States Sue the EPA Over Clean Power Plan, Disprove Their Own Argument with Existing Efforts to Reduce Carbon Emissions

June 3, 2015 | 8:47 am
Jeff Deyette
Director of State Policy and Analysis

The near-term timeline and trajectory for states to make cuts in power plant emissions under the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) is achievable, according to a new UCS analysis released today. In fact, a majority of states (31) have already made key clean energy decisions that will get them most or all of the way to meeting the CPP’s near-term (and non-binding) 2020 benchmarks. Ironically, this list includes nearly all of the 14 states that are now suing the EPA to stop the CPP. Despite their ‘can’t do’ rhetoric, these states are disproving their own case and successfully taking action to reduce their power plant carbon emissions.

Progress Toward the Clean Power Plan's 2020 Benchmarks Due to Clean Energy Decisions in States Suing the EPA

States Suing the EPA and Their Progress Toward the Clean Power Plan’s 2020 Benchmarks Based on Clean Energy Decisions They Have Already Made

Retiring uneconomic coal plants

How are they doing it? Well, in 12 of the 14 states suing the EPA, power plant owners have already retired or plan to retire 135 uneconomic coal units between 2012 and 2020, accounting for nearly 25,000 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity. These decisions are part of a broader transition well underway in the U.S. power sector, in which many of the oldest, dirtiest, and least efficient coal units are being retired in favor of lower-carbon and more cost-effective energy options like renewable energy, energy efficiency, and natural gas.

Collectively, the coal retirements in Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming will reduce annual carbon emissions by an estimated 42 to 69 million metric tons, depending on whether their generation is replaced with natural gas or zero-carbon resources such as renewables and efficiency (our analysis conservatively assumes natural gas).

Though not required by the draft rule, retiring uneconomic coal plants is one effective strategy for cutting carbon and complying with the CPP. In the case of Kentucky, this measure alone is sufficient to put the state on track to surpass its 2020 emissions reduction benchmark. Alabama’s coal retirement decisions will get the state 86 percent of the way toward its 2020 benchmark, and closures in Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia will also contribute substantially toward CPP compliance in those states.

State renewable energy policies spur investments

Five of the states suing the EPA have also taken advantage of popular and successful clean energy policies that cut carbon emissions by spurring investments in renewables and efficiency. For example, Kansas, Ohio, and Wisconsin are among the 29 states and the District of Columbia that have implemented the renewable electricity standard (RES), a market-based policy that requires utilities to gradually increase the supply of wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources in their power mix.

State RES policies have been a leading driver of new renewable energy development over the past two decades, helping to bring down technology costs and deliver significant economic and environmental benefits in the process. In Kansas, before it was scaled back (see below), the RES helped make the state a national leader in wind development, spurring nearly 3,000 megawatts (MW) of wind capacity and $5.5 billion in new investments.

State energy efficiency policies save energy and money

In addition, Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin are among the 24 states that have implemented energy efficiency resource standards (EERS), which requires electricity providers to implement efficiency programs for residents and businesses that reduce electricity demand each year. Like the RES, an EERS is one of the most effective ways for a state to guarantee long-term gains in energy efficiency and save money for consumers. For example, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy reports that states with an EERS averaged incremental electricity savings of 1.1 percent of retail sales in 2013 compared with an average savings of 0.3 percent in states without an EERS.

Rolling back progress

Unfortunately, despite their initial commitments, several of these states—Indiana, Kansas, and Ohio—have undermined their clean energy progress by recently rolling back their RES and EERS policies. Not surprisingly, fossil-fuel funded clean energy opposition groups like ALEC and Americans for Prosperity were behind these repeal efforts, using the very same disinformation tactics they are now deploying to try and weaken implementation of the CPP.

Shooting themselves in the foot not only hurts consumers now, it’s going to haunt these state’s CPP compliance efforts later. Had Indiana not repealed its EERS last year, for example, that commitment to investing in energy savings—along with the state’s current coal plant retirements— would have been sufficient to surpass its 2020 emissions reduction benchmark.

Harvesting the wind

Speaking of shooting yourself in the foot, several of the states trying to stop the CPP are home to some of the best, most economical wind resources in the world, and they are just beginning to harness it. By the end of 2014, nearly 10,000 MW of wind power capacity was operating in Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Kansas, with another 1,282 MW under construction, according to AWEA. In 2014, South Dakota generated 25 percent of its power from wind, second only to Iowa. Kansas generated nearly 22 percent of electricity from wind in 2014, while Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Nebraska generated 17 percent, 9 percent, and 7 percent, respectively.

What’s more, these figures just scratch the surface of the renewable energy potential available in the Great Plains states. And with the CPP in place, these states will have a tremendous opportunity to further develop their wind resources; not just for their own clean power needs, but to export to other states as well. Trying to undermine the CPP puts this massive economic opportunity in jeopardy.

No, Chicken Little, the sky isn’t falling

Just last month, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker called the CPP’s emission reduction targets “unworkable” in a letter to President Obama. That’s a central theme in the arguments made by the states suing the EPA. But it doesn’t hold up to the facts, and instead exposes the states’ legal challenge as being based more on politics than ability to meet the CPP.

Governor Walker’s letter failed to say that thanks to some smart decisions previously made—to invest in renewables and efficiency, and to close uneconomic coal plants—Wisconsin is already on track to be more than halfway toward their 2020 benchmarks. By strengthening their RES, which levels off this year, and doubling down on efficiency investments, Wisconsin can get all the way there. In fact, that is the roadmap for reducing carbon emissions that all states should follow.

The 14 states involved in the legal challenge have locked in clean energy decisions that will take them at least 40 percent of the way toward their 2020 benchmarks collectively. That’s quite impressive, especially for states that supposedly aren’t capable of curbing emissions. If these states stay the course, and further develop their renewable energy potential, reduce their energy use through efficiency measures, and where it makes sense, join forces with neighboring states, they should have no trouble meeting their interim targets and 2030 goals.

Learn more about our analysis in the slide show below: