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Expert to expert commentary on the science, law and economics of climate change.
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- Tomás Carbonell
- Nat Keohane
Vice President for International Climate
- Ilissa Ocko
High Meadows Fellow, Office of Chief Scientist
- Peter Zalzal
- Gernot Wagner
- Graham McCahan
- Mandy Warner
Climate & Air Policy Specialist
- Pamela Campos
High Meadows Scientist
- Tomás Carbonell
Votes Reveal Increasing Senate Support for Clean Power Plan — Resolutions to Block It Are Going Nowhere
It can be hard to interpret political maneuvering inside the Washington Beltway, and today’s Senate votes on the U.S. Clean Power Plan are no exception. So take it from someone who keeps a close eye on these votes in Congress — this was a good day for the Clean Power Plan, for U.S. climate leadership, and for a clean energy future.
Because today’s votes showed that the Clean Power Plan has gained support in the Senate since a test vote earlier this year.
More importantly, today’s votes demonstrated that the Senate is well short of what is needed if Senators truly want to stop the Clean Power Plan from taking effect.The measures that were passed narrowly today (52-to-46) are going nowhere. President Obama will veto these efforts to undo the Clean Power Plan, and there are more than enough supporters of the plan in Congress to sustain the veto.
The Clean Power Plan is a Clean Air Act initiative to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants and spur growth in clean energy. It is an important part of America’s leadership strategy on climate change, which is helping not only to accelerate the transition to clean energy here at home but also to inspire actions by other nations, including China. With world leaders set to convene global talks on climate change in the coming weeks, it’s important to put today’s votes in context.
For two years — even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was developing the Clean Power Plan — Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been promising to block the rules any way he could. In March, he launched a symbolic attack on the Clean Power Plan that passed the Senate 57-43.
In today’s vote, which was based on an infrequently used procedure called the Congressional Review Act, McConnell’s margin of victory grew smaller. Three Republicans (Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois) broke from McConnell and supported the Clean Power Plan.
Since the rule’s release this summer, public support for limits on carbon pollution have only increased. According to a Public Policy poll done this month, 60 percent of voters in Iowa support the Clean Power Plan, while 70 percent of voters in Illinois and 64 percent in Virginia support it.
The Clean Power Plan comes at a time when shifts in technology are opening new pathways to clean energy. Even utility companies recognize that a fundamental shift has taken place. The CEO of one of America’s largest coal burning power companies, AEP, recently said he views the Clean Power Plan as a:
catalyst for the transformation that’s already occurring in our industry
The Clean Power Plan is also just one element of a bigger turning point in American policy on clean energy and climate in recent years. The adoption, a few years ago, of dramatically increased gas mileage standards and greenhouse gas limits for cars is no longer a matter of controversy. States like California and a consortium of nine northeastern states are demonstrating that market-based climate pollution limits are good for economic growth.
The bottom line is that today’s votes to “overturn” the Clean Power Plan were all about political theater. Everyone involved knows the congressional resolutions will ultimately fail, so it’s a free vote for politicians who want to appeal to a relatively narrow slice of the electorate.
The larger narrative, which is the transformation of the United States into a global leader to protect the next generation from climate pollution, is the real story.
Since it was enacted in 1970, the Clean Air Act has protected public health and dramatically reduced air pollution at the same time as the economy has grown by leaps and bounds.
Many of the major Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions that have been most vital to this progress were subject to hard-fought — and largely unsuccessful — legal challenges.
The Clean Power Plan, which establishes the nation’s first limits on carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants, is no exception. Dozens of lawsuits challenging the Clean Power Plan have been filed since the rule was published in the Federal Register – and a large coalition of states and municipalities, public health and environmental organizations, leading power companies, and clean energy providers have moved to defend the Clean Power Plan against these challenges.
Fortunately, EPA has a long history of successfully defending its rules against legal attacks – and the Clean Power Plan is on similarly strong legal footing.
Leading law enforcement officials, former EPA officials from Administrations of both parties – including the Administrator and the General Counsel in President George H.W. Bush’s Administration — and prominent legal scholars have concluded that the Clean Power Plan is firmly within EPA’s long-standing authority under the Clean Air Act.
Statements on the Final Clean Power Plan:
The EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a critical step forward in responding to the threat of climate change. The rule is firmly grounded in science and the law. The rule incorporates successful strategies New York and other states have used to cut climate change pollution from power plants while maintaining electricity reliability, holding the line on utility bills, and growing our economies. We are committed to aggressively defending the Clean Power Plan to ensure progress is made in confronting climate change. — Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut , Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Massachusetts, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; attorneys for the cities of Boulder, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and South Miami; and the attorney for Broward County, Florida, A.G. Schneiderman Leads Coalition of 25 States, Cities and Counties in Defense of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, November 4, 2015
[The Clean Power Plan] is exactly what cooperative federalism looks like…It is the EPA recognizing the states’ leadership, giving states the opportunity to employ and use strategies that … are working. — Maura Healey, Attorney General of Massachusetts, Attorneys General Explain Why 18 States are Defending EPA's Clean Power Plan, SNL, November 4, 2015
The country needs to reduce CO2 from existing power plants which generate 40% of America's CO2. The rule is needed, and the courts we hope will recognize that it is on the right side of history. — William K. Reilly, former EPA Administrator under President George H.W. Bush, and William D. Ruckelshaus, former EPA administrator under Presidents Nixon and Reagan, Former EPA Administrators Reilly and Ruckelshaus Issues Statement Regarding the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, October 23, 2015
North Carolina's Clean Smokestacks Act, our renewable energy standard and other utilities, environmentalists, businesses and consumer advocates. Our state is in a great position to bring these and other stakeholders together once again to work with the EPA to devise our own plan to protect North Carolina's air and promote economic growth… I encourage the [North Carolina General Assembly] to avoid the path of litigation and instead work on a cooperative effort we can all be proud of. — Roy Cooper, Attorney General of North Carolina, Letter to leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly, Aug. 7, 2015
Opponents of the Clean Power Plan have already sued twice before to strike down this rule, only to have their challenges thrown out as premature. This time, judges will hear their arguments, but the arguments hold little legal merit. — Prof. Richard Revesz, New York University School of Law, and Denise Grab, Senior Attorney at the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, Noise Trumps Logic in Clean Power Plan Lawsuits, The Hill, October 27, 2015
[T]he government is on solid legal footing to defend the Clean Power Plan. — Profs. Jody Freeman and Richard J. Lazarus, Harvard Law School, The Biggest Risk to Obama's Climate Plan May Be Politics, Not the Courts, The Guardian, August 5, 2015
In many of the air pollution programs, EPA is directed to consider some combination of the cost of compliance and the practicability of the means of compliance when setting standards…The [New Source Performance Standards and Clean Power Plan] fit well within these statutory parameters: they bring about net economic benefits, they promote cleaner air, and they can be achieved within the existing landscape of how electricity is generated and transmitted. — Prof. Emily Hammond, George Washington University Law School, Testimony before the Energy and Commerce Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, October 22, 2015
[T]he EPA stands an excellent chance of prevailing in this epic showdown. And for the good of the planet and the welfare of future generations, one can only hope it will. — Prof. Patrick Parenteau, Vermont Law School, The Clean Power Plan Will Survive: Part 2, Law360, September 29, 2015
Many experts have also concluded that requests for courts to block (or “stay”) the Clean Power Plan during the period of litigation are likely to fail.
Statements Refuting the Need for a Stay of the Clean Power Plan:
I think the deadlines [in the Clean Power Plan] are sufficiently far in the future that there's no need for a stay here, the court is certainly going to be able to decide this case before the deadlines. — Robert Percival, Robert F. Stanton Professor of Law and Director, Environmental Law Program, University of Maryland, Francis King Carey School of Law, EPA, Clean Power Plan Foes Gird For Court Fight, Law360, August 3, 2015
[T]he EPA’s rule includes generous compliance deadlines . . . Challengers will be hard-pressed to persuade anyone they merit a stay. — Profs. Jody Freeman and Richard J. Lazarus, Harvard Law School, The Biggest Risk to Obama's Climate Plan May Be Politics, Not the Courts, The Guardian, August 5, 2015
Experts have remarked on the Clean Power Plan’s bedrock legal authority throughout its creation – from when it was first proposed.
Statements on the Proposed Clean Power Plan:
The EPA has authority under the 1990 Clean Air Act, an authority affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, to set these public health protections against carbon pollution. — Carol M. Browner, former EPA Administrator under President Bill Clinton, and Alex Laskey, With New Power Plant Rules, Energy Efficiency Checks All the Boxes, The Hill, June 2, 2014
Critics of the [Clean Power Plan] say that President Obama is making an end run around Congress, stretching the law to achieve by executive action what he could not accomplish through the legislative branch. This is flat wrong. More than four decades ago, Congress expressed its clear desire to regulate pollution from power plants, in the form of the Clean Air Act. I know, because I worked on the legislation, including the key part of the act—Section 111—that the Obama administration is using to justify its move. — Leon Billings, former Chief of Staff to Sen. Edmund Muskie and staff director of the Senate Environment Subcommittee during the drafting of the Clean Air Act, The Obscure 1970 Compromise That Made Obama’s Climate Rules Possible, Politico, June 2, 2014
Limiting Greenhouse Gas emissions from existing power plants is the next logical step after the Supreme Court and other courts have upheld EPA’s authority and obligation to address this issue. A system-wide approach provides needed flexibility and reduces costs, as well as encouraging investment in lower-emitting generation. EPA has wisely left the states a lot of discretion rather than mandating specific measures as some had wanted. — E. Donald Elliott, EPA General Counsel under President George H.W. Bush, Obama’s Section 111d Plan Has Support From George H.W. Bush’s EPA General Counsel, Utility Executives, Legal Planet, June 1, 2014
[I]t is important to be clear here: the President is required to issue the rules, required by law and by the interpretation of the law by the highest Court in the land. — Prof. Ann Carlson, UCLA School of Law, Obama Has To Issue Climate Change Rules — The Law Says So, Talking Points Memo, May 30, 2014
Everyone in Colorado skis, all Oklahomans can rope a calf, and native New Jerseyans like me all talk like Pauly D did on Jersey Shore. Right?
You may also stereotype when it comes to clean energy: Progressive states such as California are pumping out clean, renewable energy while others insist on clinging to old, dirty power plants. Well, it’s more complicated than that.
California, which has a market-based system for cutting carbon pollution, does lead the country. But a number of states, including notably Nevada, Texas and North Carolina, are also making great progress on clean energy – which may surprise some.
Their success is evidence that the supposed divide on clean power may be more about politics than economics and opportunities on the ground.
And that bodes well for the federal Clean Power Plan’s goal of reducing emissions from America’s power plants. Because if Texas is well-positioned to comply, why couldn’t other states do the same?
Energy policies that boost state economies
Texas, home of Big Oil, big hats, and JR Ewing, actually has more energy potential from resources sweeping over its prairies – in the form of wind and sunshine – than from those flowing underneath them. The state leads the nation in wind power and combined heat and power, and has the potential to generate more solar power than any other state.
If energy efficiency used by Austin Energy were extended across the state, it would reduce peak electricity growth by 40 percent, while keeping Texans as high-powered as ever.
Nevada, meanwhile, has also been smart about exploiting its huge solar energy potential. The state’s current renewable energy standard requires utilities to generate 25 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2025, with 6 percent coming from solar energy by 2016.
With more than 250 days of sunshine a year and abundant wind and geothermal energy potential, this goal is well within reach. Nevada’s forward-thinking energy policies and commitment to clean energy are part of the reason Tesla chose it as the location of its multi-billion dollar gigafactory to produce batteries for electric cars.
Finally, in North Carolina, tax credits and a modest renewable energy portfolio standard created opportunities to build a strong clean energy industry.
North Carolina is now one of the top four states in installed solar capacity and second behind California in large, utility-scale solar projects. Clean energy added nearly $5 billion to the state’s economy last year, and today provides nearly 23,000 jobs.
Earlier this year, tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook told lawmakers that state policies “made North Carolina particularly attractive to [their] businesses.” Retail giants Walmart and North Carolina-based Lowe’s Home Improvement told lawmakers they want more choice and competition when it comes to energy.
North Carolina’s burgeoning clean energy economy suffered a set-back this year, however, when state lawmakers chose not to extend the tax credit – proving that state legislators are not required to take the Hippocratic Oath.
Back-track or invest in the future?
All this will make a big difference when it comes to implementing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which gives each state a target and flexibility for cutting climate pollution.
As much as some leaders in the Lone Star State and elsewhere complain and sue over this rule, they are actually well on their way to meeting their goals under the plan. If state governments would only take advantage of the natural opportunities they have – be more like Nevada and less like the recent back-tracking in North Carolina – they’d be in great shape.
We need to protect ourselves from the trillions in potential damage that Citibank and others say we’d face from unchecked climate change, so the world is moving toward clean energy. Wouldn’t it be better if state political leaders, who have so much to gain and such an achievable path forward, put their efforts in to creating that future rather than clinging to the past?
Forward-looking leaders do, because stereotypes aside, it ultimately comes down to good economics.
This post originally appeared on our EDF+Voices blog.
By Dan Dudek
The New York Times revealed in a Nov. 4 article that China has been burning as much as 17 percent more coal annually than previously thought, citing new Chinese government data.
It was sobering news to all of us who are working to reduce China’s dependency on fossil fuels, but not necessarily a verdict on the country’s – or the world’s – prospects going forward.
It’s important to note, first of all, that China’s revised coal consumption numbers have not changed scientists’ estimates of global carbon dioxide levels in the air. Unlike national emissions data, which is based on fuel consumption statistics, global levels are measured directly.
So what do we make of the news that China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, has been underestimating coal use since 2000?
China needs good data, and knows it
Significantly higher emissions in any country increase the urgency and difficulty of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change – and this is especially true for an economy the size of China’s. However, it is significant that this story was prompted by the Chinese government reporting its own data corrections, and not by an external watchdog.
China has acknowledged the challenges it faces trying to develop robust emissions estimates, and the new numbers, though troubling, are a sign that the country is making progress in this regard.
This is important not just for the international climate negotiations that kick off in Paris later this month, but also for China’s long-term strategy.
China has made it a priority to upgrade its baseline inventory emissions data, especially for sources that might be included in its national emissions trading system. Good baseline data is a prerequisite to the effective carbon trading and reduction program Environmental Defense Fund has been working toward for 25 years.
Needed now: Deeper emissions cuts
It’s also important to note that while the emission data was revised, China’s growth in coal consumption has actually been declining, a trend that remains unchanged and will likely continue.
The government has recently targeted 6.5 percent economic growth as the official target for the next five years, down from the recent 7- percent rate. Slower growth, air quality concerns, new requirements to invest in renewables and energy efficiency, and the international commitments to peak emissions and introduce a carbon market will all put continued downward pressure on coal.
China’s data correction does not change our basic understanding of what it will take to reach the crucial turning point where global emissions finally level off and begin to decline.
We have long known that much deeper reductions will be required to get us there. The Paris commitments are shaping up to be a major milestone on that road, but won’t by themselves get us where we need to go.
For China, the solution remains a national carbon market that creates the incentives to lower emissions as efficiently as possible. China remains committed to launching the market in 2017.
For all of us who understand the urgency of global climate change, The New York Times story is a reminder that there is still a great deal of work still to be done – in China and beyond.
Image source: Flickr/Nicolò Lazzati
This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.
The Clean Power Plan is now officially in business, and protecting the health and safety of all Americans.
The Clean Power Plan establishes America’s first-ever nationwide limits on harmful carbon pollution from our nation’s largest source, power plants. It builds on years of stakeholder engagement and input, and adopts a flexible approach that empowers states to develop their own individually tailored compliance plans that reflect their own policy priorities.
States have tremendous flexibility to minimize costs and maximize the public health and economic benefits of state-based solutions to reduce harmful carbon pollution.
States in the Driver’s Seat
Not surprisingly, states from Michigan to Colorado have recognized the benefits of submitting state-forged compliance plans under this flexible framework.
Despite misguided political efforts to pressure them to “just say no,” state officials are constructively engaging and developing solutions — and in the process, demonstrating leadership and innovation.
In the months since the Clean Power Plan was released, state policymakers have made clear that they intend to lead. Let’s take a closer look:
The Republican Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, indicating Michigan would comply with the Clean Power Plan, said:
The best way to protect Michigan is to develop a state plan that reflects Michigan’s priorities of adaptability, affordability, reliability and protection of the environment. We need to seize the opportunity to make Michigan’s energy decisions in Lansing…
Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania said:
My administration is committed to making the Clean Power Plan work for Pennsylvania… Working with the legislature, industry leaders and citizens we will create a plan to ensure these new rules are applied fairly, allow for adjustments, and that they create economic opportunities for the commonwealth’s energy economy. Today’s plan sets ambitious but achievable goals for reducing carbon emissions statewide and addressing climate change in fair and smart ways that takes into account legitimate concerns of all parties.
Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado said:
We realize these are ambitious goals and may be challenging for Colorado, but we have risen to these challenges before by developing a mix of cost-effective strategies across the energy spectrum. We will continue our work with utilities and communities to meet these new federal requirements while preserving affordable energy rates. Clean air is important to all of Colorado and building on the work that’s already done, we will continue on the path of improving our local air quality.
Governor Jerry Brown of California said:
I welcome this bold and absolutely necessary carbon reduction plan. California is fully engaged in tackling climate change, and we look forward to working with other states and the White House as we implement these new mandates.
Power Companies Are Working With States to Craft Compliance Plans
Major power companies have also recognized the opportunities available with home-grown compliance plans that fully harvest state flexibility and the potential of a low-carbon economy. Xcel Energy, for example, just announced plans to cut carbon emissions across its Northern States Power system by 60 percent by 2030, at negligible cost to consumers.
The Clean Power Plan represents a commitment to continuing the transition from carbon intensive generation to efficient, low-carbon generation …This flexible, market-based solution will reward the companies that invest and have invested smartly in cleaner generation. We applaud the EPA for its efforts throughout this collaborative process and look forward to working with the agency, states and other stakeholders as the rule is ultimately implemented.
Xcel Energy stated:
We appreciate the EPA’s willingness to work with stakeholders in developing this groundbreaking and complex set of regulations. It will take time to thoroughly review and assess the full impact of the rules. While we expect the Clean Power Plan does not provide everything we hoped for in terms of fully recognizing the early actions of proactive states and utilities, Xcel Energy is ready to move ahead. We look forward to working with our states in the best interest of our customers, ensuring we continue to meet their expectations for clean, reliable and affordable power.
We are pleased with the recognition that energy efficiency is an important tool to reducing greenhouse gases. We understand states may be incentivized to promote energy efficiency for low-income customers as an early tool to reduce greenhouse gases. We believe utilities can play a critical role in making sure that all energy users — especially low and moderate income customers who need it most — have access to energy efficiency.
NV Energy stated, upon release of the final Clean Power Plan:
We supported the rule as it was proposed in June 2014, including the building block and flexible compliance concepts. We do not anticipate a significant impact on our customer rates as we move towards reliable renewable generation methods and reducing our emissions.
NextEra stated, upon Governor Snyder’s announcement:
As the nation’s leading renewable energy developer, owner and operator, with a significant presence in Michigan, we take great pride in developing and operating projects that are environmentally responsible and economically viable. We applaud Governor Snyder’s efforts and are in complete support of Michigan submitting a state implementation plan as part of EPA’s Clean Power Plan. We look forward to working with the State of Michigan and doing what we can to help the state cost-effectively meet the goals set out in the Clean Power Plan.
There is also broad business and investor support for the Clean Power Plan, with 365 companies from 29 states signing letters in support of the Clean Power Plan in July, saying:
Our support is firmly grounded in economic reality. Clean energy solutions are cost effective and innovative ways to drive investment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Increasingly, businesses rely on renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions to cut costs and improve corporation performance.
State officials, power companies, and businesses across the country recognize the importance of stepping up to the plate, thoughtfully shaping the path to reduce dangerous carbon pollution while charting their own clean energy future, and capitalizing on the substantial opportunity the Clean Power Plan presents.