The Clean Power Plan Goes to the Federal Register: Facts vs. Bogus Lawsuits

, lead economist and climate policy manager | October 22, 2015, 1:31 pm EDT
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Tomorrow the final Clean Power Plan will be published in the Federal Register, which is the official publication of the federal government notifying the public about new regulations and guidance or changes to existing ones. We already know the Clean Power Plan is good for our health and our pocketbooks but that won’t stop naysayers from filing an avalanche of bogus legal challenges to it.

The Clean Power Plan is flexible and achievable

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) is a strong, flexible framework to help reduce power plant carbon emissions, which are the largest source of U.S. global warming emissions. It will cut those emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The plan provides a number of cost-effective compliance options for states, including using renewable energy and natural gas to replace coal-fired power, increasing energy efficiency, and bringing online nuclear plants currently under construction. It also allows states to take advantage of multi-state carbon trading systems to cut emissions, if they so choose.

Analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that many states are already taking clean energy actions that will put them well on the path to meeting their CPP goals. Using the CPP’s rate-based targets:

  • 31 states are already on track to be more than halfway toward meeting their 2022 Clean Power Plan benchmarks, with 21 set to surpass them.
  • 20 states are already on track to be more than halfway toward meeting their 2030 Clean Power Plan final targets, with 16 set to surpass them.

The final CPP expands on the role of renewable energy in cutting emissions. It also takes a number of steps to limit the rush to natural gas and ensure reliable electricity.

The CPP is affordable (the sky is NOT falling!)

The benefits of the CPP far outweigh its costs. The EPA’s analysis shows that the Clean Power Plan’s public health and climate benefits are worth an estimated $26 billion to $45 billion per year in 2030, far more than the estimated costs of $5.1 to 8.4 billion per year in 2030. The public health benefits alone, from cutting co-pollutants such as SO2 and NOX, amount to an estimated $12 billion to $34 billion in 2030. (All figures in 2011 dollars.)

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What’s more, electricity consumers stand to benefit as well. The EPA projects that Americans will save about $7 per month and more than $80 per year on their electricity bill by 2030 under the Clean Power Plan. Modest electricity bill increases of 2.4 to 2.7 percent in 2020 are quickly followed by larger decreases in 2025 and beyond as energy efficiency investments pay off.

Unfounded opposition attacks and misleading fossil industry-funded studies

Despite these facts, starting tomorrow, there will be a slew of court cases filed to slow down clean energy progress and delay action on climate change. The American Legislative Exchange Council even has the audacity to propose that we, as taxpayers, help to fund these misguided attacks. Most legal experts agree that ultimately these lawsuits, funded in part by fossil-fuel interests, will be thrown out. But meanwhile they are a serious drag on public resources and do a real disservice to the “can-do” spirit that our country cherishes.

Misleading reports funded by the fossil fuel and utility industries continue to distort the facts and artificially inflate the costs of the CPP.  As my colleague Aaron Huertas points out, journalists and policymakers should view fossil industry claims with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Many states likely to sue EPA are on track to meet CPP

UCS analysis shows that many of the states that are planning to sue the EPA are actually already making commitments that would put them on the path to compliance. Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina are expected to sue the EPA over the Clean Power Plan despite being on track to exceed their 2022 benchmarks. In fact, South Carolina is even on track to exceed its 2030 target. Likewise, Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio, and Wisconsin are also expected to sue even though they are on track to achieve more than half of their 2022 benchmarks through committed actions.

Furthermore, state clean energy actions provide big benefits to their residents. Retiring aging, polluting coal-fired power plants, for example, would be a huge boon to public health. Many states would stand to benefit if they ramped up their investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, which can save consumers money on their electricity bills, drive local economic benefits, and help diversify the state electricity mix.

Your state can be a clean energy leader

States are now empowered to make their own choices about how to cut emissions, and will have up to three years to file their compliance plans. Many states, including Virginia and Minnesota, have already begun planning and stakeholder processes to develop their compliance strategies. Renewable energy and energy efficiency should play a significant role in state compliance plans, given the myriad health and economic benefits of these cost-effective options.

Please ask your Governor to make your state a clean energy leader, and to file a compliance plan in a timely way.

With yesterday’s announcement from NOAA that 2015 is on track to be the hottest year on record by a wide margin, there is clearly no room for delay in cutting our heat-trapping emissions. Those who stand in the way of climate action will need to think about how they will answer their children and grandchildren who will bear the brunt of climate impacts.

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  • Pat Brady Martin

    My concern is that the CPP elevates natural gas as a “bridge fuel.” While this might make sense in states that burn mostly coal, the push for natural gas in New England via pipelines that will nearly DOUBLE the amount of natural gas flowing into New England seems like a push to support fracking and the fracked gas industry. New England generates less than 7% of it’s electricity with coal and oil combined. Meanwhile nuclear plants in New England are being shut down because they can’t compete financially with natural gas fired generation. For New England, natural gas is more of a gangplank than a bridge.

    • rachelcleetus

      Hello Pat, thank you for writing. Natural gas has an important role to play as we transition to clean energy, but we share your concern about the risks of over-reliance on natural gas. Please see our recent report rating states on their risks of over dependence on natural gas:
      http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/rating-the-states-on-their-risk-of-natural-gas-overreliance

      The final Clean Power Plan does include some provisions to limit the rush to gas. See my blogpost about this:
      http://blog.ucsusa.org/four-ways-the-final-clean-power-plan-limits-the-rush-to-natural-gas-839

      • Pat Brady Martin

        I did see that report about over-reliance, but it only showed EXISTING pipelines, not the proposed projects that will almost double the amount of natural gas flowing into New England., According to the report, New England states have almost zero risk. Also, somewhat suspiciously, the target for New Hampshire by 2030 is 771 lbs/MWh for electricity generation. That just happens to be the same number for the latest combined cycle gas generating plant. NE already generates over 50% of it’s electricity with natural gas. Are we headed for 100%? The price pressures from natural gas generation has already caused VT Yankee to close and Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant looks to be shutting down within 3 years because of cost issues. This does not bode well for lowering carbon emissions.

      • Pat Brady Martin

        And, here’s another concern…this part highlighted in another blog,

        “By 2022, the first year of the compliance period, natural gas combined
        cycle (NGCC) generation is limited to a maximum of a 22 percent increase
        from 2012 levels in each region. This is equivalent to the single
        largest annual increase in power sector gas-fired generation since 1990,
        which occurred between 2011 and 2012.”
        In New Hampshire we’ve been generating about 50% of our electricity with natural gas. Is that 2012 level all gas fired generation or just NGCC? If it’s all gas fired generation, New England could conceivably move to 61%. I don’t think that would be in the best interests of diversity. Especially since our combined annual coal and oil generation is about 7%. We’d actually be increasing our fossil fuel generation capacity.

        Sorry, if I’m being dense about this, but since the gas pipeline projects proposed for New England to relieve high electricity prices, would nearly triple ( 1 bcf/day currently used for electricity generation and the proposed additions equal 2.97 bcf/day) the amount of gas being proposed makes it look like the plan is to provide 100% natural gas generation, plus another 50%!!

        Also, since we are part of a regional power organization with utilities no longer vertically integrated, how is permitting of power plants coordinated so that each State’s goals are met?
        Thank you so much for your help understanding this!

      • Pat Brady Martin

        I should say that in New England, we’ve been generating 50% with natural gas. New Hampshire is less, but since we’re part of a regional group and are *supposed* to have generation decoupled from transmission, I wonder how this will work?

      • Pat Brady Martin

        I’ve been invited to speak to a class of undergraduates about energy policy and natural gas. I would really like to understand what impact the rules have on how much benefit electric ratepayers will see from subsidizing the building of fracked gas pipelines. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!