aiming for, so naturally the impacts are bigger too, although arguably still pretty modest.

This point apparently plumb evades Rick Hill. Hill, a former Republican Congressman, has a column in today’s Missoulian, pumping up Steve Daines for opposing the EPA regulations and bashing John Walsh for supporting them.  Hill is obviously thinking about next November here, and not much else, because he drags in the irrelevant Chamber study to make his case.

And it gets worse. Here’s Hill:

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates the regulation will decrease the average household’s disposable income by $3,400 as a result of higher prices for energy and a slowdown to the economy. Those income reductions come in addition to an average of a quarter million jobs estimated to be lost each year through 2030.

What Hill doesn’t say – aside from the fact that the Chamber’s numbers are not really based on “the regulation” proposed by the EPA - is that that $3,400 reduction in household disposable income is the total reduction over the 2014-2030 period; annually, that amounts to an average of about $200, or about one third of one percent of current median household income. So our former Congressman has taken an irrelevant number and presented it in the most deceptive and frightening way possible, all with the hope, apparently, of putting a little positive spin on Steve Daines. He should be ashamed of himself.

I know I don’t have any right to expect Hill to believe me when I say the Chamber study is not really applicable to the EPA standards, but it turns out that I’m not the only one who says so. In fact, the Chamber has taken so much flak on that front that it posted a defense of its study’s relevance on its blog. You can read it here, but really, there’s not much of substance to read. There’s a lot of explanation about why the Chamber and EPA emissions reduction targets don’t match, and the odd speculation that since the EPA proposal is only a draft, the agency might at some point bring its target up to the Chamber’s level (and resounding silence on the possibility that it might take its target down). There’s an even odder suggestion that the Chamber study might somehow be relevant because the EPA proposal requires a handful of states to achieve emission reductions as great as those the Chamber analyzed for the nation as a whole.

But in the end, as the Chamber itself says, the “jury is still out.” Maybe, someday, somehow, it will make sense to use the Chamber’s numbers to assess the impact of what the EPA is proposing to do. But that day isn’t here yet, and politicians like Hill should know that, and stop trying to pull the wool over eyes of Montana voters.