Will the Dark Cloud Over EPA’s Clean Power Plan Rain on Paris?

Powerplant.iStockLast month, EPA published the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the most ambitious and controversial rulemaking in the history of the Clean Air Act, and set off a flurry of litigation as many Republican lawmakers urged states to challenge the rule.

The Clean Power Plan is EPA’s first attempt to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. The goal of the CPP is to achieve a 30% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 with an interim goal of an average 17% reduction in the 2020-2029 period. To achieve this goal, the CPP sets emissions rate targets for states and requires each state, by 2018, to develop a plan for how to reach its assigned target by 2030.

Only days after the CPP was published, 26 states as well as business groups and coal companies filed suit in D.C. District Court challenging EPA’s legal basis for promulgating the rule. Last week, more than two dozen states, cities, and environmental groups intervened in the litigation to support EPA . The legal issue turns on whether the Court will defer to EPA’s interpretation of its authority to regulate power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA). Unfortunately, during the 1990 amendments to the CAA, Congress passed both the House and Senate versions of this statutory section. In effect, the Senate version allows for regulation of power plants under Section 111(d), while the House version does not. Opponents to the CPP have asked for a stay to immediately halt the rule from taking effect while the case is ongoing. The Court will not rule on the stay until after the climate change negotiations have concluded.

Adding to the assault, Republican leaders recently attempted to pass resolutions invoking the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to disapprove of “major” rules issued by federal agencies before the rules take effect. Congressional opponents could also attempt to delay or defund the CPP by adding riders to bills or, worse yet, seeking an outright amendment to the Clean Air Act.

Power Sector EmissionsLooking ahead to Paris, the controversy surrounding the CPP casts doubt on the feasibility of the U.S.’s mitigation pledge. In its INDC, the U.S. pledged an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26-28% below its 2005 level in 2025. While the CPP is not the only step the U.S. is taking under its INDC to meets its mitigation pledge – investments to deploy clean energy technologies, standards to double the fuel economy of cars and light trucks, and steps to reduce methane pollution are also cited – implementation of the CPP is critical to achieve this mitigation target.

US GHGsThe importance of the Clean Power Plan for the U.S.’s role at COP 21 cannot be overstated – it is the “centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s climate policy agenda.” Not only that, announcement of the CPP continued momentum toward Paris that began a year ago with the U.S.-China bilateral agreement to reduce emissions, followed by the U.S.’s submission of its INDC in March, and the publication of the President’s Climate Action Plan this summer. Hopefully, the President’s decision to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Friday will give the U.S. negotiators “more wind at their back” at the upcoming climate talks.

“We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it,” President Obama announcing EPA’s Clean Power Plan in August 2015.


Clean Energy to Go Around

Countries, states, and the private sector took center stage last week with an array of energy announcements from around the world.

When visiting the US at the end of June, Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, announced with President Obama that both countries pledged to source 20% of their energy from nonhydro renewables by 2030.  China, when filing its INDC on June 30 with the UNFCCC, kept in line with the joint rousseffannouncement it made last November with the US when pledging to reduce the amount of carbon emitted relative to the size of its economy by 60 to 65% by 2030; it previously had declared that it would reduce it by 40 to 45% by 2029 and is already down 33.8%, so on track to achieve the INDC pledge. Scotland generated 49.8% of its electricity from renewables in 2014, effectively meeting its 2015 target. The country’s next benchmark is 100% renewable by 2020. Scottish wind farms currently produce enough to power some one million U.K. homes for a year and overall renewables make up about 30% of the UK’s total. More than half comes from wind, about a third from hydro, and a much smaller percentage from solar.    A leaked EU Commission paper says that Europe overall is on track to sources 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

At the local government level, New York State announced that its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) 2030 targets include a 40% cut in GHGs from 1990 levels and a 50% statewide goal for renewables.  The plan also seeks $5 billion over 10 years to support programs like the NY-Sun solar initiative and the New York Green Bank, and an additional $1.5 billion to promote large-scale solar and wind projects. Some friendly competition for California, given its recent announcement?

On the private side, Google will convert an old coal-fired plant in Alabama to a data center powered by renewable energy. About 46% of Google’s data centers are powered by renewable energy, lagging behind Apple, with 100% clean energy fueling its centers.  BMW is still aiming to convert allbmw of its vehicles to an electric drivetrains.  Bloomberg Business reports that solar power will draw $3.7 trillion in investment through 2040, out of a total of $8 trillion invested in clean energy. That’s almost double the $4.1 trillion that will be spent on coal ($1.6), natural gas ($1.2) and nuclear plants ($1.3). Interestingly, large utility-scale solar will dominate in developing countries while smaller-scale solar will comprise most of the investment in developed countries. And oil and real estate billionaire Philip Anschutz plans to turn his Wyoming cattle ranch into the world’s largest onshore wind farm with 1,000 turbines sited in one of the windiest parts of the country. It is estimated that it would produce more than 3,000 megawatts of power, four times the electricity produced by the Hoover Dam and enough to power every home in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It could also cut carbon emissions by as much as 13 million tons a year. Anschutz’s spokesman, Bill Miller, colorfully put this renewable energy project in perspective: “I just look at it as energy, pure and simple. A wind turbine is just an oil well turned upside down.”