Colorado HB 1365: bad gas for Coloradans

How much would you pay for cleaner air?  Surely this depends on its current state, the proposed improvement, and if you could tell the difference. The EPA wants you to pay for cleaner air by mandating pollution limits on power plants. Colorado HB 1365 would legislate how electric utilities do it. Xcel Energy supports the bill, and estimates a 4-6 percent increase in utility bills, writes Vince Carroll in the Denver Post.

Since Coloradans have varying preferences for air quality and how much they’d pay to improve it, legislating a one-size-fits-all solution is not the best policy. As summarized in the book Free Market Environmentalism, courts heard common law nuisance cases concerning air pollution for years before the Clean Air Act. Polluters would compensate plaintiffs for demonstrated damages. Threats of costly lawsuits would encourage companies to reduce emissions.

If governments must legislate pollutants levels, they should let polluters find the most cost-effective ways to meet requirements. Otherwise, politicians will dictate political solutions that benefit their careers and favored lobbies at taxpayers’ expense.

House Bill 1365 smells like a political solution. It would require electric utilities using coal-fired power plants to submit “emission reduction plans.” The plan must give “primary consideration to replacing or repowering coal-fired electric generators with natural gas and to also consider other low-emitting resources.”

Indeed, politicians have subsidized the coal industry. But this does not justify subsidies or favors for their competitors. Instead, removing existing subsidies and let energy producers compete on their own merits.

This commentary was published in the Daily Camera (Boulder) on April 10, 2010.

The link to the Free Market Environmentalism book is to Google Books.  Most of the chapters are there, but the one on pollution , Chapter 10, is not.  Relevant references in the chapter include: Bruce Yandle, Bootleggers, Baptists, and Global Warming.  Check out his author page at the Property and Environment Research Center for more articles on common law and environmental issues. Also check out Indur Goklany’s work on air pollution and the Clean Air Act.


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