By ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to enact sweeping new regulations that will transform the U.S. economy by essentially putting hundreds of coal-fired power plants on the road to extinction, President Obama is finally making good on his famous campaign promise that his election would signal “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” The goal of the new regulations that bypass Congress is to reduce power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030. But in order to do that, hundreds of the more than 600 coal-burning plants will have to close. Though it is impossible to say with any certainty how much damage this will do to the U.S. economy, what Obama is doing with a stroke of a pen will turn the energy industry upside down, send energy prices skyrocketing, and likely send those regions of the country that are dependent on either the coal industry or the plants that use the stuff into crisis.

Though EPA chief Gina McCarthy claimed that the move would actually help the economy and emphasized the plan’s flexibility, that’s the sort of usual empty “green jobs” rhetoric that no one, even on the left, believes anymore. While the more the president wraps himself and his party in the environmentalist flag the better his liberal base and young voters–who have been indoctrinated in the catechism of global warming throughout their education–will feel, Democrats will pay a price for this piece of ideological governance. Embattled red state incumbents may seek to distance themselves from the president, as will Democrat Senate challengers like Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes. But the White House clearly regards Grimes and others like her as falling into the same category as the large numbers of jobs that will be lost by this decision. They are acceptable collateral damage that can be lived with because the main goal here is to burnish the president’s legacy as a leader who took serious steps to stop the warming of the planet.

Liberals are celebrating the decision both for its supposed benefits on climate change and for the sheer exercise of executive power to achieve liberal ends, but even one of the president’s leading cheerleaders admitted that what happened today won’t really do much to fix the environment. As the New York Times reports:

On Monday, Mr. Obama is bypassing Congress and taking one of the biggest steps any American president has ever taken on climate change, proposing new rules to cut emissions at power plants. Yet, by itself, the president’s plan will barely nudge the global emissions that scientists say are threatening the welfare of future generations.

In other words, all the pain that the EPA will cause won’t actually save a single cute polar bear, keep an Arctic ice flow from melting or those pesky oceans from rising, assuming you believe all of the alarmist claims at the heart of the new warming orthodoxy. What, then, is this all about? The answer lies in the gargantuan conceit of the man in the Oval Office.

The official explanation for the gap between the president’s rhetoric and the actual impact of the EPA’s dictates is that what the president wants is to start moving the country in “the right direction.” That’s a sobering thought if you consider that what is happening here is a massive government intervention in the private sector to achieve an ideological rather than an economic goal. Anyone inclined to accept the EPA’s new role riding roughshod over both Congress and the economic interests of the country should think long and hard about the prospect that this is merely the first of a new series of rulings from Washington that could hamstring any hopes of a real recovery in the coming years.

More than that, though, is the fact that what Obama really wants here is to show the international community that he means business about restricting the ability of America to do business. The real audience for this spectacle isn’t so much in blue states where any bow in the direction of environmentalism is applauded as it is abroad where other nations are watching to see if the U.S. is really going to walk the walk on climate change rules that could do damage to the American economy. The president wants the Chinese to see that the U.S. will handicap its own industries in order to set a good example for the Communist nation that almost certainly will do little if anything to cap their own growing carbon emissions.

Why would the U.S. hurt itself merely to take the high ground in negotiations with the Chinese and other developing countries even when the move will do very little to solve the climate problem?

President Obama has sorely missed the international adulation that greeted his election in 2008 but which quickly evaporated when most of his foreign fans began to rightly perceive him as nothing more than a left-leaning garden variety U.S. politician rather than the revolutionary figure they applauded. Obama’s various foreign-policy initiatives have largely failed to garner much interest, let alone cheers, abroad. But by recapturing that moment when perhaps many on the left actually believed his boast about turning back the oceans, he hopes to reestablish himself as the prince of hope and change.

Seen in that light, the large numbers of Americans who will be the losers in this exchange are nothing more than human offerings on the altar of Obama’s vanity. He may not heal the planet or even save his party’s chances in the midterm elections as he slides inevitably into lame-duck status. But as long as he can pose as a new messiah, there is no limit to the number of friends, foes, and innocent bystanders that he will sacrifice.

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