PoliGraph: Bachmann’s numbers wrong on coal claim

During the Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library, Rep. Michele Bachmann raised a talking point that’s become standard fare at her campaign events:

Government regulation is expensive for businesses and will result in job losses.

Bachmann hinted that even President Barack Obama agrees.

“I think it’s important to note that the president recognized how devastating the [Environmental Protection Agency] has been in their rulemaking, so much so that the president had to suspend current EPA rules that would have led to the shutting down of potentially 20 percent of all of America’s coal plants,” she said during last night’s debate.

Bachmann is overestimating.

The Evidence

Bachmann’s spokeswoman did not respond to an email to clarify her boss’s statement, but it appears Bachmann is talking about Obama’s controversial withdrawal of a rule that would have put stricter regulations on smog.

In that case, Bachmann’s context is correct. In a statement, Obama said he stopped the proposed rules from moving forward because he’s worried about the impact on the recovering economy. The administration estimates that the rules would have cost between $19 billion and $90 billion.

But Bachmann is conflating her facts.

First, this is just one rule, not several as Bachmann said. It’s one of four the coal industry is especially worried about, the rest of which are still in the works, according to Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.

All together, the impact of those rules could close 20 percent of the nation’s coal-fired plants, according to the trade organization. Other studies support that figure, though it’s important to note that 20 percent is on the high end depending on the scope of the new rules. And it appears that much of the impact would come from a rule dealing with mercury and air toxics standards for power plants.

The Verdict

The coal industry is worried about several proposed rules, not just the smog rule that Obama shelved. If all those regulations go into effect, upwards of 20 percent of the nation’s coal-fired power plants could close.

For getting her facts mixed up, Bachmann’s claim rates a false.


The New York Times, The Republican Debate at the Reagan Library, Sept. 7, 2011

Minnesota Public Radio News via the Associated Press, Concerned about jobs, Obama ditches tough EPA smog rule, by Julie Pace and Dina Cappiello, Sept. 2, 2011

The White House, Statement by the President on the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards, Sept. 2, 2011

Charles River Associates, A Reliability Assessment of EPA’s Proposed Transport Rule and Forthcoming Utility MACT, Dec. 16, 2011

The Brattle Group, Brattle Study Estimates EPA Regulations May Result in Over 50,000 MW of Coal Plant Retirements and Up to $180 Billion in Compliance Costs, Dec. 8, 2010

Reuters, U.S. rules seen shutting 20 percent of coal power capacity, July 27, 2011

Environmental Protection Agency, Air Toxics Standards for Utilities, accessed Sept. 8, 2011

ICF International, Retiring Coal Plants While Protecting System Reliability, July 26, 2011

  • Jon

    He also did not “suspend current EPA rules.” He stopped the process that would have made them stronger(/better). I am saddened by his action, but I don’t believe he did anything to change how the ozone rules are currently being implemented, did he?

  • Catharine

    @Jon You’re correct: Current ozone rules are still in place.

  • Ralph Crammedin

    Catharine, you state 20 percent is on the high end depending on the scope of the new rules, and then upwards of 20 percent of the nation’s coal-fired power plants could close. These statements would appear to conflict. Did you mean to say “downwards of 20 percent”?

  • Bill Glahn

    I’m confused. Bachmann’s claim is false because the reality is worse than she says? I read your analysis as putting forward the idea that, since not all the rules are being stopped, upwards of 20 percent of plants would still be shut down.

    Your analysis seems to be making her point.