Clean Power Plan Rollback: Five Things To Know

Oct 10, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday signed a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan  — President Obama’s signature climate change legislation. Here are five things you should know:

What is the Clean Power Plan anyway?

The 2015 rule aimed at reducing carbon emissions nationwide by moving the country’s electric grid away from coal and towards cleaner sources of energy. It was this nation’s most ambitious proposal to fight climate change.  Here’s an easy video explainer of the whole plan:

The goal was to cut the electric power sector’s carbon pollution by 32 percent nationally, relative to 2005 levels. Each state was given a different target, depending on their power sources, and all states were given a flexible template on how to reach those emissions’ targets. North Dakota’s emissions reduction target was 45 percent, one of the highest in the country. Wyoming’s was 44.3 percent, while Colorado was looking at a 40 percent reduction. (See nationwide reduction targets here.)

Who is happy about the repeal, and why?

27 states sued the federal government over the plan, including Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota. States that depend on coal and coal jobs would have disproportionately suffered under the plan, they claimed. Wyoming provides about 40 percent of the country’s coal, and most of that goes towards electricity generation. Colorado gets 55 percent of its electricity from coal.

Scott Pruitt, the current Environmental Protection Agency administrator, was one of the biggest critics of the plan. He also joined lawsuits against the CPP when serving as Attorney General of Oklahoma. The central argument for critics of the plan was that the Obama Administration’s EPA overreached – the EPA went beyond its legal authority by encouraging utilities to find cleaner sources of power outside the coal plants themselves.

In response to Tuesday’s repeal, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said the decision cleared the way to address the legal deficiencies in the old rule: “The goal should be a federal-state partnership that gives states a meaningful role in setting achievable emission standards without dictating how States manage their power grids.”

In Wyoming’s coal country, the Mayor of Gillette said the repeal is a “shot in the arm for the industry.”  Louise Carter-King told Wyoming Public Radio, “It just seemed like every time we turned around there was another regulation coming down, so I think this is like a breath of fresh air for us, which is kind of funny.”

Who is unhappy about the repeal, and why?

There are a whole range of groups and people unhappy about the repeal. Environmentalists have led the charge, saying the Trump administration’s move is illegal and dangerous, and promising to take the administration to court.

“The Clean Power Plan is something that would protect our health and safety across the country. Air pollution knows no political boundaries,” Amelia Myers, Energy Advocate for Conservation Colorado said. 

State leaders also weighed in, from California to New York.

According to E&E News’ EnergyWire, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman warned, “I will sue to protect New Yorkers and put a stop to the Trump administration’s irresponsible and illegal efforts to turn back the clock on public health.”

What does it mean to the average consumer?

Short answer: not much. The Clean Power Plan never went into effect after facing an array of legal challenges. Had it been implemented, electricity costs may have gone up slightly over the short term, but would have evened out over the long term, most experts believed.

In the meantime, many states are already well on their way to meet emissions reduction targets similar to or even more aggressive than those in the Clean Power Plan.

In Colorado, for instance, power generators are planning for a carbon constrained future as the state requires utilities to get 30 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2020. The state’s biggest power generator, Xcel Energy, is investing heavily in renewable generation.

In August, Xcel along with 13 other stakeholders, proposed a plan to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for $2.5 billion in clean energy investments for rural Colorado. Xcel would voluntarily retire two coal-fired generating units and add hundreds of megawatts of new wind and solar to replace the coal. If implemented, the Xcel plan would have 55 percent renewable energy on its grid by 2026 and would reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent from 2005 levels.

What happens next?

At a rally in Alabama last month, Trump said the Clean Power Plan was, “Boom, gone.”  Not that fast.

To repeal a regulation, the new administration has to go through the same rule-making process used to create the original regulation. That process requires public notice, comments and could take as long as a year.  Each step along the way is also likely to face legal challenges.

While E.P.A. administrator Pruitt has said he may propose a less stringent replacement rule (something that many in the industry have asked for), but he has yet to follow through on the “repeal and replace” promise.

The Trump administration has repeatedly said that this repeal, along with other environmental rules rolled back, has “ended the war on coal.”  There are few indications that the repeal will bring back coal or increase the number of coal jobs nationwide.  Coal is facing economic pressures from cheap natural gas, and, over the long term, most utilities and power generators believe the cutting carbon emissions will be a goal that will outlive this administration.

Inside Energy is a collaborative journalism initiative of partners across the US and supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.