By: Christopher Van Atten, senior vice president, M.J. Bradley & Associates
In the coming weeks, a panel of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will be deciding the fate of an important EPA rulemaking, known as the Clean Power Plan. As the date for oral arguments approaches, September 27, it’s worth remembering two important points.
First, EPA has a legal obligation to act. EPA issued the Clean Power Plan because the Clean Air Act requires the Agency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; an obligation that was confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2007, the United States Supreme Court ruled that “the harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized” and that EPA must regulate carbon and other greenhouse gases if they are found to endanger public health and welfare. EPA then conducted an extensive review of the scientific literature and concluded that carbon pollution harms public health and the environment. And so in 2015, EPA introduced the Clean Power Plan. The clean air rule sets targets for states to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and gives the states significant discretion in terms of how they meet these goals.
Second, the targets established by the Clean Power Plan look increasingly achievable and cost-effective. This should not come as a surprise to anyone that follows the electric industry. For several years now, carbon pollution from the electric industry has been trending downward due to a mix of factors. In particular, low natural gas prices and a clean energy boom have been reducing the amount of coal consumed in the U.S. Georgia, for example, has cut its power plant carbon pollution by more than 20 million tons since 2010, bringing it significantly closer to its Clean Power Plan targets. In the last 5 years, U.S. wind power has more than doubled, now accounting for nearly 5 percent of the nation’s total electricity supply. Texas, always a leader in energy production, has become the number one wind-energy producing state in the U.S. by a wide margin. These and other changes have reduced carbon emissions 15 percent since 2005.
So why is the Clean Power Plan needed if the market has already delivered significant progress? What the Clean Power Plan provides, which the markets are currently lacking, is a long-term economic signal to continue investing in efficiency and clean energy technologies. EPA’s obligation under the Clean Air Act is not to hope that the market will deliver reductions. Rather, its obligation is to set national performance standards that will ensure a gradual decline in emissions.
With the impacts of climate change becoming increasingly clear, the Clean Power Plan is an important element of a broader strategy to address the threat of climate change. For states and businesses, it’s good policy too. By establishing a long-term reduction target, the Clean Power Plan provides the certainty that companies and entrepreneurs need to invest in the growing clean energy sector. States should embrace, not hinder, this opportunity.