By Mitt Romney
When regulations drive up the cost of energy, the impact is felt by every business and every consumer. In this sense, such regulations are no different from tax increases. They discourage investment, hurt the competitiveness of the American economy, and ultimately destroy jobs.
As governor of Massachusetts, lots of unnecessary regulations and taxes came to my desk and I saw it is as my job to say no to them. Concern about the environment brought the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) before me. The cap-and-trade program for New England electric utilities imposes a charge for carbon dioxide emissions above certain limits. I examined the costs, which included possible spikes of more than 20 percent in electricity rates for our state's manufacturers. And I studied the claimed benefits to the environment, which seemed to be extraordinarily thin. I said no thanks.
Unfortunately for its residents, New Hampshire signed up for the program. Businesses and consumers are already seeing higher electricity bills, and RGGI's major effects are yet to come. With RGGI on the books, firms looking up the road at the significant new costs RGGI imposes on them are less likely to invest or create jobs in New Hampshire. New Jersey is fortunate that its governor, Chris Christie, has withdrawn from the program. If New Hampshire does the smart thing and follows suit, I won't be in the least surprised.
The same set of dilemmas is now playing out in Washington. In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Barack Obama came into office as a fervent proponent of a national cap-and-trade program. Even he knew enough to admit that under his plan "electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket." And he was candid enough to admit that it would cause entire industries to go under: "if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can," said the President. "It's just that it will bankrupt them."
The cap-and-trade bill that finally reached Congress would have cost trillions of dollars and destroyed millions of jobs. President Obama applauded it as "a historic leap." He should have recognized that it was a leap off a cliff.
Fortunately, Congress had the good sense not to compound our economic challenges by imposing cap-and-trade's extraordinary costs on the American people. Unfortunately, President Obama did not get the message. There's "more than one way to skin a cat," he said. His Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proceeded to pursue through executive fiat what the President could not get the American people's representatives to support.
Irresponsibly, the EPA declared carbon dioxide, the same carbon dioxide that humans exhale, to be a "pollutant" that poses risks to human health. As a result, the EPA is now issuing regulations under the Clean Air Act that will produce the same sort of economic devastation that Congress had wisely rejected.
These regulations are only one piece of an expansive and destructive regulatory agenda. The administration's proposed regulations for coal-fired power plants could destroy what even the President's union allies estimate to be 250,000 jobs. A proposed regulation on industrial boilers puts 800,000 more workers at risk. The EPA is considering an ozone regulation that could cost $90 billion per year and destroy more than seven million jobs. Seven million jobs is not a trivial number!
Even in the best of economic times, these steps would be highly irresponsible. But these are not the best of economic times. Unemployment is above nine percent and the economy is hovering on the edge of a double-dip recession. When Obama talks about his commitment to creating jobs while simultaneously suffocating the economy with new regulations, we must judge him by his actions not his words.
We need to move in the opposite direction and fast. My primary objective as President would be to put America back to work. I would seek out every opportunity to reduce the regulatory burden on industry. I would systematically remove the obstacles that the Obama administration has placed in the way of energy producers. And I would support the aggressive expansion of domestic energy production.
With the right policies and the right leadership millions of American could be at work drilling for oil and natural gas, mining coal, and operating power plants. The country would be richer and less dependent on foreign energy. As President I would understand the importance of safeguarding the environment, but I would be mindful at every step of the way of keeping our country secure and protecting American jobs.