Local residents should expect steep rises in their electric bills as the U.S. Environmental and Protection Agency's new emissions standards, announced last December by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, go into effect. The new rules are broader in their effect than any previous American energy regulatory scheme, and they are more stringent than Europe's rules -- even though the nation's air quality has been getting better, not worse.

Within three years, the new rules will force the closure of coal-fired plants that produce half of the electricity used in Maryland. They will also have a disproportionally adverse impact on Virginia's economy. That's the conclusion of "Economically Derailed," a study published earlier this year by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which accuses the EPA of waging "a war on the American standard of living."

In particular, the EPA's Utility and Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology, or MACT, rules require a 91 percent reduction of certain pollutants from power plants and commercial and industrial boilers by April 16, 2015. "The standards are so stringent," ALEC notes, "that even recently permitted plants employing the best available technology cannot meet them ..."

Maryland currently derives 54 percent of its electricity from coal-fired plants. The MACT rules will cost the Free State 6,873 jobs by forcing already high electricity prices up another 10 percent, the study found.

The effect on Virginia will be even more profound, which is why both of the commonwealth's Democratic U.S. Senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb, voted for an unsuccessful effort to block them in late June. Beginning in 2014, the MACT regulations alone will force the closure of six coal-fired power plants that currently generate 35 percent of the commonwealth's electricity -- enough power to heat and cool more than 2 million homes. When the plants are shuttered, electric bills will increase by up to 15 percent, more than 21,000 residents of the Old Dominion will become unemployed and the state will lose $2.9 million in revenue.

But lost jobs and higher electricity bills are not the only problem. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, an industry group responsible for ensuring reliability of the nation's electric grid, warns that "environmental regulations are shown to be the number one risk to reliability over the next one to five years." So when things get bad, don't forget that there's still worse to come.