WAGUESPACK: The Obnoxious Sweater

Every family has one.

Perhaps, for you, it is the aunt that knitted you the Christmas sweater with a goofy-looking reindeer on it; she asks you why you aren’t wearing it every time she sees you. Maybe, in your family, it’s the uncle that makes the embarrassing toast at each family wedding, and he just will not take the hint when it’s time to sit down and pass the microphone. They come in all shapes and sizes, but most families seem to have that one member or two who has a unique knack for making the wrong contribution at the wrong time.

Well, next week is a celebration of American manufacturing, culminating with Friday’s “National Manufacturing Day,” and you’ll never guess what President Obama is bringing as a gift to American manufacturing’s party:  the ill-timed announcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rules to raise energy costs and drive American jobs overseas.

The real doozy of this gift, as compared to that obnoxious sweater, is that its problems and impact are somewhat hidden to some. The EPA asserts that these standards are simply for yet to be developed coal and gas plants. They argue that today’s combined-cycle gas plants can comply with these mandates, and with gas prices this low, that new coal plants are not likely to be built anytime soon. In essence, the EPA is saying “Don’t worry, this doesn’t affect anyone.” OK, then why do it?

The reality is that the cost to build a coal plant under the proposed restrictions will be 75 percent more expensive. That stops any investment in its tracks. If you make it impossible to build a new coal plant, no one is going to invest in new technologies pertaining to carbon capture. In essence, these rules are a death sentence for any new investment and research in coal production in this country.

As for natural gas, any passing thoughts some may have to see this as a benefit from coal’s loss may be reconsidering that notion down the road when the EPA moves on to putting forth carbon regulations for the 6,500 existing power plants currently operating in the United States. The agency has never regulated carbon-dioxide emissions in this manner, and there is no reason that it will do so in a way that makes any energy prices affordable enough that American manufacturing can survive, let alone grow and compete. This is the camel’s nose under the tent followed in short order by the rest of its body, leaving no room for anyone else.

This action would be a game-changer for America. Manufacturing is too important to our state and national economies to act cavalierly and risk its very existence. Louisiana had more than $35 billion in manufactured goods exports in 2011, accounting for 64 percent of our total exports. Manufacturing employs 139,000 people in this state and the numbers are growing, especially in the petroleum and chemical sectors. We are on the verge of a manufacturing Renaissance here in Louisiana, and these EPA rules put it all directly in the crosshairs. To put it simply, these manufacturing jobs and investments are as critical to Louisiana’s present and future economy as the very cars we drive to work each day.

Wait a minute…I think I just figured it out! Just this week, the president was in Missouri at an automobile manufacturing plant saying, “We are not a deadbeat nation… We do not run out on our tab.” Also in this speech, he trumpeted the auto bailout in 2009, saying, “We bet on the American worker – we bet on you – and today that bet has paid off.”

Now I think I understand the gift to American manufacturing. Set EPA rules to make energy completely unaffordable for American manufacturing. Then, implement a taxpayer-funded bailout of manufacturing to pay for these induced bankruptcies. Cite the desire to save the recently killed American manufacturing sector as the reason to raise the debt limit, raise spending, and raise taxes. Trumpet your solution as the only answer to solve the problem you created.

I don’t presume to speak for American manufacturing, but I suspect they would rather an obnoxious Christmas sweater next time.

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