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Quinn: Don’t worry about EPA power plant regulations?

It was good to see that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy traveled last week from the nation’s capital to visit an energy capital. Even better was the presence of North Dakota’s congressional delegation with her in Beulah.

They spoke truth to power, posing good questions that voiced the skepticism of North Dakotans about EPA’s regulations and the concerns of most Americans about the regulatory impact on the economy and employment. McCarthy tried to dispel their doubts about the impact her agency will have on the nation’s power plants and their ability to provide affordable electricity. But it doesn’t appear her “don’t worry, we’re flexible” message won many converts among the delegation.

That’s understandable.

People can have honest differences about climate change and what should be done about it. But there should be little dispute about the impact of EPA’s policies to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants.

Recently, the Department of Energy confirmed that EPA’s proposal would drive up the cost of generating electricity from a new coal power plant by 80 percent. As for the environmental benefit, EPA itself admits the regulation will have no impact whatsoever on the climate. The administration’s policy is simply a symbolic one to show China and others that the U.S. is prepared to make sacrifices. North Dakotans shouldn’t have to suffer economic hardship just to please Washington.

EPA regulations issued two years ago have already taken a nationwide toll by forcing the retirement of scores of power plants, far more than the 9,000 megawatts of generating capacity the agency predicted. Recently the Department of Energy forecast power plant closures will be at least six times larger — 60,000 megawatts. That’s enough power for 30 million households.

Will this drop in capacity effect our ability to heat homes in cold weather states like North Dakota? For evidence that it might, we needn’t look far. As frigid weather gripped most of the country this winter, the power plants that are scheduled to close next year were running full-out just to meet demand. So, fast forward to 2015, when these plants will be gone, and consider whether polite requests to voluntarily turn thermostats down and lights off will be replaced by mandatory measures for rationing electricity.

The administrator’s visit to North Dakota pointed up an even more striking contrast. That’s the contrast between her agency’s regulations that stifle investment and employment and North Dakota’s genuine dedication to a true “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. While EPA deprives the nation of a diverse energy portfolio, making us more vulnerable to price shocks and joblessness, North Dakota has the most robust employment in the nation.

So when EPA comes to town to tell North Dakotans “not to worry” about the agency’s plans to regulate power plants, watch your wallets. History is on the side of healthy skepticism ably expressed by North Dakota’s congressional delegation.

Quinn is president and CEO of the National Mining Association in Washington, D.C.