Last week, in a narrow, 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency “unreasonably” interpreted the Clean Air Act regarding the regulations and costs the Agency’s new rules imposed on power plants.

The federal government had contended that cost evaluations on new regulations were irrelevant or otherwise less important than simply imposing the regulations themselves. Or, put another way, “Costs be damned; let’s save the world!”

On the surface, the ruling seems like a big win for the much-maligned energy industry. But here is the problem: much of the damage was already done.

In 2011, when the EPA originally proposed the anti-carbon mercury rule that the Supreme Court’s ruling struck down, roughly 1,500 fossil-fuel-powered plants were open for business. Today, only 100 remain in their current form.

That is to say, roughly 1,400 of 1,500 relevant businesses were affected by the EPA’s now-irrelevant directives, either by shutting their doors altogether, or by having spent billions in compliance costs. These rules had a dramatically negative effect on tens of thousands of jobs, and it is unlikely that such an after-the-fact outcome will bring these jobs back.

The government, for their part, remains undeterred by the ruling. Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator, contends that the court did not strike down the mercury rule, but rather merely sent the case back to a lower court in order to determine how best to impose a cost-benefit analysis.

McCarthy might even be right as far as the letter of the law is concerned. But let’s take a step back and ask, “Is any part of this continued regulatory avalanche a good idea?”

Environmental and regulatory expert Nicolas Loris puts the reality in perspective: “No matter one’s belief on the climate effects of man-made greenhouse emissions, the regulations will have a negligible impact – if any – on global temperatures.”

Furthermore, many of the regulations are redundant, or have already been addressed by the private sector. Regarding forthcoming EPA regulations on methane emissions, American Energy Alliance President Tom Pyle blithely suggested, “It would be like issuing regulations forcing ice cream makers to spill less ice cream.”

Almost every aspect of American life is subject to the government’s laundry list of “dos” and “don’ts,” and the rulebook grows with every passing year. And guess what? These regulations, at their core, serve as a hidden tax on the American people.

We may never see the cold-hard costs in a federal budget (or in an EPA cost-benefit analysis, for that matter), but we pay for every single rule that makes it onto the books.

What do you think? Is the government spinning its wheels, needlessly adding costs to every bill we pay? Or do we need more rules and regulations to keep our industries and citizens in check?

Give it some thought on our page about how to actually do some good for the environment, found here.

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