The EPA Scrapped the Clean Power Plan. Now What?

By: LOUIS SPANIAS, Sustainability Program Manager

Earlier this month, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that he will move to withdraw and scrap the Clean Power Plan, the staple piece of the Obama administration’s climate action efforts. The proposed repeal follows an Executive Order issued months earlier by President Donald Trump, asking the EPA to “review” and “revise” the rule.

The Clean Power Plan was a substantial component of the United States’ commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement. It would have established carbon reduction targets on a state-by-state basis, and ultimately would have reduced emissions from the electricity sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Most of those reductions would have come from coal-burning power plants. The Plan also would have boosted nationwide use of renewable energy and increased energy conservation efforts.

However, since the Plan was initially proposed in June 2014 by the EPA, quite a bit has changed. President Donald Trump announced in June of this year that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement. While the withdrawal process won’t be complete until 2020 according to the rules of the agreement, Pruitt’s scrapping of the Clean Power Plant all but ensures that the U.S. will fall short of the committed emission reductions. Upon announcing the proposal to repeal the Plan earlier this month, he offered assurances to coal miners that “the war against coal is over.”

Granted, there have been various questions and challenges over the legality of the Clean Power Plan. Twenty-eight states (mostly coal-producing and Republican led states) joined several other parties to challenge the Plan in court. In the end, the U.S. Supreme Court placed a hold on the plan in February 2016. Proponents argued that the administration could implement the Plan under the authorization of the Clean Air Act, while opponents insisted that the Plan was regulatory overreach by the EPA, unfairly forcing states to produce detailed emissions reduction plans and tipping the economic scales heavily away from the favor of power plant owners (especially those of older coal power plants).

The Pruitt-led EPA has offered no alternative and did not express any intent to replace it. In absence of a plan, the EPA will have to answer to legal challenges from several states who want to compel EPA to step up its efforts on climate change. Pruitt’s likely next target will be the court-supported finding by EPA from 2009 that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

Many of us are concerned about what will happen in the absence of a tangible commitment to the Paris Agreement and what we should do now that the EPA has moved quickly from being a supporter of national climate action to becoming one of its biggest threats.

But all hope isn’t lost – as many parties, both private and public, have vowed to respond. Several states intend to continue with their commitments under the Clean Power Plan, regardless of what the Trump Administration and the Pruitt-led EPA will do. California said it would double down on its climate efforts, and has done so by passing legislation that would assure that 100% of the state’s energy consumption will come from renewables by 2045, with an interim target of 60% renewable energy by 2030. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed that he believed the private sector and local governments would respond accordingly to assure that the U.S. would still make its contributions to the goals of the Paris Agreement, and pledged $15 million to the United Nations to make up for the country’s withdrawal from the agreement.

Moreover, there is an ongoing federal climate lawsuit, Juliana v. U.S..The case, brought on by youth plaintiffs from Oregon, asserts that the U.S. has contributed substantially to climate change and thus has infringed upon our rights to life, liberty, and property. While the plaintiffs await to hear from the Ninth Circuit panel on the case, it reflects that litigation against governments for failing to act on climate change is gaining momentum.

While hope is certainly not lost, it’s apparent that we cannot rely on the federal government and the EPA to act on climate change and other environmental issues. Instead, it has clearly fallen on us and our local and state governments to follow through on those efforts.