Clean Power Plan: An Opportunity to Accelerate Our Clean Energy Transition

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What does the new Congress and administration mean for clean air and climate change? More »

The Clean Air Act has been a hugely successful public health law. Since it was adopted in 1970, the nation has seen huge reductions in pollution coinciding with major growth in the economy. The new federal administration and anti-environmental leaders in Congress threaten these advances, putting all of us—especially children and the elderly—at risk.

As long as there has been a Clean Air Act, every time an air pollution standard is set industry raises the specter of high costs and lost jobs. But again and again, this has been shown to be a false prediction; we have protected public health and the economy at the same time. For instance, in the South, since 1990 the average annual residential electricity bill has held essentially steady in real dollars, and as a percentage of median household income. Yet, emissions of pollutants that create smog and soot have plummeted on the order of 80-90 percent.

Currently, the fossil-fuel industry is claiming pollution reductions that curb climate change will bankrupt the economy. In reality, states across the country—including in the Southeast—are reducing pollution and enhancing jobs. In North Carolina, for example, we’ve seen an explosion in clean solar power, with the state ranked second nationally for the amount of solar electric capacity installed in 2015. This clean industry growth has translated into more than 206 solar companies employing 5,950 people in the state.

Unfortunately, the new Administration and incoming Congress are suggesting they may take actions that would turn back the clock on these advances and hamper our ability to effectively tap into these growth industries and safeguard our natural environment at the same time.

The most high profile, but far from the only, element of this strategy is the incoming administration’s vow to scrap the Clean Power Plan. This landmark rule sets statewide targets for carbon dioxide pollution from coal- and gas-fired power plants across the country. Given that the South is home to a large number of old, polluting coal-fired plants, without these mandatory state-based goals establishing a clear, long-term objective, it will be harder and more complicated to achieve the reductions necessary to clean up our air and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The new administration also suggested they will reconsider the U.S. commitment to reduce greenhouse gas pollution under the 2016 Paris Climate agreement. Seen as a key tool to achieve international reductions in carbon pollution, its creation was bolstered by America’s leadership role. Any move by the U.S. to back away from that commitment could have disastrous global impacts.

SELC believes that everyone in the Southeast and beyond deserves to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a healthy, prosperous environment. This belief drives our continued commitment to protecting the laws and policies that ensure those birthrights for all Americans. 

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In June 2014 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency introduced the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever standards for carbon pollution from existing power plants. Coal- and natural gas-burning plants account for about one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The Clean Power Plan, finalized in August 2015, puts forward carbon emission targets for each state based on reasonable adjustments that can be made to the electric system. Meeting these targets by 2030 would cut national carbon emissions from the power sector by over 30% compared to 2005 levels.

While the plan is currently on hold pending a review by the U.S. Supreme Court, SELC continues to advocate for the country's strongest action ever to reduce carbon pollution. Not only is the plan a necessity from a public health and climate perspective, but it provides a milestone opportunity for the Southeast to make smarter choices about how we generate energy in our region and to create new jobs through clean energy investments.

State-based, flexible plan

The projected national reductions are the result of meeting the specific goals for individual states that EPA developed based on their current energy mix.  Not only are the goals tailored to each state, states have considerable flexibility in how to meet them. They can use a variety of tactics, including switching to cleaner-burning natural gas, increasing reliance on wind and solar, and ratcheting up investments in energy efficiency programs.

This state-orientation and policy flexibility perfectly positions SELC to help our region meet—or exceed—the new goals cost-effectively. In fact SELC has already been working to reduce our states’ carbon emissions, and each of our states has seen encouraging progress in recent years.

Reduction of dependence on coal

Coal is the most carbon-heavy of our energy sources, and In the Southeast, SELC has been instrumental in retiring old, uneconomic coal-fired power plants: since 2010 we have helped secured plans or legally binding commitments to retire 30% of the Southeastern coal plant fleet.

Increased energy efficiency

In general the Southeast does not have the strong energy efficiency programs found in other states, so there is potential for significant regional savings on this front. Since 2005 SELC has taken part in over 100 state utility commission proceedings, in many of them highlighting the benefits of greater investments in energy efficiency. 

Increased use of wind and solar power

Solar and wind power hold vast promise as clean and abundant power sources throughout the Southeast, and SELC advocacy continues to yield breakthroughs as our states commit to new solar investments, bringing new jobs to our region.

SELC is also building bipartisan state support for offshore wind energy, emphasizing its economic development and job creation potential. 

Visit EPA's Clean Power Plan website

A state-by-state look at the Clean Power Plan