Reining in Carbon: The EPA’s Clean Power Plan

Martin Voelker
CRES Jefferson County Chapter

“Reining in Carbon: The EPA’s Clean Power Plan” was a presentation given by Erin Overturf of Western Resource Advocates. Watch the complete presentation here.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which limits the amount of carbon dioxide fossil fuel power plants can emit, is intimidating in its complexity. Much of that complexity, argues Erin Overturf, derives from its necessary flexibility, so designed because all states have a different power mix, and need to devise individual plans for compliance.

Backed by a 2007 Supreme Court decision which ruled carbon dioxide a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, Barack Obama charged the EPA to devise the Clean Power Plan, and made its eventual implementation a part of his “Climate Action Plan” and a cornerstone in the United States’ commitment to addressing climate change in the recent Paris climate talks.

Getting to lower CO2 involves three “building blocks:” to make power plants more efficient, to re-dispatch coal to natural gas, and to add renewable energy, evaluated separately for each of the three regions (Western, Eastern, and Texas) to result in performance targets. After a lengthy planning phase an interim standard will be applied in 2020 with a final standard that must be reached by 2030.

Unfortunately, clean air has strong enemies, as Republicans have decided to falsely label any and all regulation as “job killing,” and to denounce, despite incontrovertible scientific evidence, CO2’s role in climate change as a “hoax.” Because they also receive large campaign donations from fossil fuel industries that stand to gain from their opposition it is hard to gauge whether their professed outrage is fake or real. What is definitively real though are a plethora of lawsuits from Republican states and industry trying to stop the CPP.

Lawsuits are of course expected – and also the internal reason why energy efficiency, initially a fourth component of the CPP had been eliminated from an earlier draft because it appeared to be more vulnerable to litigation. But what came as a total surprise was a February 20, 2016 Supreme Court ruling to stay all work on the CPP – never in its history has the Supreme Court interfered to pause an administrative rule pending judicial review. Two days after the ruling Justice Scalia died, leaving the court in a 4-4 split. Given that new situation legal insiders now predict that the stay will fall once the US District Court rendered their decision sometime after June 2nd because in the case of a split Supreme Court the lower court ruling stands. In other words: reason for hope.

In the Q&A attorney Overturf addressed that citizens really should applaud the Clean Power Plan because while it’s main purpose is action on climate it also offers other health benefits. Since reducing carbon from power plants essentially means replacing power from coal with alternatives other volatile organic compounds and pollutants like NOX (which in turn produces ozone), mercury, waste streams like coal ash, and associated water use are reduced as well.

Opponents of the CPP like to pretend that we could either pay lots of money to reduce greenhouse gases or do nothing and pay nothing. But in reality there are very large costs for doing nothing, from threats to our national security, to our infrastructure, to our health, to our beautiful Colorado way of life and our tourism economy that are going to be impacted if we refuse to act on climate. While the Clean Power Plan won’t get us all the way there, it is a well considered step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s Governor Hickenlooper has vowed to plow ahead with implementation of the CPP but in addition to Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s lawsuits there are a number of bills currently pending before the state legislature that would derail Colorado’s attempts to implement the CPP, including SB16-46, SB16-61, SB16-1157, and take-no-prisoners attempts to defund the Air Pollution Control Division through the state budget – supporters of the CPP need to be on their toes.