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States heading in different directions on EPA’s Clean Power Plan

By   /   July 14, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

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TWILIGHT?: Concerns about the cost of the soon-to-be-finalized Clean Power Plan have critics warning that coal-fired power plants could shut down.

By Rob Nikolewski │ Watchdog.org

As the clock ticks down to the final version of what’s been called the most sweeping federal regulation of the nation’s electricity sector, states are lining up in opposite directions.

Some states — largely led by Democrats in the governor’s office — favor the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan. But a number of others — with Republican governors — are considering joining a lawsuit against EPA and may opt out of submitting statewide implementation plans to the agency.

The latest holdout figures to be Wyoming, where last week officials in the administration of GOP Gov. Matt Mead told a state legislative committee the Cowboy State plans to join West Virginia in a multi-state lawsuit against EPA, complaining the agency’s emission reductions would be too expensive to implement and EPA does not have the authority to impose them.

Todd Parfitt, director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, said the Clean Power Plan contains “legal, technical and practical” problems and the plan would leave $1.5 billion in “stranded investments” that would force the state to close four coal-fired power plants, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. 

But in neighboring Colorado, Democrat Gov. John Hicklenlooper says the opposite.

“Although complying with the Clean Power Plan will be a challenge, states tackle problems of this magnitude on a regular basis,” Hicklenlooper said in a May letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who has urged states to “just say no” to the EPA’s call for states to submit implementation plans.

“We think it would be irresponsible to ignore federal law, and that is why we intend to develop a compliant Clean Power Plan,” Hicklenlooper’s letter said.

The Clean Power Plan figures to be a hot topic for governors of both parties July 23-25 at the National Governor’s Association summer meeting in West Virginia.

The divide cuts along partisan lines, even though West Virginia is leading the legal fight against the regulation and its governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, is a Democrat.

Second only to Wyoming, West Virginia is the largest producer of coal in the country, and the coal industry is considered one of the regulation’s primary areas of focus to reduce CO2 emissions.

EPA officials insisted in an email to Watchdog.org last week the Clean Power Plan “does not mandate the retirement of any coal plants,” but the industry’s supporters have described the proposed regulation as a coal killer. 

The agency insists the upcoming regulation is “a commonsense plan” that offers states “enormous flexibility to design plans that meet their individual and unique needs.”

Originally proposed in 2014, the Clean Power Plan is unprecedented in its sweep, marking the first federal measure to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s existing power plants and setting provisions for new plants.

It’s considered the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, and the White House has pushed it on social media:

From Brian Deese, senior White House advisor

But the message has been countered by industry groups, such as AmericasPower.org, which have come out with their own info-graphics:

From americaspower.org

The EPA is expected to finalize the regulation in a matter of weeks, with environmental groups urging EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to ensure the provisions remain robust while critics say McCarthy should roll back the rule in light of a Supreme Court ruling last month that rapped the EPA for failing to consider costs when it originally issued a regulation on mercury and other toxic pollutants.

“I will say the best way for this rule to be approved to have it withdrawn completely,” Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, said last week. “But at minimum, it would have to be dramatically changed to address concerns about costs.”

Pence has been an outspoken critic of the Clean Power Plan, saying it’s too expensive for Indiana ratepayers.

Pushing the plan in Utah last week, McCarthy did not show any indication the finalized plan would change much, saying climate change poses the greatest risk to the nation’s health and economy.

“This is not about polar bears, folks. It’s about your children, and your children’s future,” McCarthy told a meeting of League of United Latin American Citizens in Salt Lake City. “We have to act because anything else is simply not acceptable. So that’s why this summer, EPA will deliver on a major piece of President’s Obama agenda; we are going to finalize our clean power plan.”

The cost of implementing the Clean Power Plan has been hotly debated.

Industry supporters claim 43 states will see their electricity prices increase by double-digits in the next decade; the EPA says the plan will cost $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion in 2030 and predicts cleaner air will translate into $7 in health benefits for every $1 invested.

EPA wants individual states to submit their own statewide implementation programs — known as SIPs — but critics such as Pence have encouraged states to balk.

Last week, Wyoming officials indicated they will follow Indiana’s lead.

“There is so much uncertainty that we haven’t made a judgment whether we will submit a state plan,” Colin McKee, policy adviser to Mead, told Wyoming lawmakers. “But I want to assure you all, we haven’t put pen to paper and we are not drafting a plan at this time.”

Critics of the Clean Power Plan think if enough states opt out they can essentially tie up EPA’s implementation plans.

“The sheer enormity of having to potentially deal with a dozen or so federal implementation plans would overwhelm the EPA to the point where they would probably have to throw up their hands,”  Tom Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, said in a conference call with energy reporters last week.

But supporters of the Clean Power Plan say that’s a bad idea.

“The Clean Power Plan is not just smart environmental policy, it’s a major economic catalyst that will create jobs and drive economic growth,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs, E2. “Governors have a choice: They can implement the plan on their own terms and reap the benefits, or they can skirt the law and get left behind by other states.”

EPA has said that if states do not submit a SIP, the agency will impose its own plan for them follow.


Rob formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.