The Clean Power Plan: A Victory for Public Health, the Environment, and Democracy

Update (Oct. 27, 2015): EPA’s final rules establishing limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing coal and oil-fired power plants were published on Oct. 23 in the Federal Register. The rules become effective as of December 22, 2015. The Clean Power Plant rules are the cornerstone of U.S. efforts to address climate change by reducing carbon dioxide from power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide pollution.

Responding to pressure from the coal industry and some electric utilities, the rule was immediately challenged in lawsuits filed by 26 states and a coal company. Fifteen states as well as the District of Columbia and New York City have indicated they plan to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of EPA. Congressional Review Act resolutions challenging the rules, a legislative procedure that allows Congress to quickly overturn regulations, were filed today in the Senate and similar resolutions are expected shortly in the House but even if passed would be vetoed by President Obama. A congressional effort to override the President’s veto is unlikely to succeed.

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Daniel D’Arcy, CEG's Environmental Right-to-Know Intern, co-authored this article.

On Aug. 3 President Obama unveiled the final version of the long-awaited Clean Power Plan calling it “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.” The plan will reduce U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2032 by 32 percent compared to 2005 levels.

The Clean Power Plan will provide substantial health benefits.

The Clean Power Plan has resonated with the American public, with 3.7 million of the 4.3 million comments submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supporting the rule. In response to this massive civic engagement, EPA issued a revised final rule that is more flexible than originally proposed, but requires deeper cuts in pollution levels.

CO2 is the primary greenhouse gas linked to climate change, and power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., contributing more than 30 percent of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to reducing carbon dioxide pollution, when fully implemented the Clean Power Plan is projected to reduce dangerous soot and smog air pollution by up to 90 percent.  These pollution reductions will result in an estimated 3,600 fewer premature deaths and 1,700 avoided heart attacks each year. Additionally, children will experience 90,000 fewer asthma attacks and Americans will have 300,000 fewer sick days from home and school. EPA also estimates that average electricity bills will decrease by about 7 percent, and our society will reap up to $54 billion in health and climate benefits annually.

The Clean Power Plan calls for renewable energy to grow from its current 10 percent of all energy used in America today to 28 percent by 2030. Currently, the largest source of energy in America is natural gas.

The battle moves to the states.

Previous efforts to undermine the Clean Power Plan have taken place primarily at a federal level. The upcoming battle will primarily take place in the states.

States have until 2018 to develop an implementation plan and until 2022 to actually comply with the new regulations. Their plans will be customized to ensure maximum benefits for their businesses, citizens, and utilities through a variety of means. State plans can achieve their benchmarks by improving energy efficiency, switching to cleaner energy sources such as renewable energy (solar and wind), and/or trading their “dirty” energy credits with states using cleaner energy supplies. Despite strong public support for improved climate policies and grave warnings from climate scientists of the health and environmental cost of inaction, the fossil fuel industry, organizations they fund, and their political supporters have mounted a massive campaign to oppose the plan. They have decried the new standards as “federal overreach” and argue that they will cost thousands of jobs.

More than a year ago, lobbyists and Republican strategists began meeting to strategize about how to block the Clean Power Plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is urging state governors and attorneys general to boycott the rule. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – a corporate-funded network that produces conservative model legislation for state legislators - has encouraged state governments to create legal funds to support court challenges to the Clean Power rule. West Virginia Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey recently joined with 15 other Republican state attorney generals in filing a federal lawsuit against the rule.

On the other side, more than 350 organizations, including a number of Fortune 500 companies, sent a letter to more than 20 governors supporting the new standards. For example, Staples Inc., which has increased energy efficiency and invested in renewable energy for more than a decade, said “we’ve only seen benefits from this strategy.”

The Clean Power Plan will save Americans money and boost our economy.

The Plan will be a “clean climate game changer.” EPA predicts the average American family will save more than $80 annually on their electric bill by 2030. A Georgia Institute of Technology School of Public Policy report estimates that if the requirements of the plan are met, it will improve economic growth and significantly reduce the emission of air pollutants such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. The new standard will also spur innovation and boost private sector investments in renewable energy as the demand for these clean energy sources increases.

The Clean Power Plan is a victory for all Americans who wish to live in a nation with clean air, fewer deaths and illness, cheaper electricity bills, and a safer and more stable climate. It is also an investment in our collective future.

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