Contributed by Michelle Stirling © Dec. 17, 2017

Many people cite the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) ‘endangerment’ finding when talking about Anthropogenic Global Warming and the rationale for instituting carbon taxes. The CO2 Endangerment Finding is fundamental to the institution of the US Clean Power Plan, now under review by the Trump Administration. 

As reported by ABC News, Oct. 11, 2017, the Clean Power Plan “…called for a 32 per cent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.

The EPA just released a statement saying that after a review of the plan, it “has proposed to determine that the Obama-era regulation exceeds the Agency’s statutory authority.”

A recent article in the New Republic by Ross McKitrick, Professor of Economics at the University of Guelph, is exposing serious flaws in the original US EPA decision- making process.

Under U.S. Administrative Law, there are some strict guidelines that a government department or agency intending to introduce new regulations must meet. If, for example, the new rules will have an US economic impact that exceeds $500 million per year, the department or agency must conduct a “Highly Influential Scientific Assessment (HISA)”. This includes an independent assessment of the fundamental findings. “…The guidelines do not allow an agency such as the EPA to rely on peer reviews conducted by outside groups such as the IPCC or the National Climate Assessment team.”

As Professor McKitrick explained, the EPA avoided this process by claiming the Endangerment Finding was not attached to specific rules, and therefore not highly influential. This semantic dance allowed them to shorten the process and create rules that were highly influential – the Clean Power Plan, now about to be repealed.

The endangerment finding essentially allowed the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases as thought they were “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act, thus providing a broad range of authorities that otherwise would not have been available, and opening the door to ever-expanding regulation in future.

This is relevant to Canadians, and especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan where most of the coal power production and oil and gas exploration, extraction and processing occurs. Our provinces and our nation are following similar plans to cut emissions – at a time when the US is rolling them back and investigating the contrived origins of such policies. When the Alberta government is questioned on the scientific foundation of its policies, people are regularly referred to the US Endangerment Finding.  However, now it is being reviewed for having been instituted in a way that overstepped the agency’s authority and involved a sloppy practice born of haste.

Some might say it included a preference for semantics and not science.

In Alberta and Saskatchewan, where coal is abundant, high quality and used in modern low emission, high-efficiency coal plants, power generators already face a double whammy – burdensome carbon taxes (also premised on the validity of the US EPA endangerment finding) and federal regulations that will force them to close.

Alberta is blessed with an abundant supply of high-quality, low sulphur coal that exists in seams that are near the surface making it easier to mine and reclaim.  Alberta owns the rights to this mineral, unlike competing nations like Denmark and Germany which much import coal at about $60/tonne.  This gives Alberta a tremendous economic advantage, if used to our benefit.

Coal is the cheapest source of power available in Alberta, where it is burned in high efficiency power plants that virtually eliminate local air pollutants or older plants with modern mitigation (that were due to go offline by 2030 under previous legislation). Most people don’t realize that over decades, coal is very stable price-wise and thus very predictable for forecasting power prices.

chart2 US eia coal v natural gas fuel receipts

Source: US EIA

In Alberta, coal often provides up to 70% of the base load power because it is affordable, abundant, and very predictable price-wise. In Alberta, over 75% of electrical power is consumed by industry and commerce.

AESO consumers of albeta electricity nov 2017

Source: AESO

About half of Alberta’s dispatchable (on-demand) electrical power in Alberta comes from coal.

AESO supply from fact sheet nov 2017

Source: AESO

Alberta’s ‘renewables’ are presently include biomass, hydro, wind power (1,445 MW), and co-generation. Wind power cannot be ‘dispatched’ because it relies solely on Mother Nature’s whims. By contrast, natural gas is a market commodity and its prices are subject to wild swings. Though there is a glut of natural gas on the market today, so prices are low, but that can rapidly change in future.

image gas prices already volatile clive

Phasing out coal-fired plants that still could have decades of useful life costs a fortune.

coal alberta plant decom


Coal phase-out is creating billions of dollars of damage to the economy because electrical power underwrites our manufacturing and our way of life. This includes billions of dollars in payouts to industry. Some 7,000 people are losing their jobs in Alberta’s coal industry. Thirty coal communities are being destroyed. Heavy industry and all small and medium-sized businesses, especially those that are heavy users of electrical power, are going to take a massive financial hit as wholesale power prices triple in Alberta and carbon taxes kick in.

national bank w banner nov 24 2017

Source: August forecast from National Bank.

If the US EPA Endangerment Finding is overturned, it will lay the foundation to phase out or eliminate many other federal regulations and subsidies in the United States. If our largest trading partner and competitor to the south repeals the Endangerment Finding, this will call into question the entire rationale for much of Alberta’s Climate Change Plan, carbon tax and similar federal policies.

It is consequential to businesses and individuals in other ways because Alberta and Canada are extremely cold compared to life below the 49th parallel. We must have affordable power for industry to operate in an economically profitable manner; people cannot survive without heat and power in our cold winters with short days and long, dark nights. Heat-or-eat poverty is not an option. 

And the final, tragic irony? Because of push for rapid coal phase-out, there may be interim demand for power from out of province.  According to a presentation of AESO reps in Calgary on Dec. 11, 2017, one place that power could come from is …. Montana coal-fired power stations.


In 2014, just after the fall release of the Intergovernmental Panel (IPCC) on Climate Change AR5 report, Dr. Judith Curry testified to the US Senate that the report showed the evidence reported by the IPCC AR5 weakens the case for human factors as driving recent climate change. 

She summarized her testimony with the statement that “CO2 is not the control knob that can control climate.” 


Further reading:

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