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

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Repeal of Clean Power Plan puts coal profits ahead of health, communities More »

Trump-appointed EPA Chief Scott Pruitt announced plans to repeal the landmark Clean Power Plan designed to address carbon pollution and climate change, but did not offer a substitute or even an idea of what should fill the void.

The announcement, cheered by coal executives and lobbyists, comes as communities across the South have been battered this year with droughts, flooding, heat waves and two of the most powerful hurricanes on record. This year’s unusually violent weather has caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, much of which the federal government will have to cover.

“The Environmental Protection Agency is no longer protecting us, but instead protecting the wallets of coal industry executives and lobbyists,” said SELC’s Amanda Garcia. “It is flat-out irresponsible to kill the safeguards that were ultimately meant to protect us and our property from the kinds of extreme weather the country has suffered this year.”

The Clean Power Plan, put in place by the Obama administration but never implemented because of court challenges, was fashioned to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere, mainly from fossil-fuel fired power plants. Scientists have concluded the gases – mostly carbon dioxide – are responsible for warming the Earth, raising sea level, and providing the fuel needed to intensify storms.

This is the second recent effort from the Trump administration to gut the results of years of scientific research and policy planning aimed at reducing emissions that warm the planet and raise sea levels. In August, Trump announced he would withdraw the United States from the Paris Accord, a global agreement to combat climate change.

“President Trump and EPA Administrator Pruitt are ignoring the reality of what is happening in our states, and in our neighborhoods,” Garcia said. “They are ignoring the realities of a changing climate that is routinely flooding places like Norfolk and Charleston. They’re essentially telling us political favors dished out to the coal sector are more important than our health and our homes.”

While campaigning, Trump called climate change a “hoax.” And Pruitt, as Oklahoma Attorney General, fought on behalf of coal companies and other science deniers to halt the Clean Power Plan. As EPA Administrator, he believes he has authority to repeal the plan and delay taking action to control carbon pollution from coal plants indefinitely, fulfilling one of Trump’s campaign promises.

What is unclear, Garcia said, is the effect this repeal might have on the booming renewable-energy industry.

Just the idea of the Clean Power Plan spurred research and investment in solar power, for example. However, even as the fate of the rule has been uncertain due to legal challenges, falling prices and increased demand have built a robust clean-energy industry that is thriving in the Southeast.

When the Clean Power Plan was finalized in 2015, SELC’s region had just 1,000 megawatts of solar power. Now, five times that amount helps power homes and industry across the Southeast. And there are projects poised to add 4,000 more megawatts of solar power in the planning and permitting stages. According to the Solar Foundation, nearly 20,000 workers in SELC’s region earn their livings in the solar industry.

A Clean Power Plan replacement could take years to put together at a time when the effects of climate change and sea-level rise are beginning to wreak havoc on our Southeast communities, Garcia said. Storm surge, and even so-called “sunny day” flooding, is affecting more communities and damaging more property.

“Nature is sending us a message and the EPA has clearly tuned it out,” Garcia said. “This repeal is taking us in a dangerous direction.”

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Background

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